Death sentence fears for Dutch-Iranian woman

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It has emerged that a Dutch-Iranian woman has been in prison in Iran since the end of last year on suspicion of subversion. Zahra Bahrami is said to have been tortured while in custody. The Dutch foreign ministry says she could face the death penalty. The Dutch ambassador is not being allowed to offer her assistance.

The charges against 45-year-old Zahra Bahrami describe her as a ‘mohareb’, an enemy of God. She appeared in court last week. She is charged with belonging to a monarchist group, setting up an anti-government organisation and spreading anti-Iranian propaganda. The opposition Hrana human rights website says that, at the start of her trial, she was denied legal representation.

Ms Bahrami travelled from the Netherlands to visit one of her children in Iran and was arrested on 27 December 2009. She was accused of taking part in a demonstration. Since her arrest, she has been held at Tehran’s Evin prison.

Amnesty international has known about her plight for just one week. Ruud Bosgraaf from the organisation’s Amsterdam branch says Amnesty is looking into the facts of the case:

“We’ve learned from publicly available resources that she was involved in the Ashura protests in December, one of the many demonstrations following the Green Revolution. She was picked up there and may have been condemned to death. We also understand that she may have a Dutch passport. That’s all we know.”

No assistance
The foreign ministry in The Hague has confirmed that Ms Bahrami indeed holds a Dutch passport. It only became clear on 23 July who the person in question was because she had changed the spelling of her name slightly, changing it to Sahra Baahrami.

Last week, the ministry received reports that she would shortly be sentenced to life imprisonment or be given the death sentence. The acting Dutch ambassador in Tehran has asked for clarification about her case.

Iran is unwilling to release any information as Ms Bahrami remains one of its citizens according to Iranian law. This is the reason given why the Dutch embassy is not being allowed to assist her.

Both the Dutch foreign ministry and Amnesty are attempting to find out more about Ms Bahrami . Amnesty says thousands of people are still in Iranian anti-government protests.

“You’re in fact abused or tortured as a matter of course. Then, you almost always get an unfair trial. In a number of cases – as has already happened in the aftermath of the Green Revolution – the death sentence is handed down. So it’s very probable that she has been tortured,” explains Mr Bosgraaf.

Ms Bahrami is not allowed visitors in prison. She is only allowed to spend a few minutes on the phone to her family very occasionally, with the calls being monitored by the intelligence service. Her family have been told that the publicity surrounding her case will only worsen her situation.