Iranian political prisoners detained for dissent since the 2009 election
Amnesty International is concerned about the hundreds of political prisoners, many of whom are prisoners of conscience, still held in Iran and is launching a one-year campaign to highlight their plight. The individuals featured below illustrate the ever-expanding circle of repression in Iran.
Shiva Nazar Ahari, a journalist, blogger and member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR), was arrested with two other CHRR members, Kouhyar Goudarzi and Saeed Haeri, on 20 December 2009. They were arrested while on their way to the funeral the following day of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, a senior cleric critical of the authorities. Shiva Nazar Ahari, born in mid-1984, is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and association.
Shiva Nazar Ahari had previously been arrested on 14 June 2009 and held for three months before being released on bail on 23 September. She had also been detained in connection with her student and human rights activities in 2002 and 2004, receiving a one-year prison sentence in 2005, suspended for five years.
Since her most recent arrest Shiva Nazar Ahari has been held for much of the time in solitary confinement. In February 2010, she told her family by phone that she had been transferred to a “cage-like” solitary confinement cell where she could not move her arms or legs. She has had limited access to her family, and no access to her lawyers.
According to her mother, in April 2010 Shiva Nazar Ahari was charged with “causing unease in the public mind through writing on the CHRR’s website and other sites” and “acting against national security by participating in [anti-government] demonstrations on 4 November 2009 and 7 December 2009”. Shiva Nazar Ahari denied attending the demonstrations, saying that she was at work on those days. If convicted of these charges, she faces a lengthy prison term, or even possibly the death penalty, as the judge has the discretion to decide if her “offence” is serious enough to amount to “enmity against God”. Her trial is set for 23 May 2010.
At least eight members of the CHRR have been arbitrarily arrested since the end of November 2009, of whom two – Shiva Nazar Ahari and Kouhyar Goudarzi – were still detained at the time of writing in May 2010. Others have fled the country for their own safety.
The CHRR was founded in 2006 and campaigns against a wide range of human rights violations, including those affecting women, children, prisoners and workers. It has come under particular attack since the June 2009 election. In January 2010, the Tehran Prosecutor accused the group of having links to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, a banned group, and said that “any collaboration with the [CHRR] is a crime”. The CHRR vehemently denies having such links.
“But during the interrogations, more charges were brought out. For example, working against national security by being a member of illegal groups, by giving interviews to foreign media, and creating chaos by organizing mass protests and participating in them.” Shiva Nazar Ahari in an interview with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters after her release in September 2009.
Mohammad Amin Valian, a 20-year-old Damghan University student active in the Islamic Association, a student organization, was arrested on 12 January 2010. This followed his participation in a mass demonstration against the government on the religious festival of Ashoura on 27 December 2009, in protest at the disputed June election result and subsequent human rights violations.
Mohammad Amin Valian was transferred to an unknown location after an article calling for him to be punished appeared in a publication produced by Damghan University’s student Basij (a volunteer militia force under the control of the Revolutionary Guards Corps). He appeared on 3 February 2010 in a mass “show trial” of people accused of involvement in the Ashoura demonstrations, accused of “enmity against God and corruption on earth”, “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “propaganda activities against the system” and “insulting officials” after he was alleged to have thrown a stone and shouted “death to the dictator”.
The authorities initially did not identify him or acknowledge his death sentence. This changed after a campaign was launched to save his life and the Tehran Prosecutor acknowledged that he was on death row. An appeal was lodged, and in May 2010 his death sentence was commuted to three and a half years in prison.
‘Those who rise against the righteous system and [the leader], they are considered as rioters and according to the Shari’a [religious law] their punishment is execution. Those, among the Islamic ummah, who want to cause terror among people with guns or cold weapons [such as knives], they are considered as Mohareb [an enemy of God] and according to the Shari’a and the laws, their punishment is execution… Since the limits have been set and a final ultimatum has already been given, we will show no leniency towards those who protest and those who want to carry out an act against the system and the security of the country.’ Hojjat ol-Eslam val-Moslemin Gholamhossein Mohseni-Eje’i, Prosecutor General, January 2010.
Ahmad Zeidabadi, aged about 45, a journalist for Roozonline, an online publication based in Belgium, and spokesperson for the Graduates’ Association, which has been prominent in seeking greater human rights in Iran, is serving a six-year prison sentence in Reja’i Shahr prison, in Karaj, near Tehran. He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.
Ahmad Zeidabadi was arrested on 21 June 2009, shortly after mass protests erupted following the announcement that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the disputed presidential election. He was held incommunicado in Evin Prison, Tehran, until his appearance on 8 August 2009 at the second session of a mass “show trial”.
His wife, Mahdieh Mohammadi Gorgani, was only allowed to visit him in Evin Prison for the first time on 17 August and said that he was in an extremely bad physical and emotional state. She said that Ahmad Zeidabadi told her that he had been held in solitary confinement for 35 days after his arrest in a coffin-like cell only 1.5m long. He had apparently gone on hunger strike for 17 days until doctors convinced him to stop. His wife saw him again in mid-September, when he told her that he had been severely beaten during interrogation.
Ahmad Zeidabadi was sentenced in November 2009 to six years in prison and five years of internal exile in the city of Gonabad. He was also given a lifetime ban on all social and political activities. His sentence was upheld in January 2010. At the end of January 2010, he was transferred to Reja’i Shahr prison, where mostly non-political prisoners are held.
Ahmad Zeidabadi has been arrested several times previously for the peaceful expression of his opinions. Amnesty International campaigned for his release when he was detained in 2000 and 2001 in connection with articles he wrote.
‘His interrogator told him: “We are ordered to crush you, and if you do not co-operate we can do anything we want with you and if you do not write the interrogation papers, we will force you to eat them”.’ Mahdieh Mohammadi Gorgani, wife of Ahmad Zeidabadi, in an interview with Radio Farda, September 2009.
Student leader Majid Tavakkoli, aged about 24 and who studies shipbuilding, was beaten and arrested on 7 December 2009 while leaving Amir Kabir University of Technology in Tehran. He had just spoken at a peaceful rally marking Student Day. The demonstration was part of anti-government protests that followed the disputed presidential election of June 2009.
The following day, pictures of Majid Tavakkoli wearing women’s clothing were published on a pro-government news agency, apparently to humiliate him. Hundreds of Iranian men protested by posting on the internet pictures of themselves wearing scarves. Majid Tavakkoli was subsequently sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for insulting ofﬁcials, spreading propaganda against the state and gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security. He is a prisoner of conscience.
Dozens of students and others were arrested around the 7 December protests, which took place across the country. Many have been released, but an unknown number remain in detention, some sentenced to prison terms.
Abolfazl Abedini Nasr, a 28-year-old freelance journalist and human rights activist from the southern province of Khuzestan, is a prisoner of conscience held in Evin Prison, Tehran. He is serving an 11-year sentence imposed for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association. He is also facing further unknown charges.
Abolfazl Abedini Nasr is a former public relations officer of the non-governmental organization Human Rights Activists in Iran, which investigates and publicizes human rights violations, and a member of the Pan-Iranist party, a banned political opposition party. On several occasions newspapers have fired him under pressure from the authorities. He was first detained for five months in 2005. He spent a further four months in detention between November 2007 and February 2008 in connection with his reporting of the labour dispute at the state-run Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company. He was sentenced in December 2007 to one year’s imprisonment in relation to his reporting but this is believed to have been overturned on appeal.
Eighteen days after the disputed 12 June 2009 presidential election he was again arrested. Nearly four months later, on 26 October, he was released on bail from Sepidar Prison, Ahvaz. He was beaten by security officials during his rearrest at his home in Ramhormuz, Khuzestan province on 3 March 2010, during a wave of arrests of human rights activists. Four days later he was taken to Evin Prison.
His 11-year prison sentence relates to charges brought against him after his arrest in 2009. He was sentenced in March 2010 to five years for “contacts with enemy states”, five years for “membership of an illegal organization” in relation to his involvement with the organization Human Rights Activists in Iran and one year for “propaganda against the system” for talking to foreign media.
Abolfazl Abedini Nasr has a heart defect that requires medication and frequent check-ups.
‘What crime has he committed that he deserves to be tortured? Is defending the rights of Haft Tapeh factory workers, drivers’ union workers, and other organizations a crime?’ Asareh Eyvazi, Abolfazl Abedini Nasr’s mother, in a letter to Iran’s Head of the Judiciary, April 2010.
Hengameh Shahidi, aged about 35, is a journalist and political activist who is currently serving a six-year sentence in Evin Prison, Tehran. She is a prisoner of conscience.
A PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the UK, she had returned to Iran for the 2009 presidential election. There, she acted as an adviser on women’s issues to presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi, leader of the National Trust party, of which she is a member. After mass protests erupted following the announcement that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected, she was arrested on 30 June and held for over four months without charge.
She says she was tortured and otherwise ill-treated in detention, including with threats that she would be executed. On one occasion, she says, she was subjected to a mock execution. She also says that her interrogators threatened to arrest other members of her family.
Her trial began shortly after her release on bail in November 2009 and she was sentenced the following month. The six- year prison term includes five years for “gathering and colluding with intent to harm state security” and one year for “propaganda against the system”.
She appealed against the conviction and sentence, and remained at liberty. However, on 25 February 2010 she was rearrested after being summoned to the Ministry of Intelligence investigations’ office “to answer a few questions”. Two days later her lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, unaware of the reasons for her rearrest, went to Branch 54 of the Revolutionary Court. There, he was shown an appeal court ruling upholding her six-year prison sentence, issued the day before her rearrest. The appeal court did, however, overturn her conviction for “insulting the President”, for which she had been sentenced to 91 days’ imprisonment.
Hengameh Shahidi suffers from a heart condition, for which she requires regular medication.
‘Were the individuals who beat me in the basements of Evin Prison brought before the [prison] disciplinary committee?’ Hengameh Shahidi to prison officials who threatened her with punishment if she continued her hunger strike in October 2009.
Zia Nabavi, aged about 27, is a member of the Council to Defend the Right to Education, a body set up in 2009 by students barred from further study because of their political activities. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and 74 lashes in January 2010. He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association and because he is a relative of members of the banned People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), currently based in Iraq.
Zia Nabavi was arrested on the night of 14 June 2009, shortly after attending a mass protest against the previous day’s announcement that incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won the presidential election. Among others arrested at the same time was his cousin Atefeh Nabavi, herself now sentenced to four years in prison for attending a demonstration. He says that he was beaten, kicked, insulted and humiliated during his interrogation.
Held since then in Evin Prison, Tehran, Zia Nabavi was sentenced in January 2010 to three years for “gathering and colluding against national security”; one year for “propaganda against the system”; one year for “disturbing public order”; as well as 10 years for “links to and co- operation with the PMOI” to be served in internal exile in Izeh, Khuzestan province. He was also sentenced to 74 lashes for “creating unease in the public mind”.
The Iranian authorities have claimed that the PMOI and other groups were responsible for organizing the post-election demonstrations. Zia Nabavi denies all the charges, stressing that he has never had contact with the PMOI and has been extremely careful never to give the impression of doing so, since he has relatives living in PMOI-run camps in Iraq. His family cannot afford the extremely high bail set for his release pending appeal.
Zia Nabavi was previously arrested while studying at Mazandaran University, and was later barred from resuming his studies.
‘Every person is, without a doubt, responsible for their own actions. Therefore, condemning someone for the actions and records of his relatives is illegal and unjust. If such a condemnation was justified, there would be no innocent person on earth...’ Sayed Ziaoddin Nabavi in a letter to Iran’s Head of the Judiciary, February 2010.
Prominent Iranian Journalist and human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi was arrested on December 28, 2009, the day after massive protests were held in Tehran and other cities to mark the Shi'a religious observance of Ashoura.
He is not known to have been charged with a crime. He is in poor health stemming from his previous imprisonment, and Amnesty International is concerned that he could be subjected to ill-treatment and medical neglect while in detention.
Emadeddin Baghi was the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for human rights activists, although Iranian authorities prevented him from going to Geneva to attend the award ceremony on November 9, 2009. It was the first time in the award's 18-year history that the recipient was denied the opportunity to receive the award in person.
Emadeddin Baghi is the founder of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, which had been compiling information on torture and other abuses of detainees. He has focused attention on Iran's appalling record of executing juvenile offenders, as well as the execution, following grossly flawed legal proceedings, of a number of Iranian Arabs accused of politically motivated crimes.
In the late 1990s he exposed the mysterious serial murders of Iranian intellectuals. His books Right to Life and Right to Life II argue for the abolition of the death penalty using Islamic texts and jurisprudence. They have been banned by Iranian authorities - who had previously shut down his newspaper Joumhouriat in 2003 - and Mr Baghi has served years in prison on charges of "endangering national security" and "printing lies."
In December 2007, during his last imprisonment, he suffered three seizures and a heart attack and remained in poor health without adequate medical care until his release in October 2008. Officials closed down the office of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights in September 2009.
The Martin Ennals award, named after the first secretary-general of Amnesty International, is a collaboration of ten of the world's leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. It is "granted annually to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means." The Chairman of the Jury of the MEA, Hans Thoolen, described Emadeddin Baghi as "an exceptionally brave man defending human rights despite imprisonment and poor health."