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Snapshot: 6 Months of Human Rights Violations and Political Arrests in Iran’s Azerbaijan Province


During the six-month period from 21 March to 21 September 2011 more than 320 cultural, political, women’s rights, and human rights activists were arrested in Iran’s West and East Azerbaijan Provinces, according to local sources.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran confirmed the names of 326 people prosecuted in these provinces. Sources told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that many more detainees were released immediately or within a few days of their arrest.

Most of those arrested were protesting the drying of Orumiyeh Lake, the largest lake in the Middle East and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. One of the largest saltwater lakes in the world, Orumiyeh Lake is located between the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan. The demonstrations, by environmental and civil society activists, were protesting the government’s negligence regarding the quickly drying lake, which they assert will soon cause irreversible environmental and economic damage.

In addition to these arrests, sources confirm 10 executions were carried out in the prisons of Iran’s Azerbaijan provinces, which according to officials were all drug related. Of those executed, the following names have been published: Tohid Masoumi Dajin, Khaled Esmaili, Masoud Ghavi Najah, Aref Rashidpour, Esfandiar Mandahaki, Teymour (Timan) Ayoubian, Sadigh Nemani, Mehdi Kohan and Younes Aghaian. The latter was a member of the religious minority Ahl-e Haqq.

“Many of the Azerbaijan activists were tortured during and after their arrest,” local sources told the Campaign. “Among these was Faranak Fareed, women’s rights activist, poet and writer, who was arrested during the [Lake Orumiyeh] demonstrations of 3 September 2011 in Tabriz. Security forces severely beat her during her arrest and hit her repeatedly in the head and face while transferring her to prison. The beatings continued inside the Intelligence Office Detention Center, to the point that her ear and hand were seriously injured.”

Sources added, “[Lake Orumiyeh demonstrators] arrested at the Iftar ceremony on 24 August [as they were breaking the Ramadan fast in a private home] were also beaten and affronted by the security forces during their arrest and later, assaulted and beaten in front of their families in Tabriz Courts. They were also beaten in prison to such extent that broken hands, ribs, teeth, etc., were reported.”

Of the 45 individuals confirmed to have received sentences from the court, 16 were sentenced to flogging and 16 others were sentenced to cash fines ranging between $100 to $300 dollars (1 to 3 million Rials).

Three environmental activists, Saeed Siami, Ali Salimi and Jalil Alamdar Milani, who were arrested on 2 April 2011 in Tabriz, were sentenced to flogging and fines and were released after receiving 20 lashes.

The source added that 7 detainees were summoned to prison in order to start serving their sentence, and are currently in prison. Their names are as follows: Faraz Zahtab (3 months remain of his 6 month prison sentence), Sima Didar (5 months remain of her 6 month prison sentence), Alireza Farshi (3 months remain of his 6 month prison sentence), Yousef Mehr (4 month prison sentence), Abolfazl Vesali (6 month prison sentence), Moosa Saket (7 month prison sentence), Bahman Nasirzadeh (8 months remain of his 1 year prison sentence).

At least two students were expelled from their universities and two more were barred from continuing their graduate education as a result of arrests, according to information acquired by the Campaign. Siamak Koushi, a student activist who was studying mechanical engineering, was expelled from Azad University of Tabriz after his 7 June arrest. Another student activist, Amin Rezaei, was expelled from Orumiyeh University in August. Mehdi Hamidi Shafigh, a sociology student at Tabriz University, and Mohammad Azizi, a literature student at Rasht University, were banned from continuing their education at graduate level following arrests.

Comments on the table of six-month detentions in West and East Azerbaijan Provinces:

It is important to note that this list only includes individuals identified by human rights activists in the two provinces. Therefore, the total number of those arrested may exceed the number of those mentioned in this report.

The names include only of those detainees whose names have been previously published by different sites and news agencies; countless additional protesters were arrested during the street protests in the cities of Tabriz and Orumiyeh in protest of the drying of Lake Orumiyeh.

In the list, some names belong to those arrested during soccer games of the Tabriz Tiraxtor team. Azarbaijan province civil rights activists told the Campaign that usually during the matches of the team, some of their fans get arrested: “These individuals, in the most common scenario, spend one day in prison, and some are freed on bail. Even though some of these detainees’ cases were sent to the court, in the 6 months period of 21 March to 21 September 2011, the sentences of these individuals had not commenced yet, and some are therefore not mentioned in this report.”

The table, that is available in Farsi version of this article, only covers the temporary detentions, solitary confinements and imprisonments of the detainees through 21 September 2011, which means that many of these prisoners are still imprisoned or were released much later. For example, Saeed Naeemi remains imprisoned eight months after his arrest. Many of those arrested in the city of Tabriz on 24 August were scheduled to be released on bail three months after their arrest, but had only served 29 days in prison at the time this report was compiled.

The blank spaces on the table represent the lack of credible information on where the detainees were held or the dates of their release.

In this report, those arrested on 2 April 2011 in Tabriz during protests against the drying of Orumiyeh Lake were referred to as “environmental activists,” but also others with different social or political backgrounds were mentioned according to their activities.

Local sources of the Azerbaijan provinces have collected the names of 45 activists which only in the six-month period of March to August 2011, were sentenced to a total of 75 years in prison. Names made available to the Campaign and their sentences are as follows:
1-Farzin Rahimi (1 year and 4 months)
2- Habib Pourvali (3 months)
3- Hojjat Mokhtarzade (3 months)
4- Reza Abri (6 months)
5- Ali Hassan Tahamtani (6 months)
6- Ebrahim Farajzadeh (6 months)
7- Ebrahim Asemani (1 year)
8- Hadi Morteza (1 year)
9- Mousa Saket (7 months)
10- Hassan Alizadeh (91 days)
11- Hanieh Farshi Shotorban (7 years)
12- Babak Hosseini (1 year)
13- Yuroush Mehrali Beiglou (1 year prison)
14- Ebrahim Esmaili (1 year)
15- Mohammad Hossein Jafarpour (1 year and 6 months)
16- Hadi Hamidi ( 6 months)
17- Aydeen Khajei (6 months)
18- Shahram Radmehr (6 months)
19- Younes Soleimani (6 months)
20- Mahmoud Fazli (6 months)
21- Naeem Ahmadi (6 months)
22- Yashar Karimi (6 months)
23- Hamideh Farajzadeh (6 months )
24- Alireza Abdollahi ( 6 months suspended sentence)
25- Behboud Gholizade (6 months suspended sentence)
26- Akbar Azad (6 months suspended sentence)
27- Ahmad Alizadeh (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
28- Yousef Salahshour (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
29- Yasser Salmani Rezaei (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
30- Abdollah Sadoughi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
31- Mostafa Avazpour (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
32- Yaghoub Karimi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
33- Farzad Mahdavi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
34- Ali Sirnak (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
35- Mehdi Mohajeri (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
36- Mohammad Alimoradi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
37- Ghader Norouzi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
38- Akbar Hosseinpour (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
39- Ali Imani Gharamaleki (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
40- Mohammad Mahmoudi (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
41- Mohammad Amiri (20 months of suspended sentence and 4 months of prison sentence)
42- Sassan Vahebivash (6 months)
43- Nima Pouryaghoub (6 years)
44- Shahrokh Zamani (11 years)
45- Mohammad Jarahi (5 years)

A more comprehensive table with a list of 326 arrested individuals is included in the Farsi version of this article. (Link)