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.

Update on Mostafa Daneshjoo: Evin Prison Authorities Won’t Budge on Medical Blockade

Posted on: September 5th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Mostafa Daneshjoo, an attorney, is currently serving prison time for his legal advocacy and defense of the Gonabadi Dervishes, a religious minority. These days, Daneshjoo is sacrificing more than his freedom: he is now being forced to sacrifice his health.

Daneshjoo, despite suffering from acute lung and heart disease, has been barred access to medical attention of any kind since he was arrested on July 7, 2018.

According to Majzooban Noor, the Gonabadi Dervish Community News Website, when Daneshjoo was first detained, his family was cut off from contact with him for months. When they were finally permitted to see him in Ward 4 of Evin Prison, their relief was mingled with shock at the sight of his severely declining health.

Mostafa Daneshjoo is the former managing director of the Majzooban Noor website. While the clinic at Evin Prison has Daneshjoo’s medical file on hand, authorities–citing Daneshjoo’s prior arrest–are preventing him from seeking help, even from the generalists at the Evin Prison Clinic.

Daneshjoo was arrested in his mother’s home by seven armed officers in the early morning of July 7th. After spending 45 days in solitary confinement in Ward 209 of the Ministry of Intelligence detention center, he was transferred to Evin’s Quarantine Ward before being taken to Ward 4, typically reserved for prisoners with financial charges. Daneshjoo, who is asthmatic, experienced a sharp increase in symptoms after spending 45 days in a solitary cell without ventilation. While he was taken to Taleqani Hospital on July 21st, he was turned away without receiving care within a few hours.

Daneshjoo’s case file indicates that his current arrest warrant was issued by Branch 3 of the Shahid Moghaddas Prosecutor’s Office in Evin Prison. In a phone conversation at the time, he explained he was being pursued by authorities for his affiliation with the Dervishes who were involved in the Golestan Haftom incident. Authorities have reportedly wielded further punitive measures against him, according to a letter published in May 2017 by the Azad University Security Office, which announced that Daneshjoo was being prevented from pursuing his graduate studies in Penal Law and Criminology.

During prior defense proceedings of a number of Gonabadi Dervishes, following punitive reports from Iranian security agencies, Daneshjoo’s licence to practice law was revoked. He was sentenced — along with other attorneys, Dervish advocates, and his Majzooban Noor co-managers– to imprisonment on charges of “Membership in the Dervish anti-security sect,” “Acting against national security,” “Propaganda against the regime,” and “Disrupting public opinion.” Between 2011 and 2015, he served his sentence in Ward 350 of Evin Prison and was released in May 2015.

Labor Activists Arrested in Western Iran

Posted on: September 4th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) On Tuesday, September 4, 2018, two labor activists living in Sanandaj (capital of Kurdistan province in Iran) were detained by security forces and taken to an undisclosed location, a close source told HRANA. The source identified the activists as Khaled Hosseini and Mozafar Salehnia.

Hosseini and Salehnia were among five labor activists who were summoned to Branch One of Sanandaj Revolutionary Court on April 28, 2018, shortly before International Workers’ Day (May 1st).

They were previously interrogated on March 5, 2017, by Branch 4 of the Sanandaj Revolutionary Court for taking part in a Nowruz (Persian New Year) festival organized by a workers’ council in Pardis Hall of Sanandaj.

Authorities Charge Reza Khandan, Husband of Imprisoned Civil Rights Activist Nasrin Sotoudeh

Posted on: September 4th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) Reza Khandan, husband of imprisoned lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh, had continued to speak out in defense of the causes championed by his wife. Today, September 4, 2018, he joins her in Evin Prison.

“Gathering and collusion against national security,” “Propaganda against the regime,” and “Promoting the removal of Hijab in society” are the accusations leveled at Khandan, who was arrested in his home by security forces earlier today before being charged in Branch 7 of the Evin Prosecutor’s Interrogation office. His bail has been set at 7 billion rials (approximately $53,000 USD).

Khandan’s arrest follows a court summons he received by phone, and disregarded, one day prior. He published a note detailing the incident:

“Someone called me on my cell today, saying they were from the Intelligence Ministry and saying I had to go there. No person or organization, other than judicial authorities, has the right to prosecute people, and even then, it has to be in writing,” Khandan said.

Khandan said that when he pointed out that the summons was illegitimate, the caller replied that Khandan would be arrested for non-compliance.

In a brief interview, Khandan’s lawyer Mohammad Moghimi enumerated pieces of evidence that authorities are using to build their case against his client, none of which he says can lawfully substantiate the charges: Khandan’s participation in a sit-in organized by his wife in front of the Iranian Bar Association office, his interviews with foreign media outlets, and pin-back buttons that were seized at his home.

On August 18, 2018, in a raid on Khandan’s home, security forces confiscated pin-back buttons reading “I am against forced veiling,” along with letters that Sotoudeh had written to him from prison. The same day, security forces proceeded to search the homes of Mohammadreza (Davoud) Farhadpour, Jila Karamzadeh Makvandi, and Khandan’s sister, whose name has yet to be confirmed by HRANA.

The day before Khandan’s arrest, the Ministry of Intelligence brought in Farhadpour and Makvandi for interrogation. They were subsequently transferred to Evin Court and charged in Branch 7 of the Prosecutor’s Office.

Farhadpour published a note confirming the news of his arrest and added that he crossed paths with civil rights activist Farhad Meysami while walking the corridors of Evin Court. Meysami was previously arrested in his home library on July 31, 2018, and has been on hunger strike since August 1st.

Charges Rack Up Against Mohammad Mahdavifar

Posted on: September 4th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – A four-year succession of court cases against civil rights activist Mohammad Mahdavifar continued on Sunday, September 2nd in Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of the defendant’s home city Aran va Bidgol (Isfahan Province), this time on charges of “Insulting the Iranian Leadership,” “Insulting the Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini,” and “Propaganda Against the Regime.”

Present were presiding Judge Mousavi and Mahdavifar’s attorney Mohammad Najafi, who told a HRANA reporter: “The court convicted him using letters he addressed on his Telegram channel to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as investigative reports on him from Kashan’s Intelligence Office and the Basij [a volunteer branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps]. The court should reach a verdict in the coming days.”

Currently serving a two-year sentence in Isfahan Central Prison, Mahdavifar’s civic activities have thickened his rap sheet with Iranian authorities in recent years. He was arrested by security forces in Mashhad (Khorasan Razavi Province) on January 14, 2018 and remained detained until March, when the Criminal Court of Aran va Bidgol issued a sentence: two years’ imprisonment and an approximately $400 USD (40 million IRR) fine, for charges of “Publishing Misinformation with the Aim of Disturbing Public Opinion” and “Contact with Foreign Governments.” This verdict was upheld in Branch 16 of the Isfahan Court of Appeals. Later, on July 29, 2018, he was sentenced to another eight months in prison for “Aiding and Abetting in Spreading Misinformation” by Branch 101 of Criminal Court 2 of his local Judiciary.

Mahdavifar’s history with Iranian authorities goes back to 2014 when he was interrogated in Branch 2 of Aran va Bidgol Court for composing a politically-critical poem called “Alphabet” and reading it at the literary forums of Kashan. In 2015, he was sentenced to one and a half years’ imprisonment in Branch 105 of Criminal Court 2 on a charge of “Spreading Misinformation.” Branch 23 of the Appeals Court of Isfahan Province, presided by Hamid Reza Amani, reduced this sentence from 18 months to 10 months and an (approximately) $300 USD (3 million IRR) fine, by modifying the charge of “Spreading Misinformation” to “Propaganda Against the Regime.” Intelligence Forces would later arrest Mahdavifar in his home on September 19, 2016, and transfer him to solitary confinement in Isfahan prison, which is under the control of the Ministry of Intelligence. He spent 45 days there before being released.

A source close to Mahdavifar’s family previously told HRANA that Mohammad “is suffering from respiratory problems as a result of his exposure to chemical weapons during the Iran – Iraq war, yet is housed in Isfahan Central Prison’s general ward alongside people convicted of drug offenses.” While Iranian prison code stipulates that prisoners with certain religious beliefs and criminal records be kept apart for safety reasons, reports suggest that authorities often skirt this rule.

The source close to Mahdavifar’s family decried the unsuitable sanitary conditions of Ward 3, where Mohammad is currently being held. “Most inmates [there] smoke cigarettes and use drugs. He repeatedly requested to be transferred to another ward, but authorities haven’t followed up.”

Teacher Mohammad Habibi Transferred to Evin Prison

Posted on: September 4th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – Amid hopes that ailing prisoner Mohammad Habibi would be released for medical treatment, he was instead transferred from the Great Tehran Penitentiary to the Quarantine Ward of Evin Prison on Monday, September 3, 2018.

Despite suffering from a kidney condition, the union activist and member of the board of directors of the Teachers’ Union Association of the Province of Tehran was previously denied care on a prior release to the hospital.

A source close to Habibi’s family confirmed news of the Evin transfer to HRANA, adding that Habibi had updated his family on the phone and told them of a pending transfer from the Quarantine Ward to the General Ward, scheduled for Tuesday.

The source detailed Habibi’s difficulties thus far in getting adequate care. “According to a letter from a supervisory court official dated July 8 of this year, Habibi was to receive urgent medical attention. However, for unknown reasons, this letter was never delivered to Habibi. He only saw the letter ten days ago while seeking care at the internal clinic of Great Tehran Penitentiary, at which point he discussed it with officials and was transferred to Imam Khomeini Hospital.

In absence of a practicing nephrologist at Imam Khomeini Hospital, Habibi was examined by a general practitioner who recommended immediate admission for specialized testing and possible surgery. Though eight days have passed since this exam, authorities have yet to follow up on the recommendation, as his family grows ever more concerned about his health.

On August 4, 2018, Mohammad Habibi’s attorney Amir Raeisiyan reported that his client was sentenced to ten and a half years’ imprisonment, despite the fact that the maximum cumulative prison sentence for all of Habibi’s charges would be seven and a half years. At that time Habibi was subjected to the additional penalties of 74 lashings, a two-year ban on civic activities, and a two-year travel ban.

Prior to this, in separate open letters and press releases, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Council for Coordination of Teaching Syndicates, 6,500 teachers and civil society activists, and over 100 educators — all alumni of Shahid Rajai University– demanded his immediate release, and that attention is paid to his medical condition.

Habibi was previously arrested at his place of employment on March 3, 2018, and jailed for 44 days. On April 15, 2018, he was released on a bail of approximately $50,000 USD.

On May 10, 2018, the Council for Coordination of Teaching Syndicates urged teachers, be they retired or employed, to assemble in protest across the country. In Tehran, several of those who responded to the call were arrested and transferred to Evin Prison; all but Habibi were released on bail three days later.

Mohammad Habibi has remained in custody since, and according to a letter from his HR office, is no longer receiving his salary.

Appeals Court Convenes for Seven Azerbaijani Activists

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – On Saturday, September 1, 2018, Branch 3 of the Appeals Court of the East Azerbaijan province convened to review the cases of seven Azerbaijani activists. Judge Alizadeh will preside over the appeals process.

Four of the activists – Akbar Aboulzadeh, Hamid Allahverdipour, Morteza Shokri, and Esrafil Fathollahzadeh – were present during the proceedings. The three others who were convicted – Saleh Molla Abbasi, Soleiman Kazemi, and Ebrahim Noori (detained in Tehran’s Evin Prison) – did not attend the court session.

The activists were arrested for their participation in public protests against the state-sponsored television series Fitileh in November 2015. Parts of the TV program were believed to contain material portraying Iran’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority in a derogatory light. In October 2017 they were sentenced to prison time in a four-page verdict issued by Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court of Ahar (a city in northwestern Iran), on charges of “Assembly and collusion against national security through propagating against the regime”.

Saleh Molla Abbasi, Akbar Aboulzadeh, and Ebrahim Noori were each sentenced to ten months imprisonment, while Esrafil Fathollahzadeh, Hamid Allahverdipour, Morteza Shokri, and Soleiman Kazemi, were each sentenced to seven months imprisonment.

The Fitileh protests reportedly involved around 25 participants. While the rest of the participants were eventually acquitted, these seven were convicted and now await the result of their appeals.

Activist in Tabriz Sentenced to Six Months in Prison

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Civil rights activist Amir Chamani has been sentenced to a six-month prison term on charges of “Propaganda against the regime” and “Cooperation with opposition groups.” Abbas Jamali, Chamani’s lawyer, confirmed news of the sentence to HRANA.

“I heard the sentence today [Saturday, September 1, 2018],” Jamali said, adding that among evidence cited against his client were notes and articles by Chamani which criticized the country’s economic and cultural conditions. “My client was also accused of insulting the supreme leader, but he was fortunately acquitted of this charge,” Jamali said.

Presiding over Chamani’s case was Judge Hamalbar of Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan province in northwestern Iran, home to Iran’s Azerbaijani ethnic minority.

Abbas Jamali (left) and Amir Chamani (right)

Chamani had published a note last week announcing his upcoming trial.

Chamani has previously been pursued on similar charges. On July 5th, 2012, from Judge Hamlbar of Branch One of the Tabriz Revolutionary Court, Chamani received a sentenced of six months’ imprisonment for insulting both Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the late Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic. He received a three-month-and-one-day sentence for “propaganda against the regime” in the same trial.

In another instance, after turning himself in for charges of insulting the President, Chamani was sentenced on January 13, 2013, to 40 lashes by the Tabriz Criminal Court. He was dealt the lashes on June 5, 2013, just over a week before the 2013 Iranian Presidential elections, and was not released from custody until October 2nd of the same year.

Hunger Striking Dervishes Pen Open Letter from Prison

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – After a violent raid on their sit-in last week, 12 imprisoned Dervishes who began hunger strike after being transferred to solitary confinement have written a letter outlining their demands.

According to Majzooban Noor, a website reporting on Dervish issues, the names of the 12 Dervishes are: 1. Ali Bolboli 2. Salehodin Moradi 3. Mohammad Reza Darvishi 4. Abbas Dehghan 5. Ali Mohammad Shahi 6. Mojtaba Biranvand 7. Ali Karimi 8. Jafar Ahmadi 9. Ibrahim Allahbakhshi 10. Heydar Teymouri 11. Majid Yarahmadi 12. Saeed Soltanpour.

Heydar Teymouri, Majid Yarahmadi, and Saeed Soltanpour followed suit after nine of their above comrades initiated the strike.

The first nine to go on hunger strike had previously written an open letter to make three demands of authorities: that their leader Noor Ali Tabandeh be released from house arrest in Tehran; that Dervish women be released from Gharchak Prison; and that separated Dervish prisoners be freed from solitary confinement and reunified into the same ward.

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

A leader who cares for his country will not wish to see pain afflicting his people
A country of callous leaders will never see peace and calm

For the past six months, we Dervishes have chosen the path of patience, hoping that those who oppose us will come to their senses and end the harassment and persecution of this country’s citizens, be they first-class citizens or second-class citizens like us. Instead, all we have witnessed is a rise in senselessness, a fall from judiciousness, in those who are supposed to be addressing our concerns.

For the past six months, officials and their collaborators have kept our revered master and spiritual leader, Dr Noor Ali Tabandeh, under house arrest. They have thus deprived followers of benefiting from his teachings. Our respected Dervish sisters, who have been imprisoned since February and were wounded there in June, their bodies bloodied, have been taken without trial to Gharchak Prison. In the unsanitary and disease-ridden environment of Gharchak, they are denied access to proper medical care and have been savagely attacked and beaten. Without access to a lawyer, due process, or a fair trial, they have been sentenced to years in prison and deprived of their civil rights.

When, alongside our imprisoned brothers, we staged a sit-in to protest the unfair house arrest of our leader and the ordeal of our sisters, instead of hearing our voices and heeding our demands, guards subjected us to batons, electrical shock, and tear gas.

They separated us and demonstrated that even inside the walls of the prison, they pursue the dirty politics of sowing division among Gonabadi Sufis, a group that symbolizes unity and solidarity.

Seeing that nobody hears our voice, and since the repression against Dervishes takes on a new dimension every day, we hereby announce that until the house arrest of our leader, Majzoob Ali Shah [Noor Ali Tabandeh], is lifted, and our imprisoned sisters are released, and our brothers imprisoned in Fashaouyeh (Great Tehran Penitentiary) are returned from solitary confinement and reunified in the same ward, we will remain on hunger strike. We seek the help of freedom and justice fighters in making our voice heard.

Ali Bolboli, Salehodin Moradi, Mohammad Reza Darvishi, Abbas Dehghan, Ali Mohammad Shahi, Mojtaba Biranvand, Ali Karimi, Jafar Ahmadi, Ibrahim Allahbakhshi

Women’s Rights Activist Najmeh Vahedi Detained

Posted on: September 3rd, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- Women’s rights activist Najmeh Vahedi was arrested at her home by security forces on September 1, 2018. At the time of this report, no further information was available on her condition or the reasons behind her arrest.

HRANA previously reported on the case of Hoda Amid, an attorney and women’s rights activist, who was detained the same day.

Hoda Amid

Vahedi and Amid had reportedly held educational training workshops for women inquiring about their rights in marriage contracts.

Vahedi and Amid’s arrests are part of a crackdown on lawyers and activists that has muscled up in recent months, including the arrest of prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh on June 13th.