Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Amnesty International statement on Ahmad Batebi

PUBLIC AI Index: MDE 13/089/2006
09 August 2006

UA 215/06 Fear for safety/ Medical concern/ Incommunicado detention

IRAN Ahmad Batebi (m), aged 28, former student activist

Former student activist Ahmad Batebi was reportedly re-arrested on 27 July and taken to an undisclosed place of detention, believed to be Evin Prison in Tehran. He is reportedly being denied access to his family and his lawyer, and is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. He is already in poor health after being tortured and ill-treated during his previous period in detention, and has begun a hunger strike in protest at his re-arrest. He may not be receiving the medical treatment he needs.

Ahmad Batebi was reportedly arrested without being given a reason by plain clothed officers belonging to the Ministry of Information outside his home in Tehran. His home was reportedly searched and some of his personal belongings confiscated. As he was being arrested, Ahmad Batebi stated that he would protest against his treatment by starting a hunger strike immediately. On 6 August Ahmad Batebi’s wife, Somaie Baiienat, wrote to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, stating that she still did not know the whereabouts of her husband and expressing her concern that he could die. These fears were heightened by the death in custody of fellow student activist Akbar Mohammadi on 31 July 2006.

According to a press report, Dr Hesam Firouzi, who treated Ahmad Batebi outside prison, wrote to the authorities on 6 August stating that his patient was at risk of paralysis or heart attack. In his letter he stated:
"Owing to the dislocation of the hips… resulting from a blow, Ahmad Batebi is in need of regular physiotherapy, medication, treatment and observation to determine need for surgery. If he is not treated, and his hunger strike continues, he will suffer from a total paralysis of the senses and movements in the lower limb. His high level of haemoglobin… could in the event of continued hunger strike lead to hardening of the arteries and, ultimately, a heart attack. He has bleeding of the kidneys, which could be a result of high haemoglobin or kidney stones, hence the need for further observations to determine the cause. [He suffers from] gastritis and duodenal ulcer which, as in the above cases, could become worse and end up piercing the stomach or the duodenum, causing internal bleeding. In view of the cases mentioned, I deem it necessary to warn the prison doctors that in the event his hunger strike continues and he is not sent outside prison for treatment, then, God forbid, he will suffer the same fate as Akbar Mohammadi".

Ahmad Batebi was previously detained in Evin prison from 1999 until 2005, after being arrested during student-led demonstrations against the closure of the newspaper Salam (Peace). He was sentenced to death on charges relating to endangering national security following an unfair and secret trial by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran, but his death sentence was commuted to a 15-year prison term by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei. His prison sentence was reduced to 10 years on appeal in early 2000. Around March 2005, Ahmad Batebi was reportedly temporarily released, in order to allow him to get married. The period of leave was then extended, but Ahmad Batebi failed to return to prison after it had expired. On 23 June 2005, an interview with Ahmad Batebi appeared in the US newspaper, the New York Sun. The article described Ahmad Batebi as being "currently on the run, avoiding the authorities in Iran". On 28 June 2005, a Judiciary spokesperson announced that an arrest warrant for Ahmad Batebi had been issued after he had failed to return to prison at the expiry of his leave.

Ahmad Batebi suffers from a number of medical problems as a result of being tortured and ill-treated during his previous period of detention. He has lost some of his teeth, and has permanent hearing problems and poor vision. He has suffered from repeated lung infections and breathing difficulties. In March 2000, local newspapers printed a letter Ahmad Batebi had sent to the Head of Judiciary, in which he wrote that soldiers had bound his hands to plumbing pipes; beat his head and abdominal area with soldiers’ shoes, and held him under a drain full of excrement for so long that he was unable to breathe. In March 2004 Ahmad Batebi's father told an Iranian news agency that his son had suffered a nervous breakdown due to his treatment in detention. While he was transferred to hospital for treatment on a number of occasions, it has been reported that he has frequently experienced lengthy delays in being granted access to necessary medical treatment.

Hundreds of people, including Ahmad Batebi, Akbar Mohammadi and his brother Manuchehr Mohammadi, were arrested following violent clashes in Tehran in July 1999, known after the Iranian date as the 18 Tir demonstrations. Dozens faced torture and ill treatment in incommunicado detention, followed by manifestly unfair trials and imprisonment. The events leading up to the violence began on 8 July 1999, when a small number of students gathered in a peaceful demonstration outside their university to protest against the closure of the daily newspaper Salam.

Akbar Mohammadi died in custody in the early hours of 31 July 2006, following a nine-day hunger strike in protest at the denial of medical treatment both inside and outside prison. According to sources inside Evin prison, he sought medical care from around 26 July during his hunger strike, but he was chastised by medical officials who rejected his request. Between 26 and 29 July, he was reportedly provided unspecified treatment, though an Iranian parliamentary delegation visiting Evin prison was denied permission to visit the section of the prison in which he was held. For more information please see http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE130862006?open&of=ENG-IRN.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Arabic, Persian or your own language:
- expressing concern for the safety of Ahmad Batebi;
- seeking assurances that he is not being tortured or ill-treated in detention;
- calling for him to be given immediate access to lawyers, his family and any necessary medical treatment;
- urging the authorities to allow him medical leave to seek treatment outside prison, as has reportedly been recommended by the doctor treating him, in accordance with the provisions of article 291 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows courts to order that inmates receive medical treatment outside prison;
- calling on the authorities to order a judicial review of the case against Akbar Batebi, and to release him immediately and unconditionally if the review finds that he was imprisoned solely for the expression of his conscientiously held beliefs.

Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: info@leader.ir / istiftaa@wilayah.org
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: Please send emails via the feedback form on the Persian site of the website: http://www.iranjudiciary.org/contactus-feedback-fa.html
The text of the feedback form translates as:
1st line: name, 2nd line: email address, 3rd line: subject heading, then enter your email into text box.
Salutation: Your Excellency

His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: Via foreign affairs: +98 21 6 674 790 and ask to be forwarded to H.E Ahmadinejad
Email: dr-ahmadinejad@president.ir OR via website: www.president.ir/email

Speaker of Parliament
His Excellency Gholamali Haddad Adel
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami, Imam Khomeini Avenue, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: + 98 21 6 646 1746

and to diplomatic representatives of Iran accredited to your country.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 20 September 2006.

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Free Thinker

Free Thinker
Iranian Dissident Akbar Ganji, at Liberty to Speak His Mind, at Least Until He Goes Back Home

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 14, 2006; C01

Akbar Ganji is free -- for now. He does not expect his liberty to last long.

Ganji, a small man with a whisper of a voice, is an Iranian writer who has taken on the world's mightiest theocracy and its thundering ayatollahs. Released in March after six years in prison -- a good chunk of that time in solitary confinement -- he is today the most radical democrat in Tehran. Several hunger strikes have left him with an emaciated body, at one point down more than 55 pounds, to 108. Deep crow's-feet dig dark crevices around his eyes when he smiles, belying his 46 years.

Ganji is a lonely voice in Iran these days, as hard-line leaders' positions are hardening and the reform movement has atrophied. Disillusioned, he has also turned against the very reformers who view him as their hero.

"The regime is driving Iran towards a catastrophe. . . . Iran is today an archipelago of prisons," he said during one of two recent interviews in Washington. ". . . But the path of the reformers is not correct either."

Ganji is brazen by the standards of a movement more comfortable with nuances, nudges and compromise. His investigative articles in Iranian newspapers linked Iran's intelligence ministry to the killings of dozens of dissidents during the 1990s.

He compiled his accusations against the regime in "Dungeon of Ghosts," the Iranian equivalent of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago." His other books chronicled corruption by top clergy. Put on trial in 2000 for defaming the regime and jeopardizing national security, he tore open his gray prison uniform to sit shirtless in court, showing what he said were the wounds of torture.

Food -- the lack of it -- became his weapon. In prison, he almost died during a 73-day hunger strike last year to protest his treatment and incarceration. He was eventually hospitalized.

"There is perhaps no greater exemplar of journalistic heroism in the world today," the National Press Club said in announcing that Ganji would receive its international Freedom of the Press award last month.

"His significance today remains in the example he sets," added Shaul Bakhash, a former Iranian journalist who is now a history professor at George Mason University. "He remains unflinching in his belief that it is the duty of intellectuals to speak out against tyranny and the suppression of individual rights. And he continues to speak out despite harsh treatment in the past and the prospect of further incarceration in the future."

Yet Ganji is no fan of the White House, either.

A year ago, President Bush issued a statement saying he was "saddened" by reports of Ganji's deteriorating health in prison. The White House demanded that Tehran release him for medical treatment, and it appealed to human rights activists around the world to rally to his cause.

"His valiant efforts should not go in vain," the White House statement said. "Mr. Ganji, please know that as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

But during his trip to Washington to pick up the award -- his first visit, part of a world tour to speak out on Iran's human rights violations and to collect other prizes, including the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom -- Ganji stayed as far away from the White House and all U.S. officials as he could, despite intermediaries' overtures.

Bush administration support is dangerous for Middle East democrats these days.

"I was in solitary confinement in prison and had no contact with anyone when Bush announced support for me," Ganji recalled. Interrogators, however, "talked to me as if I had had dinner with Bush the previous evening."

U.S.-backed wars in the Middle East, he added, are not helping democrats in the region.

In a speech at London's Imperial College last month, Ganji warned that Iran's democracy movement does not support military action by either local or foreign forces to produce change. "Violence and force can never by themselves create genuine beliefs," he noted, taking a poke at both Tehran and Washington.

During a conversation in Washington, Ganji reflected: "You people [in the West] have great accomplishments. You brought the world modernity. But no one trusts Western governments now. Many world leaders wanted to meet me. But all the dissidents in Iran asked me not to. This shows the Iranian perception of Western governments."

Ganji, who is married and has two teenage daughters, also scoffs at the $75 million that the Bush administration has allocated for programs to encourage Iran's democracy movement. He said the funds would be better used for Iranian- or Islamic-studies centers at American universities.

Despite the cleric-controlled election last year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Ganji argues that the idea of democracy has greater support today than at any time since Iran's constitutional revolution a century ago. The past year -- a time of growing censorship of the press and popular media, forced retirement of dissident professors, and the arrest of student and labor activists -- has deepened rejection of Tehran's theocracy.

"It's the first time that the elite have a consensus about human rights and democracy," he said. "The regime's biggest weakness is human rights. This is the issue on which it loses face with its people. It's the only point on which we can win."

The movement has so far faltered, he acknowledged, because of disorganization, absence of a strong leader and disparate roots -- left and right, secular and religious, monarchists and republicans, expatriates and insiders.

Ironically, they are the same diverse forces that opposed the shah -- until Ayatollah Khomeini's clerical clique offered the banner of Islam to unify them. Many Iranians now argue that their revolution to end more than 2,500 years of dynastic rule was hijacked.

"We still don't have the emergence of a Gandhi, Havel or Mandela," Ganji said.

Ganji did not always oppose the Iranian theocracy. He was once part of the regime he lambastes today.

A prototype revolutionary, Ganji grew up in the scruffy suburbs of south Tehran, a bastion of the 1979 rebellion against Iran's monarchy.

As a young man, he rallied behind Ayatollah Khomeini, served in the elite Revolutionary Guards at the same time as Iran's current hard-line president, then worked in the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, churning out its propaganda.

But Ganji gradually soured on the revolution -- then began trying to undo it.

"We wanted to create a heaven. We didn't want a shah, but we were not clear on what we desired," he reflected in his soft voice, his hands constantly in motion, pulling a label off a water bottle, picking at the clasps on his black cloth briefcase or gesticulating in the air. His nervous anger is in his hands, not his voice.

"The more we had repression, executions, as the revolution started swallowing its own children, I started to see this unbelievable reality, and from the other side I started to read about revolutions throughout history. And I ended up seeing one pattern: that all revolutions are the same, they follow the same rules. . . .

"I realized that repression is in the essence of revolution," he said, smiling. "And I realized that we cannot produce democracy with revolution."

Ganji emerged in the 1990s among a burgeoning group of reformers who challenged rigid theocratic rule and pushed for a freer press. As new independent newspapers started publishing, he began writing articles that probed the regime, corruption by top clerics and the killing of reformers and intellectuals.

His career came to an abrupt halt when he was charged in 2000.

In the isolation of prison, Ganji secretly started writing again. His book-length "Republican Manifesto" -- released in two parts, one in 2002, the other in 2005 -- and a series of letters to the "free people of the world" and top Iranian thinkers were sneaked out of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison and published on Freeganji.blogspot.com.

In a letter on the 43rd day of his hunger strike last year, addressed to his mentor, Iranian philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, Ganji wrote angrily of the ruling mullahs who "hide their corruption under their robes. . . . They know nothing but claim to be the holders of divine secrets."

Iran's theocracy is headed by a supreme leader -- currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who has veto power over all acts of an elected president and parliament. The ruling cleric, Ganji said, has "the status of a god" and is at the heart of the problem.

"Khamenei must go," Ganji wrote boldly.

In his second manifesto, Ganji outlined a strategy to end theocratic rule through massive civil disobedience and election boycotts. He charged that Iran's elections were "fraudulent" because of "forged ballots" and "orders given from above" to add votes to bolster turnout and the regime's seeming legitimacy.

Invoking the civil disobedience campaigns of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, he called on student activists and intellectuals to ignore court summonses for opposition activity that, under Article 500 of Iran's penal code, makes them liable to three to 12 months in prison.

"Citizens must break this law," he wrote. "If this law is broken extensively, the regime will not be able to send many people to jail for expressing their opposition. . . . The uneven path to freedom will be opened by our efforts. Freedom is not free."

He also blasted reformers for timidity and for selling out, because they have been willing to adapt Iran's theocracy rather than abandon it. Reform is no longer viable, Ganji wrote.

Throughout his writing, Ganji quotes Socrates and Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, Thomas Paine, Baudelaire and Montesquieu.

In accepting his National Press Club Award last month, Ganji said he reports "in order to instigate protest." And he cited Albert Camus' "The Plague," a tale of disease's devastating toll that is often interpreted as a metaphor for repression's deadly impact -- a tale that he applies to his country and others.

"I am with you here today in order to bear witness on behalf of the fallen victims of the plague of violence," he said.

"It recognizes no boundaries," the diminutive writer warned. "One day, incarnated as Stalin, it ran over the vast territories of Russia, one day as Hitler it tormented the people of Germany, the Jews and other people. . . . One day as Mussolini it wreaked devastation on the beautiful landscape of Italy, and another day as bin Laden it wrought havoc on the United States."

Ganji continues his protests wherever he goes. In New York last month, he held a symbolic three-day hunger strike in front of U.N. headquarters to demand that Iran release its political prisoners. Small hunger strikes were conducted simultaneously in 18 cities around the world. "We tried to bring the world's attention to the broad human rights violations in Iran today," Ganji explained. To do nothing, he argues, is to share responsibility for the status quo.

But some Iranian analysts wonder about Ganji's relevance in the face of an increasingly hard-line regime.

"Ganji probably represents the loudest and most courageous voice of dissent in Iran, but it's not necessarily a pragmatic or effective one," said Hadi Semati, a Tehran University professor now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "His combative and aggressive ideas on reform may not be in tune with the broader popular mood. The economic situation and the problems of everyday life and people are their priorities."

Added Najmeh Bozorgmehr, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy: "He's brave, but maybe too brave.

"He speaks for radical reformists who seem to be marginalized in today's Iran. Ahmadinejad's agenda is now dominant in Iran."

Yet analysts also agree that there is no one with wider appeal among the opposition -- even though Ganji does not see himself as a leader.

"No other dissident has emerged in the last 27 years, since the revolution, who has the respect of all the disparate elements of Iranian society, from Revolutionary Guardsmen and basij [volunteers], senior clergy and religious intellectuals, to the secular and religious middle class within Iran and the strong Iranian exile communities in Europe and North America," said Karim Sadjadpour, Iran analyst for the Crisis Group, an independent nonpartisan organization committed to preventing conflict and based in Brussels. "The fact that Ganji is held in such high esteem by all of these disparate actors is really quite remarkable."

At a time when many intellectuals and dissidents are opting for temporary jobs abroad or low profiles at home, Ganji plans to return to Tehran soon to make more noise.

"My place is inside Iran. I have to go back and struggle from inside," he said.

During his last trip abroad in 2000 for a conference in Berlin, Ganji was warned that he would be arrested if he returned. "I went back, was arrested, and I don't regret it," he said.

"I told them from the beginning that it's a two-side cost," he added. "They imprison me and I pay the cost. But when I talk about them, they also pay a cost. And when they imprisoned me for six years, the cost was higher to them."

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Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Please sign this petition


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Iran: Akbar Mohammadi's death in custody signals need for justice reform


AI Index: MDE 13/086/2006 (Public)
News Service No: 201
1 August 2006

Iran: Akbar Mohammadi's death in custody signals need for justice reform

The death in custody of Akbar Mohammadi, a 38-year-old former student, in the early hours of 31 July 2006 casts a pall over the entire Iranian justice system, Amnesty International said today.

“The series of failures to afford Akbar Mohammadi justice have robbed him of his life and his family of human dignity. There can be no more deaths in Iranian custody. A thorough reform of the criminal justice system is urgently needed,” added the organisation.

“The Iranian authorities need to take urgent measures to ensure that political prisoners are afforded a fair and open trial; that torture and other ill-treatment in Iranian prisons is halted and that the practice of delaying or denying medical care is stopped immediately.”

Amnesty International is alarmed at reports indicating that following an inspection of Akbar Mohammadi’s detention conditions by senior officials he was administered a drug which may have resulted not only in his tranquillisation but possibly, as a result of a complication, his death.

From around 21 July, Akbar Mohammadi had reportedly undertaken a hunger strike, the last three days of which he refused liquids as well as solids.

Amidst reports that an autopsy has been carried out domestically by the coroner (pezeshk-e qanouni), Amnesty International considers that there needs to be an independent investigation and autopsy by fully independent pathologists to determine the cause of Akbar Mohammadi’s death and the conditions that facilitated it.

Principle 9 of the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions states: “There shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, including cases where complaints by relatives or other reliable reports suggest unnatural death in the above circumstances. […] The purpose of the investigationn shall be to determine the cause, manner and time of death, the person responsible, and any pattern or practice which may have brought about that death. It shall include an adequate autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence and statements from witnesses.”

Amnesty International also expressed concern that political prisoners Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, Ahmad Batebi and Akbar Mohammadi’s brother Manuchehr are facing heightened risk following this latest death in custody.

Akbar Mohammadi was one of the thousands of students arrested in July 1999 after student demonstrations which erupted following the closure of newspapers and one of the periodic clampdowns on freedom of expression that occurred throughout the late 1990s in Iran.

Akbar Mohammadi and other students were sentenced to death in September 1999 following a manifestly unfair trial. He was brutally tortured while in incommunicado detention, denied the right of legal representation and access to family. Following domestic and international outcry, in November 1999 the sentences were commuted to 15 years’ imprisonment.

From the day of his arrest, Akbar Mohammadi was routinely tortured. While in the custody of the Ministry of Intelligence, he was allegedly suspended by his arms, and violently beaten. Guards beat him to the edge of consciousness, telling him that all he had to do was blink to accept the charges against him.

The information available strongly indicates that the repeated delays or outright denials of adequate medical care by Iran’s judicial and prison authorities have contributed to his death in custody. At the end of November 2003, for example, judicial authorities permitted his hospitalisation in response to urgent stomach and kidney problems, internal bleeding and possibly a lung infection. Despite medical advice that he be hospitalised for one month, he was returned to Evin Prison one week later.

Between July 2004 and June 2006, Akbar Mohammadi resided at his family home in Amol, northern Iran, where he received medical treatment and wrote a prison memoir. He was re-arrested on 11 June 2006 and returned to Evin prison where, once again, he was denied the right to meet with his family. Following one visit by his lawyer, Akbar Mohammadi was said to be in ill health and suffering from acute abdominal pain. Prison medical staff reportedly advised that he should be removed from prison for medical treatment.

According to sources inside Evin prison, he sought medical care from around 26 July during his hunger strike but he was chastised by medical officials who rejected his request. Between 26 and 29 July, he was reportedly provided unspecified treatment, though an Iranian parliamentary delegation visiting Evin prison was denied permission to visit the section of the prison -- possibly the clinic itself -- in which he was held.

On or around 29-30 July he was reportedly gagged and bound to a bed while senior officials visited the prison. The Chief Prosecutor for the province of Tehran, Said Mortazavi, and two senior prison officials, along with a prison guard reportedly inspected him on 30 July, during which time he was administered an unspecified ‘medicine’. His condition reportedly worsened in the course of that day and he died on 31 July. Despite the call by his lawyer that his body be examined by an independent team of pathologists, his body was transferred to a coroner on 31 July.

Akbar Mohammadi’s parents arrived at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran on Tuesday 1 August 2006, at 02:30 local time, from a visit outside the country. They were forcibly taken directly from the aircraft to awaiting vehicles and driven directly to their house in Amol, northern Iran. They were denied permission to see the body of their deceased son, as was his brother Manuchehr, who remains in Evin prison. At the time of writing, there are reports that the body of Akbar Mohammadi has been buried.

Public Document
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web: http://www.amnesty.org

For latest human rights news view http://news.amnesty.org

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