On August 15, the BBC reported that Iran had frozen the assets of 152 former and current BBC Persian staff and contributors. BBC Persian also announced that it had obtained a court order that had been issued by the Shahid Moghaddas Courthouse based at Tehran’s Evin Prison.
The order, which was short and mostly uninformative, also banned the named individuals from conducting financial transactions in Iran. Furthermore, it said that if they traveled to Iran they would not be allowed to leave the country. Not long afterwards, a photograph of the specific court order against one of the individuals was made public. The charge? “Gathering and collusion to commit crimes against national security.”
The BBC’s Persian Service is banned in Iran and BBC Persian staff and their families routinely face harassment and questioning from the authorities. But this court order went a step further, and casted the widest net possible. IranWire asked two Iranian jurists, Mohammad Olyaeifard and Musa Barzin, about the legal aspects of the order.
“Freezing assets and banning individuals from financial transactions is nothing new for the Islamic Republic’s judiciary. In the early years of the revolution, court orders that banned people from conducting transactions because of their political and social activities and background were quite common,” says Musa Barzin.
In the published photograph of the court order, a “sub-number” appears after the case number. So, according to this, it appears that the court has opened one single case for the whole “BBC 152.”
The published court order, issued on August 18, also notifies the Deeds and Property Registration Organization that the accused are banned from leaving Iran and that they cannot conduct financial transactions.
In answer to what the purpose of “banned from transactions” might be, Mohammad Olyaeifard says: “A person can be punished if that person’s crime has been examined by a just court and he has been found guilty. It might be said that banning [people] from transactions falls under the writ of injunction, but banning from transactions is not included in the law that defines the writ of injunction.”
The fact that the case relies on outdated or inaccurate information clearly shows that it has not been well researched, and that it casts an unjustifiably wide net.
“Behind every ban on leaving Iran,” says Olyaeifard, “there is judicial case against the person, so we can definitely say that these 152 people are being prosecuted based on reports by security agencies. But at this juncture, not all of these 152 are working for the BBC. Some of them stopped working for the BBC years ago — and some have even passed away.”
Authorities communicate the names of the persons whose assets have been frozen to the offices of the Deeds and Property Registration Organization. Details of the individuals are entered into the organization’s system but, interestingly enough, the original court order is not made available to the persons affected or their lawyers.
“You can only learn about the ban on conducting transactions, but the families or their lawyers cannot have access to the original court order. There is no legal justification for that,” says Barzin. According to Olyaeifard, this is one of the problems that lawyers face when dealing with the Revolutionary Courts.
“In security cases, the judicial orders are confidential, but the Revolutionary Courts do not even give the final verdicts to the lawyers. They just tell him to copy it by hand,” he says.
The trade unionist Ebrahim Madadi and the blogger Omid Reza Mirsayafi were also imprisoned without receiving their verdicts and without the right to appeal.
“They would not give the verdict to Mr. Dadkhah, Mirsayafi’s lawyer. Omid Reza was sent to prison and he committed suicide there,” says Olyaeifard.
Within this context, the illegal and unseen court order against BBC Persian staff, past and present, should come as no surprise. The Islamic Republic judiciary has been doing this for a long time, defying the law to punish and silence journalists and activists.