Iranian Protester Accused of Burning Quran Tortured to Death in Prison

After he was sentenced to death in January for allegedly burning the Quran, 35-year-old Javad Rouhi mysteriously died while under the custody of the Iranian authorities, sparking anger among Iranians at a time when the first anniversary of the protests triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death is fast approaching.

Javad Rouhi was arrested on September 22, 2022, and was accused of breaking into the headquarters of the traffic police in the northern Iranian city of Nowshahr and setting it on fire.

A branch of Iran’s revolutionary court gave Rouhi three death sentences on December 13, 2022, following a trial that lasted only 45 minutes on charges of “corruption on earth,” “destruction of property and setting fire to a traffic kiosk,” and “blasphemy and insulting the sacred by setting fire to a Quran,” along with a prison sentence of nine years and six months.

But a video posted on social media showed Rouhi dancing joyfully in the streets amid the protests, which human rights groups said highlighted the stark contrast between the charges against him and the heavy punishments imposed on him.

During his imprisonment, he suffered extreme abuse and torture from the authorities. Javad, who dreamed of becoming a lawyer, was denied the right to legal representation of his choosing.

He was tortured for more than 40 days. The tortures he endured in solitary confinement included locking him inside a storage freezer, freezing his testicles, giving him electric shocks, beating him up, flogging him, and threatening him with a gun. As a result, he had multiple physical problems.” Amnesty International said in a report regarding the state of Rouhi and two other prisoners arrested by Iranian authorities, namely 18-year-old Arshia Takdastan and 19-year-old Mehdi Mohammadifard.

As a result of the torture and other ill-treatment, Javad Rouhi suffered rotator cuff injuries, urinary incontinence, digestive complications, and mobility and speech impairment for which he was denied access to adequate health care,” the report added.

Rouhi’s legal team filed an appeal to reconsider the sentences given to him. The lack of evidence to support the charges against Rouhi prompted Iran’s Supreme Court to overturn the death sentences against him on May 23rd, and his case was referred for a re-trial. Still, Rouhi was kept in “temporary detention,” waiting for another trial until his sudden death at the end of August.

Nowshahr prison, where Rouhi was imprisoned, said he was sent to a hospital “following a concussion” on August 31st at 3:45 AM, where he died despite receiving medical treatment. Both the Prosecutor’s Office and Rouhi’s lawyer confirmed his death.

Human Rights Watch and the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said Rouhi’s body was returned to his family. Still, Iranian security forces pressured them to arrange a private burial and to commit to not disclosing the details of his case to the public.

A prominent Iranian activist cited one of Rouhi’s relatives and said in a series of social media posts that Iranian security forces “killed” him, prompting anger among many Iranian social media users who likened his death to Mahsa Amini, who also died under the custody of Iranian authorities after she was arrested for wearing her hijab improperly.

The activist also noted that Rouhi was laid to rest “in the presence of security agents in his father’s village of Kelikan near Amol [Mazandaran province, northern Iran].

Several human rights organizations urged the United Nations to investigate Rouhi’s death, while many Iranian activists and dissidents expressed their grief upon learning of his death on social media.

"Let's make Javad Rouhi's name a symbol of our revolution. They killed Javad Rouhi too.” Prominent Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad said on her Instagram page. “They had sentenced him to execution, but they executed him secretly to minimize the costs for the Islamic Republic. Let's not allow them to succeed."

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