Not funny: Iran satirist sentenced to 23 years in prison

by WorldTribune Staff, August 25, 2019

Writer and satirist Kioomars Marzban has been sentenced to 23 years and nine months in prison by an Iranian Revolutionary Court which convicted him of charges including cooperation with the United States.

Mohammad Hossein Aghasi, lawyer for the 28-year-old Marzban, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on Aug. 24 that Marzban was convicted of cooperating with a hostile state, spreading propaganda against the system, and insulting sanctities and officials.

Kioomars Marzban. / Twitter

Aghasi said he will appeal the ruling, saying his client had done “nothing but write humorous material and publish it in the media.”

According to Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, Marzban must serve at least 11 years of his sentence. The court also banned him from traveling abroad, publishing his writing and using social networking sites for two years.

“My client is not guilty, and he had no malicious intentions in the writings that led to this heavy sentence,” Aghasi, told IranWire. “The longest portion of the sentence, 11 years, is related to the charge that my client has connections to hostile governments, meaning the United States. He was also charged with conspiring against national security although the court acquitted him of this charge.”

Aghasi noted that Marzban has never traveled to the United States, nor has he had any work-related connections to the U.S.

Marzban was also sentenced to seven years and six months in prison for “insulting the sacred”, i.e. insulting Islam, three years for insulting supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, one and a half years for spreading propaganda against the government and nine months for insulting Iran’s authorities, IranWire reported.

Marzban had first left Iran in 2009, living in Malaysia and the Republic of Georgia, before returning to Iran in the summer of 2017 to see his ailing grandmother.

In August of 2018, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) intelligence agents stormed Marzban’s residence, arrested him, and confiscated his laptop, cellphone, and teaching materials, according to Human Rights Watch.

In September of 2018, a website affiliated with the IRGC, Edalat Khahan (“Seekers of Justice”), claimed that Marzban had traveled to the United States with the intention of launching an anti-Iranian media outlet “aimed at inflaming the people and creating social divisions.”

Edalat Khahan also accused Marzban of working with Freedom House, a human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., to attract Iranian artists and celebrities to opposition causes.

A source close to Marzban told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that Marzban has never visited the United States. “After leaving Iran in 2009, he lived in Malaysia for some years and in the Republic of Georgia for a few months,” said the source. “Outside of Iran, Keyomars has only been to Malaysia and Georgia.”

Following his arrest, Marzban was held incommunicado without access to an attorney at Teheran’s notorious Evin Prison, Human Rights Watch said.

“[President Hassan] Rouhani and his supporters say Iranian expats should come back to the country and work here, but what they really want is an easy target to prey on and fabricate charges against in another putrid spectacle by the security intelligence establishment,” tweeted fellow Iranian satirist Sharagem Zand at the time of Marzban’s arrest.

While living in Malaysia, Marzban hosted a comedy podcast called “Sangtab Radio,” and in 2014 he published a book of short stories titled “kham bodam, pokhteh shodam, balk eh pasandideh shodam” (I was Raw, I Became Ripe and Pleasant).

In April 2018 Marzban gave an interview to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) about the private writing classes he offered and his experiences abroad.

“Iranians have very limited hopes and dreams,” he said. “Their biggest dream is for the economic problems to be solved, and all they think about is their daily affairs. But when I asked people in other countries about this, I realized that imagination and following your dreams is a very important thing.”

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