Iranian football journalist released after hunger strike
Amnesty International has welcomed the release of an Iranian football journalist who had gone on hunger strike after being detained for publishing posters supporting an Iranian-Azerbaijani football team.
Abdollah Sadoughi was held for seven weeks without charge until he was freed on Thursday. He had been accused of "acts against national security" and "supporting "Pan-Turkism" for publishing posters featuring the Traktor Sazi team, which has become the symbol of Azerbaijani Turkic culture in the city of Tabriz.
One of the posters of the team read, in the Azerbaijani Turkic language, "All of Azerbaijan feels pride with you".
Azerbaijani Turkic is not recognized as an official language in Iran and those who seek to promote Azerbaijani cultural identity and linguistic rights are viewed with suspicion by the Iranian authorities.
Abdollah Sadoughi was arrested on 18 January. In late February, he went on hunger strike in protest at what he considered to be his baseless detention.
The 33-year-old, who writes for the Iranian publication Goal, Corner and Khosh Khabar (Good News), says he had permission from the relevant authorities to print posters.
Soon after starting the hunger strike, he was reportedly transferred to solitary confinement, before being moved to a cell with criminal convicts. On 2 March, having lost considerable weight and suffering from various medical problems, he was transferred to the clinic within Tabriz prison.
He told his lawyer and family that he would continue his hunger strike until he was released or brought before a court.
Iranian Azerbaijanis, who are mainly Shi’a Muslims, are recognized as the largest minority in Iran and are generally believed to constitute 25 to 30 per cent 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.
This includes the right to be educated in the Azerbaijani Turkic language, which they believe is provided for under Iran's Constitution, and to celebrate Azerbaijani culture and history at cultural events.
Football games involving the Traktor Sazi football team in Tabriz have become the focus for the expression of Azerbaijani culture. During games, supporters have made calls – in Azerbaijani Turkic – for linguistic and cultural rights for Iranian Azerbaijanis.