Azerbaijani Turk activists Yousef Kari, Abbas Lesani, Mehrdad Sheikhi, Ali Vaseghi, and Reza Vaseghi have gone on hunger strike to protest prison authorities failing to comply with their demands.
According to HRANA, the news agency of Human Rights Activists, the prisoners were transferred to the quarantine center of Ardabil Prison for isolation on Sunday, June 13, and have been barred from phone calls.
Mehrdad Sheikhi, Ali Vaseghi and Reza Vaseghi have been on a hunger strike since June 13 to protest the non-observance of the principle of separation of crimes and the transfer of political prisoners to wards with prisoners of violent crimes. Abbas Lesani and Yousef Kari have been on strike since Saturday, June 12th.
Despite the long term physical and mental harm that hunger strikes can cause, many prisoners in Iran are resorting to this mode of protest, as it is one of the only tools of expression available to them. Many of these strikes take place in protest of the lack of attention to problems in prisoners’ cases, non-observance of inmates’ rights, and prolonged uncertainty about the status of their detention.
Azerbaijani Turk activist Abbas Lesani has been denied transfer to a hospital outside Ardabil prison, despite numerous serious medical ailments.
According to HRANA, the news agency of Human Rights Activists, Lesani suffers from high blood pressure, lumbar disc, and heart problems.
According to an informed source, Mr. Lesani had a dangerously-high blood pressure of 190 on June 9, and despite the doctors’ order to send him to the hospital, he remained ignored by prison authorities.
Lesani was previously sentenced by the Ardabil Revolutionary Court to eight years in prison and two years in exile. The sentence was increased to 15 years in prison and 2 years in exile on charges of “forming a group with the intention of disrupting the country’s security” by the Court of Appeals. Under Article 134, a maximum sentence of 10 years is enforceable.
In another case, Branch 26 of the East Azarbaijan Court of Appeals sentenced him to 10 months in prison on charges of “propaganda activities against the regime and in favor of opposition groups”.
Abbas Lesani has a history of arrests and numerous convictions for his activist work.
On May 4, 2021, four citizens were detained by security forces and taken to an unknown location in Marivan.
According to HRANA, the news agency of Human Rights Activists, quoting Kordpa, on the evening of Monday, May 4, four citizens from the “Darsiran” neighborhood in the city of Marivan were detained by security forces without a court order. Kajvan Feizi, Foad Feizi, Shirko Sohrabi, and Ako Chavegi were detained after they protested violent persecution from a religious extremist group. Their current location is unknown.
Three Iranian citizens lost their lives as a result of military forces’ reckless firing in the Pigol area, close to Khash city, on May 2, 2021.
According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), quoting the Baluch Activists Campaign, on Sunday, May 2, 2021, military forces’ reckless shooting killed three citizens on the Khash road, 30 km out of the Pigol area. The three killed have been identified as 45 year-old Hamid Gomshadzehi, 20-year-old Nazir Gomshadzehi, and 20-year-old Osman Gomshadzehi.
This is by no means the first incident of police brutality from Iranian military and security forces. Despite a clause in Article 7 of the Law on the Use of Firearms by Officials at necessary cases, which states that officers “should target the leg, as much as possible, and be vigilant that their actions do not cause death and/or harm third parties who are not involved in the incident”, there stands a long history of officers fatally shooting civilians.
According to the report, the three men were pulled over in their pickup truck on suspicion of carrying drugs, and killed shortly thereafter. The indiscriminate firing was carried out by drug agents without a stop order.
HRANA – Human Rights Activists (HRA) honors the International Mother Language Day, by bringing attention to the social and legal challenges that non-Persian language speaking, and diverse dialect linguistic activists face in Iran. Iran is a country of cultural and ethnic diversity, where diverse languages, dialects, and accents are spoken across the country. Despite almost half of Iran’s population speaking a language or dialect other than Persian, there is a growing trend of marginalization of non-Persian language and non-centralized dialects and accents, as well as a growing decline of overall linguistic diversity. Some of the main languages and dialects spoken in Iran are Turkic Azerbaijani (Azeri), Arabic, Balochi, Kurdish, Turkmen, Gilaki, Luri, and Mazandarani.
Two of the main systematic discriminations and challenges that non-Persian speaking individuals have been facing in Iran in the past year include deprivation from receiving an education in their mother tongue and challenges in officially naming their children with non-Persian names. Additionally, mother tongue activists are suppressed by the security apparatus and judiciary with the false allegations and labels, including but not limited to secessionists.
Deprivation from receiving primary education in the mother tongue
Despite the diversity of languages and dialects spoken across Iran, the education system promotes Persian hegemony and deprives many non-Persian speaking Iranians from receiving a primary education in their mother language.
This discriminatory approach makes it difficult for many non-Persian speaking children to receive quality education and it deprives them from learning in their own mother languages. More so, the statistics show that access to education in non-Persian speaking regions is significantly lower than the Persian-speaking areas further disadvantaging non-Persian speaking children.
In recent years, despite many objections, the ‘Persian Language Adequacy’ policy was implemented in parts of Iran. According to this plan children’s Persian language comprehension would be assessed and would act as an entrance exam to primary schools. The evaluation is carried out by the Elementary Education Department and Organization for the Education of Children with Special Needs and is added to an existing Health Assessment of pre-school children, which assess physical and cognitive development before entering schools.
‘Persian Language Adequacy’ policy specifically targets regions where the prevalent language is non-Persian, such as West and East Azerbaijan. A mother from Maku whose child has been through this test, told a HRANA reporter last year: “they told us to enroll your child you need to get approval from the ‘Persian Language Adequacy test’. After a 20-minute interview (with the child) they told me he has failed the test and you have to enroll him in the ‘School of Children with Special Needs;’ we objected the result of the assessment. They tested him one more time and this time he passed; nothing had changed but the person who carried out the assessment.” While emphasizing that this is a clear case of oppression of non-Persian speaking people in Iran, she added: “My son has no issues, he speaks fine, he can count, he even knows the alphabet, the only thing is that Persian is not his language. Imagine if we had not insisted for another assessment, he would have been deprived of attending regular schools forever.”
Civil society activists criticize the ‘Persian Language Adequacy’ plan, saying that the implementation of this plan is a violation of Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution which clearly states that while the official Language and writing script of Iran is Persian, the use of “regional and ethnic languages” in addition to Persian is permitted in schools for teaching of literature. Some other critics of this assessment consider it a cruel act of “Language Genocide”.
In March 2020, Branch 43 of the Court of Administrative Justice, following a complaint against the Ministry of Education by lawyer, Masoud Saliti , required the Ministry of Education to carry out its legal duty of compiling, printing, and distributing textbooks and teachings of “regional and ethnic literature” until the end of middle school. This action was to be done with respect to the characteristics of languages and context appropriate to the rural, nomadic, and urban life of each ethnic group.
Some mother language activists consider this ruling important. However, it should be noted that although this verdict was issued, no effective action has been taken to teach ethnic language and literature in Iranian schools.
Despite the promises of officials, especially Hassan Rouhani, during his presidential election campaigns, no concrete and fruitful effort has been made to implement this constitutional principle.
The international community recognizes the importance and necessity of mother tongue education as a fundamental human right and in several treaties and non-binding declarations, including Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Iran in 1975, Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified in 1995, and The Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the General Assembly in December of 1992 are among the international mechanisms which explicitly detail member states’ obligation to strengthen and teach the mother tongue of ethnicities and nationalities.
The Civil Registry Office opposes naming and registering children under the pretext of “the chosen name is not Persian”
In some cases, civil registration offices refuse to issue identity cards to children on the pretext that the name is non-Persian. This has created many problems for children who are deprived of receiving timely identity documents. Among a myriad of other things, such a deprivation often leads to infants not receiving critical vaccinations.
The Civil Registry Office acts on the basis of a booklet prepared by the government which lists acceptable names and any name out of this booklet is considered “unathorized”. The political and religious restrictions imposed while compiling this book, effectively deprive many citizens of naming their children on the basis of their religious, ethnic or cultural identities in violation of human rights norms. This is a violation of Article 7.1, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states: “The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”
In the past 12 months, at least 6 children have been deprived of receiving Identification documents because the of the non-Persian name under which the child was registered. There has been graffiti spotted on walls protesting this act. The below picture reads:
The photo below reads: “Ayil, A political concept.” The phrase was written for the child of Sajjad Jolani, an Azeri Activist who wanted to name his daughter “Ayil” meaning “Awakening” in the Azeri language. The name was rejected for identity registration. Jolani has been told he must choose another name. According to the civil registration of Ardabil Region 1, all civil registration names must be approved by 3 Persian language teachers. As a result, the child is left without registration entering her 7th month.
Ayil appears to have become a symbol for all the Turkic (Azerbaijani) children who have been rejected registrations. The below phrases document the visual protests to such discriminations, they read: “He will remain Ayil” (photo 3), “I am not afraid of Ayil (awakening)” (no picture included).
There are many other parents who struggle to register their children with a chosen name in their mother language. Additional examples of names that have been recently rejected registration are: Aanar, meaning wise, Seougi, meaning love, Atakan, and Yaqish. Some of these children are in their 2nd and 3rd year of life still being rejected registration under their given names.
Security apparatus and judiciary oppression of the Mother language activists
Mother language activists face oppression by the judiciary and security apparatus and are often given labels which accuse them, for example, as being secessionists. Many of them are arrested and imprisoned under arbitrary charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing national security”.
Mother language activists facing charges and imprisonment:
Zahra Mohammadi, Kurdish activist from Sanandaj city was originally sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for activities regarding teaching in the Kurdish language. This sentence was reduced to 5 years of imprisonment by the appeal court. This sentence was issued by the Fourth Branch of the Court of Appeals of Kurdistan Province, presided over by Judge Mostafa Tayari. Ms. Mohammadi is a member of the Nojin Cultural Association, which works to preserve the environment of Kurdistan, contain fires in the province’s forests and pastures, and teaches Kurdish language. More than 38 Kurdish NGO’s have signed a joint letter to Hassan Rohani, Iran’s President, protesting the 10-year prison sentence.
In part, the letter reads: “If today Zahra Mohammadi, a Kurdish language volunteer teacher, is sentenced to ten years in prison, it is a clear sign of distancing from the rights of (non-Persian) language societies. Us the signatories to this letter, as part of Kurdish civil society activists, protest this ruling, and this protest is a protest to the continued exclusion of Iranian languages from the Iranian education system and considering the language issue a security issue. Our request is your attempt to take the language issue out of the scope of national security issues, to pursue the issue of Zahra Mohammadi’s imprisonment and to take steps towards the realization of the language rights of the Iranian (non-Persian) language societies.”
On Saturday, Feb 20, 2021, a number of civil activists in Sanandaj held a protest in front of the city’s judiciary to condemn the 5 year prison sentence of Zahra Mohammadi. Fatemeh Tamimi and Maryam Ameri were arrested by security forces on Wednesday, December 9, 2020, and taken to an unknown location. According to an informed source, the two together collected stories, lullabies and songs in Arabic to record oral history from village to village.
On Monday, January 20, 2020, Branch 54 of the Tehran Court of Appeals sentenced Behnam Sheikhi, Akbar Azad, Alireza Farshi, and Hamid Monafi to a total of 8 years in prison and 8 years in exile. Sheikhi, Alireza Farshi and Hamid Manafi currently continue to serve their sentences in prison.
Charges for one of the above defendants include:
Participating in private ceremonies commemorating World Mother Language Day, contacting activists in different cities to organize World Mother Language Day commemoration ceremonies, and launching an online petition asking authorities to prepare the ground for the celebration of the International Mother Language Day. The charges also stem from sending a letter to the Secretary-General of UNESCO in Tehran asking for help from this institution to obtain permission to hold celebrations commemorating International Mother Language Day in Tehran. Amir Amini was arrested by security forces in Tehran on Feb 21st, 2019, during the street activism in honor International Mother Language Day. In July 2019, he was sentenced by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran to a total of 9 years in prison on charges of “conspiracy to disrupt national security and propaganda against the regime.” This sentence was reduced to 7 years and 6 months of imprisonment in the appeal stage. Which according to a new law, “serving the longest sentence” 5 years of this sentence are required to be carried out. Kianoosh Aslani was arrested by security forces in Tehran on 21st February 1997, during activism on street for International Mother Language Day. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison by Branch 36 of the Court of Appeals of Tehran Province in February 2020 on charges of “conspiracy to disrupt national security.”
A photo report on International Mother language day activism in Iran
Despite all the oppression and difficulties mother language activist continue to fight for the protection of diversity of languages as well as demarginalization of non-domiant-Persian languages and dialects. As the International Mother language day approached many graffities in various languages popped up on the walls and streets of Iran. Many of these are written in non-Persian languages. In the City of Tabriz, the mouth of statues were symbolically taped. Some Turkic Azeri language activists have published Azeri textbooks and distributed them to the children of cities of Ardabil, Meshkin, and Urmia.
“Education in mother language is a fundamental right of any human”
“Where is my mother tongue”
“Life without language is impossible”
“Happy International Language Day”
“My language told the truth, they left me without language”
“Mother Language, is dear like mother”
On Saturday, Feb 20, 2021, on the eve of International Mother Language Day, a number of Azerbaijani civil activists distributed educational books in the Turkic (Azeri) language throughout the city of Urmia.
At the same time, civil activists in Ardabil province distributed educational books in Turkic (Azeri) language in the cities of Ardabil and Meshkin.
— For media inquiries please contact Skylar Thompson, Senior Advocacy Coordinator Human Rights Activists (in Iran) at [email protected]
On January 13, 2020, Mobin Moradi was sentenced to a six-year prison term by Kermanshah Revolutionary Court on the charge of “cooperation with an opposition group”. He was arrested during November protests in Kermanshah and was released on 200 million Tomans [approx. 20 thousand dollars] bail on December 9, 2019.
In addition, on the same day, Poshtivan Afsar was sentenced to nine years imprisonment by Marivan Revolutionary Court on the charge of “membership in an opposition group”. He was arrested during protests on November 19, 2019, in Marivan. On December 14, 2019, he was released on 400 million Tomans [approx. 40 thousand dollars] bail.
The nation-wide protests of November are one of the most significant events of 2019. During the November protests that lasted more than 10 days simultaneously in 719 parts of the country. At least 7133 people were arrested, and hundreds died on the streets.
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.
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.
Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Iranian citizens and legal residents, once placed behind bars or accused of a crime, have seen their lawful rights and dignities abruptly revoked. Below are a few of their stories.
Sunni Kurdish Prisoner Slapped with “Propaganda” Charge Whilst Behind Bars
Sardar Osman Bakr, a Sunni Kurdish prisoner serving a five-year sentence in Urmia Central, has been charged with “propaganda against the regime” and will now be serving six.
An Iraqi national who has held legal residence in Iran for the past 10 years, Bakr was arrested, charged, and sentenced in 2016 on charges of “membership in anti-regime groups with religious ideologies.” He was held in solitary confinement for 10 days in a Ministry of Intelligence Detention Center earlier this year, before being transferred back to Urmia Central Prison to be interrogated on the “propaganda against the regime” charge.
Branch 3 of Urmia Revolutionary Court convicted Bakr of the new charge in September 2018, compounding his prison term by an additional year. He is currently being held in Ward 12 of Urmia Central.
Azerbaijani Activist Sentenced in Absentia
On November 10th, Azerbaijani activist Ulduz Ghasemi was sentenced in absentia to one year in prison by Urmia Revolutionary Court Branch 1.
Ghasemi is from Urmia, in Iran’s northwest. Read more about Ghasemi’s activism and legal ordeals here.
Sentence Upheld for Sunni Prisoner
West Azerbaijan Appeals Court Branch 13 has upheld a five-year prison sentence for Sunni prisoner Eslam Mostafaie, of Mirabad. He has been in Urmia Central Prison for the past three months.
Charged with “membership in Salafi groups,” a close source said, Mostafaie was denied a lawyer throughout judicial proceedings that ended with his August 2018 conviction in Urmia Revolutionary Court Branch 2.
According to the source, he was held in solitary confinement in a Ministry of Intelligence detention center for 17 days after his arrest and is now being held in Ward 12 of Urmia Central.
Mirabad is a city in West Azerbaijan Province.
Conditional Release Denied to Urmia Prisoner
Judge Ali Sheikhloo of Urmia Revolutionary Court Branch 2 has denied the conditional release request of political prisoner Azad Mohammadi, currently being held in Ward 12 of Urmia Central prison. The court’s decision was dictated to Mohammadi on Tuesday, November 13th.
Mohammadi had previously stopped hunger striking when prison authorities verbally engaged to negotiate with the Judiciary for his conditional release. Mohammadi was among a group of prisoners swayed to end their coordinated hunger strike on October 23rd by similar promises from prison authorities.
Upon his arrest in 2015, Mohammadi spent three months in an IRGC Intelligence detention center. Without ever having access to a lawyer, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “Cooperation with the Kurdistan Democratic Party.” He was subsequently transferred to Urmia Prison.
Mohammadi’s sentence was reduced by 15 months when he chose to not protest the charges. He is scheduled to be released in seven months.
Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Pursuant to the September 22nd armed attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, hundreds of Khuzestani Arabs in Ahvaz, Susangerd, and Hamidiyeh were taken by security officers to undisclosed locations. After recently identifying 179 of these detainees, HRANA has learned the names of ten more, along with the identities of four who have been released pending court proceedings.
The ten recently-identified detainees, still in custody, are below:
1. Karim Saedi, 31, married with two children, Hamidiyeh resident, arrested on November 3, 2018
2. Adil Mashali, 30, married with two children, Hamidiyeh resident, arrested on November 3, 2018
3. Mohammad Hazbawi, son of Mahdi, married, Ahvaz resident
4. Sadegh Lazemi (Jalali), 32, married with two daughters, Susangerd resident
5. Morteza Sharhani, 28, resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 4, 2018
6. Amin Zaheri Sari, 22, resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 5, 2018
7. Hotab Zaheri Sari, 57, resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 5, 2018
8. Ameneh Zaheri Sari, 24, graduate of the accounting program at Azad University of Ahvaz, resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 6, 2018
9. Saleh Tamuli Torfi (Munabi), resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 6, 2018
10. Abdullah Childawi, resident of Alavi neighborhood of Ahvaz, arrested November 6, 2018
Hotab Zaheri Sari is reportedly in need of medical treatment for gastrointestinal and disc diseases. As of the date of this report, no further information is available on their whereabouts or well-being.
Over the past few days, local sources reported the bail release of jailed Ahvaz residents Saeed Mohammad Saidawi, Sajjad Saylawi, Zawdiyya Afrawi, and Qaysiyya Afrawi. The four await further notification from Ahvaz Revolutionary Court.