Twenty-three rights groups say the international community should urge Iran to free three activists arrested while planning to sue Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Journalist Mehdi Mahmoudian, and lawyers Arash Kaykhosravi and Mostafa Nili were arrested August 14 while meeting to plan legal action against Khamenei and other authorities for mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic and delay in mass vaccination.
In a statement Thursday, the 23 groups said the trio were in prison for defending human rights. They have been charged with "establishing a hostile group against national security" and "propaganda against the regime," which are respectively carry possible prison sentences of by ten and one year.
The statement was signed by the United States-based Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRI), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Washington DC-based Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Ireland-based Front Line Defenders (FLD), Article 19, United for Iran, and others.
Three detainees who were planning to sue Ali Khamenei
Mahmoudian, Kaykhosravi, Nili wrote in a letter in October that they had refused an offer of freedom if they signed a pledge not to sue Khamenei.
The proposed legal action related to Khamenei’s ban in January 2021 on Iran importing Covid vaccines made in the United States and United Kingdom, when no other vccines were available.
Iran instead turned to Russia and China, but they failed to supply enough doses until August. By early August, only 3.4 percent of the population had been “fully vaccinated,” on a par with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but far lower than Turkey (33.4 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (73 percent), which had used the American Pfizer, British AstraZeneca, Chinese Sinovac, and Russian Sputnik vaccines.
The detained activists also said they would sue officials for allocating “millions of dollars” to state organizations with no medical expertise, such as the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO), which owns Shifa Pharmaceutical, developer of CovIran Barakat. EIKO promised to deliver tens of millions of doses before the end of the summer but only 13.2 million doses of home-grown vaccines have been delivered by late November.
The meeting when the trio were arrested was at the offices in Tehran of the Society to Protect Citizen's Rights, a newly-founded and registered non-governmental organization. Two others arrested, lawyers Leila Heydari and Hadi Erfanian, were released within hours, while two others − lawyer Mohammad-Reza Faghihi and activist Maryam Afrafaraz − were freed two weeks later on bail.
Many on social mediajoined healthcare professionals including the chairman of Iran’s non-governmental licensing and regulatory Medical Council, Dr Mohammad-Reza Zafarghandi, in blaming Khamenei's ban for the level of Covid and resulting deaths.