Azerbaijani Activist Mohammad Khakpour Summoned to Ardabil Prosecutor’s Office

Posted on: November 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Azerbaijani activist Mohammad Khakpour received a writ dated November 14th, ordering him under threat of arrest to appear at Branch 1 of the Ardabil Investigation and Prosecution Office within the next five days.

Khakpour was among a group of Ardabil residents arrested for their participation in Azerbaijani cultural gatherings last July. Marking the season of annual crackdowns on these gatherings — which in recent years have gravitated to Babak Fort — at least 80 Azerbaijani activists were arrested that month. Khakpour was held in custody for three days.

Fort Babak, a monument built during the pre-Islamic Sasanian period, is the namesake of Babak Khorramdin, who led an uprising against the Abbasid caliphate in 893. In recent years, it has become a place of symbolic gathering for Azerbaijani activists, especially during annual commemorations held in the first week of July.

Update: Arrests and Detainments as of November 14, 2018

Posted on: November 14th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Local sources have recently reported the violent arrests of two ethnic-minority cultural activists. Their stories are below.

Azerbaijani Activist Violently Arrested by Security Forces in Ardabil

Ardabil security forces assaulted and arrested Azerbaijani activist Habib Sassanian November 8th, releasing him one hour later on bail. His court hearing was scheduled to take place on November 10th.

According to a close source, security forces showed up at the home of one of Sassanian’s relatives, laying into him immediately and arresting him without a warrant. Photos of Sassanian’s wounded face were provided to HRANA, and a close source affirmed that his face, right eye, and scalp were left swollen.

Sassasian spent 16 months in Tabriz Central Prison after an August 2017 arrest before going free on a 3.5 billion IRR bail [approximately $83,000 USD]. He was also among a group of Azerbaijani activists arrested in Ardabil May 15, 2016, dubbed the “six-man Gamo spy gang” by the Chief Justice of East Azerbaijan Province in June 2017. They were charged with forming, participating in, and providing guidance to the Azerbaijani political group “Gamo,” as well as “spying for foreign countries” and “leaking confidential IRGC information to foreign countries.”

Ardabil is a city in northwest Iran, home to Iran’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority.

Authorities Assault the Parents of Ahwazi Arab Arrestee

Ahwazi Arab cultural activist Yousef Savari, of Dasht-e Azadegan County in Iran’s southwestern Khuzestan Province, was arrested by security forces and taken to an undisclosed location on November 8th. Security forces reportedly assaulted his parents at the time of his arrest.

A local source told HRANA that IRGC intelligence agents stormed the Savari family home in the morning of November 8th, beating 76-year-old Mehdi Savari and 65-year-old Nasimeh Savari before taking their son Yousef into custody.

Recording with their cell phones, the intelligence agents then coerced Savari’s parents to make incriminating statements about their son Isa Savari, who currently works for a television station in Holland.

No information is currently available on Yousef Savari’s whereabouts or the reasons behind his arrest.

Hundreds of Ahwazi Arab activists have been arrested and detained since the September 22nd armed attack on an Ahvaz military parade that killed and injured dozens of civilians.

Khuzestan Province, located on Iran’s southwest border with Iraq, is home to Iran’s Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority.

Journalist’s Death Attributed to Travel and Healthcare Restrictions

Posted on: November 13th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Hamid Houshangi, former journalist and director at the state-run news agency, IRNA, passed away Thursday, November 8th of cancer. He was 70.

At the time of his death, Houshangi was facing a two-year prison sentence. In a note published September 2nd of this year, Houshangi drew attention to a writ in which he was summoned to serve the sentence despite his diagnosis.

The cancer diagnosis came at about the same time as his prison sentence — ruled by Judge Moghiseh on October 2, 2016 — for charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “gathering and colluding against national security.” The sentence was upheld a few months later by Judge Zargar of Appeals Court Branch 36.

Referred throughout his cancer treatment to resources that could only be obtained abroad, Houshangi never broke free of a two-year stalemate with judicial authorities who refused to let him seek care outside Iran.

Houshangi started his journalism career with Iranian national radio and television in 1973.

Poet and Political Activist Mostafa Badkoobeyi Released Pending Trial

Posted on: November 6th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – After spending two days in prison, poet and former political prisoner Mostafa Badkoobeyi was conditionally released pending trial.

Badkoobeyi was arrested November 5th after being summoned to Branch 3 of the Evin Prison Prosecutor’s office for interrogation. Earlier, on October 27th, he was given five days’ notice to present himself there, under threat of arrest for failure to appear.

His writ indicated no reason for the summons, a source close to Badkoobeyi told HRANA. His family’s inquiries have thus far been unsuccessful in extracting an explanation from authorities.

Following the highly-disputed 2009 Iranian presidential elections, Badkoobeyi’s poetry, critical of former president Mahmood Ahmadinejad, led to his arrest and an 18-month prison sentence. He went to Evin Prison on November 21, 2012, where he spent less than a year before being released.

Popular Documentary Producer Summoned to Culture and Media Court

Posted on: November 5th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Historian and documentary producer Hossein Dehbashi was summoned Saturday, November 3, 2018, to appear in Culture and Media Court just two days later to respond to accusations from the Ministry of Intelligence.

Publishing an image of the summons, Dehbashi wrote, “without no explanation, for the day after tomorrow… and not even the addressee [Dehbashi] knows what it’s about. It would be kind of you to pray for me as friends and brothers”.

Dehbashi rose to modest fame after producing a promotional documentary for 2013 presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani, as well as the documentary “The Royal Court’s Narrative.” In 2015, he directed and launched the Iran Verbal History Project through the National Library and Documentation Centre [thousands of YouTube viewers have screened clips of Dehbashi’s work, which features interviews with key political figures from the past four decades].

One Azerbaijani Activist Back In Detention, Another Free on Bail

Posted on: November 2nd, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Azerbaijani political prisoner Hakimeh Ahmadi, who underwent hospital treatment for ribcage and finger injuries sustained at the hands of Iranian security forces, is back in Intelligence detention in Marand County.

Marand-based security forces entered Ahmadi’s home on October 18th, threatening both her and her spouse with a weapon. She was arrested and transferred without explanation to an undisclosed location, later reaching out to her family from Tabriz Prison.

In a video he published October 30th, Ahmadi’s husband Gholamreza Ghorbani related news of her hospital transfer, explaining that authorities had refused to disclose where she had been admitted, forbade him from visiting, and advised him that pending treatments would be at his and Ahmadi’s expense.

Ahmadi was previously detained this past September and went free on one billion Rials [approximately $7,000 USD] bail.

Meanwhile, on November 1st, Azerbaijani activist Rahman Ghasemi of Urmia was released on bail pending trial. He was arrested October 29th in Tabriz.

Ghasemi was previously arrested and interrogated by Urmia police for his attendance at the strictly-sanctioned Babak Fort gatherings this past July.

Azerbaijanis Detained for Cultural Observances

Posted on: October 30th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA)- A crackdown on Azerbaijani activists continued this past week when activist Reza Zarei was taken into custody by security forces, purportedly in connection to his newfound campaign promoting native [Azerbaijani] names.

Two Azerbaijani activists, Sajad Afrouzian and Sadollah Sasani, were released from a law enforcement detention center in Tabriz on Saturday, October 27th. One day prior, Afrouzian, Sasani, and Azerbaijani activist Ebrahim Ranjbar were arrested in front of Tabriz’s Maralan Cemetery after participating in a memorial service for Gholamreza Amani. As of the date of this report, no further information is available on Ranjbar’s whereabouts.

Gholamreza Amani was a renowned Azerbaijani activist who died in a car accident along with his two brothers on October 23, 2008. Public suspicions around the circumstances of his death — believed by some to be “premeditated murder”– have attracted heightened security presence to his memorial services since.

Coinciding the three aforementioned arrests was the detainment of Hakimeh Ahmadi, arrested in her home in the city of Marand, East Azerbaijan Province and transferred to an undisclosed location. No further information is currently available on her location or the charges against her.

Ahmadi was previously arrested this past September and released on a bail of one billion Rials [approximately $7,000 USD].

Tabriz is located in Azerbaijan province, in Iran’s northeast.

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.

Authorities Prevent Folk Author’s Remembrance Gathering for the 3rd Time

Posted on: October 26th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Shahnaz Darabian’s plans to mark the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death at his resting place in Karaj’s Behesht-e Sakineh cemetery were abruptly derailed by a phone call October 24th, by which Iranian security forces informed her that the ceremony would not be permissible.

The widow and children of late writer Ali Ashraf Darvishian had announced their plans to commemorate his passing on October 23rd of this year.

“Security organs pled ‘anti-regime abuses’ to stop the event from taking place,” a close source told HRANA. “They have said that only family and close relatives of Mr. Darvishian are permitted to visit his grave for an hour. They left the family with no choice but to cancel the ceremony.”

The cancellation marks the third consecutive time that Iranian authorities have obstructed posthumous honors for Darvishian. Just two days after his death in 2017, Iranian authorities canceled a commemoration event planned for October 28th at Elmi Karbordi University. A second attempt to hold a ceremony was halted by security forces December 1, 2017.

Ali Ashraf Darvishian, a writer and scholar of folk literature, died of an illness on October 26, 2017, at the age of 76. He was buried October 30, 2017, in Behesht-e Sakineh cemetery of Karaj.

Ali Ashraf Darvishian

Darvishian published around 30 books, the most influential of which was a 19-volume anthology of Iranian folklore he composed in collaboration with Reza Khandan Mahabadi. One of the oldest members of the Iranian Writers Guild, his honors include the Human Rights Watch Hellman-Hammett Grant, awarded to writers across the world who are struggling against persecution and economic hardship.

Due to his political activity leading up to the Islamic Revolution, Darvishian was fired from his job, prevented from working, and imprisoned between 1970 and 1979.

Other notable Darvishian works include My Favorite Stories, Bisotun, Abshuran, Bread Season, Along with my Father’s Songs, Golden Flower and Red Klash, The Black Cloud of a Thousand Eyes, Our School’s Bulletin, Rangineh, When Will You Be Returning, Dear Brother, and Fire in the Kid’s Library.

Open Letter: Baha’i Prisoner Hopeful Amid Fraught Traditions of New Academic Year

Posted on: October 2nd, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA)- As a new academic year unfolds in Iran, Baha’i prisoner Azita Rafizadeh speaks out in an open letter about the systemic barriers between post-secondary education opportunities and the country’s Baha’i citizens.

HRANA has reported on several cases over the past few weeks of students whose hopes of attending college have been eliminated by nothing more than the insidious alert of “deficiency on file.” Since 2006, this message has been a common method for disqualifying Baha’i students from university enrollment.

In direct violation of the law, Baha’is are prevented from pursuing degrees or employment in government offices, per under-the-table directives from the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution. Every year, a new cohort of Baha’is is either barred from higher education altogether or thwarted before culminating their degrees.

Since the 1979 revolution, the office of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Iran has repeatedly protested the Iranian government’s animosity towards its Baha’i population, particularly in preventing these citizens from furthering their studies. According to the UN, such directives demonstrate a blatant disregard of multiple international treaties.

Rafizadeh reacts to these prohibitions in the letter below, translated into English by HRANA:

It is the third year that I’ve languished in the corner of a jail cell as schools and universities reopen their doors. I’m kept far from the thrills of a new academic term, from seeing the bright-eyed university students excited to pursue their higher education, and from seeing upperclassmen resume their course.

Over the past few years, I have tried to preserve in my heart the warm glow of that atmosphere, and pray sincerely that all those who are striving, serving, and studying will succeed. Even still, these days, when news reaches me of those students who love learning yet get ‘deficiency on file’ for their 2018 results from Konkur [a nationally-competitive college entrance exam], the bitterness of discrimination and prejudice comes flooding back, and my hopes for doing away with these measures is diminished. To be sure, [this pattern] at least confirms the perseverance of hope and love for learning in young people who, despite a life of deprivation, still do their best to enter universities by participating in Konkur in hopes of gaining knowledge, the greatest virtue of the human world.

It is the existence of these hopeful and eager-to-learn youth that has, over the years, helped the Free Baha’i Institute of Higher Education (BIHE) to thrive in spite of the pressures and systematic attempts to dissolve it. This institute continues to steadfastly serve young Baha’is who are deprived of continuing their education.

When I heard the happy (albeit delayed) news of Holaku Rahmanian’s graduation from Santa Cruz University, my heart brimmed with happiness and resolve. I was certain that although I have been forbidden from serving the youth of my country, better and more qualified individuals will graduate from this institute every year, who are well-versed in the sciences of the day and whose hearts beat to serve the institute and their countrymen.

Hoping for the day when the cloak of discrimination is lifted from the country’s youth, so that they may serve each other and build our country’s future side by side.

Azita Rafizadeh
Evin Prison
October 2018

***

Azita Rafizadeh is an Iranian Baha’i whose spouse Peyman Kushak Baghi is also imprisoned at Evin. Prisoners of conscience, both were sentenced to 4 and 5 years in prison, respectively, on charges of “membership in the illegal and misguided Baha’i group with the aim of acting against national security through illegal activities at the BIHE educational institute.”

Iranian Baha’i citizens are systematically deprived of religious freedoms, while according to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone is entitled to freedom of religion and belief, and the right to adopt and manifest the religion of their choice, be it individually, in groups, in public, or in private.

Based on unofficial sources, more than 300,000 Baha’is live in Iran. However, Iran’s Constitution only recognizes Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, and does not acknowledge the Baha’i faith as an official religion. Consequently, the rights of Baha’is are systematically violated in Iran.