The trial of five activists who had filed a lawsuit against Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei for "Covid mismanagement" was held behind closed doors Saturday.
The group of five, who were put on trial at Branch 29 of Tehran Revolutionary Court, has come to be called 'Defenders of Right to Health' by the media. They are: Mehdi Mahmoudian, Mostafa Nili, Arash Keykhosravi, Mohammadreza Faghihi and Maryam Fara-Afraz
Khamenei ruled out importing United States- and British-made Covid-19 vaccines in January 2021, arguing that the US and Uk cannot be trusted. At the time, the US-German Pfizer, US-made Moderna and the British-made AstraZeneca were the only vaccines approved internationally and available in early 2021.
The group's litigation apparently sought to establish that decisions by Khamenei, former President Hassan Rouhani, and others led to thousands of unnecessary deaths when a severe wave of infections hit Iran from June to August 2021.
The members of the group were arrested on August 15 last year while holding a meeting to prepare legal action against authorities for mismanagement of the pandemic and delay in in mass vaccination. All, except Mahmoudain, were released after spending more than a month in solitary confinement.
Five activists put on trial for suing Iran's Supreme Leader over his vaccine ban.
In an unexpected move in early March, Iran's Judiciary accepted to register the group's lawsuit against the authorities, including Khamenei.
While Khamenei banned the Western vaccines, hundreds of millions of dollars were distributed among government-run companies with no experience in vaccine development to produce a homegrown variant.
The five activists have been charged with "acting against national security", an often-used vague charge often brought against dissidents and critics of the Islamic Republic. They are accused of forming a "hostile group aiming to harm the country's security and make propaganda against the state".
“If demanding justice for thousands of lives lost is an act against national security, then what is the failure to save 40,000 lives?” Mahmoudian said Saturday in the court, according to family members who were the only ones allowed to attend.
In a statement one day before the trial, Mahmoudian urged the authorities to hold it publicly and allow independent media and political, social, and civil figures to attend.
Several political activists, including reformist activist Mostafa Tajzadeh, tried to attend the court on Saturday but were barred. "Why is that they are being tried … although there has been no trial yet for the people they had sued?" Tajzadeh asked in a tweet after he was not allowed to enter the courtroom.
Mahmoudian, who is also an outspoken journalist, has remained in prison since August. In September, authorities threw the book at him and gave him a 5-year sentence for his previous civic activities.
Three of the detainees including Mahmoudian, Nili, and Keykhosravi in a letter in September said the reason for their arrest and solitary confinement was their refusal to sign a pledge not to take legal action against the Supreme Leader and other officials.