Sunday, 29 May 2011

ai: Ahwazi Arabs: Arbitrary arrests, torture and executions continue

Amnesty International is concerned by the Iranian government’s continuing clampdown on dissent, including arbitrary arrests and the torture or other ill-treatment of people who express views opposed to those of the government. Some of those arrested have even been executed, after apparently unfair trials, including at least one minor. Amnesty International wrote to the Head of the Judiciary to express concern about these developments on 13 May 2011, but without response; the Iranian authorities rarely reply to communications from Amnesty International.

The cases described below represent a small number of those known to Amnesty International involving similar violations of human rights.

Amnesty International continues to call on the Iranian government to end the continuing cycle of repression and fully respect Iran’s obligations under international human rights law.

In particular, Amnesty International urges the government to:

release immediately and unconditionally anyone held solely for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, or solely on account of their family links to individuals who oppose the Iranian authorities;

release all other detainees unless they are to be tried on internationally recognizable criminal charges in proceedings which meet international standards for fair trial, without recourse to the death penalty;

allow all detainees prompt and regular access to their families and to lawyers of their choice, and to any necessary medical assistance;

protect all detainees and other prisoners from torture or other ill-treatment, ensure that all allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are immediately and impartially investigated, and bring to justice anyone responsible for torture or other ill-treatment;

cease immediately all executions, including executions of juvenile offenders – those convicted of crimes committed while under the age of 18 – which is strictly prohibited under international law – and declare and institute a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty.

Arrest, torture and executions of members of the Ahwazi Arab minority

The Ahwazi Arab minority is one of many minorities in Iran. Much of Iran's Arab community lives in the south-western province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq. Most are Shi’a Muslims but some are reported to have converted to Sunni Islam, heightening government suspicion about Ahwazi Arabs. They often complain that they are marginalized and subject to discrimination in access to education, employment, adequate housing, political participation and cultural rights.

In 2005, dozens were killed and scores, if not hundreds, arrested during and following the demonstrations. The event sparked off a cycle of violence in the province, with fatal bomb attacks, followed by further arrests, unfair trials and at least 15 executions

Scores, if not hundreds of members of the Ahwazi Arab minority were reportedly arrested before, during and after demonstrations on 15 April 2011. The demonstrations had been called a “Day of Rage” to protest at the sixth anniversary of the 2005 mass demonstrations. At least three and possibly many more people were killed in the April 2011 demonstrations during clashes with the security forces, including some in the Malashiya neighbourhood in Ahvaz
2. Amnesty International has received the names of 27 individuals allegedly killed. Ahwazi Arab sources have claimed the casualty figures were even higher. Amnesty International has been unable to confirm the reports as the Iranian authorities do not allow the organization to visit the country. The authorities maintain a tight control on the flow of information in and out of the province, including by preventing foreign journalists from visiting Khuzestan.

At least four Ahwazi Arab men are said to have died in custody since 23 March 2011, possibly as a result of torture or other ill-treatment; others have been hospitalized, apparently as a result of injuries sustained from torture or other ill-treatment.

Those reported to have died in custody are Reza Maghamesi (said to have died on 23 March 2011), Abdol Karim Fahd Abiat (said to have died on 5 May 2011 in Sepidar Prison, Ahvaz), Ahmad Riassan (identified by some sources as Ja’far) Salami (said to have died between 5-6 May 2011 in Sepidar Prison) and Ejbareh Tamimi, who was reportedly arrested from his home in the days after 15 April, apparently on suspicion of having been in contact with, and having provided information to, al-Arabiya TV. He was reportedly tortured in order to force him to make a recorded “confession” which he refused to do, and died in Sepidar Prison as a result.

Akbar Nahayrat (or Nehirat) (aged 36), a political activist from Ahvaz, who was arrested on 20 April 2011 at his home in the Hay al-Nahda district of Ahvaz city, was reportedly tortured or otherwise ill-treated in an undisclosed place of detention. He was subsequently transferred to Razi Hospital in Ahvaz after his health deteriorated, where he is held under guard. His wife has been allowed to visit him very briefly but was unable to ascertain the extent of his injuries. Earlier, Hadi Rashidi was reported to have been arrested in March 2011, and was also later hospitalized, apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment.

At least eight Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, including one minor, were executed between 5 and 7 May 2011. The eight men executed included at least three brothers: Ali Heydari (known as Taha) aged 25, Jasem Heydari (known as Abbas) aged 23, and Naser Heydari (known as Abd al-Rahman) aged 21. The five others were named as Hashem Hamidi, aged 16, Ahmad Nawaseri (or al-Nasiri), aged 22, Amir Ma’avi (Ma’awi) Amir Badavi (Badawi) and Ali Na’ami. One source suggests that Ali Na’ami was executed separately on 4 May 2011 in a different case and that the individual concerned was a fourth brother named Mansour Heydari. A ninth man, whose name is unknown to Amnesty International, was also reportedly executed at the same time, but it is unclear whether he was convicted in the same case, or on separate charges.


Three of these eight, of whom one was Ali Heydari, were reportedly been executed in public at a crossroads near Hamidiyeh in Khuzestan province. The others were reportedly executed in Karoun Prison, Ahvaz. The only body said to have been returned to family members is that of the minor, Hashem Hamidi, which may have been decapitated during the hanging.

The Iranian authorities have not acknowledged these executions, although a police colonel said on 21 April 2011 that eight members of a group he described as “the Khalq-e Arab terrorist group” had been arrested by security forces, accused of the killing of three individuals, including an LEF official on 15 April 2011. Ahwazi Arab sources have claimed that the eight were arrested in connection with demonstrations which took place on 15 April 2011 in Khuzestan province. If so, they were tried, convicted and executed within three weeks. 

Amnesty International does not have information concerning most of their trials, although Hashem Hamidi is reported to have been tried without the presence of a lawyer in a proceeding which lasted about ten minutes. The organization has long expressed concern over the fairness of trials in Iran, including in Revolutionary Courts. The precise charges of which those reportedly executed were convicted of are unknown, but may have been “enmity against God”, a charge frequently levelled against those alleged to have been involved in armed opposition to the state.

Public Document

Friday, 20 May 2011

The diplomat: Inside Iran’s Most Secretive Region

Karlos Zurutuza

Sistan and Balochistan has been described as akin to Mars on Earth. For all the attention they get from Tehran, many Baloch feel they may as well be on another planet.

‘It’s the closest thing to Mars on Earth,’ concluded a group of US geologists visiting the region of Sistan and Balochistan in the early 1970s. And since Iran’s revolution in 1979, the country’s southeast feels as little explored as the Red Planet.

Balochistan, as the Baloch refer to their homeland, is divided today between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the fact that the region is a virtual no-go area for the international media shouldn’t disguise its potential strategic importance. After all, the area—roughly the size of France—holds significant reserves of gas, gold, copper, oil and uranium, and also has a 1,000-kilometre coastline at the gates of the Persian Gulf.

‘(But) unlike what happened in Pakistani-controlled Balochistan, Tehran hasn’t exploited the energy and mineral reserves in the area,’ says Prof. Taj Muhammad Breseeg. ‘It prefers that the region’s resources and population remain undeveloped.’

Today, the region has the lowest per capita income in Iran, with almost 80 percent of the Baloch people living below the poverty line by some estimates. The average life expectancy, meanwhile, is at least eight years lower than the national average, while infant mortality rates are the highest in the country. It all results, suggests Breseeg, from Tehran’s ‘policy of assimilation.’

‘Annexation of the region to Iran in 1928 brought terrible episodes of repression, caused a mass exodus of the local population and saw virtually every Baloch place name changed toa Persian one,’ Breseeg says.

The problem for Balochs is that they are Sunni Muslims in a Shiite-ruled nation. ‘The Islamic Shiite missionaries sent by Tehran told us that we’d have no jobs, no schools and no opportunities unless we converted,’ says Faiz Baloch, one of thousands of Baloch refugees who were forced to leave their homeland.

Now based in Britain, Faiz recounts the incident 10 years ago that he says was the last straw in pushing him out. ‘(I had) a heated discussion with two Islamic Guards. They raided our home and wanted to arrest me,’ he says. ‘I managed to escape, but they took my father instead. That was the last time I saw or heard from him.’ Faiz says he believes it likely his father was hanged soon after he was detained.

According to figures from Amnesty International, Iran executed at least 1,481 people from 2004 to 2009, with the London-based International Voice for Baloch Missing Persons claiming that about 55 percent of these were Baloch. The organization claims that the Baloch in Iran have endured the highest concentration of death penalties handed down as a percentage of population in the world for nearly a decade under the Islamic regime.

Faiz is studying for university admission exams, something he says would have been much harder in his native Sistan and Balochistan. ‘There are currently about 3.3 million university students in Iran, but Baloch account for probably only 2,000 students,’ he says. ‘Most Baloch students don’t find a job after graduation anyway.’

It was this harsh economic and political climate that fostered the creation of Jundallah—a religious and political organisation established in 2002 claiming rights for the local Baloch. Jundallah is believed to organize a range of disruptive activities in support of its cause, including suicide bombings and more selective attacks, such as the alleged kidnapping of an Iranian nuclear scientist last September.

‘The greatest paradox of all this is that it was the Ayatollahs’ regime that initially supported the Sunni Mullahs in the early 1980s,’ says Shahzavar Karimzadi, a Baloch economist and human rights activist who currently teaches at London Metropolitan University. ‘It was another way to counter the ever increasing popularity of the progressive secular democratic left among Baloch people.’

ICHRI: Eyewitness Describes Horrific Conditions Inside Karoon Prison In Ahwaz

Payman Roshan Zamir, a political prisoner who spent one month of his six-month detention inside Ward 6 of Karoon Prison in Ahwaz, described the conditions inside Karoon Prison in an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.  According to Roshan Zamir, the prison holds more inmates than its capacity and suffers from deplorable hygiene standards, and political prisoners inside the prison are mixed together with other types of prisoners who have committed crimes such as drug trafficking or murder, creating a very difficult environment for them.

“In Ward 6, which is assigned to political prisoners (before they were fortunately moved to another location), of a total of 360 prisoners only 52 were political prisoners, and the others had crimes such as theft or drugs.  Even if they wanted to stand on their feet next to one another, this many prisoners would not fit inside the ward.  The Karoon Prison in Ahwaz has 10 wards, and in all its wards there are more prisoners than there is space. In Ward 6 where I stayed, 150 people or more were ‘courtyard sleepers.’ All the prison authorities do is assign the prisoner to a ward; he will have to find space himself. When a political prisoner arrived, others would try to fit him wherever they could in the room. But other types of newcomer prisoners either had to have money to buy space, or if they were ex-cons their friends would help them find a space inside the ward. Otherwise, a first-time prisoner, especially those who didn’t have any money, would become a ‘courtyard sleeper.’ Because there was no other space inside the wards,” Roshan Zamir explained to the Campaign.

The head of Khuzestan Province’s Prisons Organization told Iranian Student’s News Agency (ISNA) on 23 April that the number of incoming prisoners in Khuzestan prisons rose 38% from last year. “This volume of incoming prisoners makes our work difficult and causes our workload to increase. Currently, each day 4,500 families come to Khuzestan prisons with requests such as visiting with prisoners,” he said.

Payman Roshan Zamir, who blogs on “Oos Peyman,” and is Editor-in-Chief of “Talar-e Haft-e Tir,” is currently out of prison on bail. His next court session will be held on 14 June at Branch 3 of the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court, with Judge Barani presiding. His charges are “propagating against the regime,” and “insulting the leader”–neither of which the political activist accepts. He was arrested at his home on 20 January and was released on 29 February after being detained inside the Intelligence Office and Karoon Prison.

After the publication of a recent letter by Zia Nabavi, addressed to Mohammad Larijani, Head of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, in which he described the dire conditions of the Karoon Prison in Ahwaz, all 52 political prisoners of the prison were transferred to another prison known as a “treatment clinic,” some 20 kilometers outside Ahwaz. During telephone calls to their families, they have stated that their conditions are a lot better than they were in Karoon Prison. Even so, some 4,500 prisoners remain exposed to the horrific and sub-standard conditions of Karoon Prison. Zia Nabavi is a student who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in exile at Karoon Prison in Ahwaz. Payman Roshan Zamir is a friend of Zia Nabavi’s who spent a month of his recent imprisonment next to Nabavi.

The Justice Minister, Morteza Bakhtiari, recently visited Karoon Prison. Reports of the visit, however, did not reflect any mention of the appalling way the prisoners were kept, the situation with hygiene and health, or the prison’s failure to separate the prisoners according to their crimes and charges, a requirement stipulated by law. “The evolution of the Khuzestan prisons, as compared to the past, is huge, broad, and unique in all aspects and areas.”

“The most important point about this prison was the existence of ‘courtyard sleepers,’ something I have never seen even in the movies. Imagine, if someone is homeless, when it snows or rains, he can take cover somewhere, but the ‘courtyard sleepers’ in Karoon Prison cannot even take refuge anywhere. They have to stay under the snow and rain, especially as it rains a lot in Ahwaz.  Sometimes the ‘courtyard sleepers’ have to remain under the rain for one or two days.  Occasionally, the prison sewer system acts up, too, and fills up the courtyard.  Then the courtyard sleepers have to pick up their blankets and personal items and try to drain the flooded sewer, but then they have to put their blankets and things back in the same place where the sewer flood was,” Roshan Zamir told the Campaign.

He added that prisoners inside Ward 6 of Karoon Prison were not separated according to their crimes. “Fortunately, the other prisoners treated the political prisoners with respect.  Maybe one of the reasons was that they [the political prisoners] had a better financial situation and many times they helped the courtyard sleepers with food and other needs.  Most of the prisoners were drug addicts and did not have the energy to move.  The healthiest prisoners I saw were the political prisoners.  But I saw a lot of unprovoked attacks, especially when the prisoners smoked crystal meth, they would suddenly attack each other with a knife or with boiling water.”

“Karoon prisoners use unfiltered water, which is seriously dirty.  Ahwaz water is unhealthy and tastes bad and it causes kidney stones.  I saw a lot of prisoners who had kidney stones.  They have problems with their food, too.  The prisoners are not given fruits and vegetables.  Only twice per month, the prison store offers fruits and vegetables.  As you can imagine, if someone is lucky, he can get one kilogram of fruit a month.  There is no beef or poultry on the menu.  Once a week, the prison store offers meat and only those who can afford it will buy it.  Most prisoners cannot financially afford it.  Most of those who are involved in drug dealing inside the prison have a good financial situation.  The day I was going to court, I talked to a prisoner in the car who said [some prisoners] earn about $6,0000 to $7,000 per month through selling drugs in prison,” Roshan Zamir added. Iran rejects scientists’ warnings against building nuclear reactors

VIENNA — The leaders of earthquake-prone Iran have rejected concerns by the country’s top scientists about a plan to build a national nuclear reactor network, according to intelligence shared with The Associated Press.

An official from a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna says the Iranian decision was reached shortly after Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, spewed radiation into the atmosphere, and evolved into the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
According to the official, key Iranian leaders reviewed a 2005 report on Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan Province — site of a planned nuclear plant near the town of Darkhovin on the northern tip of the Persian Gulf — that was updated in 2010 and early this year with a study of earthquakes that have hit other Iranian provinces in the last decade.

The official said yesterday that the report by Iranian scientists warns that “data collected since the year 2000 shows the incontrovertible risks of establishing nuclear sites in the proximity of fault lines’’ in Khuzestan and 19 other Iranian provinces.

The official, who asked for anonymity in exchange for divulging intelligence information, said the review was conducted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi, Saeed Jalili, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, and the head of the Revolutionary Guard, General Mohammad Ali Jafari.

Despite the scientists’ warnings, the talk ended with instructions approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to continue work on nuclear reactor designs. It was also decided to restrict access to the report, entitled “Geological Analysis and Seismic Activity in Khuzestan: Safety and Environment’’ by deleting it from computers at Tehran University’s Geographic Institute, the official said.

Beyond Darkhovin, Iran has not said where its other planned reactors would be built. But there are few places in the country that are not prone to earthquakes.

Iran is located in a zone of tectonic compression where the Arabian plate is moving into the Eurasian plate, leaving more than 90 percent of the country crisscrossed by seismic fault lines. The country has been rocked by hundreds of killer quakes over past centuries.

Iranian officials confirmed yesterday that Tehran remained committed to the reactor program.
“We have long-term programs for peaceful use of the nuclear knowledge; we continue various activities and this will develop the country,’’ said Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

UPI: Nasir Jabr Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have been training Syrian forces since 2009

AHVAZ, Iran, May 16 (UPI) -- Iranian military forces are training Syrian troops to help put down a wave of deadly demonstrations across the country, an Iranian opposition leader said.
Syrian troops are roaming the streets of the country to curb anti-government demonstrations that have raged throughout the country. Hundreds of people have been killed or injured in the protests.

Ammar al-Qurabi, the head of Syria's National Organization of Human Rights, told Asharq al-Awsat during the weekend that Syrian authorities have turned the country into a "huge prison."
Nasir Jabr, a spokesman for the opposition Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz in western Iran, told the pan-Arab daily newspaper that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have been training Syrian forces since 2009.

"The Revolutionary Guards Corps currently provides the latest military training for the forces of (Syrian President) Bashar Assad and helps them with tactics to bring the protests in Syrian cities under control," he was quoted as saying.

Some regional observers note the Syrian upheaval is reminiscent of the Iranian response to the political unrest that greeted the 2009 re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The opposition leader said Tehran was anxious to see the Syrian regime remain intact.

ICHRI: Only One Month to Find, Sentence and Execute Suspects, Says Ahwazi Activist

Yousef Azizi Banitorof, Secretary of the Center for Combating Racism and Discrimination Against Arabs in Iran, who currently resides in London, spoke with International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran following news from the Al Arabiya website quoting Ahwaz News about recent executions in Ahwaz. ”According to news we were able to receive from our contacts in Ahwaz, three people were hanged in public at Hamidieh Junction. They were three brothers by the names of Ali Heydari (25), Jassem Heydari (23), and Nasser Heydari (21). The hangings were viewed by eyewitnesses and there is no doubt that they took place. But another six were hanged inside Karoon Prison in Ahwaz, and nobody knows anything about it. Their families have not yet seen the bodies, nor were they informed at all in order to appear at the prison on the execution date. They, too, have only just heard this news,” said Azizi Banitorof.

Official sources only announced the names of eight of the nine executed individuals. Azizi Banitorof indicated that his sources in Ahwaz were also unable to find the name of the ninth individual. According to Ahwaz News’ website, five of the six executed individuals at Karoon Prison were Amir Moavi, Ali Na’ami, Amir Badavi, Ahmad Naseri, and Hashem Hamidi. The individuals are all from Ahwaz.

“Contrary to news from official Iranian sources that have stated their charges as ‘attacking the police’ and ‘acts against public chastity,’ we and local sources believe that the three brothers hanged at the Hamidieh Junction were active protesters during the 15 April demonstrations in Ahwaz this year. If the Islamic Republic of Iran disputes this assertion, they should allow independent human rights organizations to go to Iran and prove otherwise. They were kids from the Mallalshieh neighborhood. Mallashieh was the first spot in Ahwaz where the 15 April demonstrations started. We believe they were active in the protests and gathered people to participate in the demonstrations, and now the Islamic Republic has publicly executed them to intimidate the others,” said Azizi Banitorof about the charges against the executed individuals.

On 15 April the ethnic Arab population of Ahwaz and surrounding towns gathered to commemorate the 2005 protests, during which several protesters were killed and many others were arrested. During this year’s protests, several people were also killed and many were injured and arrested.

Reacting to the discrimination in this region, lawyer and Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi wrote a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, asking for a review of the events in Ahwaz. “Considering the geographic importance of the Khuzestan Province, and bearing in mind that Arab Iranians in the region have suffered from undue discrimination and currently live under unfavorable conditions, a widespread unrest in this region of Iran is probable,” wrote Ebadi.

“As Secretary of the Center for Combating Racism and Discrimination Against Arabs in Iran, I believe that the Iranian government wishes to seek revenge on that protest. The Hamidieh Junction is a location where residents of Ahwaz, Hamidieh, and Mallashieh frequent, and by using this location for executing the three brothers, perhaps they wished to intimidate the people of all three regions, so that they would not attempt demonstrations again. Who knows whether the six other individuals executed inside the Karoon Prison were former political prisoners, or whether they were arrested during the 15 April protests?” Azizi Banitorof told the Campaign.

“Official news sources have announced that the three brothers executed in public were charged with ‘armed attack on the police at an inspection stop in Ahwaz,’ but no objective eyewitnesses have confirmed this. The suspects did not have lawyers either, and the trial was held in a closed court session, behind closed doors. It is strange that in less than one month, the Islamic Republic found the murderer, sentenced him, and carried out the sentence, whereas these legal proceedings should have taken several months. Individuals should not be executed so easily and the sentence should not be finalized and carried out so quickly,”

“We witness executions of political activists inside the Ahwaz Prison from time to time; sometimes as ‘smugglers’ and sometimes as ‘rapists.’  The Iranian government has never tolerated Ahwaz’s ethnic Arabs,” added Azizi Banitorof.

VOA: Repression and Resistance in Iran


The government of Iran, two years ago, led the way in employing bullets and batons as a response to calls for democracy and freedom.

The seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i community.

In the Middle East, the use of military force against peaceful protesters by governments determined to cling to power has rightly captured the attention and the condemnation of the world.  But attention must also be paid to another regime that continues to brutally repress its people -- the government of Iran, which two years ago led the way in employing bullets and batons as a response to calls for democracy and freedom.

Some examples of such repression: three years have now passed since Iranian security forces arrested and imprisoned seven leaders of Iran's Baha'i community. The five men and two women were tried in grossly unfair judicial proceedings and convicted on trumped up charges of espionage.  Recently, the judiciary reinstated a 20-year prison sentence for the seven  -- imposed only because they belong to a religious minority which has long been despised and grossly discriminated against by the government.

In recent testimony before the U.S. Congress, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner cited other egregious human rights violations by the Iranian government, including an alarming spike in executions, particularly of ethnic minorities; and of political prisoners held with violent criminals in terrible conditions.  He also spotlighted the plight of courageous civil society activists:

"One is distinguished labor leader, Mansour Osanloo, who was arrested in 2007. He suffers from a heart condition, and they repeatedly deny him medical care. A student leader, Bahareh Hedayat, who was arrested in 2009, for the fifth time in four years, for being a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign, a women's movement to change laws that discriminate against women – she faces further charges for sending a public letter describing the conditions in prison."

"The list goes on and on," said Assistant Secretary of State Posner. But ultimately, he said, "Governments, like the Iranian government, that try to suppress their people are fighting a losing battle:"

"It's a young population that sees what's going on in the rest of the world and in the region and is increasingly impatient with the kind of autocratic policies this government employs."

The United States, said Mr. Posner, will continue to speak out about human rights conditions in Iran, and amplify the voices of the many young Iranians who, despite brutal resistance, "are determined to change their destiny."

Monday, 16 May 2011

U.S. Department of State: Human Rights and Democratic Reform in Iran: "mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families’ knowledge"

Michael H. Posner
   Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Philo L. Dibble
  Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
Statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs
Washington, DC
May 11, 2011
 Chairman Casey, Ranking Member Risch, Distinguished Members of the Committee: thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to discuss the Iranian government’s continuing and worsening abuses against its own people.

Almost two years after Iran’s disputed presidential election, Iranian authorities continue to harass, arbitrarily detain, torture and imprison their citizens, as well as some of ours. Their targets include those who demand accountability from their government and who stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens; ethnic and religious minorities; journalists, bloggers and students. Unfortunately, the situation has only further deteriorated in the first months of 2011 as compared with last year: protestors were killed in Tehran in February and in ethnically-Arab areas in April; the reduction of prison sentences for seven Baha’i leaders from 20 years to 10 was reversed; additional sentences were levied on those already in prison merely for sending letters to family members; political prisoners are held in deplorable conditions with convicted murderers in former stockyards; those released from prison are forced to pay exorbitant bail sums; a Jewish woman and her Armenian-Christian husband were reportedly executed based on undisclosed charges; mass executions of mainly ethnic minority prisoners have been carried out without their families’ knowledge; Iran has executed at least 135 people this year, more than any other country in the world except China; restrictions on speech have intensified; journalists and bloggers continue to be targeted by the regime for daring to write the truth; teachers and other workers are harassed and incarcerated when they seek freedom of association and payment of wages owed; trade union leaders remain imprisoned on questionable charges; politically-active students have been banned from universities; and entire university faculties deemed un- Islamic have been forced to close their doors.

Particularly troubling is the deepening persecution of religious minorities. On May 1, the Revolutionary Court in the northern city of Bandar Anzali tried 11 members of the Church of Iran, including Pastor Abdolreza Ali-Haghnejad and Zainab Bahremend, the 62-year-old grandmother of two other defendants, on charges of “acting against national security.” On September 22, 2010, Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was given a death sentence for apostasy although, according to human rights groups, this sentence is against Iranian law. Another pastor could be sentenced to death later this year. In March, over 200 Gonabadi Sufis were summoned to courts around the country based on allegations that they were insulting Iranian authorities. In April, eight other Sufis were re-arrested on charges of disrupting public order – charges for which they had been punished with flogging and imprisonment.

Iran’s leaders continue to signal to their citizens that criticism will not be tolerated, while selectively applauding protestors in other countries in the region. As the country’s economic situation deteriorates, workers are arrested when they protest for back wages, only to have authorities deny that strikes are taking place. At the same time the Iranian government was claiming influence in shaping popular unrest in the Arab world last month, its security forces arrested over 200 of its own people and three protestors died at the hands of authorities. While it decries crackdowns against protesters in Bahrain, it defends and assists the Syrian government’s repression of protesters in Syria. Though Iranian leaders continue trying to portray regional events as inspired by the 1979 Islamic revolution, we are confident that the people of the Arab world will recognize those statements for the opportunistic falsehoods they are.

As Iran’s leaders have increased their repressive tactics, we have increased the scope of our efforts aimed at challenging the Iranian government’s deplorable human rights violations. President Obama and Secretary Clinton continue to speak out on behalf of the hundreds of victims in Iran who suffer at the hands of their government. Other world leaders have done the same. We have designated 10 Iranian officials for serious human rights abuses in accordance with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act and, as the act requires, we are actively seeking more information on possible targets.

Following these designations, we engaged our European partners on ways to strengthen our collective voice, express solidarity with victims of torture, persecution, and arbitrary detention, and amplify the effect of our asset freezes and travel bans against Iranian officials. We welcomed the European Union’s April 11 decision to sanction 32 Iranian officials, and have begun working with other partners to explore similar actions. We immediately imposed travel bans on the additional individuals not designated by the United States. While the U.S. and EU human rights sanctions regimes have different evidentiary standards, we are working closely together to share information on possible targets.

We continue to urge more nations to join our call to shine a spotlight on Iran’s gross violations of human rights in bilateral and multilateral settings. We successfully kept Iran off of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) and helped win passage of a Canadian-led resolution condemning Iran’s human rights abuses by the largest margin in eight years. At the March session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we led a successful effort to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran – the first country-specific human rights rapporteur created since the Council came into being. This historic action sent an unmistakable signal to Iran’s leaders that the world will bear witness to their systematic abuse of their own citizens’ human rights. More importantly, the Special Rapporteur will serve as a critical voice for those Iranians being persecuted for their political, religious, and ethnic affiliations. We have also urged other countries to press Iran on its abuses in their bilateral diplomacy.

Our efforts to address Iran’s human rights abuses have been consistent and sustained. We often work behind the scenes in order to increase our effectiveness. We also continue to work quietly with civil society organizations in Iran to give them the tools they need to expand political space and hold their government accountable. Just as we do throughout the region, we provide training and tools to civil society activists to foster freedom of expression and the free flow of information on the Internet and via other communication technologies.

We believe that Internet Freedom is essential to 21st century democracy promotion. Our Internet freedom programming, which is a priority for Secretary Clinton, is aimed at making sure the voices for peaceful democratic reform – in Iran and around the region – can be heard. We have spent $22 million on Internet freedom programming to date, and have notified Congress of our intent to spend $28 million more this spring. Countering Iran’s increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. State Department grants will support more advanced counter-censorship technologies, including circumvention tools in Farsi, secure mobile communications, and technologies to enable activists to post their own content online and protect against cyber attacks. We also have trained 5,000 activists worldwide – including Iranians – in cyber-self defense. And we plan to expand these efforts to teach democratic activists, journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and others how to protect their online privacy and their data – so that they in turn can train others.

One of our grantees has just developed a mobile panic button that works on the kind of inexpensive cell phones used in much of the world. Pushing the button alerts others that an activist has been assaulted or arrested – a sad necessity in an era when official abductions and disappearances are all too common. Activists around the world have told us that when police come to break up pro-democracy protests, they often grab demonstrators’ mobile phones in order to track down their contacts. Within a few months, we also expect to have software that will wipe the contact lists from mobile phones with the push of a button.

Countering Iran’s increasingly active Internet surveillance and censorship efforts requires a diverse portfolio of tools and training. We are finalizing new global grants for projects that will support digital safety and capacity building training, counter-censorship technology, virtual communication, and peer-to-peer technologies. No single tool will overcome the Iranian government’s repressive Internet efforts, and that is why we have invested in incubating a diverse portfolio of technologies and digital safety training. This way, even if one particular tool is blocked, other tools will still be available. Likewise, we work to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring sensitive technology to repress its citizens.

Despite growing international consensus and a resounding condemnation of the Iranian government’s actions, the regime continues to turn a deaf ear to the aspirations of its own citizens. But there is hope. Hundreds of brave Iranian citizens continue to engage in the most basic of human rights work, documenting and reporting on abuses, with the hope that one day Iranian government officials will be held accountable for crimes they have committed against their fellow citizens. Along with our international partners, we will continue to draw attention to these and other abuses and call on the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran to respect the universal rights enshrined in Iran’s constitution and enumerated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.

BBC: Fears for Iran's jailed minority Bahai leaders

Saturday marks the third anniversary of the imprisonment of seven leaders of Iran's Bahai religious community. BBC Persian's Kambiz Fattahi in Washington says their treatment reflects the situation faced by many minority groups in Iran.

In March, Ashraf Khanjani passed away in Tehran at age 81.

Hundreds of people attended her funeral, but her husband, Bahai leader Jamaloddin Khanjani, was not among them.

Instead, he was in prison, barred by Iranian authorities from attending the ceremony.
Mr Khanjani is one of seven imprisoned leaders of Iran's Bahai community, the country's largest non-Muslim religious minority, which Iran's Shia Muslim political and religious establishment views as a heretical sect.

He, Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezaie, Vahid Tizfahm and Behrouz Tavakkoli were sentenced last year to 20 years in prison, after their conviction on charges including co-operation with Israel, propaganda activities against the Islamic order, and "corruption on Earth".

That conviction by a branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sparked an international outcry. The UN, the US and the EU have called for their release.
Human waste

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi says her former clients are innocent.

"If an impartial judge were to try them," Ms Ebadi said, "they would be freed immediately."
Critics of Tehran say the persecution of the adherents of the Bahai faith has a political character. Human rights activist Ali Afshari says as a theocracy, Iran considers the growth of other faiths a serious threat to its existence.

"If it leaves the space open, religious minorities will grow that would harm the stability and existence of the political system," says Mr Afshari, who lives in the US.
Meanwhile, the two women in the group - Ms Kamalabadi and Ms Sabet - were recently sent to Qarchak prison, 40km (25 miles) south of Tehran, a move that worries their family and friends.
Ms Kamalabadi's brother, Iraj, says the prison is overcrowded and filled with human waste due to inadequate plumbing.

He says its 300 to 400 prisoners are crammed into one large room with no fresh air.
Mr Khanjani's niece, Nika Khanjani, an American citizen living in Canada, says she cannot freely communicate with her cousins in Iran.

"It is almost as if we are always speaking with an audience on the phone line," she says. "I try to edit conversations so there is nothing that would be seen as incriminating.
"For years they were saying 'thank God everything is fine', even though I knew it wasn't fine. They knew I knew it wasn't fine. In the past year their voices express a lot of exhaustion, fatigue and sadness."

Iranian officials dismiss claims of systematic discrimination against Bahais and say no groups are persecuted on religious grounds.

But the experiences reported by evangelical Christians and non-Shia Muslims belie that assertion.
Earlier this year, Tehran Governor Morteza Tamaddon publicly denounced Iran's evangelical Christians as "deviant" and "corrupt".

An estimated 100 evangelical Christians are currently imprisoned in the country, Iranian Christian activists say. Among those is Yusef Naderkhani, convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death in the northern Gilan province.

Rights groups say members of Iran's Nematollahi Gonabadi Sufi Order have also come under heavy pressure, and many of their places of worship destroyed.

Sunni Muslims in Tehran have long complained authorities will not permit them to build a mosque.

In the past year, roughly 200 Sufis, or dervishes, have been charged with insulting Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and acting against the country's national security, says Mostafa Azmayesh, the Sufi order's spokesman outside Iran.

Although Mr Khanjani and the other Bahai prisoners are being held on political and security charges, Ms Ebadi says Iranian Bahais have no involvement in politics.

Mr Azmayesh makes a similar point. "Dervishes in Iran are being oppressed because of their belief in the separation of religion and politics," he says.

Friday, 13 May 2011

RFE/RL: A Disturbing Glimpse Of Iranian Prison Life

Of all the controversies to emerge from Iran's disputed 2009 presidential election, the most sensitive were the multiple allegations of rape said to have been suffered by male and female prisoners at the hands of their jailers after being arrested in the upheavals that followed.

The accusations -- in many cases backed up by medical evidence -- brought a wave of official opprobrium on the head of Mehdi Karrubi, the defeated reformist presidential candidate who brought them to light.

Rape after all, is a great taboo subject under an Islamic regime that preaches a tone of piety in sexual, as well as on all other, affairs.

Now fresh allegations have surfaced in an open letter sent by a pro-reformist journalist and Karrubi supporter, Mehdi Mahmudian, to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Sexual Slavery

The difference this time is that the sexual assault Mahmudian speaks of is not part of some officially sanctioned regime of terror against political prisoners.

Rather, it comes in the form of de facto sex slavery imposed by violent prisoners against inmates unable to defend themselves.

Mahmudian, who has been in custody since September 2009, paints a highly disturbing and terrifying picture of conditions inside Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, near Tehran.

"In Rajai Shahr, anybody who is good-looking or lacks physical strength or doesn't have enough money to pay protection is forced to spend each night in a cell to be raped," he writes.

"Every 'object' has an owner [who] earns money through this and sometimes he is sold to somebody else."

'Raped Seven Times In One Night'

In several sections of the prison, Mahmudian continues, sodomy is a "routine acceptable practice."

Mahmudian is able to describe such scenes apparently because political prisoners are held in the same facilities as common and violent criminals.

Citing the testimony of a fellow political inmate, he describes the plight of a young prisoner who was raped seven times in a single night.

When the victim complained, prison officers hauled him off to a solitary confinement cell instead of taking action against his tormentors.

Addressing Khamenei directly, Mahmudian -- whose letter is dated last September but has only come to public attention in recent days -- writes: "Here in Rajai Shahr prison, which is run under your control, the offspring and citizens of a country under your authority are rented out for 250,000 tomans [about $250] in a system from which the victims do not find any salvation."

Mahmudian, who has reportedly suffered health problems as a result of ill-treatment during his incarceration, also outlines the pervasive presence of drugs and complains about the beating of political prisoners with chains and cables.

Having been an inmate in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and a facility called Kachouyi, as well as Rajai Shahr, Mahmudian says narcotics are freely available in all three in whatever quantity a prisoner wants.

He contrasts this with a six-month wait for clothing items. Many addicted inmates have diseases like AIDS and hepatitis but mix freely with other prisoners, with whom they have sexual relations thus leading to the spread of conditions like HIV.

Mahmudian has blown the whistle on prison conditions in Iran in the past, before he himself was imprisoned.

Latest In A String Of Prison Complaints

He reminds Khamenei in his letter that he drew attention to brutal treatment meted out at Tehran's Kahrizak dentention center in 2007.

The facility was closed on the supreme leader's orders two years later, after several inmates arrested in the postelection protests -- including the son of a prominent government scientist -- died from torture and beatings.

It is the third written complaint about conditions inside Iranian prisons to emerge in recent days.

On May 8, the pro-reformist website,, published an open letter to the head of Iran's Islamic Human Rights Commission, Mohammad Hassan Ziaeefar, from the families of around 600 female political prisoners protesting about Gharchak prison in southern Tehran, where the inmates were denied regular food, water or washing facilities.

And Zia Nabavi, a jailed Iranian student leader wrote last week to Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the judiciary's human rights department, about Karun prison in Ahvaz in south-west Iran. He said the jail was overcrowded and dirty and that 1,500 prisoners were forced to sleep outside in a yard regardless of the weather.

-- Robert Tait

The Sun: Letter from a Kurdish exile


Ava Homa

The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.”Plato

Why vote? Why take time out of one’s busy schedule to study the candidates, make decisions and leave the comfort of home on a cold day to vote? Listen to my story. See if it helps you find the answers.

I am in exile, 12,000 kilometres away from my family and friends, from people whom I deeply love and miss, with little hope of ever being able to visit them. My name is Ava Homa and I have published a collection of short fiction called Echoes from the Other Land. The Other Land is where people are routinely denied many of the rights you in Canada enjoy.

I am Kurdish, the largest ethnic group with no homeland. Absurd, man-made borders have divided us between four different countries: Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. I am Kurdish but I was never taught to read or write in my mother tongue. In my country, ethnic identities are suppressed and the punishment for protestors like my father is intimidation, violence or execution.

When my father was magically released from prison, nobody could bear to look at the scars on his back, neck and head. But the wounds, bruises and blisters were nothing compared to what the government had done to him psychologically. To this day, my father carries the invisible injuries of torture. We’re not the only family suffering persecution. Talk to any Kurd and they’ll have at least one family member or a loved one who has been executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

My Canadian friend, you are free to openly criticize your government. This is something people in many countries in the world, not just Iran, can only dream about. We have spent centuries fighting, dying to get where you are today and it makes me sad when I see that some Canadians are reluctant to participate in the elections.

In the Other Land, an election is only a game. In 2009, however, millions of Iranians voted mainly for one thing: to get rid of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The few other candidates also had a lot in common with the government so we had to choose between bad and worse. 

Nonetheless, we did vote, because we were fed up with cannibals governing us and constantly damaging our country’s international reputation. In July 2009, many Iranian Canadians took a Friday off and travelled to Ottawa to vote at the Iranian embassy. When our votes were shamelessly stolen, the protestors in Iran took to the streets in their millions, asking one peaceful question: “Where is my vote?”

To respond to our question, the Islamic government turned off city lights, blocked the Internet, brought down mobile networks and issued a curfew. They did not hesitate to shoot at peaceful protesters, or to use illegal force against demonstrators, such as running them over with cars. Thousands of protesters were detained and tortured; hundreds were executed or placed on death row. Many who did manage to return home were depressed or suicidal, filled with shame and guilt for having been raped.

My friends, you can participate in genuine elections and see the results. Do you understand what that means? You have the power to change and strengthen your government. We are dying in the thousands to gain a small portion of that power. To me, refusing to participate in the future of one’s nation is a betrayal of freedom. How can any human being ever undervalue freedom?

UNPO: Iranian Kurdistan: Execution is closing in on Sherko Maarifi in Iran

Defenders of the Kurdish prisoner seen the acceptance of Maarifi’s death by the revolutionary court of Saqiz city in Iran as an example of the increasing pressure by Iranian security forces on Kurdish human rights activists in Iran

Below is an article published by Rudaw

This news comes in the midst of increasing pressure by Iranian security forces on Kurdish human rights activists in Iran, among them Kawa Kermashani, a human rights activist who was recently sentenced to four years in prison.

Sherko Maarifi is 31 years old and he is from the city of Bana in Iranian Kurdistan. It is said that for a period of time he was a supporter of the Kurdistan Toilers Party in Iraq. After his return to Iran in 2008, he was detained by Iranian intelligence, jailed, and then sentenced to death by the revolutionary court for anti-Islamic activities.

Maarifi’s sentence was supposed to be upheld at the same time as Habibulla Lotfi’s, another Kurdish activist at the end of 2009, but after the visit of Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president to Tehran, Maarifi’s sentence was postponed.
Maarifi’s family have written a letter to the public through which they hope to stop the execution of their son.

“Sherko went to Iraqi Kurdistan to find work. Sometime later he became a supporter of the Komala Party [a dissident Iranian group] but after a while he changed his mind and returned to Iran. He was detained and in a trail lasting several minutes he was sentenced to death by the Iranian revolutionary court. We ask every human rights organization to spare no efforts to stop that sentence from being upheld.” reads the letter.

Maarifi’s family also ask the Iranian authorities to pardon their son. “Forgiveness is one of the qualities of Islam and so we ask the Iranian authorities to forgive Sherko.”
There isn’t much coverage or mention of Maarifi’s death sentence in the Iranian media, but the news has been spread widely across the internet and among human rights activists.
Xalil Bahramian, Maarifi’s lawyer told Rudaw that he cannot comment on the details of the case.
“I can neither confirm this news nor deny it,” said Bahramian. “All I know is that the sentence has been accepted by the higher courts and sent to the Saqiz court. But up to now, no news of carrying out execution has been relayed to me.”
There have been cases of death sentence being upheld without the knowledge of defendants’ lawyers. Hussein Xiziri, for instance, was executed without his lawyer or family’s knowledge.
In a last attempt to save Maarifi’s life, Bahramian resorts to the Iranian supreme leader.

“I am a lawyer to save Maarifi’s life and I will make every effort. I will even ask Ayatollah Khamenei to forgive Maarifi.” said Bahramian.
Bahramian believed that efforts and letters of protest by human rights organization could have its own impact to stopping the death sentence.

“We saw during the trial of Habibulla Lotfi and his death sentence how people’s protestation stopped the sentence from being carried out.”

Saeed Shexi, another one of Maarifi’s lawyers said that he had met with Sadiq Larijani, the head of the Islamic Republic Court about the case a month ago.
“Larijani said that Maarifi’s death sentence was not legal or legitimate, but the higher court had ignored Larijani’s view and supported the sentence.” said Shexi.
Shexi said that according to the Islamic Republic’s criminal code a sentence cannot be upheld unless the defendant’s lawyer has reviewed the sentence.
Recent human rights violations in Iran urged the UN human rights commission to meet in March of this year and appoint a special investigator to that country to inquire about the situation of human rights.

Massoud Kurdpour, a journalist and human rights activist who was once sentenced to one year in prison for speaking with the foreign media, said that human rights violations have increased in Iran many fold. He blamed it on President Ahmadinejad’s policies.
“In the past several years we have seen that in any part of Iran where the voice of dissent is raised or there are people’s organizations, repression, arrest and execution goes up considerably.” said Kurdpour. “In Iranian Kurdistan there is struggle and there are political parties, so the rate of repression is quite substantial.”

Regarding the UN decision to appoint a human rights inquirer Kurdpour said, “It is a good decision which means Iran’s human rights violations is in the agenda of that organization, but I believe it is only important when it doesn’t remain on paper alone.”
According to data released by human rights organizations, in 2008 around 350 people were executed in Iran and that number went up to 388 in 2009 and 546 in 2010.

Kurdistan and Kurd News website writes that in the past three months alone 165 political and civil activists have been detained in Iranian Kurdistan and two political activists have been executed.