The Guardian – Activist Peyman Aref is whipped hours before release from one-year jail sentence in ‘unprecedented’ punishment
An Iranian student activist has been lashed 74 times for insulting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Peyman Aref, a student of political science at Tehran University, was sentenced in March 2010 to a year in jail after being found guilty of propaganda against the regime for speaking to foreign media.
Aref, who was initially arrested in the aftermath of Iran‘s disputed presidential elections in 2009, was also sentenced to 74 lashes for writing an “insulting” letter to Ahmadinejad and given a lifetime ban on working as a journalist or membership of any political parties.
His jail sentence came to an end on Sunday but, hours before his release from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, Aref was told the lashing would be carried out.
A masked prison guard carried out the lashing in presence of Aref’s wife and officials from Iran’s judiciary. News of the lashing come only a few weeks after Somayeh Tohidlou, a female Iranian blogger and campaigner for former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, was sentenced to a “symbolic” lashing for the same crime.
Unlike Tohidlou’s symbolic punishment – designed to humiliate rather than harm – Aref was indeed whipped. Pictures taken after his release show his bloodied back covered in wounds.
“Lashing people sentenced to various charges such as those caught drinking alcohol is common in Iran but political activists are usually lashed for ambiguous charges such as desecrating Islam or prophets,” said an Iranian journalist based in Tehran who asked not to be named. “Lashing Aref for insulting Ahmadinejad is shocking and unprecedented.”
In a letter to the president during his 2009 election campaign, Aref attacked Ahmadinejad for his crackdown on students who had been politically active at university and barred from continuing with their studies.
Undergraduates and students who had criticised the government were given up to three “penalty points”, according to the potential threat they were said to pose. Aref was among the “three-starred”MA students who were not not allowed to continue their studies. About 150 were starred.
Speaking to the website Rahesabz, Aref said after his release: “Whenever Ahmadinejad goes to New York [for UN general assembly], he boasts that Iran is the world’s freest country but I was brutally flogged in my country for insulting him.”
He added: “[My crime] was that I wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad and reminded him of what he did to the universities.” Authorities apparently have taken offence because Aref refused to begin his letter with the formal greeting “Salam” as a sign of protest. Iran’s online community reacted with shock to Aref’s lashing with many people sharing pictures of his back covered in blood on social networking websites.
In a separate incident in Tehran last week, four journalists were arrested. They have been identified as Ali Akarami, Mehdi Afsharnik, Mohmmad Heydari and Mohsen Hakimi
Iran’s embassy in London could not be reached on Sunday for comment.