Crackdown on Azerbaijani Activists Veers to Violence

Posted on: November 1st, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – In their continued persecution of Azerbaijani activists, security forces attempting to extract confessions have reportedly battered two of them severely, landing one in the hospital with broken ribs and injured fingers.

Without explanation, agents arrested Nasim Sadeghi and Hakimeh Ahmadi within three days of each other in late October 2018, and sources close to both women report that they have since been subjected to beatings. In a video he published October 30th, Ahmadi’s husband Gholamreza Ghorbani related the news of her injuries and 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 expense. Sadeghi, who was transferred from an IRGC intelligence detention center to Tabriz Central Prison on October 29th, confirmed on a phone call with her family that authorities were applying brute-force coercion to make her own up to their allegations, threatening to arrest her children and her sister’s children if she didn’t confess.

Security forces arrested Ahmadi on October 18th after inspecting her home and threatening her and Ghorbani with a close-combat weapon; Sadeghi was taken by security forces on her walk home October 21st.

Though Sadeghi and Ahmadi were not told the reasons behind their arrests, an assistant in Branch 19 of the revolutionary and general prosecutor’s office recently explained Sadeghi her charges: “propaganda against the regime through anti-regime news activity in cyberspace.” Initially offered bail during an October 25th court appearance, Sadeghi was kept in custody when security forces objected to her release.

Sadeghi was finally released Wednesday, October 31st on a bail of 150 million tomans [approximately $3,500 USD]. As of the date of this report, Ahmadi’s location and charges are still unknown.

Both Ahmadi and Sadeghi have previous arrests on their records. Ahmadi was detained this past September and released on a bail of one billion Rials [approximately $7,000 USD]. On July 28, 2016, Sadeghi was among dozens arrested for their participation in a public protest against controversial comments published in the newspaper Tarh-e No. She was interrogated for five days in the Intelligence Detention Center of Tabriz for charges of “acting against national security through propaganda against the regime,” brought by Branch 7 of the Prosecutor’s Interrogation Office of Tabriz Revolutionary Court. She was released on a bail of 1 billion IRR [approximately $8000 USD] pending trial.

Azerbaijani activists have felt the pressure of intensified security controls in recent months. Rahman Ghasemi and Abolfazl Fakouri, recently arrested in Tabriz for unknown reasons and transferred to undisclosed locations, are two more among many who have been unceremoniously swept up.

Ghasemi, an Urmia resident, was summoned and interrogated by Urmia security forces this past September. On July 7th, he was arrested amid security crackdowns on an Azerbaijani cultural gathering at Babak Fort and released four days later.

Per a recent announcement, the appeals hearing of Azerbaijani activist Kiumars Eslami, also arrested and charged for his presence at Babak Fort, will take place November 17th at 10 a.m. in Branch 1 of Ardebil Appeals Court. Eslami’s cultural activism — including his membership in the Parsabad county Pan-Turkic movement and translation of Persian-language books into Azerbaijani — have earned him accusations from authorities of being “sectarian” and propagandizing against the regime.

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. 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.

Appeals Court Upholds Conviction of Azerbaijani Activist

Posted on: October 4th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The three-year prison sentence of Azerbaijani activist Hossein Ali Mohammadi Alvar has been upheld by Judge Bahloul Alizadeh of East Azerbaijan Province Appeals Court Branch 3. Mohammadi Alvar is a resident of Tabriz in northwestern Iran, home to the country’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority.

An informed source confirmed news of the appeals decision to HRANA and elaborated on Mohammadi Alvar’s charges: two years in prison for insulting the Supreme Leader, and one year in prison for propaganda against the regime.

The appeals verdict confirmed the initial sentence issued to Mohammadi Alvar in Branch 2 of Tabriz Revolutionary Court. The same appeals court upheld the same sentence on the same charges four years ago, in connection to a different case file initially tried in Tabriz Revolutionary Court Branch 3. Pursuant to the 2014 ruling, security agents apprehended Mohammadi Alvar March 1, 2015, transferring him to Tabriz Central Prison to begin serving his sentence.

Authorities began developing a rap sheet on Mohammadi Alvar on September 12, 2013, when he and Farzad Mahdavi were arrested by security agents at a match of the Tabriz-based soccer club “Tractor Sazi.” Both Mohammadi Alvar and Mahdavi spent a day in detention before posting bail and going free.

Two months later, on November 4th, 2013, Tabriz security agents would arrest Mohammadi Alvar a second time, along with his fellow Azerbaijani activist Taha Kermani. Mohammadi Alvar and Kermani spent nearly 6 months in Tabriz Central prison before being released on bail. The corollary 10-year prison sentence issued to Mohammadi Alvar and Kermani in Revolutionary Court Branch 3 was later reduced to 2 years in appeals court.

In July 2015, Amnesty International issued a statement expressing concern that Mohammadi Alvar and Kermani’s 10-year sentence was “unjustified” and “politically motivated.” Amnesty said the men were convicted on the basis of confessions extracted under torture, which constituted a violation of human rights. They urged authorities to order an impartial investigation of the men’s torture allegations, and that if the latter is proven true, to bring those responsible to justice.

Three Azerbaijani Activists Taken into Custody

Posted on: September 6th, 2018

Update: On September 6th, Ulduz Ghasemi was released on a bail of 500 million rials (approximately $4,000 USD).

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) Ulduz Ghasemi, Rahman Ghasemi, and Sahand Ma’ali, Azerbaijani Turkic minority rights activists from the cities of Urmia and Sarab, were apprehended today by local security forces.

Ulduz Ghasemi and Rahman Ghasemi had previously been summoned by security agents of Urmia’s Noh Pele Quarter and interrogated there by security forces. While both Ulduz and Rahman were summoned and interrogated, only Ulduz was taken into custody.

A credible source told HRANA that plainclothes forces went to Ulduz’s mother’s house, seizing a number of books, a laptop, and a mobile phone. According to the source, Ulduz and Rahman were interrogated for visiting relatives of one of those killed in protests that took place in Azerbaijan in 2006.

Ulduz was also among a number of activists arrested on May 26th of this year in the West Azerbaijan province, in connection to their participation in a commemoration gathering at Naqade County’s Golzaar cemetery. The gathering was in honor of those who had died in the 2006 protests.

Both Ulduz and Rahman were later arrested again after taking part in the Babak Fort celebrations on July 7th of this year. They were released five days later.

Meanwhile, Sahand Ma’ali faces a 10-month suspended prison sentence from the Revolutionary Court of Sarab County. Presided by Mehdi Shams, the court convicted Ma’ali of “Propaganda against the regime.” Ma’ali was among a group of regional activists who were arrested at Fort Babak gatherings on July 6.

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