Ethnic Azerbaijani human rights defenders in detention in Iran resort to hunger strike after unfair trial

August 5, 2013

Since 13 July 2013, five ethnic Azerbaijani human rights defenders detained in Tabriz prison have taken part in an ongoing hunger strike in protest at their conviction following an unfair trial. Mahmud Fezli, Latif Haseni, Ayat Mehrali Baglou, Behboud Gholizadeh and Shahram Radmehr are members of the organisation Yeni Gamoh, which advocates for the cultural and civil rights of the Azerbaijani minorities in Iran, particularly the right to use their native language in education.

On 24 April 2013 a judge convicted each of the five to a sentence of 9 years imprisonment on charges of “founding an illegal group” and making “propaganda against the government”. The activists were arrested in cities across Iran, in a wave of arrests that took place between December 2012 and February 2013 and are now being held in detention at the Central Prison of Tabriz in Northwest Iran. They were denied access to a lawyer for several months.

Among other accusations, the Yemi Gamoh group was indicted for “writing a letter to UNESCO” about the rights of ethnically Azerbaijiani children in Iran to learn in their mother tongue. The organization was also described as “clandestine” despite operating a public website, http://yenigamoh.com

In the light of previous allegations of ill-treatment and torture while in custody, and because Mr. Behboud Gholizadeh and Mr. Shehram Radmehr have not been allowed medical treatment for their existing health conditions, the physical and psychological integrity of the human rights defenders is at considerable risk. There is evidence that the prisoners are not receiving the appropriate care while they are carrying our their hunger strike. One week into their hunger strike, the five were transferred from Tabriz prison to Tehran prison, a measure believed to be in retaliation against their action. No investigations have been ordered into the allegations of ill-treatment and torture while in custody.

There is an emerging pattern of targeting activists working to promote the rights of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran. One human rights defender who is currently in detention, Dr Latif Haseni, was reportedly subjected to torture while in custody in 2010. In 2008, an ethnic Azerbaijani human rights lawyer and two ethnic Azerbaijani activists were arrested and tortured. Human rights defender Mr Sejjad Radmehr, one of the three and at the time a member of Yeni Gamoh, had to be transferred to a prison hospital following this abuse.  Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on an earlier case concerning Latif Haseni on 8 August 2008 https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1532 .

Front Line Defenders believes that the arrest is directly related to their activities in defence of human rights.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

 

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