The criminal proceedings in Mohammad Ali Taheri’s case constitute a serious violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy, which provides protection against individuals being tried or punished in the same jurisdiction for the same criminal offence they have already been convicted or acquitted of. Article 14(7) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, states: “No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”
Mohammad Ali Taheri was first arrested in April 2010 and released after two months. He was re-arrested in May 2011 and charged with “spreading corruption on earth” and “insulting Islamic sanctities” through establishing Erfan-e Halgheh (Interuniversalism), which is both a spiritual group and doctrine. In October 2011, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran convicted and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment on the latter charge but said further investigations were necessary before it could rule on the former. This investigation was subsequently used as a pretext by the authorities not to transfer him to the general ward of Evin prison and keep extending his detention in solitary confinement.
The Revolutionary Guards completed their investigations into the charge of “spreading corruption on earth” in September 2014, and claimed, among other things, that Mohammad Ali Taheri had “spread corruption on earth” by promoting his “perverse sect” to about 50,000 people in the country. They also claimed that he had taken steps to advance “a soft overthrow of the holy establishment of the Islamic Republic” by creating doubts over religious beliefs in a widespread manner. Mohammad Ali Taheri subsequently stood trial before Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court in March and July 2015, at the end of which he was convicted and sentenced to death in August 2015. However, in December 2015, the Supreme Court quashed the conviction and death sentence after concluding that Mohammad Ali Taheri’s activities before his arrest in 2011 did not amount to “spreading corruption on earth”. His case was subsequently returned to Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court to rule on whether his other alleged activities, unrelated to his spiritual teachings, could support the charge. In June 2016, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court issued its final ruling acquitting Mohammad Ali Taheri of “spreading corruption on earth”.
Despite the acquittal and even though Mohammad Ali Taheri had completed his five-year sentence from the 2011 case in February 2016, the authorities refused to release him. Instead, they started a new round of interrogations and, in late 2016, they charged him again with “spreading corruption on earth”, leading to his 2017 trial, conviction and death sentence. The conviction related to the same activities that formed the basis of his 2011 conviction.
Mohammad Ali Taheri founded the Erfan-e Halgheh spiritual doctrine after receiving what he claims were “spiritual inspirations” that empowered him to connect with a larger “cosmic consciousness”. He practised his newly found spiritual beliefs, along with his followers, in “healing sessions” apparently focused on alternative non-medicinal treatments. Over the course of his imprisonment, Mohammad Ali Taheri has undertaken a total of 16 hunger strikes and attempted suicide four times in protest at his prolonged solitary confinement, lack of access to his family and lawyer, and repeated death threats against him and his family. His most recent hunger strike began on 28 September 2016 and lasted 97 days.
According to the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the ICCPR, prolonged solitary confinement may violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) prohibits the practice of prolonged solitary confinement, considered to be in excess of 15 consecutive days.
READ MORE: On the Path to Freedom for Mohammad Ali Taheri.