Iran: UK-Based Art Philosophy Student Detained on Charges of Threatening National Security

Posted on: September 21st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Aras Amiri, an Iranian citizen and 10-year resident of the UK who was released on bail for national-security-related charges in March, was summoned to Evin Prison, read her charges, and transferred to the women’s ward on September 7, 2018.

Iranian intelligence officers apprehended the Kingston University graduate student on March 14, 2018, just prior to the Iranian New Year. She had been out of custody since posting a bond of $120,000 USD (500 million IRR) bail on May 21.

A source close to Amiri confirmed the news of her recent summons, and told HRANA that she is being pursued on charges of “action against national security.” “However,” the source added, “we are still in the dark about how she responded to that charge since the case file has yet to be sent to court.”

Prior to her arrest, Amiri–who studies the philosophy of art–was working to launch joint exhibition projects between Iranian and British artists, collaborating with bodies like the British Council and a UK-based charity with satellite offices worldwide. The British Council had its own office in Tehran until February of 2009, when security agents prompted the Council to cease its in-country operations by excessively questioning the employees there.

One of Amiri’s family members previously told the media that her cultural activities have been in concert and alignment with the various branches of the Iranian Ministry of Culture. During the ten years of her residence in the UK, she had repeatedly traveled to Iran without issue.

In recent years, a number of Iranian nationals residing outside of the country have been detained and imprisoned upon returning to Iran. Abbas Edalat, an Iranian-British dual citizen and professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Imperial College in London, was traveling to Iran for an educational workshop when he was detained and sent to Evin Prison in April 2018.

Lawyer Sues Client’s Trial Judge, Citing Abuse of Criminal Procedure Code

Posted on: September 18th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Mostafa Tork Hamedani, attorney of Hengameh Shahidi, imprisoned journalist and human rights activist, has filed suit against the judge presiding over his client’s case.

Hamedani told Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) that “once Ms. Shahidi’s case was referred to the court, I presented myself to register as her attorney, but the judge would not appoint me. So I have filed a formal complaint against this judge at the Government Employees’ Court and the Judges’ Disciplinary Court for unlawfully barring a certified lawyer from representing a client.”

Reporting that requests from himself, Shahidi, and Shahidi’s mother to appoint him as her attorney have been submitted and summarily rejected, Hamedani has continued to speak on his client’s behalf, announcing that Shahidi is still in custody and that her case has been forwarded to Revolutionary Court.

According to Hamedani, authorities are inappropriately applying a law intended to stipulate defendants’ choice of lawyers in the case of national-security crimes. “[…] the amendment to *section 48 [of criminal procedure code] only applies during preliminary investigations. Once the case is sent to a court, the amendment no longer applies. [The law] is crystal clear on this.”

ISNA quoted a report from the Tehran Prosecutor’s office stating that Shahidi was arrested June 26, 2018 on the island of Kish in Persian Gulf. It reads, “The judiciary was pursuing the defendant, who was arrested by police while attempting to conceal her face with a mask.”

In a statement released in late June, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said “[We] condemn the police violence and arbitrary arrests to which citizen-journalists have been subjected during this week’s protests in Tehran. RSF also condemns the latest arrest of journalist and blogger Hengameh Shahidi.”

Ministry of Intelligence forces arrested Shahidi on March 9, 2017, citing her collaboration with a media network.

Hamedani said that the Ministry of Intelligence was the plaintiff in the above case, and that Shahidi’s arrest warrant was issued by Branch 2 of Culture and Media Court. She was released on August 28, 2016 after six months in detention.

* In national security cases, amendment 48 to Iranian’s Code of Criminal Procedure obliges the defendant to choose a lawyer from a list pre-approved by the judiciary. Iranian authorities leverage “national security” charges against most political prisoners.

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.

Iran, an open-air prison for lawyers: A report

Posted on: September 9th, 2018

Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – This past week has seen a sharp increase in the arrests of lawyers in Iran, many among them specialists in defending civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights activists.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi shed light on this trend in an exchange with HRANA, stating that Iranian officials and its judiciary aim to create a climate of intimidation in which citizens find it easier to turn a blind eye to government abuses of power.

“[Authorities] prefer no one dare protest [their] unlawful actions,” Ebadi said.

She went on to note that arrests of lawyers not only put innocent people behind bars, but they also leave the lawyer’s clients–often prisoners of conscience and other political detainees–defenseless.

Ebadi drew on historical context to explain that authorities of the early Islamic Republic recognized legal scholars and independent lawyers as “nuisances,” or impediments to illicit activity, from the outset. This wariness on the part of the Iranian authorities led an appointee of the Judiciary to close the Iranian Bar Association for 18 years.

When authorities finally sanctioned elections for the Bar Association’s new board of directors, their permission roughly coincided with the passing of a law mandating all members be pre-approved by a Judiciary-controlled organ called the Disciplinary Court of Judges. Ebadi cites this filtering as the reason behind the Bar Association’s lack of autonomy, as it is known to refrain from advocating for its arrested members.

The following is a list of legal practitioners affected by this recent wave of repression.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer and human rights activist

Nasrin Sotoudeh was among the first lawyers arrested on June 13th of this year. She was arrested in her home and subsequently taken to Evin Prison.

According to lawyer Payam Derafshan, who was arrested himself on August 31st and has since been released, Sotoudeh is being held on three counts: a five-year sentence for espionage, which does not figure on her formal charge sheet; a lawsuit brought by a prosecutorial interrogator in the central Iranian city of Kashan; and an arrest order issued by Branch 2 of the Interrogations Unit.

The prosecutorial interrogator recently doubled down on his accusations against Sotoudeh, presenting new charges of “helping to form house churches,” “inciting the organization of a referendum,” and “attempts to organize gatherings.”

Sotoudeh declared hunger strike on August 25th to protest both her arrest and the judicial pressures being placed upon her family, relatives, and friends.

Abdolfatah Soltani, lawyer, activist, and human rights defender

Soltani’s September 10, 2011 arrest was followed by a sentence of 18 years in prison and a 20-year ban from the Iranian bar association. According to an Iranian court, his trespasses include his acceptance of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award, statements he made to the media about his casework, and his role as co-founder of the Center for Supporters of Human Rights (CSHR).

Soltani’s prison sentence was reduced to 13 years in an appeals court. Pursuant to the principle of concurrent sentences per Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, his sentence was reduced again to 10 years, and his 20-year Bar-association ban was reduced to two.

Years of enduring poor living conditions in prison, including being cut off from nutritious food and [potable] water, have taken a toll on Soltani: he now suffers from a host of health issues including broken teeth, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, and [abnormal] blood pressure fluctuations.

The formal record of Soltani’s charges equates his human rights activities to “acting against national security.” Ten of the accusations being levelled against him are listed below:

1- Forming the illegal anti-security body CSHR
2- Giving interviews to counter-revolutionary media and foreign enemies
3- Acting against the regime on the pretext of human rights
4- Waging anti-regime psychological campaigns via published statements
5- Portraying Baha’i cult members as victims
6- Publishing human rights reports, all while cognizant of their adverse impact on Iranian national security and foreign politics and of their potential exploitation by the enemies of the revolution
7- Slandering the judiciary regarding testimonies extracted by torture and intimidation in prison
8- Disseminating disparaging news about the country and compromising public faith in the judiciary
9- Defending human rights cases and extremist clients on a pro bono basis
10-Anti-Islamic propagandizing and violating the principles of Islam by indiscriminately condemning execution sentences and implicitly rejecting the principle of Qesas [retribution] by calling it violent

While Soltani was in prison, his daughter Homa died of a heart attack on August 3rd at the age of 27. He was granted restricted furlough to attend her funeral.

Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi and Arash Kaykhosravi, lawyers and human rights activists

On August 18th, a number of protestors were detained during a public demonstration before Tehran’s Parliament building in protest to both the Caspian Sea treaty and the vetting of election candidates by the Guardian Council. Three lawyers–Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi, Arash Kaykhosravi, and Masoud Javadieh–were among those detained.

Several arrestees were released within hours, and Javadieh was released on bail the following day. Sholeh-Saadi and Kaykhosravi, facing charges from Branch 5 of the Evin prosecutor’s office, were sent to Great Tehran Penitentiary.

On August 21st, Sholeh-Saadi and Kaykhosravi, were sent again to the Evin prosecutor’s office, shackled and in prison garb. They were read their charges (“gathering and collusion against national security”), issued a one-month arrest order, and returned to prison.

Sholeh-Saadi is a legal scholar and former member of parliament. He had previously been convicted and jailed for “insulting the Supreme Leader” in a letter he infamously published in 2002.

Kaykhosravi has taken on such high-profile cases as that of lawyer Mohammad Najafi and Kavous Seyed Emami, the university professor and environmental activist who died in Evin Prison on February 8th. Prison authorities claimed Emami had committed suicide.

Kaykhosravi has since been transferred to Evin Prison.

Payam Dorafshan and Farokh Forouzan, lawyers

Attorneys Payam Dorafshan and Farrokh Forouzan were arrested in the home of their imprisoned colleague Arash Kaykhosravi on August 31st.

Dorafshan was among a group of lawyers suing Bijan Ghasemzadeh, interrogator in Branch Two of the Culture and Media court, for his decision to ban the popular messaging app Telegram. Forouzan works in children’s rights.

Both have since been released. The reason for their arrest remains unclear.

Mohammad Najafi, lawyer and human rights activist

On July 29th, Branch 102 of the Second Criminal Court in the central Iranian city of Arak sentenced lawyer Mohammad Najafi and dozens of other citizens to prison terms for participating in January’s Shazand County protests.

Najafi was convicted of “disrupting order and public peace by taking part in illegal gatherings” and sentenced to one year in prison plus 74 lashes. Prior charges of “publishing false information to disrupt the public conscience” brought the prison sentence to a total of two years.

Najafi is among those investigating the death of a protestor in January’s Shazand protests. He publicly spoke out about the death of Vahid Heydari, a citizen who died while in the custody of authorities after being arrested in Arak.

Zaynab Taheri

Lawyer Zaynab Taheri was arrested on June 19th, one day after the execution of her client Mohammadreza Salas Babajani, a Sufi Dervish prisoner convicted of killing three police officers. She had publicly advocated for Babajani on social media.

She was arrested by the Culture and Media court and convicted of both “publishing falsehoods to disrupt the public conscience” and “propaganda against the regime.” She was released on bail August 8th.

On August 31st, the International Federation of Human Rights, known by its French acronym FIDH, expressed concern over the harassment of Taheri by judicial authorities, asking Iranian officials to cease their harassment of her and other human rights defenders.

Taheri’s clients included Salas Babajani, Mohammad Ali Taheri, and Ahmadreza Jalali.

Hoda Amid, lawyer and women’s rights activist

On the morning of September 10th, security forces arrested Hoda Amid in her home along with Najmeh Vahedi, another women’s rights activist with a formal education in sociology who was with Amid at the time. Amid and Vahedi are known to have organized educational training workshops for women inquiring about their rights in marriage contracts.

The precise reason for Amid’s arrest and her current status remain unknown.

Eight Activists Condemned for Commemorating Forest Fire Victims

Posted on: September 6th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Eight labor and environmental activists were released from custody Wednesday, September 8th after being tried and interrogated for “Disturbing Public Order” and posting a bail of approximately $3000 USD (300 millon Rials).

HRANA confirmed the identities of the released activists: Khaled Hosseini, Mozafar Salehnia, Ali Mirzaei, Vali Nasri, Hajar Saeidi, Hossein Goili, Habibollah Karimi and Reza Amjadi, all residents of Sanandaj (Capital of Kurdistan Province).

Within two days of their trial, all eight were either summoned or detained for having organized a funeral in honor of Sharif Bajour and three other environmental activists who died of smoke inhalation and burns while fighting the Marivan forest fire.

HRANA reported on the arrests of Khaled Hosseini and Mozafar Salehnia on September 4, 2018.

Iran: One Protest Continues as Two More Begin

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Over the last few days, three distinct protests were organized to express the yet-unmet demands of three separate collectives: the Citizens of Zabul, the residents of Bibayani village (of the Dasht-e Zahab tributary of Sar-e Pol Zahab), and a number of shareholders of the bankrupt Caspian Institution in Tehran.

Caspian Institution

HRANA reported today that Caspian Institution shareholders were gathering in front of Tehran’s Majlis building. The group, who started staging protests two years ago, includes a mix of investors and shareholders from financial and credit institutions. When their public demonstrations first began, the government and Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran (CBI) committed to paying the dividends owed to investors. According to the CBI, over 95% of reclamations against the Caspian Institution have been resolved.

Bibayani Village Residents Protest Water Crisis

HRANA reported today on a group of Bibayani village residents who were gathering before the Kermanshah Provincial Governor’s office. Sar Pol-i Zahab is a town bordering the province of Kermanshah.

Protestors Seal the Entrance to the Zabul City Council Building

According to a September 2nd report from Radio Zamaneh, a group of Zabul residents (in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan), in protest to financial corruption and abysmal public services in their municipality, used mud to seal shut the entrance to the municipality building on Saturday, September 1, 2018.

Some time ago, judicial officials reported on the arrest of 11 city council members and municipal employees on charges of financial corruption and embezzlement.

News agencies affiliated with the government reported that these protestors were decrying pollution and lack of public services. Images published on social media tell a different story: shared photos feature protesters brandishing signage reading “When embezzlement is ousted, Zabul will be a paradise”.

Demonstrators on the scene were reportedly chanting slogans such as “When the council is dissolved, Zabul will be a paradise,” and “We don’t want an incompetent council.”

Attorney Crackdowns Persist as Hoda Amid is Taken into Custody

Posted on: September 2nd, 2018

UPDATE: Hoda Amid was released on bail on the evening of Sunday, November 4, 2018, after being incarcerated for 65 days.

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Hoda Amid, attorney and women’s rights activist, was arrested by security forces in her home on Saturday, September 1, 2018. No further information is available on her condition or the reasons behind her arrest.

On Friday, HRANA reported the detention of two other attorneys, Farrokh Forouzan and Payam Dorafshan, at the Karaj home of imprisoned attorney Arash Kaykhosravi.

Following the detention of Kaykhosravi and Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi, public attention has turned to the increasing political pressures being placed on Iranian legal practitioners, sparking widespread demonstrations across the country.

Kaykhosravi and Sholeh-Saadi were transferred to Evin Court, handcuffed and shackled in prison uniforms, on Tuesday August 21, 2018. They were returned to the Great Tehran Penitentiary after

Iran: No End in Sight for Oppressed Attorneys

Posted on: September 2nd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Attorneys Farrokh Foruzan and Payam Dorafshan were detained at the home of imprisoned attorney Arash Kaykhosravi on Friday, August 31st. No further information is available on Kaykhosravi’s condition or the reasons behind Foruzan’s and Dorafshan’s arrest.

On August 21, 2018, Kaykhosravi and Ghasem Sholeh-Saadi, in prison garb and fully shackled, were transferred to the court branch of Evin Prison, where they were read their charges and sentenced to one month’s detention before being transferred back to prison.

Following the detention of Kaykhosravi and Sholeh-Saadi, public attention has turned to the increasing political pressures being placed on Iranian legal practitioners, sparking widespread demonstrations across the country.

The International Federation for Human Rights recently demanded that authorities cease the judicial harassment of attorney and legal practitioner Zaynab Taheri, as well as that of other human rights defenders who have faced increased hostility from authorities.

On June 19, 2018, the day after the execution of Mohamad Reza Salas Babajani, Taheri was detained by the Culture and Media Court for charges of “spreading misinformation with intent to disturb public opinion and campaign against the regime.” She was released on bail on August 8, 2017.

Political Prisoners Pen Condolences in Wake of Deadly Forest Fire

Posted on: August 31st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Four political prisoners in Rajai Shahr Prison (a.k.a Gohardasht), Karaj, have written an open letter to express compassion over the deaths of four environmental activists who lost their battle with the forest fires of Marivan, located in Kurdistan in western Iran.

The deceased activists — Sharif Bajour and Omid Kohnepoushi, both members of Chya Green Society, and Mohammad Pazhouhi and Rahmat Hakiminia, members of Marivan Environmental Office — were fighting wildfires near the Iraqi border in Salasi and Pileh. Marivan’s county governor revealed their cause of death to be asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation.

Two other activists, Mokhtar Aminejad and Mohammad Moradveisi, were injured in the same fire.

Below is the full text of their letter, translated into English by HRANA:

It is not my lot to die a natural death;

Better for the holy grail than in blissful sleep,

And on truth’s command, I welcome that death

which releases freedom from chains of darkness

It was with great shock and sorrow that we heard the news that Sharif Bajour and the others had perished; grief engulfed us like flames. We struggle to reconcile with the sad reality that the chestnut oaks of Zagros Mountain (1) have lost a dear friend.

Sharif Bajour, so appropriately named (2), leaves the Zagros bereft. He was a true friend to the mountains, plains, and forests of Kurdistan. Had he lived anywhere else on earth [but here], his death would have roused the lament of a nation. If the state-run media shrouds his death in silence, he remains an eternal hero in the hearts of the people. His loss leaves a void in the heart of his nation, who has seldom known so noble and gentle a soul as his. His new and creative path of resistance is his legacy.

Bajour’s resistance involved guarding the chestnut oaks of Zagros with his body and soul, biking for the cause of peace on earth, and staging a hunger strike outside the media spotlight.

As political prisoners of Gohardasht prison, we express our condolences to the families of this respectable man, as well as to the families of the other Zagros fire victims, whose names we regrettably do not know. We extend our deep sympathy to his friends and comrades from the Chya Green Association, to all those who care about the environment, and to the people of Kurdistan. They have lost some of the most honorable men of their time. Much like the fire that took their lives, the loss of these beloved souls has burned our spirit.

Arash Sadeghi,
Loghman Moradi,
Zanyar Moradi,
Saeed Shirzad

—-

(1) Mountain range in western Iran and scene of the fatal forest fire
(2) Sharif means “honorable” in Arabic

Photo Report: Rallies against water shutoffs in Khuzestan

Posted on: August 29th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – On Monday, August 27, 2018, residents of Jafir Village (near Hoveyzeh) in the Khuzestan province (southwestern Iran) rallied on the road before local oil companies who have recently cut local water services.

An informed source told HRANA: “There are several oil and gas companies near the village. After receiving numerous complaints from the villagers, they had promised to look into it and get their running water back; a group came to the village to resolve the problem, wrote up a report, and reconnected the water for just one day before cutting it off again.”

The source added: “The villagers were disappointed by the promises from provincial and county officials, and blocked the road to these companies in protest of the problem. [The villagers] threatened to prevent company staff from entering if things continue this way.”

In July 2018, HRANA reported on water problems plaguing the villages surrounding Hoveyzeh. Hoveyzeh is a border town in Khuzestan with a population of approximately 20,000, most of whom work as farmers and ranchers. Due to the drought affecting Khuzestan, about ten regional villages face a crisis of water shortage.

Jafir Village is located 30 miles west of Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan. A large oil field encompassing the village contains an estimated 2.1 billion barrels of oil reserves. In addition to oil, there are layered reservoirs of natural gas in the region with a production capacity of 6.3 million cubic feet per day. Nevertheless, the villagers of this region are deprived of their basic rights.

Below: Jafir villagers protest on Monday, August 27, 2018.