Abulghasem Salavati is a 49 year old Iranian judge who heads the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran who is also known as the “Hanging Judge” or the “Judge of Death” for his pension to issue death sentences, or incredibly long prison sentences, to Iranians accused of criticizing the regime in any way.
Salavati’s “work” and his career exemplify everything that is wrong with Iran’s judicial system: His loyalty to the regime is reflected in the harshness of his sentencing and overwhelms any effort at managing a fair trial. In fact, his management of his trials and his rulings usually include outright contradictions to Iran’s laws and constitution or the “bending” of these laws while Salavati takes on the role of prosecutor as well as judge. With his rough looks and his “dead” eyes, he has turned into a man who is feared by most Iranians, reviled by most of the world and respected by the members of the regime.
Bridging Between the Regime and the Courts
Iran’s judicial system is, according to its constitution, a separate entity from the regime, the parliament and the government. Unfortunately for Iranians, sentences for politically tainted crimes such as “propaganda against the state”, “colluding against national security”, “assembly and collusion”, “insulting the regime”, “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “insulting the IRGC”, “insulting the Prophet”, “spreading corruption on earth” etc… are, on the whole, politically motivated. All of these “crimes” are based on criticism against the regime and its leaders and are taken for granted in the free world as a basic freedom of speech. But the regime doesn’t take criticism lightly – in fact it is considered a sin – and the sentences the Iranian “criminals” receive for criticizing the regime are outlandishly harsh ranging from a few years in jail to execution. These sentences are compounded by the fact that these “criminals” are usually denied bail and therefore are jailed for months until their trial, are usually (illegally) denied access to their lawyers and families, are mistreated, harassed and tortured while in jail, in part as an effort to force them to sign “confessions”, are systematically denied medical care and are rarely paroled on appeal.
The regime requires the services of judges who are ready to punish anyone who is critical of the regime because the alternatives are too problematic. It could simply kill critics of the regime, as it has done on numerous occasions in the past, but witnesses and the families and friends of the murdered “criminal” can create embarrassing situations for the regime. On the other hand, since the regime is not a democracy, it strives to maintain its power through the use of oppression and fear which, paradoxically, weakens its legitimacy and therefore any unpunished criticism can lead to a counter-revolution. Knowing that these two options are not viable for the regime, the only real alternative is to employ people who are 100% loyal to the regime in the army, the police, the courts etc… .
Salavati is Notoriously Ruthless
Salavati has handed down tens of death sentences and over 600 years in prison. He works fast (sometimes, a double digit prison sentence can be handed down within minutes), prefers closed door trials without the defendant nor his/her lawyer present and doesn’t distinguish between hard evidence and the “evidence” procured by the ministry of Intelligence, the IRGC or the police. His trials include human rights activist Narges Mohammadi (11 years in jail for “assembly and collusion against national security”), former MP Esmail Gerami Moghaddam (6 years in jail for “collusion against the state”), physicist and activist Omid Kokabee (10 years for “conspiring with foreign countries”), human rights activist Mohammad Ali Dadkah (9 years in jail for “interviews with foreign media”) , blogger Soheil Arabi (sentenced to death for “propaganda against the state”) and many many more.
In his latest high profile case, Salavati handed out sentences of 5-10 years in jail to reporters who were arrested following the post-JCPoA crackdown. One of them, Davoud Asadi isn’t even a reporter but his brother is. Their official “crimes” were, as usual, quite vague and included the usual “propaganda against the state” and such. Rumors even abounded that they would be tried for spying for foreign media but in the end, it must have been seen as too ludicrous. They have been in jail since November 2015.
Make no mistake, Salavati is not alone in being such a sorry example of a judge – he is one of six judges who specialize in dealing with politicized criminals. As an Iranian human rights lawyer explains, “they impose sentences that do not correspond with the crime committed; they ignore the defense case put by defendants and their lawyers; they approve indictments that have no legal basis; they are unfamiliar with the law and legal matters; and they undeniably come out with erroneous rulings“. These judges include Salavati, “Mohammad Moghiseh, former justices Yahya Pirabbasi and Hassan Zareh Dehnavi (known as judge Haddad), and appeal judges Hassan Babaee and Ahmad Zargar“.
Salavati is Beginning to Lose Ground
Take the case of the trial of Mohammad Amin Valian, a protester during the problematic 2009 elections. Valian took to the streets to protest the election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of widespread accusations that the elections were rigged to beat the more moderate candidates. Valian joined the other protesters and threw rocks at the police forces and was subsequently convicted to be executed based mostly on his own “confession” that he had thrown three rocks. On appeal, his sentence was reduced to three years in jail with no new evidence!
More recently, there is the famous case of Atena Faraghdani. Faraghdani is an Iranian artist who posted a cartoon in 2014 which she drew depicting the Iranian members of parliament as animals. The impetus for this drawing was a bill in parliament which was meant to prohibit vasectomies and minimize the sale of contraceptives in Iran. Through her drawing, Farghadani criticized the bill, the MP’s, the regime and the Supreme Leader. She was arrested and was convicted by Salavati to 12 years and 9 months in jail. Nearly two years into her sentence, after being tortured and forced to a virginity test, and following numerous hunger strikes, a court of appeals drastically reduced the sentence to 18 months in jail. From nearly 13 years to 18 months with no new evidence!
Salavati, along with some other judges have been sanctioned by the US, the EU and the UN for his role as the regime’s pawn in punishing critics of the revolution. Hopefully, the Iranian people will one day overthrow them in the hopes of offering every Iranian a fair trial.