Reformist Ex-deputy Minister Summoned for Interrogation

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Mostafa Tajzadeh, a leading reformist politician who was previously imprisoned on political grounds for seven years, has been summoned by Branch 4 of the interrogation office of the city of Qazvin, 90 miles northwest of Tehran.

Tajzadeh is a leading member of a group known as the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization (MIRO), as well as a central council member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF). Both organizations have been banned by the Iranian authorities.

On September 18th, Tajzadeh published a note on social media attributing the summons to a speech he had made in the house of Ayatollah Ghavami.

“The note says that I have five days to present myself, otherwise I am to be arrested,” his note said.

Tajzadeh complained about being summoned in the same year that Iran’s Supreme Leader issued new year’s vow not to arrest citizens exercising their freedom of speech.

“It will soon be known who this summons order came from,” Tajzadeh wrote.

After Tajzadeh’s September 15th speech, he reported that the Intelligence Department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps summoned a number of those in attendance.

Tajzadeh, who was a deputy interior minister during the self-proclaimed reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, was previously arrested amid widespread protests known as the Green Movement that broke out across Iran after the 2009 presidential election. Convicted of both “gathering and collusion aimed at disrupting national security” and “propaganda against the regime,” he was sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Salavati in Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. An appeals court later confirmed the sentence.

While in prison, he wrote critical letters addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader, which put him on the radar of the IRGC. This culminated in an additional charge of “propaganda against the regime,” for which he was convicted and subsequently sentenced to a year in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court, presided by Judge Moghiseh. He served a total of seven years in prison before his June 4, 2016 release.

Tajzadeh was also summoned to court last December, pursuant to complaints from Tehran prosecutors.

Intensified Muharram Rituals Becoming Unbearable for Residents

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Muharram in Iran has so far delivered on its annual promise of month-long public dirges and processionals in honor of the 3rd Shiite Imam Hossein, who died in battle in the 7th century AD. Filling side streets and alleyways with self-flagellation, drumbeats, and wailing, observers of this religious holiday have more recently come to serve the additional purpose of encroaching on religious minority groups.

If noise pollution, traffic jams, and road blockades don’t seem major issues on their face, religious-minority citizens and eyewitness reports describe Muharram as a month-long “psychological persecution” that has enjoyed a history of strong government sponsorship, especially in non-Shiite locales [1].

Ararat, Tehran resident and member of a religious minority he preferred not to name, told HRANA that the eve of Muharram this year turned “ghastly” when the ceremonies reached his home on Ejarehdar Street and jolted his pregnant wife from her sleep.

“Suddenly, the windows started to tremble from the incessant drumming. You cannot imagine how she was woken up, and how she was shaking,” Ararat said. “Worried that something could have happened to the baby, we decided to go to the hospital.”

Making their way through streets clogged with parades, the route to the hospital that night was a long one.

“We moved in with my wife’s parents in Jajroud [north of Iran]. We were worried something terrible could happen, so we escaped for the safety of our baby.”

The Muharram rituals, according to Ararat, were bearable until a few years ago. Over the past decade, due in part to the failing economy, religious hubs have multiplied in tandem with a decreased public interest in worship. To address waning public participation, Ararat said, congregations have purchased audio equipment to broadcast their Muharram lamentations across greater distances.

“Most congregations consist of only a dozen people with flags and drums, slapping their chests or engaging in self-flagellation,” Ararat said. “They are led by a van carrying loudspeakers blasting the monodies [melodic laments].”

Revelations last year that the city of Tehran had given $14 million USD (55 billion IRR) to religious congregations caused such a stir among Iranians that the current mayor and city council have made clear that such funding would not be available this year. According to HRANA reports and eyewitness accounts, however, the disproportionate national and municipal budgets allocated to associations funding Muharram rituals has already mobilized the practice of such rites into a deliberate and systematic violation of religious minority rights.

Through its construction projects alone, city administrators seem to harbor a wish to maintain Shiite presence in neighborhoods where very few of them live. As one Isfahan tourist put it, Christian, Jewish, and other minority localities look deceivingly like the most Shiite-dominated areas of the city. Shiite congregations dot the map of Tehran’s Felestin (Palestine) neighborhood, which is home to many Jewish residents; the Villa neighborhood in Tehran, predominantly inhabited by Christian Armenians, is home to three Shiite mourning congregations; and several Shiite religious associations are housed in Tabriz’s Barnava district, as well as in the Christian-Armenian neighborhoods of Julfa and Isfahan’s Sangtarashha quarter.

As eyewitnesses attest to a growing fervor in sectarian rituals this year, and as religious-minority neighborhoods become host to some of the largest, most cacophonous dirges in the city, the slight against minority residents is twofold: their local taxes are not only being funneled away from projects that would otherwise benefit them, they are also being pooled into the government’s ideological propaganda campaign. Not to mention the noise.

“You cannot believe the horrendous conditions of our street,” said Ararat, who lives on an arterial sidestreet of Tehran’s Imam Hussein Square, one of many feeder streets into a larger collective mourning ceremony that brings loudly-wailing passersby, at all hours of the day and night, to the square. “I tried to reason with the parade administrators, but they told us it was all for Imam Hussein. They claimed there was nothing we could do, and advised us to stay up these nights to reap our benefits in the afterlife!”

An atheist Tabriz resident told HRANA that in order to escape the 24/7 stream of noise this year, he retreated to a vacation home and took a 10-day leave from work.

“Perhaps those who are religious won’t believe me, but I can’t stand even a second of monodies and chest slapping. We have seen enough of this on TV, at school, and at our universities. Every year, the number of congregations [that carry out these activities] increases. It is as though, by virtue of not being Muslim Shiites, we have no rights, and we do not even exist.”

Government backing of these observances not only violates the rights of religious minorities acknowledged in the Constitution–namely Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians–but also infringes on the rights stipulated in constitutional articles 19 [2] and 20 [3] pertaining to all Iranian citizens, including Baha’is, Dervishes, Yareshan, Mandayis, and others not expressly protected by law.

[1] Heya’at, religious associations or congregations, are formed via municipal permit process prior to Muharram, the Islamic month in lunar calendar marked by rituals commemorating Imam Hossein. The rituals include the broadcast of loud monodies broadcast through loudspeakers and processions held in the streets, where participants clad in black walk the streets while slapping their chests and chanting.
[2] Article 19: The people of Iran enjoy equal rights, regardless of the tribe or ethnic group to which they belong. Color, race, language, and other such considerations shall not be grounds for special privileges.
[3] Article 20: Members of the nation, whether men or women, are equally protected by the law. They enjoy all the human, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that are in compliance with the Islamic criteria.

Anemic Political Prisoner Denied Medical Treatment on 10th Day of Hunger Strike

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – On the shore of the Caspian Sea in the city of Tonekabon, authorities at Nashtaroud Prison are still withholding medical care from political prisoner Mahin-Taj Ahmadpour, who has now been on hunger strike for ten days.

Sentenced to 10 months in prison for her participation in the January protests, Ahmadpour has been on hunger strike since September 10th, in protest of her restricted access to both medical care and the prison telephone.
Her strike is also a revolt against prison authorities who, as a form of coercion or harassment, reportedly threatened to open new charges against her.

An informed source told HRANA that prison officials have displayed apathy toward Ahmadpour’s anxiety about her condition. “On Thursday, September 13th, Ms. Ahmadpour felt sick and asked prison authorities for a transfer to an outside hospital, or to allow her family to bring medications to her, but the authorities ignored her pleas,” the source said.

Concerned at her frail state and steep drop in blood pressure, Ahmadpour’s ward mates brought her to authorities again in hopes of obtaining her treatment. A few hours later, the ward mates learned she had instead been transferred to solitary confinement.

“They said that she would be held there until she broke her hunger strike,”  the source said. “She was sent back to the ward last night, without having been treated, and still on strike.”

Per her treatment plan for anemia, Ahmadpour should receive seven units of blood every month. An informed told HRANA that monthly blood infusions were also recommended for her as a preventative measure against leukemia. Despite her diagnosis and supporting medical documentation, however, prison authorities are adamant about denying her requests for a medical transfer.

Mahin-Taj Ahmadpour is a 46-year-old resident of Tonekabon. A peddler by trade, she was arrested along with 14 other residents during widespread rallies that took place in January 2018 across Iran, known as the January Protests. The Revolutionary Court of Tonekabon sentenced eight of these arrestees to 28 months’ imprisonment, divided among the defendants. Branch 101 of Criminal Court No. 2 of Tonekabon, presided over by Judge Ebrahimi, also sentenced six of the arrestees to 24 collective months of prison time.

Ahmadpour was first sentenced May 2, 2018, in Branch 101 of Tonekabon Criminal Court No. 2 to serve a six-month prison sentence on a charge of “disrupting the public peace through participation in an illegal gathering.” On August 11, 2018, Tunekabon’s Revolutionary Court compounded the sentence with four months’ imprisonment for “propaganda against the regime.” As evidence against her, the court cited a combination of law enforcement reports and images and video taken during the January protests in Tonekabon.

HRANA previously reported on Ms. Mahin-Taj Ahmadpour’s third day of hunger strike in Nashtaroud Prison.

Journalist Motahereh Shafiei Walks away from Appeal with Suspended Sentence

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – The former sentence of Motahereh Shafiei, editor of the politics beat of the Arman newspaper in Iran, was appealed to a six-month suspended prison term Monday, September 17th, Ensaf News reports.

Shafiei was previously tried and sentenced to six months in prison, plus a two-year ban on both media-related and political activity, by Judge Salavati in Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.

As of the date of this report, there are no details available on her charges or the reason behind her conviction. She is among a group of reformist journalists arrested in 2012 by the Ministry of Intelligence during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Fars News Agency, an organization with close ties to the Iranian security establishment, reported in 2012 that these journalists were being investigated for “their contacts with foreign media.”

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

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.

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Activist issued prison sentence for visiting families of dead protestors

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Vahid Bashiri, a civil rights activist and resident of the city of Hamadan in Iran’s west, was sentenced to one year of suspended imprisonment on a charge of “propaganda against the regime” for meeting with the families of protestors killed during widespread rallies in January in Iran.

Bashiri was summoned to the Revolutionary Court of Tuyserkan in July 2018 and sentenced on August 26th, 2018. In accordance with Iranian law, since 20 days have passed since the sentence has been issued without Bashiri filing for an appeal, the sentence has now been finalized. Tuyserkan is a city in Hamedan Province.

An informed source told HRANA that Bashiri’s charge stems from his visits with the families of those who participated in protests that took place across Iran in January 2018.

“The accusation attributed to Bashiri is “propaganda against the regime” through visiting and expressing compassion for those killed in the January protests in Tuyserkan,” the source said.

On July 27, HRANA reported that Bashiri had been summoned to the Revolutionary court of Tuyserkan to answer for the charge.

Earlier, a source close to Bashiri confirmed the report of his summons and told HRANA that “this charge was due to him visiting with the families of those killed during the January protest in Tuyserkan. This is due to the fact that the Tuyserkani civil activist had simply met with the families of the dead to express his sympathies and offer condolences.”

A large number of individuals were detained and interrogated during the January protests across the country. The protests, and the subsequent violent response by Iranian security forces, saw the deaths of 25 people and the arrests of over 5,000 people. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s broadcasting service reported that six individuals died as a result of the January protests in Tuyserkan.

Expulsion of Baha’i University Student Nikan Shaydan

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Just shy of obtaining his associate’s degree in industrial mold making, Baha’i student Nikan Shaydan Shidi has been expelled from Tehran Technical University for refusing to denounce his faith.

An informed source told HRANA that Shidi was unceremoniously summoned at the end of his third term and asked, given his professed religion, “why he had registered at the university at all.”

“He was told that the university was no place for Baha’is and that the three terms he had spent there was three terms too many. They told him to change his professed religion at the registrar’s office if he wanted to carry on with his studies.”

According to the source, when Shaydan Shidi refused to do so, the security office summoned his father, but the two were unable to gain ground in negotiations with university officials. “No matter how hard [they] tried–writing letters to the education office of the university and visiting the dean–the university wouldn’t give him the necessary credentials to take his final exams. In the end, he was expelled.”

While Iranian Baha’is are routinely banned from pursuing higher education, some manage to surpass initial barriers to enrollment, only to be thwarted before culminating their degree. On September 15th, HRANA reported on the expulsion of Baha’i architectural design student Shaqayeq Zabihi Amrii from Rassam Private University of Karaj.

Baha’i students are often prevented from enrolling in college altogether during the processing of their results on the nationally-competitive college entrance exam known as “Concours.” Over the past few weeks, more than 51 Baha’i students were stopped short of applying to universities, purportedly due to “deficiencies” in their admissions files. In its close coverage of these most recent cases, HRANA published specimens of the documentation used to block these Baha’i student files from further processing.

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 barred in this way from the university enrollment process.

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, particular in preventing these citizens from furthering their studies. According to the Rapporteur, such directives demonstrate a blatant disregard of multiple international treaties.

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.

Mohammad Habibi’s Case Enters Appellate Stage: a Review of the Stakes

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- The case of imprisoned teacher Mohammad Habibi—which recently inspired more than 1400 civil and union activists to write to Iran’s Supreme leader demanding that he receive medical treatment—will be reviewed in Branch 36 of the Tehran Appeals Court, presided by Judge Seyed Ahmad Zargar. Habibi’s attorney Hossein Taj told a correspondent from the state-run news agency IRNA on Monday, September 17th that a date for the hearing has yet to be set.

If all goes according to Taj’s hopes, Branch 36 will at best exonerate him, and at worst put him behind bars for seven and a half years. The precarity lies with Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code, which in theory protects defendants from serving the sum of multiple sentences, but is not applied consistently in practice.

Cumulatively, Habibi’s charges would carry a sentence of ten years: seven and a half years for “National-Security Related Crimes”, 18 months for “Propaganda Against the Regime”, and another 18 months for “Disrupting Public Order.” In addition to prison terms, he was dealt a two-year ban from political and civic activities, a two-year travel ban, and 74 lashings.

Under Article 134, Habibi’s sentence, if upheld, would put him behind bars for a maximum of seven and a half years, i.e. the heaviest one of his three sentences. But Taj, his attorney, remains on guard: the Article 134 rights of imprisoned teacher Esmaeil Abdi, who is also on Taj’s client list, have not been honored: “…Abdi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, which by Article 134 should have been five,” Taj explained.

Taj elaborated that Abdi has also been denied both medical care and conditional release from prison, a privilege for which he became eligible after serving half of his sentence. “We have re-submitted my client’s conditional release request, and it is under review,” the lawyer said.

A former teacher of mathematics and Teachers’ Union General Secretary, Abdi has been in prison since November 2016 on charges of “Propaganda Against the Regime” and “Collusion Against National Security.” Habibi, a union activist and member of the Teachers’ Union Association Board of Directors in Tehran province, was arrested amid May 2018 rallies that were staged in observance of a national teachers’ holiday.

Habibi’s case–particularly his own compromised medical condition–recently drew the support of teacher organizations abroad. In a letter addressed to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the French trade unions SFDT, SGT, FSO, Solidaires, and UNSA held the Supreme Leader accountable for Habibi’s fate, and called his imprisonment a violation of both human rights and the fundamental freedoms of syndicates.

“Prison authorities continue to refuse him the medical treatment he sorely needs. Without proper care, his condition is at risk of rapid decline,” their letter reads. “We mean to impress upon you that as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, you are responsible for the life and health of Mohammad Habibi.”

On the one occasion Habibi’s medical leave was granted, according to HRANA reports, he was released from Great Tehran Penitentiary to a hospital that dismissed him without treatment. He was then transferred to Evin Prison on Monday, September 3, 2018, and has remained there since.

According to a letter from his HR office, Mohammad Habibi is no longer receiving his salary.

University of Tehran Student Soha Mortezaei Sentenced to Six Years’ Imprisonment

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Graduate student in humanities and Secretary of Tehran University Central Student Union Soha Mortezaei– who was among those arrested amid the 2018 “January protests”– has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and a two-year ban on membership in political parties, groups, and gatherings by Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran, presided by Judge Ahmadzadeh.

Mortezaei’s name figured in HRANA’s January 6, 2018 report on citizens apprehended during the aforementioned protests, which gained countrywide momentum and were met with considerable violence form authorities. She was detained for her inquiries into the status and wellbeing of detained fellow students who had participated along with her in the demonstrations.

Mortezaei had a previous run-in with authorities, in a wave of arrests that took place in January of 2015. She was arrested along with Amirkabir and Allameh Tabatabai University student activists Zahra Khandan, Fershteh Tusi, and Parastou Biranvand. One month later, she was released.

The January Protests led to large number of arrests and interrogations across the country. While the protests began on December 29, 2017 in the city of Mashhad, the unrest quickly spread to other cities. Thousands were detained and at least 25 died in skirmishes between protesters and security forces.

Five More Baha’i Citizens Arrested in Shiraz

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Authorities associated with Iran’s intelligence ministry arrested five Baha’i citizens this weekend – September 15th and 16th – in the central Iranian city of Shiraz.

The first three Baha’i citizens – Elaheh Samizadeh, and married couple Navid Bazmandegan and Bahareh Ghaderi – were arrested and taken to an undisclosed location on Saturday. On Sunday morning, Baha’i citizens Ehsan Mahboob Rahvafa and Noora Pourmoradian were arrested and taken to a detention center run by the city’s intelligence department.

Bazmandegan was arrested at 6 p.m. while teaching a psychology class, a credible source told HRANA. According to the source, while Bazmandegan was being interrogated in different room, authorities filmed the students, taking their identification cards, computers, flash drives, mobile phones, and the passwords to their mobile devices. All those present were asked to sign a document they were prohibited from reading in its entirety, and told to clear the area within 10 minutes.

Bazmandegan was subsequently escorted to his home, where authorities conducted a search and seized his personal belongings. His wife Bahare was also arrested and transferred to an undisclosed location.

Last month, HRANA reported on the arrest of a number of Baha’i Shiraz residents who were taken to the same detention center.

Baha’is are Iran’s largest non-Muslim minority and are systematically persecuted by the government.