Mehdi Mahmudian (left to right), Arash Keykhosro, and Mostafa Nili
An appeals court in Tehran has confirmed the prison sentences of three outspoken campaigners who wanted to sue government officials for allegedly mismanaging the coronavirus crisis and hampering the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
One of the activists, Mostafa Nili, said the Court of Appeal of Tehran Province on August 16 confirmed the sentences they were appealing before the group, who are known in Iran as the "health defenders," could file their legal challenge against the government and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over their response to the pandemic in Iran, which had the Middle East's deadliest outbreak.
He added that the court also confirmed the sentence of four years in prison and two years of deprivation of media activity for Mehdi Mahmudian, and for Arash Keykhosro, who was sentenced to two years in prison and banned for one year from advocacy and media activities.
Mohammad Reza Faghihi had his six-month prison sentence confirmed, while Maryam Afrafaraz's 95-day jail term was also confirmed.
The five were arrested in August 2021 by security officers for refusing to sign a letter pledging they would not sue Khamenei or other officials over the pandemic response.
They were subsequently convicted of colluding to commit crimes against national security at a trial held behind closed doors in Tehran. They were appealing those convictions. Many Iranians are angry at the chaotic response of officials to the pandemic. The government was widely accused of hiding the real numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
There was also criticism over the delayed rollout of vaccines and Khamenei's ban on the import of vaccines from the United States and Britain, which was seen as a political move.
According to data from Johns Hopkins university, just over 143,000 Iranians have died from COVID-19, though many analysts say the real numbers are many times higher.
Critics have said that the mismanagement of the pandemic and the slow vaccination rollout led to thousands of preventable deaths in Iran.