Wed, 06/17/2009 - 08:00 — Anonymous
Systematic violations of human rights toward Azerbaijanis in Iran continued in May 2009 during the run-up to the Iranian presidential election. Scores filled the streets in protest of the government’s flagrant abuse of international human rights laws, government filters of the internet, arbitrary detentions of Iranian minority activists and insulting remarks made by former President Khatami about ethnic Azerbaijanis.
Those who were detained by Iran Ministry of Intelligence were denied access to a lawyer and have been held indefinitely. Relatives of many Azerbaijani activists have expressed deep concern over the health, whereabouts and safety of their loved ones since intelligence officials have refused to release such information.
New detentions and violence against Azerbaijani activists
On May 14, 2009, an internet video emerged that showed former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, gathered among a number of Iran’s reformist politicians, belittling ethnic Azerbaijanis. He can easily be seen making dehumanizing jokes against the Azerbaijani community as others laugh and partake in the insults. Among those present were distinguished Iranian clerics as well as representatives of 2009 presidential hopeful Mir Hossein Musavi.
Following release of the video, Azerbaijanis in Iran organized peaceful protests in many Azerbaijani cities and universities in a display of Azerbaijani solidarity against racism. Scores of activists were arrested during and after the demonstrations in Tabriz, Urmia, Ardebil, Miyandoab (Ghosachay), and Meshginshahr (Khiyav).
In a town hall meeting in Tabriz on May 20, Musavi answered questions posed by the residents of Tabriz about his campaign. During the discourse, Azerbaijani activists raised posters that read “Turkish language schools” and demanded Khatami apologize for his racist remarks. Campaign volunteers for the Musavi campaign attacked, injuring the protesters and ripping apart their signs. Among those injured were Hadi Hamidi Shafigh, former Azerbaijani student activist and former prisoner of conscience, and Naim Ahmadi, a member of Tabriz University Islamic Association. A similar incident occurred in another town hall meeting in Urmia as Musevi’s campaign supporters attacked a citizen after he asked Musavi a question regarding Khatami’s insults.
On May 22, 2009 during a government-sponsored sporting event in Tabriz, a fraction of the attendees began to chant and protest against the government’s maltreatment of Iran’s minority groups, particularly Azerbaijanis. Though the protests were peaceful, Ministry of Intelligence officers and Tabriz police used violence to remove the activists. An estimated 100 people were arrested, including Alireza Farshi, a university scholar; Ali Islami; Asghar Chamani; Bayram Khaleqzadeh; Sajjad Gharabaghli; Fardin Moradpur; Mortaza Moradpur; Seher Fathi, her sister Hale Fathi and her husband Vahid Aghajani. Vahid Aghajani, Seher Fathi, and Hale Fathi were released on bail after three days of detention.
After the event, intelligence officials
forcefully entered the Badali household arrested Ali, Iraj, Rasul, and Gholam
Badali for participating in the protests. Gholam Badali was released on bail
after one week of detention. Witnesses attest that Ministry of Intelligence
officers have entered several other homes unannounced and have detained
activists forcefully, without the issue of a valid warrant. In one case, they
entered the house of Ibrahim Rashidi, a prominent activist and writer. When
discovering that he was not at home, the intelligence officers confiscated many
of his books and articles.
That same day, Azerbaijani cultural rights activist Sajjad Aziziyan was arrested in Miyandoab (Ghoshachay) by intelligence officials. He was accused of distributing articles about the third anniversary of May 2006 protests of a cartoon published in the state-run “Iran” newspaper which compared Azerbaijanis to cockroaches. They were reportedly tortured and then released on bail on May 24.
Yet more demonstrations and subsequent arrests
occurred during a May 25 speech by presidential candidate Mir Hossein Musavi in
a Tabriz football stadium. Countless numbers of Azerbaijani activists could be
seen carrying posters ridded with slogans denouncing Khatami’s comments and
advocating linguistic rights. Again, police and Ministry of Intelligence
officers used violence to subdue the protesters and arrested around fifteen
people. They include: Tabriz University students Ali and Mehdi Imani; Tabriz
Azad University students Hamed Hasanzadeh and Asgar Ghadimi; documentary film
director Babak Moghimi; Asgar Ghadimi, a student at Tabriz University;
Jahanbakhsh Bakhtavar; Nader Bakhtavar; Farid Bagherzadeh; Armin Shakeran Vahi;
Ali Sadeghi and Abdullah Sadughi. Asgar Ghadimi, Jahanbakhsh Bakhtavar, Nader
Bakhtavar, and Hamed Hasanzadeh were released on bail after ten days of
On May 31, Azerbaijani cultural rights activists Aydin Zakeri, Mansur Seyfi, and Fardin Nobakht went missing. According to witnesses, Ministry of Intelligence officers in plain clothes arrested the three without warrants. There is no word regarding the health and mental well-being of any of the three detainees.
Still in custody
Naghi Ahmadi Azer, Azerbaijani journalist and
writer, who has been in Etilaat custody since April 4, 2009, is reportedly
experiencing harsh treatment and torture during his detention. Even after two
months in custody, Ahmadi’s family has not been informed of the reason for his
arrest. They believe that his is being held for his work as an Azerbaijani
activist and writer. He has not been given access to a lawyer. On May 19,
intelligence officials searched his home without acquiring a search warrant.
They confiscated his personal logs, journals and articles he had written for a
Ahmadi was a writer for the weekly journal “Shams Tabriz”, which was forced to shut down by the Iranian government. He is an author of Azerbaijani literature and history, and has translated several books into Azerbaijani Turkish. He is a member of the “Iranian Writers Association” and is a distinguished member of the “Azerbaijani Writers Association”.
Azerbaijani activists sentenced to prison
Said Mahmudi, Yaver Sharifi, Said Rasulpur, Mojtaba Kahriz, Gholamreza Damene, and Ali Akbari are Azerbaijani activists who were arrested in Urmia in August 2008. They were tried and sentenced to 30 lashes plus six months in prison. They were convicted of “spreading propaganda to separatists groups” for holding up an Azerbaijani flag at a football tournament.
Azerbaijani activists waiting to be tried
May 26, 2009 saw the beginning of the trial of two Azerbaijani activists, Vadud Asadi and Hasan Rahimi. They are being charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “propaganda for promoting ethnic identity.”
Prior to the current trial, Asadi and Rahimi were sentenced to 18 month terms. Both activists were detained for one month in July 2008 and were released on bail, but scheduled to be tried at a later date. During their detentions, they were tortured to give false confessions and were not allowed access to lawyers. Front Line condemned Asadi’s detention on August 8, 2008.
Azerbaijani activists released from prison
Ramin Sadeghi Asl was released on bail after 87 days of Etilaat detention on May 4, 2008. He was reported to have been tortured to give a false confession. Sadeghi was also arrested in 2007 during the International Mother Tongue ceremonies on February 21, 2007, but was released on bail after one month. Amnesty International released a public action bulleting at the time, deeming him a prisoner of conscience and calling for his immediate release.
Ibrahim Jafarzadeh, an Azerbaijani activist, was released from Khoy Prison after serving one year in prison. He was charged with “propaganda against regime” for participating in the International Mother Day celebrations and sentenced to one year imprisonment, two years of exile to Borazjan, a city that is thousands of kilometers far from his hometown. Jafarzadeh was also forbidden to engage in any political or social activities for three years. According to Jafarzadeh’s lawyer, his file has already been sent to Borazjan and he must leave immediately for exile.
Jafarzadeh is the former director and a founding member of the Khoy NGO Ervin. He is a prominent advocate of Azerbaijani linguistic and cultural rights and has been detained six times since 1999 for his tireless work on behalf of Azerbaijanis.
Filtering of the Azerbaijanis websites
Oyrenci a student-run, Azerbaijani activist website was made inaccessible in Iran starting May 11, 2009. Additionally, the Iranian authorities filtered the website “milli harakt”, both of which called for an apology from Khatami over his remarks against Azerbaijanis. The websites were actively promoting news about Azerbaijanis social, cultural and political events.
GUNASKAM was also filtered by Iranian authorities. This is the official website for “Azerbaijani Social and Cultural Research”, which has researched and published articles about Azerbaijanis in Iran for three years.
· Monthly Report of Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran(ADAPP) - April 2009 - The Iranian government continues its policy of undue pressure on Azerbaijani ethnic and human rights activists. The activists are detained arbitrarily and without charge, then tried. They are not allowed access to a lawyer or to visit their family during the detentions. Usually they are both subjected to torture and are generally mistreated.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - March 2009 - As in previous months, March also saw Azerbaijani cultural activists under increasing pressure from Iranian security forces. Even though Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution states that any demonstration except those against Islam is allowed, the Azerbaijani activists charged with participating in peaceful demonstrations are sentenced to heavy jail terms.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - February 2009 - Azerbaijani cultural activists are under increasing pressure from Iranian security and judiciary systems. They are subjected to arbitrary detentions and are held in prisons without trial, without access to legal representation or to their families. During detention security forces often coerce the detainees to confess to crimes they have not committed by means of torture or other abuse in order to ensure that heavy sentences will be imposed upon them.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - January 2009 - Detentions of Azerbaijani ethnic and human rights activists continue in Iran. Activists are arbitrarily detained without being tried or even told the reason for their detention. They are usually denied access to a lawyer and are generally tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment. Religious minorities in Iran are also discriminated against.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - December 2008 - Iranian authorities have increased the repression of Azerbaijani activists who hope to end discrimination against minorities in Iran. These activists organize ceremonies of that are of cultural significance to Azerbaijani Iranians. People participating in these ceremonies are arbitrarily detained without being tried or even informed of the reason for the detention. They are usually denied access to a lawyer and are generally tortured or subjected to other ill-treatments.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - November 2008 - The Iranian government has increased pressure on Azerbaijani ethnic and student activists in recent months. Activists are detained without charge, tried and are not allowed access to lawyers. They are not allowed to meet their family and are subjected to torture and ill- treatment.
· Monthly Report, ADAPP - October 2008 - The final four of the 19 Azerbaijani activists detained in Tehran during at iftar dinner, the first meal after the Ramadan fast, have been released on bail of $250,000. They were held by Iranian authorities for 57 days without being charged and with no access to a lawyer. The four – Elirza Serrafi (Alireza Sarrafi), Hesen Rashidi (Hasan Rashedi), Seid Mughanli (Said Muganli) and Mehdi Neimi (Naimi) – were at risk of torture all ill treatment during this time.