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Saturday, July 01, 2006

VARIOUS NEWS BRIEFS/REPORTS

Fear of Torture and Ill-treatment: Sayed Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho'ini
June 30, 2006 Amnesty International Urgent Action

Sayed Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho’ini was reportedly arrested during a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Tehran, which called for legal reforms to end discrimination against women in Iran. At least 69 other people were arrested, but all except Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho’ini have since been released. Amnesty International believes him to be a prisoner of conscience, held solely on account of the peaceful exercise of his internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and association, and he is at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho’ini, a former student leader and former member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Majles (Iran’s parliament), is also the Head of the Alumni Association of Iran (Sazman-e Danesh Amukhtegan-e Iran-e Eslami [Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat]), which he helped found in 2000. This organization, whose membership is open to graduates of Iranian universities, has been active in promoting democracy and human rights in Iran. During his term in parliament he was an active advocate of human rights, and highlighted the cases of imprisoned students and political prisoners, including by inspecting prisons and illegal detention centres.

Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho’ini is reportedly held in section 209 of Tehran's Evin Prison, run by the Ministry of Intelligence. Security officials were alleged to have beaten him when he was arrested, and further reports have suggested that he has been beaten while held in detention. Fourteen days after his arrest he was reportedly allowed visits from his family and one of his lawyers. The lawyer reportedly said that the charges against his client included making a statement to the Mehr news agency based in Tehran, the details of which were not specified. Other reports have suggested that he is accused of "spreading lies". According to reports, prior to his participation in the women’s rights demonstration, security officers had contacted Ali Akbar Mousavi-Kho’ini by telephone and warned him against supporting and participating in the protest.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION On 12 June 2006 the Iranian security forces forcibly broke up a peaceful demonstration by women and men advocating an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. The demonstrators had gathered in the "Seventh of Tir" Square in Tehran to call, among other things, for changes in the law to give a woman's testimony in court equal value to that of a man; and for married women to be allowed to choose their employment and to travel freely without obtaining the prior permission of their husband. Police officers, including a large unit of policewomen, reportedly moved in as soon as the demonstration began and forced the protesters to disperse, including by beating some with batons. Scores of protesters were detained; on 13 June 2006, Minister of Justice and Spokesman for the Judiciary Jamal Karimi-Rad stated that 42 women and 28 men had been arrested for participating in what he alleged was an illegal demonstration. When questioned about the reports of beatings by police, he said, "If there was any beating, it will be reviewed".

Iran: Woman Sentenced to Death by Stoning
June 29, 2006 adnkronos International Rah/Aki
link to original article

Tehran -- A court in the northwestern Iranian city of Urmia has sentenced a Kurdish woman, Malak Ghorbany, found guilty of committing adultery to death by stoning - a sentence rarely carried out in recent years. The court also sentenced the woman's brother Abu Bakr Ghorbai and husband Mohammad Daneshfar to six years in jail for killing her lover. Stoning death sentences decreased after international pressure on former reformist president Mohammad Khatami contributed to the end of such rulings in the late 1990s. The punishment was however never scrapped from the penal code of the Islamic Republic. The Committee for the defence of human rights of Iranian Kurdistan has issued a statement to save the life of Malak Ghorbani.

Authorities Should Exercise Restraint in Policing Babek Castle Gathering
June 29, 2006 Amnesty International Public Statement
link to original article

As the annual Babek Castle cultural gathering of Iranian Azeri Turks approaches on 30 June 2006, Amnesty International is urging the Iranian authorities to exercise restraint while policing the gathering. In addition, it is calling on the authorities urgently to address increasing human rights violations being committed by Iranian security forces and others against members of Iran’s Azeri Turkish minority (who sometimes refer to themselves as Iranian Azerbaijanis).

The largest ethnic minority in Iran, the Azeri Turkish community is believed to number between 25-30 percent of the total population and is found mainly in the north-west. Mostly Shi’a Muslims, like the majority of the population, they are not subject to as much discrimination as minorities of other religions, and are well-integrated into the economy. In recent years, however, they have increasingly called for greater cultural and linguistic rights, such as the right to be taught in Turkish and to celebrate Azerbaijani culture and history at events such as at the annual Babek Castle gathering and Constitution Day, celebrated in October.

A small minority advocate the secession of Iranian Azerbaijani provinces and union with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Activists who promote Azeri Turkish cultural identity are viewed with suspicion by the Iranian authorities, who often charge them with vaguely worded offences such as "promoting pan-Turkism". The annual Babek Castle gathering has reportedly been held for the last six years at Babek (or Bazz) castle in the town of Kalayber, north-western Iran.

Each year, thousands of Azeri Turks 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 Azeri Turks. These gatherings have frequently met with repression on the part of the Iranian authorities. In 2005, for example, scores of people were reportedly arrested and at least 21 were sentenced to prison terms of up to one year, though some of these were suspended.

Mass demonstrations broke out in towns and cities in north-west Iran following the publication on 12 May 2006 of a cartoon in the state-owned daily newspaper, Iran, which offended many in the Azeri Turkish community. The government suspended publication of the newspaper on 23 May and both the editor-in-chief and cartoonist were arrested. Protests began on a small scale mainly among Azeri Turkish students in universities in Tehran and Tabriz, but rapidly to Azeri Turkish areas. A huge demonstration took place in Tabriz on 22 May and further demonstrations were held in other places in the following days. Most of these protests were peaceful, but some ended with attacks on government buildings and cars. Some Iranian Azeri Turkish 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. The Iranian authorities reportedly used excessive force to disperse demonstrators, including beatings and lethal gunfire.

Amnesty International has received the names of 27 people who are alleged to have been killed, including seven in Tabriz and 14 in Naqadeh (known as Sulduz by Iranian Azeri Turks). One, 26-year-old Jalil Abedi was reportedly shot in the left side of his head by a member of Iran’s Intelligence service in Meshkin Shahr (known as Khiyov in Azeri Turkish) during a demonstration on 25 May, and left to die by security officials who would not let a doctor treat him.

His family were reportedly prevented from holding his funeral in a mosque and only a few of them were permitted to attend his burial.

The Iranian authorities have generally denied that any deaths occurred during the demonstrations, although a police official acknowledged publicly on 29 May that four people had been killed and 43 injured in Naqadeh. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators, are reported to have been detained, of whom Amnesty International has received the names of almost 200.

On 23 June, Hojjatoleslam Aghazadeh, Head of the Office of the Ministry of Justice in East Azerbaijan province, told the press that some 330 people had been arrested in Tabriz, most of whom had already been released, although as many as 85 would be tried later. He said that 20 to 25 people had been identified as playing a major role in the disturbances and that some were Baha’is, some Tudeh party members (communists) and two had “links with Israel”.

While many protestors have been released, scores are believed to remain in detention, including Changiz Bakhtavar, Dr Ahmad Gholipour Rezaie (known as Dr Heydaroglu) and Hassan Ali Hajabollu (known as Hassan Ark), all of whom were detained after the Tabriz demonstration on 22 May. Hassan Damirchi, aged 65, a businessman and a well-known musician from Tabriz (also known as Hassan Azerbaijan) and his son Babak were arrested at home on 26 May and Gholam Reza Amani was detained on 28 May; he is now reported to be on hunger strike. Some or all of these may have been transferred to Evin prison in Tehran for questioning but their current whereabouts are unclear. Some detainees are reported to have been tortured, including Davoud Maghami, held in Parsabad (known as Mughan in Azeri Turkish) who is said to have required hospital treatment as a result. He has now been released.

Other prominent Azeri Turkish activists who are reported to have been detained include Abbas Lisani (or Leysanli), who was arrested on 3 June when he returned home after hiding for a week following a demonstration in Ardebil in which he was beaten by security forces. He is reportedly on hunger strike and his condition is causing concern. His home telephone line has apparently been cut, possibly to prevent his wife publicising his plight. Abbas Lisani has previously been detained several times because of his political activities on behalf of the Azeri Turkish community, including during or following the Babek Castle gatherings in 2003 and 2005.

He was severely tortured during his arrest at a sit-in protest by Azeri Turks at the Sarcheshme Mosque in Ardebil in June 2004. In advance of this year’s Babek Castle gathering, Iranian security forces are reported to be carrying out arrests, possibly to prevent certain individuals attending.

One, Akbar Qorbani, was reportedly arrested on 26 June at his workplace in Ardebil by unidentified men in plain clothes (lebas-e shakhsi), having previously been threatened by such people since he took part in the demnonstration in Ardebil.

Another, political activist Ebrahim Ja’farzadeh, was reportedly arrested on 26 June in Khoy after being summoned to an Intelligence Ministry facility; he was released the next day. On 27 June, Reza Abbasi, a member of ASMEK (Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani political prisoners) and of the Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), a student body, was reportedly arrested in Zenjan after he refused to comply with a verbal summons to attend an Intelligence Ministry facility for interrogation.

On the same day, Jahanbaksh Bekhtavar, the brother of Changiz Bekhtaver (see above) was reportedly arrested at his home in Tabriz by Intelligence Ministry officials who are also said to have confiscated his books and other personal belongings.

Also on 27 June, ‘Isa Yeganeh, the managing director of the suspended newspaper Payam-e Sulduz was reportedly arrested in Naqadeh, Sayed Mehdi Sayedzadeh was arrested in Tabriz and at least five people released after the May demonstrations in Miandoab were reportedly redetained.

Amnesty International recognizes that the Iranian authorities have a right and a responsibility to bring those suspected of criminal offences to justice. However it is concerned that many of those detained may be prisoners of conscience, detained solely on account of their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association, or on account of their peaceful political activities on behalf of the Iranian Azeri Turkish community.
respect international human rights standards in relation to the policing of the Babek Castle gathering and ensure that those responsible for law enforcement conform at all times with standards such as the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally.

Other detainees should be released unless they are to be charged with a recognizably criminal offence and brought to trial promptly and fairly grant all detainees prompt and regular access to lawyers of their own choosing and their families and to appropriate medical care if necessary investigate all allegations of torture or ill-treatment promptly and thoroughly.

The methods and findings of any such investigation should be made public. Anyone implicated in human rights violations should be brought to justice promptly and fairly and victims of torture and ill-treatment should be granted compensation ensure that any trials respect, as a minimum standard, the relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
investigate all possible unlawful killings or extra-judicial executions promptly and fairly in accordance with the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extralegal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, and bring to justice, fairly and promptly, any members of the security forces responsible for unlawful killings or other grave violations of human rights.

Iran
http://www.amnestyusa.org/countries/iran/summary.do
Human Rights Concerns- Amnesty International

Amnesty International continues to document serious human violations including detention of human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience, unfair trials, torture and mistreatment in detention, deaths in custody and the application of the death penalty. Iran has one of the highest number of recorded executions of any country in the world.

Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the execution of children and individuals who were minors when their crimes were alleged to have taken place.

In one case, an 18-year-old girl, Nazanin, was sentenced to be executed for having, at age 17, stabbed to death one of three men in a park who were attempting to rape her and her younger niece.
In the past several months, a number of human rights abuses--including large-scale arrests, incommunicado detention and torture--have taken place in the context of recent unrest among the country's Arab and Kurdish and Azeris ethnic minorities.

Demonstrations held to protest violations have been met with indiscriminate use of violence; several of the victims have been children. Religious minority communities--including Bahais and Muslims practicing Sufism, have also been faced increased persecution in recent months.

Hundreds of trade union activists--in particular activists from the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company were arrested as part of measures to prevent planned strikes. Lawyers, journalists, web loggers and others who have spoken out against human rights violations have themselves been targeted for abuse.

For Iran, the Man Is the Message
By Hadi Ghaemi, Human Rights Watch Researcher, published in The New York Times
June 29, 2006
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/06/29/iran13669.htm

LAST week Iranians woke up to a startling piece of news: their government had dispatched Tehran's notorious prosecutor general, Saeed Mortazavi, to Geneva as a member of Iran's delegation to the opening session of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.
Iranians weren't sure whether to laugh or cry.

Mr. Mortazavi is one of the country's highest profile rights violators. Human Rights Watch urged Iran to remove him at once and asked other governments not to meet the Iranian delegation while Mr. Mortazavi remained a part of it. Well-known and widely despised in Iran, Mr. Mortazavi personifies most of the ills affecting Iran's judicial system: lack of accountability, rampant impunity, disregard for fundamental constitutional rights, manipulation of the law to promote a political agenda, systematic use of torture, and above all, abuse of judicial powers to repress peaceful expressions of dissent and criticism.

Iranians refer to Mr. Mortazavi as "the butcher of the press." In 2000, Mr. Mortazavi, then a judge, closed more than a dozen newspapers in one month alone, invoking an obscure law from the 1950's on "ensuring public safety." The law was originally enacted to keep criminal gangs from intimidating members of the public. Since then he has shut more than 100 newspapers and journals.

Mr. Mortazavi was promoted to prosecutor general of Tehran in 2003. As such, he has prosecuted scores of Iranian human rights defenders, journalists, dissidents, students and activists, and he is alleged to be implicated directly in acts of murder, torture, arbitrary detention and coercing false confessions. In June 2003, Iranian authorities arrested Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, as she photographed Evin prison in Tehran.

According to an investigation by the Iranian Parliament, Mr. Mortazavi personally took custody of her, accusing her of being a spy. Lawyers for Ms. Kazemi's family say that her body showed signs of torture, and that Mr. Mortazavi took part in an interrogation session where she received a severe blow to the head. A few days later, Ms. Kazemi fell into a coma and died. The Iranian authorities have not held anyone responsible for her murder.

In another case documented by Human Rights Watch, Mr. Mortazavi ordered the arbitrary detention of more than 20 bloggers and Internet journalists in 2004. The detainees were taken to a secret prison, held in solitary confinement and interrogated by Mr. Mortazavi's underlings. The interrogators tortured the detainees so that they would falsely implicate their colleagues in immoral acts and confess that they were foreign agents. As a condition for their release, the interrogators coerced four of them to write false confession letters.

The bloggers report that by threatening to harm their families, Mr. Mortazavi personally coerced them to appear on Iran's state-controlled television saying that their jailors treated them as "gently as flowers." One former detainee told me that Mr. Mortazavi's voice still rings in his ears, and that he fears for his young children.

So what was the Iranian government thinking? Perhaps it was still stung by its failure to be elected to the council, which aimed to exclude the most blatant abusers. Or maybe this was the regime's shock and awe strategy: shock the Iranian people with how little their government cares about human rights, and awe them with its utter impunity.

If Mr. Mortazavi were removed from office and prosecuted, as he should be, there would be no shortage of witnesses to testify. But because this is unlikely, many Iranians hope the new council will develop international mechanisms to bring men like him to justice, rather than facing him as a delegate at its sessions.

As a first step, the council should support the appointment of a United Nations special rapporteur on Iran to monitor and report publicly on human rights abuses and to see that the government's present lack of accountability does not translate into an even more extensive crackdown on political dissent and social freedoms.

Further, the members of the Security Council and Germany, which are engaged in nuclear negotiations with Iran, should include human rights concerns on their agenda. As a confidence-building measure, they should demand that Iran improve its human rights record — and that it cease protecting violators like Mr. Morta- zavi. Hadi Ghaemi is the Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Iran
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/01/18/iran12214.htm

Respect for basic human rights in Iran, especially freedom of expression and opinion, deteriorated considerably in 2005. The government routinely uses torture and ill-treatment in detention, including prolonged solitary confinement, to punish dissidents. The judiciary, which is accountable to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, has been at the center of many serious human rights violations.

Abuses are perpetrated by what Iranians call “parallel institutions”: paramilitary groups and plainclothes intelligence agents violently attack peaceful protesters, and intelligence services run illegal secret prisons and interrogation centers.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected in June 2005, appointed a cabinet dominated by former members of the intelligence and security forces, some of whom are allegedly implicated in the most serious human rights violations since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established twenty-six years ago, such as the assassination of dissident intellectuals.

Freedom of Expression and Opinion The Iranian authorities have systematically suppressed freedom of expression and opinion since April 2000, when the government launched a campaign involving closure of newspapers and the imprisonment of journalists and editors. Consequently, very few independent dailies remain, and those that do self-censor heavily. Many writers and intellectuals have left the country, are in prison, or have ceased to be critical.

During 2005 the authorities also targeted websites and Internet journalists in an effort to prevent online dissemination of news and information. Between September and November of 2004, the judiciary detained and tortured more than twenty bloggers and Internet journalists, and subjected them to lengthy solitary confinement.

The government systematically blocks websites with political news and analysis from inside Iran and abroad. On February 2, 2005, a court in the province of Gilan sentenced Arash Sigarchi to fourteen years in prison for his online writings.

In August 2005, the judiciary sentenced another blogger, Mojtaba Saminejad, to two years in prison for “insulting” Iran’s leaders. Torture and Ill-treatment in Detention With the closure of independent newspapers and journals and the suppression of reporting on human rights abuses, treatment of detainees has worsened in Evin prison as well as in detention centers operated clandestinely by the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The authorities have subjected those imprisoned for peaceful expression of their political views to torture and ill-treatment. Judges often accept coerced confessions. The authorities use prolonged solitary confinement, often in small basement cells, to coerce confessions (which are videotaped) and gain information regarding associates. Combined with denial of access to counsel, prolonged solitary confinement creates an environment in which prisoners have nowhere to turn to seek redress for their treatment in detention.

The judiciary issued an internal report in July 2005 admitting serious human rights violations, including widespread use of torture, illegal detentions, and coercive interrogation techniques. However, the judiciary failed to establish any safeguards, follow up on its findings, or hold any officials responsible.

Impunity. There is no mechanism for monitoring and investigating human rights violations perpetrated by agents of the government. The closure of independent media in Iran has helped to perpetuate an atmosphere of impunity.

In recent years, public testimonies by numerous former prisoners and detainees have implicated Tehran’s public prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi and his office in some of the worst cases of human rights violations. Despite extensive evidence, Mortazavi has not been held responsible for his role in illegal detentions, torture of detainees, and coercing false confessions.

The case of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died in the custody of judiciary and security agents led by Mortazavi in June 2003, remains unresolved. Lawyers representing Kazemi’s family revealed that in addition to signs of torture including fractures to her nose, fingers, and toes, Kazemi received heavy blows to her head, once during her initial detention by the head of the intelligence unit at Evin prison on June 23, 2003, and another blow during an interrogation led by Mortazavi three days later.

According to autopsy reports, Kazemi died of severe blows to her head. The judiciary had accused a low-ranking Intelligence Ministry official, Reza Ahmadi, of Kazemi’s unintentional homicide, and had proceeded with a hastily organized trial held in May 2004 which cleared Reza Ahmadi of the charges.

Following an appeal by lawyers representing Kazemi’s family, an appeal hearing was convened in July 2005, in which the lawyers demanded that the judiciary launch an investigation into charges of intentional homicide, but the judge refused their request. The judiciary has taken no further steps to identify or prosecute those responsible for Kazemi’s killing.

Human Rights Defenders In 2005, the authorities intensified their harassment of independent human rights defenders and lawyers in an attempt to prevent them from publicizing and pursuing human rights violations.

The judiciary summoned Noble Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi in January 2005 without specifying charges against her. After she challenged her summons as illegal, and following an international outcry, the judiciary rescinded its order. In July, the authorities once again threatened to arrest Ebadi after she publicized several high-profile human rights cases. (Alan's note: this is pretty much a charade since Shirin Ebadi is part and parcel of the regime, though she acts as a stalking horse and pretends not to be)

On July 30, the judiciary detained Abdolfattah Soltani, a lawyer and member of the Center for Defense of Human Rights, after Soltani and Ebadi protested the judiciary’s inaction in Zahra Kazemi’s case. No formal charges have been filed against Soltani; the judiciary appears to be using his illegal detention as a way to intimidate and silence other human rights defenders and lawyers.

Prominent dissident and investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, who exposed the role of high-ranking officials in the murders of writers and intellectuals in 1998, remained imprisoned for a sixth year.

Minorities Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities are subject to discrimination and, in some cases, persecution. The Baha’i community continues to be denied permission to worship or engage in communal affairs in a public manner.

In April 2005, protests erupted in the southern province of Khuzistan, home to nearly two million Iranians of Arab descent, following publication of a letter allegedly written by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an advisor to then-President Mohammad Khatami, which referred to government plans to implement policies that would reduce the proportion of ethnic Arabs in Khuzistan’s population.

After security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators in Ahvaz, the confrontation turned violent and spread to other cities and towns in Khuzistan. The next day, Abtahi and other government officials called the letter a fake.

During the clashes, security forces killed at least fifty protestors and detained hundreds more.

In July 2005, security forces shot and killed a Kurdish activist, Shivan Qaderi, in Mahabad. In the wake of this incident protests were held in several cities and towns in Kurdistan demanding that the government apprehend Qaderi’s killers and put them on trial.

Government forces put down the protests, killing at least seventeen people and detaining several prominent Kurdish journalists and activists. In October 2005, they were released on bail.

Key International Actors. In 2005 the policy of the European Union towards Iran was dominated by negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programs, with human rights concerns a secondary matter. The European Union has pledged to tie Iranian respect for human rights to progress in co-operation on other issues, but so far with little impact. Australia and Switzerland also have “human rights dialogues” with Iran but have not made public any relevant benchmarks for assessing progress.

Against strenuous Iranian objections, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2004, noting serious violations and the worsening of the human rights situation in Iran. However, in 2005, unlike in previous years, no resolution was introduced at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights concerning the human rights situation in Iran.

Under a standing invitation issued in 2002 from Tehran to the thematic mechanisms of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression visited the country and subsequently issued reports critical of government practices.

However, the government has failed to implement their recommendations, and in some cases there were reprisals, such as re-arrest, against persons who testified to the experts. In January 2005 the special rapporteur on violence against women visited Iran, and the special rapporteur on adequate housing made a visit in August. Iran has not responded to requests by the U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial executions to visit the country.

Relations between the United States and Iran remain poor. President Bush in August 2005 said that U.S. military action against Iran was an “option on the table,” but the administration reportedly remains divided on this point.

Related Material
More Information on Human Rights in IranCountry Page

Country Summary - PDFWorld Report Chapter

World Report 2006 Report, January 18, 2006

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