An Iranian court has overturned the death sentence of popular mystic Mohammad Ali Taheri for a second time, according to his attorneys.
Taheri, 61, a popular and highly-revered teacher, was sentenced to death in August on charges of ‘blasphemy’ and creating a cult.
Taheri’s lawyer, Mohammad Alizadeh Tabatabai, announced Monday that the latest death sentence has been annulled and the case had been referred to a branch of the country’s supreme court.
Rights groups, the U.N.’s high commissioner and the U.S. State Department have expressed concern over Taheri’s death sentence.
Taheri, founder of a popular spiritual group called "Erfan-e Halgheh," or "mysticism circle," has been kept in solitary confinement in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since May, 2011. Taheri, who taught popular spirituality and meditation classes, was originally given a 5-year sentence for “insulting Islamic sanctities,” an offense that does not carry the death penalty as it does not involve the deliberate insulting of the Prophet Mohammad.
In an exclusive interview with The Foreign Desk, Anita Ghanaei, a student of Taheri's course said that the “government wants to call him a cult leader because his teachings go against what they want us to hear.”
“The Iranian government has created an environment where people are in duress, and once a person is in duress it is easier to hate than love," she said.
The case may go beyond that of Iranian authorities cracking down on a spiritual leader, according to Ghanaei, who says Taheri was arrested when a man, whose wife left him, blamed Taheri’s teachings.
Taheri’s teachings include belief that every human being deserves love, respect and equality before God and treating others as you would want to be treated. He also practiced a form of healing and relaxation through meditation.
In July 2014, Taheri sent a letter to Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, detailing the abuses and torture he has endured.
One year later in 2015, with just a year left in his sentence, authorities changed the charges to “corruption on Earth,” which lead to a death sentence. His death sentence was later overturned on appeal.
Authorities in Iran have also rounded up dozens of his supporters and followers. His lawyer intends to appeal the sentence.
Taheri has also done research on alternative medicine. Iran’s leaders see New Age beliefs as a threat to the principles of Islam.
Taheri has endured a dozen hunger strikes while in solitary confinement and attempted suicide four times, according to supporters.
In a soaring death rate, more than 3,000 people were executed during Iran President Hassan Rouhani’s first term in office.
Iran has about 220,000 prisoners, in a country with a total population of about 75 million, according to Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s chief prison official.
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