Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Iran: Women on Trial for Peaceful Demonstration

Iran: Women on Trial for Peaceful Demonstration
Activists Arrested for Protesting Discriminatory Laws
(New York, February 27, 2007) ? The Iranian Judiciary should immediately end its prosecution of several women?s rights advocates for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, Human Rights Watch said today.

On March 4, the Judiciary will hold a trial for five women charged with ?acting against national security by participating in an illegal gathering.? The women on trial are: Nusheen Ahmadi Khorasani; Parvin Ardalan; Sussan Tahmasebi; Shahla Entesari; and Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. In addition, the Judiciary has charged at least four other activists, Alieh Eghdamdoost, Bahareh Hedayat, Delaram Ali and Azadeh Forghani, with the same offense but has not set their court date.

?Iran is prosecuting women for peacefully protesting laws that discriminate against them ? and that violate Iranian and international law,? said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch.

The Judiciary filed charges against the women?s rights activists following a public demonstration to protest Iran?s discriminatory laws against women in Tehran on June 12, 2006. The security forces prevented peaceful demonstrators from gathering and advocating for women?s rights. Police agents beat the demonstrators with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked them with color spray, and took 70 people into custody. All the detainees have since been released.

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed under international human rights law. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides everyone with the right to peaceful assembly. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, recognizes the right to peaceful assembly, stating that ?no restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.?

The Iranian constitution also ensures the right to peaceful assembly. Article 27 of the constitution stipulates that ?public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.?

Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is a lawyer for several of the accused women, told Human Rights Watch that the June 12 gathering fulfilled all of the conditions set forth by Article 27 of the constitution and the Judiciary has no legal grounds for prosecuting the demonstrators.

On January 5, 2007, the Judiciary held a trial for Zhila Baniyaghoub, a journalist who attended the June 12, 2006 demonstration. The authorities charged her with ?acting against national security by participating in an illegal gathering.? Police agents arrested her during the demonstration and released her on bail after one week of detention. During the trial, her lawyer, Farideh Gheirat, argued that Baniyaghoub was present at the demonstration as a journalist to cover the event. The presiding judge subsequently dropped charges against Baniyaghoub and acquitted her.

Human Rights Watch commends Baniyaghoub?s acquittal and calls on the Judiciary to drop charges against all other defendants as well.

In addition to prosecuting women?s rights activists, the government has also increased its persecution of people who continue to call for reforms of Iran?s discriminatory laws against women. Women?s rights activists launched a campaign, ?Change for Equality,? to collect 1 million signatures to protest these laws. The authorities have targeted campaign volunteers by harassing them and denying them the ability to advocate for their cause in public spaces. They have also blocked access to the campaign?s website by filtering it. During the past two weeks, campaign organizers have moved their website to a new domain at least three times due to filtering.

?By targeting peaceful advocates, the government is demonstrating its intolerance for civil society actions,? Whitson said. ?The authorities should listen to women?s rights advocates and work with them to reform discriminatory laws, instead of prosecuting them and perpetuating a system of discrimination.?

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Iran: Free Wife of Political Prisoner Seized on Street

(New York, February 23, 2007) – The Iranian government should immediately release Somaye Bayanat, wife of the well-known political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, and investigate the manner in which she was snatched from the streets, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 21, two men, thought to be security and intelligence agents, snatched Bayanat from the streets in the northern city of Gorgan, where she works as a dentist. Somaye Bayanat’s brother, Miad Bayanat, provided Human Rights Watch with details of how his sister was detained. Bayanat was meeting a friend at 8 p.m., and as she approached her friend’s car, a light-colored Peugeot pulled out in front of her. Two men exited the car, showed Bayanat a piece of paper, forced her into the vehicle, and drove off. “The authorities seem to have arrested Somaye Bayanat by snatching her in a kind of kidnapping,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The Iranian government should release Bayanat and investigate this outrageous arrest.” According to Miad Bayanat, in the immediate aftermath of her apparent abduction, Bayanat’s family searched for her at police stations and security force offices, but no one had any information on her whereabouts or would confirm if she had been arrested. Confirmation that Bayanat was in the hands of the security forces came only on February 22, when the family received a phone call at 4 p.m. from her cell phone. A man identified himself as calling from the Gorgan’s Women’s Prison, then handed the phone to Bayanat. Bayanat’s family had heard from her twice after her arrest but before they learned of her whereabouts. First, several hours after her detention, she called a cousin and told him that she would be sending her house keys to him by taxi so that he could take care of her pet. The family also repeatedly tried to call her cell phone between 8 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., when she finally answered her phone. On this occasion, in an extremely brief phone conversation, Bayanat told them that she was on a work-related trip to the city of Mashad. According to the family, Bayanat had not told them in advance about any such trip, and when they pressed her on the issue, she replied that she could not speak anymore but that she was not arrested. Finally, on February 22, the family received the phone call apparently made on Bayanat’s cell phone from Gorgan’s Women’s Prison. Bayanat told her family that she had been arrested in connection with a group of medical doctors with whom the authorities are alleging she works, and that she had been charged with several criminal offences, including forging medical documents and performing illegal abortions. She claimed that she would be released within five to seven days. Miad Bayanat told Human Rights Watch that his family is not aware of any such group of doctors and does not believe any of these allegations, as Bayanat is a dentist. Bayanat’s arrest comes at a time when her husband, political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, has been suffering severe health problems resulting from the physical and mental pressures of detention, including severe beatings and torture. Security forces arrested Batebi in 1999 for participating in student protests, and the Judiciary subsequently sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment. On February 18, the authorities transferred Batebi from Tehran’s Evin prison to Tajrish Shohada Hospital. According to news reports, Batebi’s physician, Hesam Firoozi, announced that Batebi’s condition is dire and that he requires treatment outside of prison. On February 20, the Judiciary’s spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, told reporters that Batebi’s health is fine. Batebi was returned to Evin and is currently held in section 350 of the prison. He has told his family that he is on a hunger strike to protest his wife’s abduction. “The Iranian government should release Somaye Bayanat, drop the dubious charges against her, and give proper medical care to her husband Ahmad Batebi,” said Whitson. Background Ahmad Batebi first came to international attention when his photo was published on the cover of The Economist magazine in 1999. In the now-famous photo, Batebi is standing in a crowd of student protestors and holding up the bloodied shirt of a fellow student who had been beaten by plainclothes militia during the protests. Authorities arrested Batebi in connection with his participation in these protests and he was initially handed a death sentence on charges related to endangering national security. The sentence was later commuted, first to 15, then to 10 years’ imprisonment. While interrogating Batebi, security forces severely beat and tortured him. He described these early experiences in a detailed letter dated March 23, 2000, which he smuggled out of Evin prison. As a result of this torture and poor detention conditions, Batebi’s hearing and eyesight were diminished, and he lost several teeth. Since being incarcerated, prison authorities have allowed Batebi to leave the prison on furlough several times, usually to seek medical treatment. During one such furlough in November of 2003, authorities detained Batebi following his meeting with Ambeyi Ligabo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, who was visiting Iran on a fact-finding mission. After another furlough in the spring of 2005, Batebi did not report back to prison, although authorities were aware of his whereabouts. In July of 2006, Batebi was re-arrested and has been serving his sentence in Evin prison. Batebi’s physical and mental health have continued to deteriorate in prison, resulting in his recent hospitalization on February 18 at Tajrish Shohada Hospital. He has since been returned to Evin prison. His physician Hesam Firoozi has confirmed his family and friends’ claims that Batebi requires immediate health care in appropriate health care facilities.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007


An open letter regarding the Tehran Conference on Holocaust Denial

An open letter by a group of Iranian academics, writers, and artists regarding the Tehran Conference on Holocaust Denial

Over the past year or so a number of official and unofficial public statements have been made in Iran denying the genocide of Jews during the Second World War. The culmination of this trend was the widely publicized, so called “International Holocaust Conference”, held in Tehran in December 2006. Given the serious moral and practical implications of this trend, we, a group of Iranian academics, intellectuals, writers and artists, find it imperative to take a public stance on this issue.

1- Today, several decades after the end of the Second World War, testimonies of the survivors and researches carried out by numerous historians have unequivocally confirmed the Jewish genocide during the World War. Besides the genocide of the Jewish people, historians have also spoken of the mass murders of the gypsies, the Slav people, potential and actual opponents of the Nazi regime, the disabled, prisoners of war, and even in the closing days of the war, the incapacitated German soldiers. These crimes were committed widely and in various ways, including through firing squads, starvation, long hours of forced labour in concentration camps, and massacres in the gas chambers of extermination camps. The extensive material evidence, the confessions made in the Nuremberg trials and other trials that took place after the war and the testimonies of the survivors establish the veracity of the accounts beyond any doubt. Moreover, the voluminous anti-Semitic and racist literature left from the Nazis shed light on the roots of this inhuman hysteria. The accuracy of the accounts has been acknowledged by many academic, political and religious authorities including the Catholic Church. They have all condemned these crimes. On the other hand, there have always been a few individuals who have denied the genocide of the Jewish people or questioned its significance, through casting doubt on the number of people murdered or the manner in which they were put to death. The majority of the speakers in the recent conference held in Tehran were from amongst those few. This conference did not meet the requirements of an academic forum. The speakers in such a forum should be chosen by specialists of the topic on which they are to speak (in this case, historians). In an academic forum both sides of an argument should be invited in order to engage in a discussion. Only in an open discussion involving all sides of a debate one can hope to see the presentation of substantiated claims. In the absence of such academic standards, in the conference held in Tehran, mere unsubstantiated claims were put forward, mainly for propaganda purposes. Moreover, the proponents of these claims were invited to the conference without paying any attention to their background which in some cases was outright racism. The presence and the appalling speech presented by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, a group infamous for its involvement in hate crimes against the African Americans, was a result of this recklessness.

2- In the history of mankind, there have been dark events that have treaded upon human values and broken basic moral principles in such a way that make them distinct from other comparable events. The scars left behind on the face of humanity by these events are irreversible and talking inconsiderately about them can only be described as rubbing salt into the wound and exacerbating the pain. This is in particular true of the crimes committed during the Second World War, some survivors of which are still among us. The sensitivity of the issue could be seen in the reaction shown by the people and the governments of the Eastern Asian countries against the stance of the current Japanese government in regard to senior military officers of the War. Those who perpetuate the discourse on Holocaust denial ignore the feelings of the people directly affected by this event. These people include, among others, a group of our Jewish fellow citizens in Iran.

3- One of the main claims put forward in this conference was that the Holocaust, as a historical event, has been used as a tool to justify the policies of the state of Israel. This claim was expressed in particular by a group of Jewish religious scholars who according to their reading of the Holy Scriptures opposed the existence of the state of Israel. Such claims are at best unhelpful to the cause of Palestine. The creation of the state of Israel on the lands of Palestine has its own history. No matter what political position we adopt regarding the creation of Israel and its further expansion, the historical evidence for the Holocaust remains intact. The fact that since the inception of the state of Israel many crimes have been committed against the Palestinian population does not provide moral ground for the denial or undermining of the genocide of the Jewish people. Acknowledging the Holocaust does not lead to the disavowal of the rights of the Palestinians, nor does its denial or undermining strengthens the case in their favour. The Palestinians, like all other nations, have a right to enjoy their livelihood in their own independent state. This right has nothing to do with the denial or acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Claims such as those that were uttered in the conference held in Tehran, can only work to the detriment of the rightful cause of the Palestinians and the efforts of the proponents of peace in Israel.

4- Forgotten amongst all the sensationalism in the Iranian media accompanying the conference, was the bitter reality that the undermining or denial of human suffering for the sake of making political points – whatever they might be – will inevitably lead to moral degeneration: a moral degeneration that makes any judgment on the wrongfulness of the murder of the innocent dependent upon its political reverberations; a moral degeneration where by questioning the number of the victims, it fails to realize that “whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind”.

We, the signatories of this letter, are of the opinion that such “conferences”, more than anything, harm the academic image of the Iranian universities. We believe that conferences like this do not help the cause of the Palestinian people and only provide pretexts for the warmongers in the region. We are of the opinion that holding a conference in Tehran in support of the denial of the Holocaust has perpetuated an immoral stance that seriously endangers the culture of peace and the peaceful cohabitation of human beings.

1. Babak Ahmadi, Writer and Translator (Iran)
2. Emad Baghi, Writer (Iran)
3. Kaveh Bayat, Historian (Iran)
4. Maziar Behrooz, History Department, SFSU (USA)
5. Mansour Bonakdarian, University of Toronto, Mississauga (Canada)
6. Rama Cont, Columbia University (USA)
7. Khashayar Dayhimy, Writer and Translator (Iran)
8. Kaveh Ehsani, University of Illinois at Chicago (USA)
9. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawai’i at Manoa (USA)
10. Laleh Ghadakpour, IRIP (Iran)
11. Arsalan Kahnemuyipour, Syracuse University (USA)
12. Ramin Karimian, Translator (Iran)
13. Arang Keshavarzian, Connecticut College (USA)
14. Azadeh Kian, University of Paris 8 (France)
15. Morteza Mardiha, Writer (Iran)
16. Ali Moazzami, Writer (Iran)
17. Mohammad R. Moeini , UMass Amherst (USA)
18. Mehran Mohajer, Photographer (Iran)
19. Hassan Mortazavi, Translator (Iran)
20. Mohammad Rezai-Rad, Translator (Iran)
21. Kian Tajbakhsh, Researcher and Sociologist
22. Mehran Tamaddon, Documentary Filmmaker (Iran)
23. Farzin Vahdat, Vassar College, NY State (USA)

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Saturday, February 17, 2007


Iran: Journalist arrested after attending overseas conference

Iran: Journalist arrested after attending overseas conference
Source: Amnesty International

Journalist Ali Farahbakhsh was arrested on 27 November 2006, when he returned from a conference in the Thai capital, Bangkok, on government and the media, organised by Thai NGOs. He has been held since then in Tehran's Evin Prison, and is reportedly due to go on trial on 24 February. Amnesty International fears that he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and association. He reportedly suffers from a stomach complaint, believed to be an ulcer.

His arrest was reportedly not made public until 6 January, more than 40 days after it had taken place, when it was confirmed to the Iranian Students’ News Agency by the Director of Prisons for the Tehran region. It is not known what charges, if any, he is facing, although his parents believe he is held on suspicion of espionage. He has not been allowed to see a lawyer. His family have been allowed to visit him, but were reportedly ordered to say nothing about what had happened to him.

His wife and mother wrote to the Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi, on 22 January, expressing concern about his health. They also complained that he had spent his first 44 days in custody in solitary confinement.

In an interview with the Persian-language online news service Rooz on 2 February Badri Farahbakhsh, the journalist’s mother, said, "During the first week of his detention, Ali had a heart attack and also developed stomach complications, after which he spent 8 days in the prison clinic …He was extremely nervous on the two occasions that I met him.” She also said that he told her that since he had not done anything wrong, he would be released soon. She explained that the last time she saw him he seemed not only nervous, but also very angry, arguing that all he had done was attend an economic-cultural seminar. According to her, his interrogators wanted to know why he had been invited to the seminar. His mother further explained that government officials had specifically promised her that he would be freed if she did not talk about her son’s detention and condition. “I believed them and did not, until he was formally charged. When I saw him last, he had lost 10 kilos during 35 days of detention. He looked lean with circles around his eyes, which has made me very concerned about his health. His wife was denied visitation until she staged a sit-in at the prison,” she complained."

A journalist for the Iranian daily newspaper Sarmayeh, Ali Farahbakhsh reportedly also wrote on economics and foreign affairs for other Iranian dailies such as Yas-e no and Shargh, which have been shut down. On 6 January the Iranian Journalists’ Union (IJU) expressed concern about his arrest. The IJU said later that he had reportedly been interrogated for 10 days, mainly about the conference and people who attended.

According to a 14 February report from the Iranian Labour News Agency, Ali Farahbakhsh is to be tried on 24 February in Branch 6 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court.


Because of fundamental flaws in the administration of justice in Iran, it is easy for the authorities to harass intellectuals, journalists and other human rights defenders. The penal code contains a number of vaguely-worded provisions relating to association and "national security" which prohibit a range of activities, including many connected with journalism and freedom of expression, which are permitted under international human rights law. Detainees are often held for weeks or months without access to their families, and are frequently denied access to a lawyer of their choice until an indefinite period of interrogation is completed.

Yas-e-no was closed down along with Shargh on 18 February 2004 for publishing a letter in which parliamentarians accused the Supreme Leader of heading a system that abused people’s rights. Shargh later re-opened, but was closed down again on 11 September 2006 after it published a cartoon perceived by some as an insult to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and for failing to follow an order to replace its managing director.

On 23 October 2006, the authorities also banned the daily Rozegar, which had taken on many of the Shargh journalists, because it looked very much like Shargh, on the grounds that this violated Article 33 of the Press Law.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Persian, Arabic, English, French or your own language:

- expressing concern that Ali Farahbakhsh may have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of his internationally recognized right to freedom of expression or association, in which case he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally;

- calling on the authorities to release him unless he is to be promptly charged with a recognizably criminal offence and given a prompt and fair trial;

- asking for a detailed account of the reasons for his arrest, including any charges brought against him, and of any trial which may be held;

- calling on the authorities to ensure that he is not tortured or ill-treated, and to allow him immediate access to a lawyer of his own choosing, and to any medical treatment he may require.


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: OR

Fax: +98 251 774 2228 (mark "FAO the Office of His Excellency, Ayatollah al Udhma Khamenei")

Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Intelligence

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie

Ministry of Intelligence, Second Negarestan Street, Pasdaran Avenue, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


Salutation: Your Excellency



His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran


via website:

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 30 March 2007.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007


Iran: Activists Barred From Traveling Abroad

Travel Bans Isolate Activists From International Civil Society
(New York, February 8, 2007) – The Iranian government should immediately lift foreign travel bans used to prevent human rights activists and journalists from attending international forums, Human Rights Watch said today.

In recent months, Iranian security forces have repeatedly confiscated passports of activists as they prepared to leave for international conferences. In some cases, the authorities detained and interrogated activists upon their return to Iran.

“The Iranian government is effectively putting the country’s civil society leaders under national house arrest,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “After silencing activists inside Iran, the government is preventing them from expressing their views outside the country as well.”

On February 4, representatives of the Information Ministry prevented two prominent activists, Hashim Aghajari and Abdullah Momeni, from departing on a plane to attend an international conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on political reform in Iran. Aghajari is a history professor at Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University, and Momeni is a spokesman for an organization of former student activists.

Both Aghajari and Momeni had their passports processed and stamped with an exit permit in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport. While they waited to board the plane, however, plainclothes officials confiscated their passports and notified them that the Passport Services division of the Presidential Executive Office, under the order of the Revolutionary Court, has imposed a travel ban on them.

In another recent incident, authorities detained Mansoureh Shojai, Sadigheh Tal’at Taghinia and Farnaz Seifi, who are women’s rights activists and journalists, as they were preparing to board a plane to attend a journalism workshop in India on January 27. The security forces subsequently searched the women’s homes, confiscating their personal belongings, including cell phones, computers, books, and notes, and transferred them to section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, which is run by Iran’s security services.

Shirin Ebadi, the women’s lawyer and the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner, told Human Rights Watch that there was no prior arrest warrant against the women. On January 28, after interrogating the three women, the authorities charged them with “acting against national security” and released them on bail. The authorities also confiscated the passport of another women’s rights activist, Sussan Tahmasebi, upon her return from a trip abroad in November.

On January 13, security forces at the airport prevented Taghi Rahmani, a writer and civil society activist, from traveling by plane to Denmark, where the PEN Association of Denmark had invited him to deliver a series of lectures.

“All of my official papers were processed in the airport, and the passport authorities stamped my passport with an exit stamp,” Rahmani told Human Rights Watch. “As I was waiting to board the airplane, however, a group of plainclothes security agents approached me and told me that I was banned from leaving the country.”

“They confiscated my passport and told me to follow up with the Passport Services division of the Presidential Executive Office,” Rahmani added. “After I went there, they notified me that the Revolutionary Court’s Deputy for Security, supervised by Tehran’s prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi, had issued the order to ban me from travel. I have not been able to recover my passport so far.”

On November 26, the security forces in Tehran detained Ali Farahbakhsh, a journalist and economist, one week after he had returned from a conference for journalists held in India. Before detaining him, the security services took him in for interrogation each day and pressured him to make confessions that he had endangered national security. After he refused, the authorities detained him. His family told Human Rights Watch that he is being held in section 209 of Evin prison. He was held in solitary confinement for 44 days.

Over the past year, the government has barred several other prominent human rights defenders and writers, including Issa Saharkhiz, Emad Baghi, Fatimeh Govarai and Ahmad Ghabel, from traveling outside Iran.

The government’s travel bans are contrary to Iranian law as well as the country’s obligations under international law.

Iranian law only permits foreign travel bans upon court order for persons formally accused of criminal offenses. On February 4, an official with the Tehran Judiciary, Saberi Zafarghandi, told reporters that “accused persons” can be banned from traveling abroad under article 133 of the Procedures for Criminal Courts. Article 133 provides that, “taking into account the weight of the evidence underlying the charges brought against the accused, a court can ... issue an order to ban the accused of traveling abroad.”

However, none of the activists and journalists subject to the travel bans had been charged with a criminal offense, and therefore none of them can be considered as an “accused person” under article 133. In addition, none of those subject to these travel bans had received any notice from any court of a travel ban against them, as is required by article 133.

International law ensures that all Iranians have a right to leave and return to Iran. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has ratified, in article 12 establishes that “everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”

Restrictions on this right are only permissible when they are prescribed by law, are “necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” and are consistent with other fundamental rights – elements which the government has not established. However, none of the Iranians barred from travel had been charged with any offenses, such as threatening national security, when they attempted to travel abroad.

“The Iranian government violated the fundamental right of these men and women to leave and return their country,” said Whitson. “And they did so without regard to Iranian law.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to end its persecution of civil society activists by banning them from foreign travel.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Seven Iranian Writers Receive Hellman/Hammett Grants

For Immediate Release

Iran: Writers Struggle to Uphold Freedom of Expression

Seven Iranian Writers Receive Hellman/Hammett Grants

(New York, February 6, 2007) – Human Rights Watch announced today that seven Iranians are among the 45 writers from 22 countries who are receiving the prestigious Hellman/Hammett prize, an award that recognizes writers globally who have been victims of political persecution.

The Iranian recipients of this year’s award are writers and activists whose work and activities have been variously suppressed. Beyond what they themselves have experienced, they represent numerous other writers and journalists whose personal and professional lives have been hampered as a result of repressive government policies governing speech and publications.

“The past year was a particularly difficult one for Iranian writers who had to work in an ever more restrictive atmosphere of new publishing rules and policies,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It is important to draw international attention to their achievements under the current repressive policies.”

Human Rights Watch administers the Hellman/Hammett grant program in recognition of the hardships faced by writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution. The program is financed by the estate of the American playwright Lillian Hellman, with funds set up in her name and that of her long-time companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett, both of whom suffered professionally during the anti-communist “witch hunts” of the 1950s.

Since the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the situation for Iranian writers has worsened. Authorities systematically suppress freedom of expression and opinion by closing newspapers and imprisoning journalists and editors. The few independent dailies that remain heavily self-censored. Many writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to criticize the government in their writings. Recently imposed rules of publication have further narrowed the field of acceptable speech.

This year’s recipients of the Hellman-Hammett grant from Iran are:

* Ali Ashraf Darvishian, 65, one of Iran’s most prominent and prolific post-revolutionary writers, has published more than 20 books, including fiction, children’s stories and a 20-volume collection of Iranian folk tales. For the past four years, government censors have banned the publication of his works.

* Shahram Rafizadeh, 34, investigative journalist and blogger, also writes poetry and literary criticism. During the reform era, Rafizadeh was well known for writing about the role of Iranian intelligence agents in the murder of several writers and intellectuals in 1998. He was detained in September 2004 and was held in solitary confinement for 86 days.

* Roozbeh Mir Ebrahimi, 27, worked as an editor and reporter for a number of reformist dailies that have since been shut down by the government. He investigated several high profile human rights cases, including the murder of a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist in 2003. He was detained in September 2004 and held in solitary confinement for 60 days. He has written two books on contemporary Iranian political history that have not received government permission for publication.

* Arash Sigarchi, 28, journalist and blogger, started his career in journalism at the age of 15. He was arrested in January 2005 after he reported on human rights violations on his blog. Originally sentenced to 14 years in prison, an appeals court reduced the sentence to three years. He was recently diagnosed with cancer and is receiving treatment outside of prison.

* Ali Afshari, 33, political analyst and human rights advocate, was imprisoned in 2000 and held in solitary confinement for 328 days for his role in the student movement. He has written numerous articles and co-translated a book on political theory. When he left Iran in 2005, the Judiciary sentenced him to six years in prison.

* Ensaf Ali Hedayat, 41, journalist, has reported extensively on human rights violations in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan. He was arrested in June 2003, spent 74 days in solitary confinement and 18 months in prison. He currently lives in exile and is writing his prison memoirs.

* Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, 29, journalist, has written extensively on the political environment and human rights issues in Iran. He has been arrested several times and spent nearly eight months in Evin prison in 2003. In 2005, he was forced into exile, but continues to report on human rights violations in Iran from abroad.

To read more about this year’s Hellman/Hammett recipients, please visit:

For more information, please contact:

In New York, Hadi Ghaemi (English, Persian): +1-212-216-1231; or +1-718-625-5996 (mobile)

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Monday, February 05, 2007


IRAN - APPEAL CASE: Abbas Lisani- Prisoner of Conscience

1 February 2007 AI INDEX: MDE 13/012/2007 (Public)

Abbas Lisani, aged 39, is an activist for the rights of the Iranian Azerbaijani minority. He has been held in Ardebil Prison since 31 October 2006, when he was arrested by members of the security forces, apparently without a warrant, in violation of Iranian law. He is currently serving two prison sentences: one of 18 months and the other of one year. Abbas Lisani undertook a hunger strike between 1 January and 31 January 2007 in protest at being denied short-term prison leave and at the harassment of his family. Amnesty International believes him to be a prisoner of conscience, held for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and of association.

Abbas Lisani was initially arrested on 3 June 2006, and spent nearly four months in detention in poor health before being released on bail of 80 million rials (over US $8,600). He faces other trials related to his peaceful political and cultural activities on behalf of the Iranian Azerbaijani minority.

Arrest following the "cartoon demonstrations"

Abbas Lisani was arrested at his home in the north-west town of Ardebil on 3 June 2006. More than 30 plainclothes security officials are said to have shot the lock off the door and entered the house without showing a warrant, in violation of the law. Abbas Lisani was beaten by security officials in front of his wife and two young children, and they insulted his wife when she asked them not to beat him. The security officials reportedly said that they had orders allowing them to shoot him, and then handcuffed him and took him away. They also confiscated CDs, books, two mobile phones and a computer from the house.

From 22 May 2006 onwards, there had been widespread demonstrations in cities in north-west Iran, in protest at a cartoon published in the state-owned daily newspaper Iran, which many Iranian Azerbaijanis found offensive. On 27 May 2006 there was a mass demonstration in Ardebil, which Abbas Lisani attended. He had reportedly been threatened by security officials prior to the demonstration that he would be killed if he attended the demonstration. Abbas Lisani was reportedly injured during the demonstration, but managed to escape and went into hiding for about a week. He was arrested after he returned home. Before he was arrested, he told his family and friends that he would go on hunger strike if detained.

Initial detention

For two days, Abbas Lisani was detained at a detention facility run by the Ministry of Intelligence in Ardebil, before being transferred to Ardebil Prison. His family did not know his whereabouts until 7 June, when, in a phone call lasting only a couple of minutes, he told them that he was detained in Ardebil Prison, held in solitary confinement, and was on hunger strike.

Abbas Lisani had limited access to his family. He was permitted his first family visit on 29 June 2006, some 26 days after his arrest. His lawyer was only allowed to see him once, though several other requests for visits were denied.

Abbas Lisani’s hunger strike reportedly lasted for 58 days, for some of which he also refused liquids. He was reportedly put on a drip on several occasions: once while in a prison medical facility, and on two other times it was administered to him inside his prison cell. Throughout his hunger strike he was detained in solitary confinement. He finally ended his hunger strike on 30 July 2006, after being granted his first family visit, during which he was reportedly very weak and could barely speak. By the end of his hunger strike he had lost about 30 kilograms in weight.

Four days prior to his release, on 26 September 2006, Abbas Lisani and some other prisoners went on hunger strike again to protest at the arrest of a three-months’ pregnant woman. Kobra Gorbanzadeh and her husband Fazayel Azizian had participated in a protest for the release of all political prisoners in Iran in front of Ardebil’s justice department. Her husband was arrested and when Kobra Gorbanzadeh attempted to visit him later in prison, she was arrested too. Having found out about his wife’s arrest, Fazayel Azizian began a hunger strike and was joined by Abbas Lisani and others. The authorities finally released Kobra Gorbanzadeh as well as Abbas Lisani, thus breaking the hunger strike.

Abbas Lisani reportedly told his wife, Roghayeh Lisani, that he was sharing his cell with Ostovar Ebrahimi, one of the prison guards, who was apparently detained with him after having received several warnings from his superiors about treating Abbas Lisani with too much respect, which he had ignored.

"Cartoon demonstration" trial

On 27 September 2006, one day after Abbas Lisani was released from detention, Branch 105 of Ardebil General Court sentenced him to 10 months’ imprisonment and 50 lashes for participating in the "cartoon demonstration" on 27 May 2006 in Ardebil, and to a further six months’ imprisonment for participating in the destruction of public and state property by calling on people to participate in the demonstration which had led to this damage.

Abbas Lisani submitted a written appeal against this sentence, dated 26 October 2006. He claimed in his defence that the demonstration was not illegal, and that he had never called on people to cause damage, but had rather sought to keep matters calm. He alleged that the authorities had ignored video and other evidence from the demonstration to this effect.

On 31 October 2006, five days after lodging his appeal, he was re-arrested. His family later received a copy of a verdict from Branch 1 of Ardebil Appeal Court, which indicated that the prosecution had also appealed the initial verdict. The Appeal Court judge increased the sentence of 10 months' imprisonment to one year, bringing the total to 18 months’ imprisonment. The verdict apparently confirms the sentence of 50 lashes and, in addition, states that his punishment should include spending three years in forced exile in the city of Tabas in the central province of Yazd. His current imprisonment is in order to serve this sentence, and another sentence confirmed later relating to his participation in a cultural gathering in 2003.

Amnesty International is concerned that the procedure before the Ardebil Appeal Court, particularly the speed with which the review appears to have taken place, may not have provided a genuine review, both in facts and in law, of Abbas Lisani’s case.

On 20 December 2006, Abbas Lisani’s lawyer, Mohammad Reza Faqihi, stated in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency that Abbas Lisani’s case was being considered by Branch 15 of the Supreme Court.

Amnesty International recognizes that although the May 2006 demonstrations were largely peaceful, some ended with attacks on government buildings and cars. Some Iranian Azerbaijani sources have claimed these attacks were instigated by government agents. The Iranian government has accused the United States (US) and other outside forces of stirring up the unrest. The US government has denied this.

However Amnesty International has noted Abbas Lisani’s statement that he had never called on people to cause damage, but had rather sought to keep matters calm. As such, it believes that he was detained solely on account of his participation in the organization of demonstrations in May 2006, which he believed should have remained peaceful. Amnesty International therefore believes that Abbas Lisani is a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

Hunger strike

Abbas Lisani wrote a letter to the Prosecutor General of Ardebil in late December 2006 in which he criticised the failure to grant him leave, his increased sentence and the manner of his latest arrest. He announced that he would start a hunger strike after three days if he was not granted leave from prison.

On 16 January 2007, Abbas Lisani was moved from solitary confinement to Section 1 of Ardebil Prison, where he was forced to share a cell with non-political prisoners, some of whom are drug addicts. In Iran, although many prisons have sections for political prisoners, at times political detainees are detained with non-political prisoners; a measure which political prisoners believe is implemented by the authorities in order to increase pressure on them. On 18 January 2007, Abbas Lisani was transferred back to solitary confinement, where he was reportedly detained in a very small cell without any heating, in an area of Ardebil where the temperature can reach -10°C during the night. After several days he was reportedly given a heater. Prison officials have allegedly threatened him.

Abbas Lisani is said to suffer from stomach and kidney problems, and pain in his ribs, which is allegedly a consequence of torture inflicted during previous periods of detention. According to reports, he is receiving no medical treatment in prison.

On 27 January 2007, Abbas Lisani’s family was permitted to see him. He was said to have lost a lot of weight and to be unable to recognize some members of his family. On 28 January 2007, following rumours that he had died, his mother was permitted to speak to him inside the prison very briefly.

On 27 January, Abbas Lisani wrote a letter to the prison authorities protesting at their decision to send his file to Tehran to seek a pardon for him. On 30 January, Akbar A’lami, Majles member for Tabriz, talked about Abbas Lisani’s case in an interview with the Iranian Labour News Agency ILNA. He said, "It seems that his protest stems from double-standards and arbitrary interpretations of a circular issued by the Head of the Judiciary and Article 216 of the regulations of the Prisons' Organization. Based on the said circular … the prison's classification council can give prisoners five days leave per month after they have served a minimum of two months, whereas, according to Lisani's lawyer, he has not benefited from this facility…Experience shows that the continuation of such a trend is not by any means beneficial for the country. Hence, in view of the steps that have been taken to obtain the release of the people detained and jailed in relation to the recent events in Azerbaijan - which … Ayatollah Shahrudi's [the Head of the Judiciary] …has issued the relevant order [for] – the expectation continues to be that they should arrange for the people, including Abbas Lisani, who still remain in prison on the charge of taking part in the recent unrest, to be released as soon as possible so that they can return to the arms of their families."

On 31 January 2007, Abbas Lisani ended his hunger strike, in response to requests from his family and supporters. There are still concerns about his health, and access to medical treatment.

Previous detention, torture and trials

Abbas Lisani has been detained on several occasions previously because of his peaceful activities for the rights of the Iranian Azerbaijani community. Several cases have been brought against him in connection with these arrests. These include charges related to attending a commemorative gathering for Constitution Day at the mausoleum of Baghir Khan in August 2005; attending an annual cultural gathering at Babek Castle in 2003 and 2005; and his participation in a protest at the Sarchesme mosque in Ardebil in 2004.

On 25 August 2003, Abbas Lisani was arrested after participating in an annual cultural gathering at Babek Castle in the town of Kalayber, north-western Iran. Each year, thousands of Iranian Azerbaijanis gather in Kalayber and walk up to the castle to celebrate the birthday of Babek Khorramdin, who lived in the ninth century and is regarded as a hero by Iranian Azerbijanis. He was eventually released on bail of 50 million rials (equivalent to over US$6,000) on 18 September 2003.

On 6 August 2005 Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Ardebil sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment, to be served in exile in the province of Khuzestan, after conviction on the charges of ‘acting against national security’, ‘propaganda against the system’, ‘pan-Turkism’, and ‘publishing a Turkish calendar’. Abbas Lisani appealed against this sentence and his case was referred to the Supreme Court in Tehran which sent it for retrial in Kalayber. On 13 August 2006, the Revolutionary Court in Kalayber sentenced Abbas Lisani to one year’s imprisonment. The requirement for the sentence to be served in exile was removed. This sentence was confirmed on appeal, and has been added to the time he must serve in prison.

On 22 June 2004, Abbas Lisani was arrested for his participation in a peaceful sit-in protest at the Sarcheshme mosque in the city of Ardebil. On this occasion, after security forces took control of the mosque, they beat Abbas Lisani severely, and suffocated him by covering his mouth and nose with a blanket until he fainted. He was left with severe injuries, including broken ribs, a punctured left lung, damage to his left kidney, a broken nose, facial injuries, but was denied medical treatment. He continues to suffer ill-health as a result of his ill-treatment. He lodged a complaint against his treatment in court, but this was dismissed.

Abbas Lisani was then detained in solitary confinement for two days at an unknown location, believed to be a detention facility run by the Ministry of Intelligence. He then appeared before a judge in Branch 7 of the Revolutionary Court in Ardebil, who ordered that he be detained for a further month. The judge reportedly refused to order medical treatment for him and told him that the Intelligence service "should have done worse". In Ardebil prison he was again detained in solitary confinement on two occasions; the first for 13 days, and a second time for 7 days. Abbas Lisani went on hunger strike twice to demand medical care, but without success. He was released on 22 July 2004 following a bail payment of 200 million rials (equivalent to over US$25,000). He was later fined 800,000 rials (equivalent to around US$87), and given a suspended sentence of 15 lashes, for ‘disturbing public order’.

Abbas Lisani was also arrested in connection with his participation in the 2005 annual gathering at Babek Castle, which took place on 29 June. He was reportedly arrested at the Babek Hotel, by Ministry of Intelligence officials. He spent eleven days in detention, and was on hunger strike for eight days in protest at his arbitrary arrest, prior to his release on bail.

On 6 September 2006, while he was still in detention in Ardebil, Branch One of the Revolutionary Court in Kalayber sentenced Abbas Lisani to one year’s imprisonment, for spreading "propaganda against the system" under Article 500 of the Penal Code. According to the court verdict, the basis for the charge includes his participation in the annual Babek Castle demonstration in 2005; encouraging others to participate in this gathering; reciting Azerbaijani poems and other material at the gathering; publishing and distributing an Azerbaijani Turkic language calendar, sending messages abroad via the internet, being in telephone contact with his supporters abroad, and intending to promote Azerbaijani Turkic nationalism and independence. He is believed to have appealed against this sentence and his case to be under review by a Revolutionary Court in Tabriz.

Amnesty International believes that the charges of "propaganda against the system" and "acting against state security" of which Abbas Lisani has been convicted in relation to his attendance of the 2003 and 2005 Babek Castle gatherings, do not constitute recognizably criminal offences. Moreover, according to the court verdicts, the bases for the charges appear to relate solely to his peaceful political and cultural activities on behalf of the Iranian Azerbaijani minority. If he were to serve these prison sentences Amnesty International would continue to consider him a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Abbas Lisani was also arrested on 3 August 2005 among with several other Iranian Azerbaijani activists, after participating in a gathering to celebrate Constitution Day, at the mausoleum of Baghir Khan, the leader of the constitutional movement and a national hero for Iranian Azerbaijanis. He was released on bail after several days in detention. According to recent reports, Abbas Lisani will soon face a further trial before the Revolutionary Court in Tabriz on charges related to his participation in this event.


In addition to arrest, imprisonment and torture, Abbas Lisani has been subject to other forms of harassment as a consequence of his activism. His house and butcher’s store have been searched on numerous occasions by officials from the Ministry of Intelligence, often without a court order. During these searches property has been confiscated from the house, including Turkish-language books, music cassettes and videos, copies of a Turkish calendar which he had designed and published; and photographs of friends, family members and of the Babek Castle events. He has been verbally insulted, and received threats to his personal safety, including death threats, on many occasions.

Members of Abbas Lisani’s family have also been subject to harassment. Some of them have been questioned and threatened, in phone calls and in person, by officials from the Ministry of Intelligence. After his arrest in June 2006, Abbas Lisani’s wife was threatened on numerous occasions that she should not talk about her husband’s condition to the media or she too would be arrested. The family’s butcher’s store - their sole source of income - has been closed. The store had previously been vandalized on several occasions by unknown individuals, and customers of the store have also reportedly been questioned by Ministry of Intelligence officials. Following the closure of the store, a former employee was briefly detained and was released on condition that he no longer works in the shop. The authorities then withdrew the store’s license to operate. While free from prison between 27 September 2006 and 31 October 2006, Abbas Lisani was allowed to reopen his shop, but was unable to find any workers so was unable to trade. As a result of this, and his subsequent detention, his family is suffering financial hardship. While out of detention, his house was monitored by the authorities using CCTV, with guards stationed outside who questioned guests who entered or left.

Background: The Iranian Azerbaijani minority

Iranian Azerbaijanis, who are mainly Shi’a Muslims, are recognized as the largest minority in Iran and are generally believed to constitute at least 25-30 percent of the population. They are located mainly in the north and north-west of Iran. Although generally well-integrated into society, in recent years, they have increasingly called for greater cultural and linguistic rights, such as the right to education through the medium of the Azerbaijani Turkic language (often referred to as "Turkish" in Iran), which they believe is provided for under the Constitution, and to celebrate Azerbaijani culture and history at events such as the annual Babek Castle gathering and Constitution Day. However, these demands have often been suppressed by the Iranian authorities. A small minority advocate secession of Iranian Azerbaijan from the Islamic Republic of Iran and union with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Those who seek to promote Iranian Azerbaijani cultural identity are viewed with suspicion by the Iranian authorities, who often accuse them of vague charges such as "promoting pan-Turkism".

At the end of June 2005, scores of Iranian Azerbaijani participating in the Babek Castle gathering in Kalayber were arrested. At least 21 were later sentenced to prison terms of between three months and one year, some of which were suspended, reportedly after conviction of charges such as "spreading propaganda against the system" and "establishing organizations against the system". Some were also banned from entering Kalayber for a period
of 10 years.

On 31 March 2006, scores were reportedly arrested after holding an annual commemorative demonstration in the city of Tabriz.

In May 2006, massive demonstrations took place in towns and cities in north-western Iran, where the majority of the population is Iranian Azerbaijani, in protest at a cartoon published on 12 May by the state-owned daily newspaper Iran which many Iranian Azerbaijanis found offensive. Hundreds were arrested during or following the demonstrations. Some of those detained were allegedly tortured, with some requiring hospital treatment. Publication of the newspaper was suspended on 23 May and the editor-in-chief and the cartoonist were arrested. Iranian Azerbaijani sources have claimed that dozens were killed and hundreds injured by the security forces. The security forces have generally denied that anyone was killed, although on 29 May a police official acknowledged that four people had been killed and 43 injured in the town of Naqada. While many have now been released, others remain detained and some, like Abbas Lisani, have been sentenced to prison terms and flogging in connection with the demonstrations.

Further arrests took place around the 2006 Babek Castle gathering and in September 2006, when many Iranian Azerbaijanis participated in a boycott of the new academic year which began on 23 September.

Please send faxes/ e-mail letters in Persian, Arabic, English, French or your own language:

- calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Abbas Lisani, as he is a prisoner of conscience, held solely on account of his peaceful political and cultural activities on behalf of the Iranian Azerbaijani community, including his participation in the 2003 Babek Castle gathering and the May 2006 "cartoon demonstration" in Ardebil;

- asking the authorities to give details of the procedure before the Ardebil Appeal Court, particularly as the review of Lisani's case was conducted so quickly and expressing concern that the procedure followed may not have provided a genuine review of Abbas Lisani’s case;

- expressing concern that Abbas Lisani is facing further prison terms connected to his peaceful activities;

- urging the authorities to commute his sentence of flogging immediately, as it amounts to torture;

- calling on the authorities to grant Abbas Lisani immediate and unconditional access to his lawyer, continued and regular access to his family, and access to any medical treatment that he requires;

- calling for an investigation into Abbas Lisani’s allegations that he was tortured and denied medical care for his injuries in June 2004;

- reminding the authorities of their responsibilities as a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Article 7 says "No one shall be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment";

- calling for all those found responsible for torture of detainees or prisoners to be brought to justice in fair trials;

- expressing concern for the safety of Abbas Lisani’s family, who have reportedly been harassed and intimidated by the authorities, and calling for them to be given all necessary protection to ensure their safety.

Leader of the Islamic Republic
His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader
Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran
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
via website:
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Salutation: Your Excellency

Speaker of Parliament
His Excellency Gholamali Haddad Adel
Majles-e Shoura-ye Eslami
Imam Khomeini Avenue,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Minister of the Interior
Hojjatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi
Ministry of the Interior, Dr Fatemi Avenue, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 8 896 203 / 8 899 547 / 6 650 203

Islamic Human Rights Commission
Mohammad Hassan Ziaie-Far
Secretary, Islamic Human Rights Commission
P.O. Box 13165-137 or PO Box 19395/4698
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +9821 2204 0541

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