Young Girl Dies by Suicide

Posted on: November 14th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- On the night of Monday, November 12, 2018, Sima Damouri, a student under the age of 18, died by suicide in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province.

A close source speculated that a family dispute drove her to take her own life. Her funeral was held on November 13th. She was a resident of Likak in Bahmayi county.

In another incident reported today, a young woman, in an apparent suicide attempt, landed on a teacher while falling from the roof of a school. As of the date of this report, no further information was available about the incident.

According to Iran’s Coroner Organization, teen suicide accounts for 7% of all suicides in Iran.

Kurdistan Court Condemns Juvenile Offender with History of Mental Illness

Posted on: November 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Sanandaj prisoner Shayan Saeedpour, now 20, has been sentenced to death by Judge Vafayian in Branch 1 of Kurdistan Criminal Court for a murder he committed at age 17, at a time that he may have been under monitoring for a psychiatric condition.

A member of Saeedpour’s family told HRANA that the young man stands accused of murdering Soleyman Azadi in a scuffle on August 16, 2015, just two months shy of his 18th birthday. “Saeedpour said he was acting under the influence of bootleg alcohol and wasn’t in his right mind,” the source said.

Saeedpour turned himself over to police two days after the incident, accompanied by his father.

An appeals request submitted by Saeedpour’s lawyer is currently under review. “[…]Despite evidence and witness testimony, the coroner’s office has left the judiciary to determine whether or not he was intoxicated,” the attorney said. “…[He] was under the influence of alcohol and two witnesses have testified to the veracity of this claim.”

The attorney added that Saeedpour didn’t know the victim prior to the incident.

Saeedpour’s loved ones say he has a history of inflicting self-harm, impulse control disorder, and — since 2014 — consistent psychiatric oversight. According to his family, Saeedpour betrayed no indication of grasping what had transpired after Azadi was killed. The coroner’s office disagreed: as relayed by Saeedpour’s lawyer, they ruled he had “the mental maturity and capacity to distinguish right from wrong and to discern whether his action was criminal.”

Seeking a second opinion, the case investigator sent the case to the Kermanshah coroner, who concurred with the initial evaluation.

In addition to the death penalty, Saeedpour was sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking.

A close source shared with HRANA that Saeedpour was once a member of a traditional Iranian gym. Previously the bodybuilding champion in his province, he once placed third in a national tournament.

The punishment of children — particularly death sentences for minors caught up in skirmishes, crimes of passion, or the drug trade — remains one of the premier human rights battles in Iran.

Iran has been a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for the past 25 years. Article 37 of the Convention reads, “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age”. In 2017, at least four juvenile offenders were executed in Iran after their 18th birthday. Since the beginning of 2018, multiple child offenders have been executed or sentenced to death.

Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen are among the few countries where offenders can be executed for crimes they committed as minors. In response to one of these executions in February of 2018, Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Iranian authorities to “ …]immediately and unconditionally end the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by children under age 18, and move toward a complete ban on capital punishment.”

Twelve-Year-Old Son of Late Azerbaijani Activist Arrested

Posted on: October 31st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Araz Amani, the 12-year-old son of a renowned Azerbaijani activist who died under suspicious circumstances 10 years ago, was arrested on October 24th before his father’s commemoration service. Araz’s cousin on his father’s side, Amir Amani, was detained along with him.

Araz’s father Gholamreza Amani died in a car accident along with two of his brothers on October 24, 2008. Many Iranians consider his death suspicious, going as far as speculating that it was premeditated by Iranian authorities.

A source close to the Amani family told HRANA that the two cousins had gone to clean their fathers’ tombstones at the cemetery around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, October 24th when they were detained by eight plainclothes officers. After being interrogated for hours, agents told Araz to call home to let them know he would not be released until Friday, October 26th at noon, i.e. after his late father’s ceremony had ended.

On a phone call to Araz’s mother Gounesh Amani the day before, security agents had advised her to cancel the ceremony. She refused.

As planned, Araz and Amir Amani were both released on October 26th from the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Tabriz.

That same day, three other attendees — Sajad Afrouzian, Sadollah Sasani, and Ebrahim Ranjbar — were arrested for their participation in the ceremony. Afrouzian and Sasani were released the next day, while Ranjbar’s fate remains unknown.

Tabriz is the capital of the northwestern province of Eastern Azerbaijan, which borders the Republic of Azerbaijan and is home to Iran’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority.

Iran: An Overview of Human Rights Abuses September – October 2018

Posted on: October 29th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – The following is an overview of human rights violations in Iran between September 23rd and October 22, 2018, per information compiled and verified by the Statistics, Publications, and Achievements Division of Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI).

Domestic restrictions in Iran on independent human rights reporting make it difficult to capture the full extent of these issues on the ground. The following overview draws on the work of HRANA reporters, as well as a network of independent and verifiable sources, including other human rights associations operating outside Iran’s borders.

Summary

Human rights violations continued all across the country over the past month, and included, but were not limited to: executions, child abuse, mass arrests, violation of prisoners’ rights, violation of freedom of expression, labor abuses, and unchecked environmental pollution.

Death Penalty

Capital punishment remains the most egregious violation of human rights in Iran. On October 10th — the World Day against the Death Penalty — the Center of Statistics at HRAI published its annual report to sensitize the public about the situation of the death penalty in Iran. The report provides statistics about executions carried out in this country between October 10, 2017, and October 9, 2018.

More than 25 citizens, including a juvenile offender, were executed in the last month (between September 23rd and October 22, 2018). More than 20 individuals, including a juvenile offender, were sentenced to death. Four people were executed in public.

HRANA was able to identify or gather details about death row prisoners, including a former member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Arsalan Khodkam, the ex-spouse of Leila Tajik, Hedayat Abdollahpour and three individuals convicted of financial crimes. New details on the executions of Zanyar Moradi, Loghman Moradi, and Ramin Hossein Panahi were also reported during this period.

Freedom of Thought and Expression

Freedoms of thought and expression were also widely restricted over the past 30 days.

Arrests: Arrestees in this category included a Shiraz city council member, Ahmad Alinejad and his wife, at least 20 residents of Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province, writer and Mashad resident Abbas Vahedian, Zahra Majd in Isfahan, and six individuals involved in the Freedom Movement of Iran, arrested in Nain (near Isfahan).

Convictions: Leila Mir-Ghaffari was sentenced to 2 years in prison, Ejlal Ghavami to 8 months, Hassan Abbasi to 35 months (five 7-months prison terms), an Arak resident to 1 year and 30 lashings, Hamidreza Amini to 11 years. Women who protested this past August were sentenced from 6 months to 1 year in prison, Mohammad Mahdavifar was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months, a dual-nationality defendant faces 8 years and 6 months in prison, Soheil Arabi faces 3 years in prison, 3 years in exile, and a fine; the prison sentence of Abdolreza Ghanbari was increased to 15 years, Alireza Moeinian was sentenced to 8 months in prison; a new 6-month sentence extended the prison term of Saeed Shirzad through 2020; six Arak residents arrested amid the January protests were collectively sentenced to a total of 6 years in prison and 444 lashings, and a group of political activists in Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province were sentenced to exile and prison terms ranging from 8 to 18 years.

Eleven civil activists, including Mohammad Najafi, Ali Bagheri, and Abbas Safari were sentenced to 3 years in prison and 74 lashings. Behzad Ali Bakhshi, Mohammad Yaghoubi, Yousef Shirilard, Neda Yousefi, Davoud Rahimi, Massoud Ajlou and Mohammad Torabi were sentenced to 1 year in prison and 74 lashings, suspended over five years. Kian Sadeghi faces 3 years in prison and 74 lashings, suspended over five years. Morteza Nazari was sentenced to a total of 13 years in prison, 2 years of exile, and a fine; Zahra Zare Seraji, on the same convictions, to 8 years in prison and a fine. Their co-defendants Ali Kabirmehr and Ali Bazazadeh were both sentenced to 13 years in prison and exile.

Summons: Hamid Farrokhnezhad, Parastoo Salehi, a number of reformist political activists, Tehran city council member Kazem Imanzadeh, Hossein Ahmadi Niaz, and Mohammad Najafi were all summoned by courts and the Ministry of Intelligence.

Censorship: The weekly magazines “Nabze Bazaar” and “Paytakht Kohan,” as well as the website “EntekhabKhabar,” were convicted in press court. Courts also issued indictments for the Chief Executive Officers of “Shargh” and “Shahrvand” newspapers for their reporting on sexual tourism. The National Front of Iran was prevented from holding its Central Council meeting in Tehran, a journalist was beaten by Qazvin municipal agents, and a Kurdish student was barred from education, presumably for his political affiliations.

Prisoners’ Rights
Prisoners are rarely protected from cruel and unusual punishments, and their rights to proper nutrition, hygiene, and medical treatment are systematically violated. A few of these victims are detailed below by category of violation.

Raids and beatings: Prison agents punched Arash Sadeghi on his cancer surgery site; Urmia prison authorities attacked political prisoners and injured them severely, inciting them to hunger strike by the dozens; another Urmia prisoner was assaulted; a prisoner was beaten and injured by Rajai Shahr Prison personnel; Bandar Abbas Prison authorities broke an inmate’s fingers; an Urmia prisoner suffered a TBI after a beating by authorities; and prisoners were forcefully undressed and beaten in Zahedan Prison.

Withholding of medical treatment: A prisoner died after being denied medical care in Zahedan Prison. Farhad Meysami, Arash Sadeghi, and a prisoner in Sanandaj were also denied medical treatment.

Going without: Dozens of Gachsaran prisoners launched protests and hunger strikes in opposition to prison conditions. Six Gonabadi Dervish prisoners continued in an ongoing hunger strike. Reza Sigarchi, also in an act of protest, refused food and medicine in Great Tehran Penitentiary, while 8 Gonabadi Dervishes at the same penitentiary and 8 Baha’i prisoners of Karaj disappeared off of the administrative radar for 30 days. Houshmand Alipour was denied access to an attorney. Three prisoners in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison were blocked from receiving visits, and the fate of sequestered labor activist and Sanandaj resident Zanyar Dabbaghian was still unknown.

Three prisoners attempted suicide in Zahedan, Urmia, and Saravan prisons. Local sources consistently impute prisoner suicides and suicide attempts to the violence and oppression of prison life.

Religious and Ethnic Minorities

Religious and ethnic minorities remained under threat and consistent judicial pressures this past month.

Baha’is: Eight Baha’i citizens were arrested in Baharestan (near Isfahan), four were arrested in Karaj, one of whom had his business forcibly shut down, and three were arrested in Shiraz.
[Some of these arrests reflect coordinated or group arrests, and linked articles will reflect that information overlap].
A Baha’i resident of Yazd who had been blocked from pursuing education was fired from work for their faith, and the parents of a Baha’i prisoner were temporarily detained following a search of the prisoner’s home.

Sunnis: Five Sunni scholars were sequestered for hours in the Zahedan-Khash road patrol office. Three Baluchi citizens, who are scholars of the Ghalamouei seminary, were arrested in Sirik County (southern Iran). Sunni scholars expressed outcry over the public statements of a soccer player they alleged to be disparaging of Sunni sanctities.

Six members of the Yamani Religious Group in Izeh County were also arrested, presumably for their beliefs.

Ethnic minorities: Arab citizens were arrested, and are still being arrested en masse in wake of the Ahvaz Parade Attack. HRANA is still in the process of confirming the identifies of the arrestees, which according to local reports number into the hundreds. Other arrests suspected to be ethnically discriminatory include Nasim Sadeghi, Mohammad Abdolmohammad-Zadeh, Mojtaba Parvin, Ebrahim Divazi, as well as residents of Ilam, Ahvaz, Marivan, Urmia, Sanandaj, Kermanshah, Saqqez, Pevah, Oshnavieh, and Sardasht.

News emerged on the convictions of Abbas Lasani, Kiumars Eslami, Eghbal Ahmadpour, Keyvan Olyali, Hossein Ali Mohammadi Alvar, as well as defendants in Sanandaj, Urmia, Kamyaran, and two detainees of the Afrin battles in Syria. Turkic activist Javad Ahmadi Yekanli was summoned by county security police in the city of Khoy.

Children’s Rights

Children are among the most vulnerable to human rights abuses in Iran. Over the past month, four wrongful child deaths were reported in the cities of Tehran, Falavarjan (Isfahan Province), Qaem Shahr (Mazandaran province) and (Isfahan Province).

The national director of Iran’s social emergency hotline said that 30% of reports called into the center are flagging some form of “domestic violence,” 30% of which turn out to be child abuse cases. Of this 30%, 50% were related to educational negligence, 30% to physical abuse, 15% to psychological abuse, and 4% to sexual abuse of children.

Maryam Sedighi, deputy director of the social welfare department of Alborz Province, said that 12% of “123” social emergency calls made in Alborz — i.e. an average of 40 calls per month — are child abuse reports.

Reports indicate the rape of a young girl by her father in Tehran; a boxing coach accused of raping his teenage student; a father pouring boiling water over his 7-year-old daughter in Genaveh, Bushehr Province; and a teacher using corporal punishment on a pupil in Kazeroon, Fars Province.

Three juvenile suicides were also reported: one student in Rigan County, Kerman Province, and two teenage girls, aged 14 and 16, in the cities of Abadan and Sanandaj.

The Iranian education system allocates fewer and fewer resources to its pupils, and educational facilities across the country — particularly in rural or underprivileged areas — can be found in varying states of wear and disrepair. One pupil in Razan, Hamadan province was injured in the chest, neck, and shoulders when he was caught in falling debris of a school wall that suddenly collapsed. The Razan director of education said that he is currently stable, but will require surgery.

Elementary-school student Donya Veisi of Garmash village, Kurdistan Province, fell victim to her own school’s disrepair when one of the walls surrounding her school yard collapsed, killing her. Later — amid allegations that Donya had in fact been raped and killed — the Kurdistan Prosecutor verbally engaged to investigate the matter.

Women

The question of women’s rights at sporting events gained heightened public attention this past month when, under pressure from FIFA to permit their entry into stadiums, a select number of Iranian women (most of them family members of players and federation employees) were finally allowed to witness a kickoff in person (Iran vs. Bolivia). Authorities’ exclusive selection criteria were highly criticized.

Meanwhile, Shiraz-based activist Maryam Azad was arrested by security forces at a Tehran Airport as she was leaving the country for Turkey.

The managing director of the office of forensic medicine in Kohkiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad province indicated that, of the 429 domestic violence crimes recorded in his office over the past 6 months, 404 were incidents of violence by husbands against their wives.

Additional cases of violence against women included a man’s murder of his ex-wife when he failed to meet “mehrieh” obligations [a type of alimony settlement], and the circumstances surrounding one woman’s decision to set herself on fire in Mashad.

Two women, long hounded by the judiciary for participating in a rally on International Women’s Day, were recently acquitted of their charges.

Laborers and Guilds

This past month was rythmed by strikes, sit-ins, and rallies organized by guilds and employees across sectors who demanded more secure working conditions.

Commercial Transport: This past month, truck drivers in Iran went on a nationwide strike for the third time [in 12 months]. Over the course of their 20-day strike, at least 261 striking drivers in 19 different provinces were arrested and threatened with heavy sentences, including the death penalty. Strikers’ demands did make significant headway: after years of guild activism, the High Council of Transportation Coordination approved a new freight transport measurement rate known as the tonne-kilometre (tkm) method, which was among the most pressing demands of truck drivers. Despite this partial victory, the fates of the 261 detained protesters are still unknown.

Education: Six Educator-Activists who participated in demonstrations May 10th were sentenced to 9 months in prison and 74 lashings. Also reported was the conviction of schoolteacher and University of Tehran student Ruhollah Mardani, who was arrested earlier this year in connection to nationwide protests. Five teachers were summoned by the Bureau of Public Places in Saqqez.

Following a call to strike by the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates in Iran (CCTSI), Iranian teachers staged sit-ins [on October 14th and 15th] to demand more liveable salaries and justice for their persecuted colleagues. Strike activity was recorded across the provinces of Kerman, Lorestan, Khuzestan, Kermanshah, Isfahan, Kurdistan, Alborz, Hamadan, Fars, Zanjan, Qom, Mazandaran, Tehran, North Khorasan, Ilam, East and West Azerbaijan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad, Bushehr, Gilan and Hormozgan.

Merchants: Merchants went on strike against the many interconnected symptoms of Iran’s current recession, including unstable exchange rates, inflation, rising prices, and unemployment. Merchant strikes went on for two consecutive days in the cities of Karaj, Shahreza, Shahriar, Shiraz, Kermanshah, Tabriz and Sarab.

Two street vendors were reportedly beaten by municipal agents in Qazvin and Gorgan.

Health and Environment:

Five environmental activists arrested 8 months ago have been indicted with charges of “corruption on earth,” which can carry the death penalty.

Intelligence agents halted a group of environmental journalists, including Javad Heydarian, before they could board a flight to Germany for work. Their passports were confiscated.

Public concern over pollution and waste issues is ballooning, and [many citizens are critical of the government’s inaction in face of myriad threats to the public health].

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iranian Ministry of the Interior, Iranians surpass the worldwide average of daily waste production (300 grams) by a whopping 400 grams every day.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency of Miandoab (West Azerbaijan Province) announced that contamination of the Zarrinehroud River from the city’s sugar factory, coupled with poor ecological management of the river and its dam system, has caused thousands of fish to die in the river.

High levels of air pollution were reported this month in the cities of Kerman, Mahshahr, Ramshir, Rigan, and the provinces of Sistan and Baluchestan and Kerman.

Cultural Rights and Censorship

A number of photographers from Shiraz faced persecution for their instagram activity this month [which was cited as “improper”].

Two cultural directors from Sistan and Baluchestan province were summoned to the Intelligence office for attempting to host a peaceful community celebration.

Pending content modifications and the resolution of charges against the Home Video Entertainment Network, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance banned distribution of the network’s TV series “13 Shomali” (Northern 13), which previously aired on Saturdays.

Military and Law-Enforcement Power Abuses

Several citizens were killed as a result of power abuses and negligence by security forces this past month.

Police car chases, inappropriate shootings by border authorities, and authorities’ failure to warn civilians of road barriers led to 2 civilian injuries and 5 civilian deaths in Iranshahr (Sistan and Baluchestan Province), Jask (Hormozgan Province) and Azadshahr (Golestan Province) and Razavi Khorasan.

Security forces reportedly assaulted fuel vendors in Saravan (Sistan and Baluchestan Province).

More than a dozen “Kulbars” [laborers who make their living carrying goods across border areas] were wounded and killed across the country, namely in Sardasht (West Azerbaijan Province), Piranshahr (West Azarbaijan Province), Urmia (West Azerbaijan Province) Nowsud (Kermanshah Province), Marivan and Baneh (Kurdistan Province) and Ilam (Ilam province).

A prisoner in Urmia was sentenced to hand amputation, and a robbery convict was dealt 74 lashes in public in the Zeberkhan Rural District (Nishapur County, Razavi Khorasan Province).

__________________________________________________________________________

The above-cited reports are only a few examples of dismally more widespread trends. Their mention in this overview by no means implies their significance over those incidents which went unreported, due to tight restrictions on investigative journalists on the ground.

Among available reports of human rights abuses, however, some are more oft-cited due to their sensitive nature or predominating presence in public opinion. It bears mention that all human rights abuses are worthy of the news coverage and social media activism that has come to the aid of so relatively few. Bearing in mind their roles as public opinion influencers, social media activists and human rights reporters must be wary not to underlie existing human rights abuses with unintentional discrimination in their reporting.

Retrial Denied to Imprisoned Couple Struggling with Health Problems

Posted on: October 29th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- A request for retrial for a married couple imprisoned on political grounds has been denied for the second time by Branch 33 of Iran’s Supreme Court.

Hassan Sadeghi and Fatemeh Mosana, who have been tortured and incarcerated multiple times over the past four decades since the Revolution, are currently serving 15-year prison sentences; Sadeghi in Karaj’s Rajai Shahr prison, and Mosana in Tehran’s Evin prison.

After being tortured by intelligence agents during an arrest, Sadeghi sustained eye injuries that have developed into secondary ailments, including glaucoma. His glaucoma-afflicted right eye may soon require surgery, but the advancement of his disease informs a poor prognosis. Though he has made an appointment with an ophthalmologist, he won’t be able to honor it: the prosecutor’s office refuses to issue Sadeghi the permit he needs to go there.

Sadeghi was first arrested in 1981 at the age of 16, and was tortured over the course of his six-year detention; the impact of multiple lashings ground a dent into his skull. Under psychological and physical duress, Sadeghi also developed an ulcer and gastrointestinal infection. Years later, gel insoles and orthopedic shoes help relieve the chronic foot pain caused by his torturers, who fractured his heel bone with repeated whips of a cable to the soles of his feet — yet the prosecutor’s office bars Sadeghi from even buying them himself.

Mosana, 41, was first arrested in 1980 at the age of 13. With her mother, she was charged with “Moharebeh” [enmity against God] and “Baqi” [rebellion] for membership in the opposition group MEK. Both served three years in prison; meanwhile, three of her brothers and a sister-in-law were executed for opposition activities.

Mosana suffered a leg injury while incarcerated in 2016 that required the application of a cast, a treatment that authorities delayed for two and a half months. After her complaints of chronic pain were ignored by prison staff, she was transferred to an outside medical facility where doctors diagnosed her with permanent tendon rupture.

Sadeghi was again arrested along with Mosana and his two children in February 2013 for commemorating his late father, an anti-regime activist. Authorities sealed Sadeghi’s home after the arrest and detained their 10-year-old daughter Fatemeh for three days. Their son Iman, 19 years old at the time, was in custody for a month and a half.

Sadeghi and Mosana spent a year behind bars before going free on bail. Judge Ahmadzadeh of Revolutionary Court Branch 26 would later order the couple to serve 15 years in prison and surrender their property, including their home and their shop. This sentence was later upheld in appeals court.

Mosana was detained September 30, 2015, to begin serving the 15-year sentence. Her husband was arrested in turn while visiting her in Evin prison on February 7, 2016. Their children, now aged 26 and 19, are in the care of their elderly grandmother.

Supreme Court Upholds “Qassameh” Death Sentence for Juvenile Offender

Posted on: October 8th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The Iranian Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for Saleh Shariati, a prisoner in Adel Abad of Shiraz who was convicted of murder as a minor via “Qassameh,” one of Islamic Penal Code’s most tenuous methods of establishing guilt.

In the absence of sufficient evidence, a judge strongly persuaded of the defendant’s guilt can rule for conviction by Qassameh if enough of the victim’s male family members indict the defendant under oath. In Shariati’s case, 57 of the victim’s male family members — none of whom are legally required to have witnessed the crime — sealed his fate with their sworn testimonies.

Authorities reportedly extracted a confession from Shariati under the duress of torture. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, a US-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting human rights in Iran, recently published audio of a man identified as Shariati speaking on tape. The man’s voice can be heard recalling five years’ worth of forcibly extracted confessions.

“Had I committed a crime, I wouldn’t have stayed at the same address […],” Shariati’s recording continued. “I would have fled… I’ve been in limbo for five years now. Every day they have a different reason. It’s become unbearable. I’m thinking of harming myself [while I still have the chance].”

Initially barred from seeing his detained son, Shariati’s father believed he had been tortured when, visiting him in prison for the first time, he caught sight of suspect wounds on his son’s body.

The alleged murder took place in 2012 when the body of Rasoul Bahramnian was found at the bottom of a well whose entrance was left unsecured. Shariati, then 16, was the last known person to see Bahramian alive and alleged that he had fallen into the well. Authorities zeroed in on him as a murder suspect sixteen months later.

Testimony: the Homeless Families of Tehran’s Public Parks

Posted on: October 2nd, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA)- Aside the commotion of families excitedly prepping their children for the back-to-school season, homeless daughters carry a burden of shame for their families. From parks across the city where they’ve taken up residence, many displaced parents anguish over whether school will even be an option for their children this year.

In order to attend school, nine-year-old Nazanin will have to cease the freelance fortune-telling that has bolstered the income of her family since four months ago, when they first took up residence in Tehran’s public Laleh Park.

Stressed over transport costs for her daughter’s school — which is located far from the park, near the family’s former home — Nazanin’s mother shared the bitter memory of a retired man who, happy that his daughter did not want a master’s degree, celebrated the end of her studies. “We can’t even afford Nazanin’s transportation cost,” she said, “but we will send her to school even if it means carrying her on our backs […] We want her to remain in that school.” Though Nazanin’s elementary school has waived her enrollment fees, her mother dreads registering Nazanin in another institution that may not be so forgiving.

For her part, Nazanin dresses like a boy and continues to aspire to be a schoolteacher. When asked what she wishes for, she said, “I wish we had a house so I could go to school.”

Nazanin’s mother is tearful throughout her interview as she recalls the chain of events that lost them their apartment. First, despite 17 years of tenure at the Water Management office, Nazanin’s father was suspended from work without pay. “We had a home, […]” she said, “but when his salary was cut and we were late in paying rent, by just a few days, our landlord seized our furniture and put on the street with a few blankets and pillows.”

Homeless families and their children have taken up residence in parks all across the capital city. While I was interviewing in one of them, another young fortune teller — a 12-year-old who also sells chewing gum — drew close to my cell phone so that her story would be on the record, too.

Declining to have her picture taken, she said she hoped authorities would be moved to act on behalf of her struggling family. After moving to Tehran 5 months ago from Iranshahr in Sistan and Baluchistan province to seek treatment for her father’s neurological condition and her mother’s eye problems, she took to selling fortunes all day to supplement her family’s income. One of five children aged 6 months, 6, 12, 13, and 15, she works to fund her brothers’ educations, her parents’ medical treatments, and food for the family. She wants to go to school, she said; come winter, she could stay warm in the classroom.

According to Article 73 of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights, ratified by Hassan Rouhani’s administration and published on http://president.ir/en, “Citizens have the right to take benefit of a safe house suitable to meet their own and their family’s requirements. The Government will pave grounds for the realization of this right by observing priorities and by taking into account the resources.”

Some families are still waiting for the promises of Article 73 to materialize. The inflamed skin of Nazanin’s family members is suspect for skin conditions, but they attribute the discoloration to the insects in the park. They sleep in the pergola, where foxes pass by at night; they bathe in the public bathrooms, where hygiene conditions are out of their control.

The vulnerability of a life exposed to the elements makes it difficult for the family to explore other avenues of income. “We bought a brazier to sell grilled corn, but while we were sleeping, someone stole it. We wanted to sell tea, but someone stole our flask. Even our cell phones have been stolen multiple times[…]Even during Muharram, we were embarrassed to take food offerings. Now that Nazanin is starting school again, she can’t sell fortunes anymore, and I don’t know what we’re going to do!”

Red in the eyes and face, Nazanin’s father gets up and walks away without saying a word, saving what dignity he has left.

Touching a metal necklace around her neck, Nazanin fills the silence. “If someone would buy it, I’d sell this too. I am embarrassed to sell fortunes and things like that. I only do it for my mother.”

Nazanin has developed an aggressive nervous condition from her long-term exposure to the coarse walks of life that wander the park.

“She comes and tells me, ‘so-and-so said these words to me,’ then laughs and asks me what they mean,” her mother said, adding that she has lost the ability to provide structure and discipline to her increasingly agitated daughter. “She doesn’t know what these vulgar terms mean, but she is slowly learning them.” Pained tears stopped her from telling me more.

Nazanin’s voice offers up another memory. “One time, a man and a woman took me from my parents to a place with a sign above the door that said ‘Social Security Organization.’ People there were turning in children for 300 thousand tomans [approximately $100 USD] […]I ran away from them […] I ran so much that for two days, I was shivering and asleep. I don’t want to be separated from my parents.”

Nazanin’s mother seemed tormented by grief over the joys of childhood that, since her arrival in Luleh, evade the young girl in her care. “When Nazanin comes back from school, wouldn’t she want to rest? Wouldn’t she want to be indoors, somewhere warm and cozy? Wouldn’t she want clean and ironed clothes, a bathroom to shower in? Where is she going to do her homework?…”

16-year-old Attempts Suicide in Northern Iran

Posted on: September 21st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – A 16-year-old jumped from a building under construction in an apparent suicide attempt in northern Iran on Wednesday, September 19th, 2018.

According to a local source, the teenager has been identified as “Y. Samadi.” He was living near the construction site in Yasreb settlement, Qaem Shahr county, Mazandaran Province.

“He couldn’t be dissuaded by counselors, social service agents, or the police,’’ added the source.

As of the date of this report, no updates on the teenager’s health status was available. According to statistics from Iran’s National Coroner’s Office, adolescent suicide accounts for 7% of all suicides in Iran.

Urban Exposé: the lost voices of Iran’s foragers

Posted on: September 12th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – For years, piles of giant parcels could be seen on the street corners of almost every Iranian metropolis, each representing the bounty of a few hours of foraging. A morning stroll in the city reveals “dumpster divers” hunched over almost every visible waste bin, toiling in the day at what used to be a moonlight gig. Now, this mainstay of urban culture is coming under fire for its poor regulation, safety hazards, incorporation of child labor, and–in the current economic crisis– its rapid expansion into smaller cities.

Many of Iran’s municipalities have on payroll designated foragers of recyclable goods, who often work in deplorable conditions and have been known to outsource this work to young children. In cities like Abadan and Khorramshahr, dumpster divers have become enmeshed in the fabric of the city, all while a creeping trend of privatization has heightened both its precarity for workers and its appeal for would-be entrepreneurs that are hiring them.

Labor activist *Mehrdad spoke to HRANA about the society’s low bar on working conditions for child foragers who aren’t even of age. “All of them suffer from a host of skin, digestive, and respiratory conditions,” Mehrdad said, identifying basic gear like gloves, masks, or protective uniforms as virtually-unheard-of commodities. “What’s worse, instead of telling our municipalities that these children should not be employed– that we need to abolish child labor and think about their welfare–we’re fighting for improved sanitary conditions, and to protect them from sexual harassment.”

Off-the-rolls workers–especially children–are not entitled to complain about their conditions, let alone expect better. Mehrdad said that many of these foragers make do, and even spend the night, in factories and storage spaces used for waste separation. “Obviously, these children work in a contaminated environment.”

Journalists, along with children’s’ rights and civil rights activists, have drawn attention to a burgeoning “garbage mafia” that exploits those willing to accept paltry wages, such as freelance dumpster divers and children.

While waste management officials in some cities have maintained management of the foraging sector and verbally committed to refining the rights and status of these workers–like the waste management office supervisor of the city of Zanjan, who has promised them ID cards and more organized labor administration–such supports have a low chance of survival in an environment of economic downturn and unregulated outsourcing.

Indeed, Mehrdad attributes the recent spike in dumpster diving to Iran’s new wave of economic crisis. “Within the last year, the hard-working class of society has become poorer […] the unemployed have have taken to dumpster diving, while the employed recruit their own kids to do it. Dumpster diving is the last resort of a working class struggling to stay afloat.”

Two months ago, a Hamedan city councilman announced that 550 dumpster divers were active in that city. Disheveled and dressed in dirty clothes, they roam encumbered by large bags of paper, plastic, and metal cans. According to one children’s rights activist studying the child foragers of Tehran, child dumpster divers are expected to collect an average of 170 pounds of recyclables daily, a quota they must trek miles across the city to meet.

These children may be outsourced by contractors, who themselves are managed–and paid–by the city. “What’s awful about it,” said Mehrdad, “is that the municipality and its contractors are capitalizing on their vulnerability.”

Foragers in larger cities won’t necessarily fare better. “The conditions for such children outside the capital, if not harder than in Tehran, aren’t any better. At least in Tehran there’s some media coverage on dumpster divers. In smaller cities, hardly anyone talks about them.”

While article 7 of Iran’s Declaration of Citizenship Rights mandates that “all citizens enjoy equal access to human dignity and the benefits prescribed in laws and regulations,” city councils and municipal authorities in affected cities have yet to make concrete strides toward the protection of the human dignity of foragers. On the contrary, several municipalities have reportedly evaded accountability for underage citizens working in the workshops and waste separation centers of their cities, repeatedly deferring to the very contractors they hire and supervise. “The root of the issue is that these contractors win the municipality’s bidding process by offering the lowest price, and compensate for this low fare by mining the cheap labor pool of children and poor individuals,” said Mehrdad, who anticipates that dumpster diving will remain on the rise until a labor law makes these issues explicit, and is pushed to implementation with considerable pressure from the Iranian people.

Privatization, according to Mehrdad, is the scourge of the freelance forager. “Conditions for dumpster divers was bad enough in the past, but privatization, and the issuing of permits by contractors, have turned the situation downright deplorable. Where some foragers were able to work independently before, now contractors have monopoly on the market and are free to enforce their own restrictions.” Contractors hired by the municipality currently have no legal responsibility to address these issues.

As this HRANA reporter has observed, as long as municipalities skirt their responsibilities of contractor oversight, the number of dumpster divers–along with their quotas, pressures, and hazards–will steadily climb. The voices of these working citizens, for now, are drowned out by financial crisis and political turmoil.

* Mehrdad’s last name was not published due to safety reasons.

The Tragic Tale of a Juvenile Offender Hanged

Posted on: August 28th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The following feature is sourced from a report given to state-run news agency Ghanoon Daily and translated to English by HRANA.

I. The Boy Who Took the Fall

Clad in black from head to toe, Simin sits silently in her humble home at the end of an alley on the outskirts of Qom, central Iran. In a corner of the room sits her 50-year-old husband, whose hair has turned fully white. Against the far wall sits their son Mohammad.

Their demure is sparsely decorated: an old TV set and a brown wooden cabinet, on which sits a photo of her son Abolfazl Chezani. His picture overlooks a room muted by grief. It has been 38 days since Abolfazl, 18, was hanged for murder.

As is customary among the Shiites, the family is preparing a ceremony in observance of the 40-day mourning period following his death.

Once in a while, a deep sigh from Simin breaks the silence. As she lowers drinking glasses and a pitcher of cold water to the floor, she draws a breath and remembers aloud the events of one day, four years ago, that would change their lives for the worse forever.

“Abolfazl was working in a Sohan[1] baking factory. That afternoon, he came home late from work and asked me to make him a cheese sandwich…”, she said, pointing to a spot on the carpet. “Abolfazl was standing right there in front of me. He was looking at himself in the mirror…then his friend Ali came by on a motorcycle and buzzed the door to ask if Abolfazl would join him. I didn’t know where they were going….he left home, and never came back.”

She recoils in pain, silenced for a moment by grief; her hands wring together, and she bursts into tears, eyes still fixated to the spot on the carpet where she last saw her son. The rest of her words are choked — the lump in her throat lets out halting, unintelligible sounds. Fat tears flow down the wrinkles of her face, rolling down her skirt to the carpet.

Abolfazl’s father and his brother Mohammad pick up where Simin left off: their home was raided by the police that day, they say, who left when they realized Abolfazl wasn’t home and was only a child. Upon his return, Abolfazl’s father stopped him at the threshold of their home, to escort him to the station to turn him in to the police.

His father and brother went off to visit the assault victim: 20-year-old Morteza, who was in critical condition suffering from stabs to the heart. Ali, who was Morteza and Abolfazl’s mutual friend, was also arrested. During Ali and Abolfazl’s detainment, Ali convinced Abolfazl to take the blame because he was the younger one. “In a few days, Morteza will recover, and then they’ll let you go,” Ali told him. So Abolfazl told police that he was the sole one responsible for Morteza’s assault. Ali was released three days later; eleven days after that, Morteza died of his injuries. Abolfazl had confessed to a murder.

II. Lack of Due Process

Abolfazl’s brother Mohammad explains that Ali had fought with Morteza two weeks prior to the stabbing incident. “Ali was in our alley that day, looking for another guy named Hamid to take him to fight Morteza again,” he said. “Since he couldn’t find Hamid, he took Abolfazl.”

Morteza’s family requested to file a complaint against Ali, who they believe instigated the brawl that ended in his murder. Mohammad continues: “during the trial, [the judge] didn’t even permit testimonies from witnesses who saw Ali pick up Abolfazl that day. We went to the court with the neighborhood elders to push the complaint against Ali, but to no avail.”

Simin goes to a drawer and takes out a red shirt. “He bought this to wear at his brother’s wedding”, she said, caressing the shirt as her tears flow. Abolfazl’s father explains that he tried to persuade the family of the victim to pardon Abolfazl[2] by going to their home, but he was ignored. “We sent many people to mediate and convince them to forgive, but they wouldn’t even allow them inside the home. I personally went to their family’s elder and pleaded with him to spare my son’s life. I told them I would give whatever blood money they asked. I would sell my house. I would take up a collection. But they stayed silent. We really wanted to meet with the victim’s family during the trial, but the judge wouldn’t allow it. We asked for help from the prison social worker, who went to Morteza’s family only once.

On the day of Albofazl’s execution, they waited outside the prison. Simin threw a copy of the Quran at their family car, crying and begging them for forgiveness before they entered the prison, but they just sat in their car and stared out at me.”

When confronted after the execution by some of Abolfazl’s relatives, Morteza’s mother said: “My son died. So did hers.”

Mohammad recalls the details of the trial. “My brother’s case had two judges. Months after the case was handed to the second judge, he was executed. We were still in the middle of the second legal process. Had they seen the process through, perhaps we could have found a recourse; maybe the family of the victim would have decided to pardon him. What’s the rush in carrying out the execution? The victim’s father, who pulled the stool out from under Abolfazl’s feet at the hanging, is in an awful emotional state. Taking a life with your own hands isn’t easy to forget, especially my brother’s, who was only 14 at the time of the murder, and when executing a child is forbidden all over the world.”

III. Four Trips to the Gallows

During the four years and six months of his imprisonment, and before finally being executed, Abolfazl Chezani was taken three times to the prison quarantine, where condemned inmates spend the eve of their executions. Those three times, his execution was stalled. “In his childish mind,” Mohammad says, “he didn’t understand that quarantine means he could be executed the next day. He never thought the world could be so cruel as to throw a rope around his neck and take his life.”

IV. A Portrait of Kindness and Optimism

What happened on the night of the murder is unclear. Abolfazl’s conduct and spirit in prison showed no indication that he was capable of such violence. His family collected testimonials from neighbors who noted that Abolfazl had never before engaged in fights or brawls.

He observed Ramadan in prison, fasting until his eyes hurt. He had observed Ashura [3] since childhood and would organize the memorial procession himself. In prison, he took to memorizing the passages of the Quran. He earned a “good behaviour” designation in the Juvenile Rehabilitation and Education Centre.

Simin shares that her son “stopped studying in the seventh grade. He quit school to work, and would give me his salary.”

Mohammad explains how his family’s suffering during the ordeal made Albolfazl feel ashamed. “I’d try to console him, and he would just hang his head without uttering a word. It’s as if we all died on the day he was executed.”

Abolfazl always comforted his family, they say, right down to their last visit. Simin remembers her telling him, with eyes full of hope, “Don’t fret mom, nothing will happen!” To the prison social worker who brought him a copy of the Quran and told him not to be afraid on the eve of his death, he responded with a laugh. “They won’t execute me. I’ll be pardoned.”

Amnesty International had previously issued a statement asking Iranian authorities to stop the execution proceedings of Abolfazl Chezani, who was a minor at the time the offense was committed.

After Abolfazl’s execution, Amnesty International criticized the compliance of Iranian courts, parliamentarians, and doctors in “compliance with assault on the rights of children.” Amnesty referred specifically to a court-affiliated doctor who, by providing “maturity” assessments on convicts with death sentences, “effectively facilitate the execution of those who were children at the time of their crimes.” A report of this kind was used to justify the death sentence of Abolfazl Chezani.

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[1] Sohan is a brittle Iranian sweet made with saffron and rosewater. The city of Qom is known for its Sohans.

[2] Qesas, an “eye-for-an-eye” punishment encoded in Iran’s Islamic penal code, which grants the family of murder victims to either seek the death penalty or accept dieh — “blood money” — in return for sparing the life of the accused.

[3] Ashura is a Shiite ceremony commemorating the death of Hussain, the 3rd Imam and Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, who was killed in a battle in 7th century A.D. Many Iranians and Iraqis observe days of mourning and large processions in remembrance of his death.