Who Is Roya Nobakht?
Roya Saberinejad (also spelled “Saberi-Negad”) Nobakht is a 48-year-old Iranian-British woman, currently serving time in an Iranian jail after posting comments on Facebook criticizing the Iranian regime for being too controlling and “too Islamic”.
Roya was arrested in October 2013, during a visit to her family in Iran under the suspicion of “gathering and participation with intent to commit crimes against national security” and “insulting Islamic sanctities”, a crime which carries in Iran the death penalty.
Although she had legal representation during her trial, reports indicate that Roya’s lawyer was not allowed to speak on her behalf.
On 27 May 2014, Roya was sentenced to jail for 20 years. Her sentence was later reduced in a retrial, although no formal documentation was provided to confirm the reduced sentence.
Her supporters report that she has been subjected to harsh physical and psychological torture – including being made to stand in the bitter cold wearing wet clothing – as well as solitary confinement while in prison.
Roya’s Arrest and Sentence
Roya, who is of Iranian heritage, has been living in the past 7 years in Stockport, near Manchester in northern England. In October 2013, Roya flew to Iran to visit her relatives. Two weeks into her trip, she landed in the south-western city of Shiraz and was arrested at the airport by the Iranian cyber police.
Roya was put on trial along with seven other Iranian bloggers and social media activists. They were charged with “colluding and gathering against national security, propaganda activities against the system, insulting sacred symbols, insulting the head of the government branches and insulting specific individuals”.
The eight defendants were:
- Massoud Seyed Talebi
- Fariborz Kardarfar
- Amin Kararmipour
- Amir Golestani
- Massoud Ghasemjani
- Mehdi Rayshahri
- Nagmeh Shahsavandi Shirazi
- Roya Saberi-Nejad Nonbakht
It was reported that The Supreme Court in Iran has confirmed the sentences of the eight, accumulated to a total of 133 years in prison.
At a later retrial, Roya was allowed for the first time to defend herself. Reports stated that her sentence was reduced to 7 years in prison, along with the reduction of the sentences of the other bloggers.
Roya was informed about her reduced sentence verbally, and neither she nor her family were given any written confirmation about her sentence reduction.
Both Roya, who was an English student at Stockport College, and her husband Taghipour, a part-time chef, are naturalised British citizens. Iran has executed dual-citizenship holders before, such as Iranian-Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami, who was accused in 2011 of creating anti-government and anti-Iranian propaganda.
In November 2012, the Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti died in custody after being arrested by the Iranian Cyber Police unit for criticizing the Iranian government on Facebook. His death followed a complaint he made about being tortured in prison.
Roya is currently held in Evin prison near Tehran. Previously, she served for several months in the notorious Shahre Ray women’s prison, where she was reported to have been denied access to essential medical care for kidney problems, allegedly caused by the poor treatment in prison.
“She was subjected to physical and psychological torture, insults and humiliation, she was deprived of regular access to her medication, forced to stand outside in winter, in the cold, wearing wet clothes which have resulted in kidney problems. She was refused essential medication and was held in solitary confinement and was subjected to interrogation lasting several hours”
Shiva Mahbobi, a CFPPI spokesperson, told The Independent:
“Psychologically she is quite broken down. When she was in Shahre Rey it was horrendous. Prisoners get killed in front of the guards’ eyes. She was very scared and would call her family crying”
Roya’s husband, Daryoush Taghipour, told the Manchester Evening News that his wife has done nothing wrong:
“‘It’s a very bad situation. We don’t know what’s going on. Roya is not well at all. She has lost three stone and is frightened. She is scared that the government will kill her”.
Internet Freedom in Iran
According to the Freedom House’s report for the year 2014, Iran is marked as “not free” and ranked extremely low with regard to freedom of the net. The Iranian authorities ban social media apps and websites, block access to political and social content and extremely restrict press freedom.
Blocked social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are regarded by the Iranian regime as “un-Islamic, immoral or detrimental to the Islamic establishment”. However, many Iranians find ways to circumvent the restrictions. Additionally, several senior Iranian officials, including the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, embrace social media and hold active Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Ironically, at the same month of Roya’s arrest, President Rohani tweeted on his Twitter account about the importance of freedom of expression to everyone; however, limiting it by “the framework of law and ethics”.
What is Being Done to Secure Roya’s Release?
Following Roya’s arrest, family friend Nasser Homayoun-Fekri asked his MP Andrew Stunell to pressure the government to intervene in Roya’s case. In his appeal he stated:
“Roya is not a political activist in any way. She is just a normal citizen. The authorities don’t clarify why she has been arrested and Daryoush insists the charges are based on a confession extracted from Roya under duress. The government needs to do all that is feasible to get the release of this innocent British citizen”
When Roya was jailed the United Kingdom had weak political ties with Iran. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had initially said it was “urgently” looking into Roya’s case, but efforts were hampered by the UK having no diplomatic mission in Tehran.
However, in August 2015 Roya’s supporters felt a wave of optimism with the reopening of the British embassy in Tehran, four years after its doors were shuttered after a political row that saw the expulsion of the UK’s ambassador to Iran. The rapprochement comes after a long-awaited deal that was clinched between Iran and six world powers, aimed at curbing Tehran’s contentious nuclear programme.
The Free Roya Now campaign was launched in July 2014, urging campaigners to send letters protesting Roya’s imprisonment to the British government and to the European Union. The campaign states:
“It is the responsibility of the British Government to put pressure on the regime in Iran to release Roya Saberinejad Nobakht immediately and unconditionally… The British government has a duty of care for her”
Ways to help
- Sign a petition calling for Roya’s immediate release: http://chn.ge/1iqn098
- Like the campaign page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/freeroyanow
- Write to Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the UK on firstname.lastname@example.org. Sample letter can be found here.