19 Azerbaijanis Arbitrarily Arrested
Rights of Ethnic Minorities Routinely Violated
(17 September 2008) Intelligence Ministry agents arrested 19 prominent members of the Azerbaijani minority at a private Ramadan celebration on the evening of 10 September 2008, and detained them in Evin Prison where nine are still being held without charge, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today.
“We condemn these arbitrary arrests and detentions, and call upon the authorities to return the citizens to their families,” the Campaign said. “The mistreatment of the Azerbaijani minority in Iran should end.”According to witnesses, between ten and fifteen plainclothes security agents entered the home of Sayad Muhammadian, who was hosting the Iftar dinner, and began arresting the guests. Among those arrested were three youths attending the dinner with their mother Raqieh Alizadeh, the wife of Abbas Lisani, an Azerbaijani activist imprisoned in exile in Yazd.
Upon arrival in Evin Prison they were separated from their mother. Raqieh was interrogated until 2 AM on 11 September. She was later released from prison with three of her children, along with Akram Najari, Rabab Azimi, and Farhad Rezai. On 14 September, three other prisoners, Yusef Hoshiar, Shabaz Ebrahimzadeh, and Muhammad Abbaspour, were released. No reason has been given for any of the arrests.
Most of those arrested are prominent writers, teachers, and journalists. The nine men currently in detention are: Alireza Sarafi, Hasan Rashdi, Akbar Azad, Saeed Muhammadi, Mahdi Namimi Ardabili, Hasan Rahimibayat, Abbas Naimi, Hasan Haydari and Sayad Muhammadian.
Alireza Sarafi is the author of the book, Ethnic Pluralism and Iranian National Identity, and director of the monthly publication Dilmaj (which until October 2007 was being published in Azerbaijani Turkic and Persian). He is also a contributing writer for the bilingual magazine Varliq, and teacher of Azerbaijani folklore at universities in Tehran. He has conducted seminars on language at Tabriz University and is also one of the founding members of the National Peace Council.
Hasan Rashdi and Akbar Azad are contributing writers for Varliq magazine. Rashdi is a teacher of Azerbaijani Turkic literature, journalist and contributor to various national publications, author of three books on the Azerbaijani Turkic language and Azerbaijani identity. Rashidi and Azad are founders of the Chicheklar Qorulushu Forum that works for the protection of children’s rights. Akbar Azad is also the author of children’s books in Azerbaijani Turkic and contributor to numerous publications.
Saeed Muhammadi is a poet, author, journalist, and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Yashmaq. He is the former editor-in-chief of the publication Paryaq.
Namimi Ardabili is a poet and teacher of Azerbaijani Turkic language at Tehran University. Hasan Rahimibayat is a human rights activist and a member of the Reporters Committee for Human Rights.
Iranian authorities routinely accuse Azerbaijani cultural activists and scholars of acting against national security. Those involved with promoting Azerbaijani culture and its study have routinely been arrested and sometimes imprisoned. According to Mr. Alireza Javanbaksh–spokesperson for the Committee for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners (ASMAK)– ten Azerbaijani activists are currently serving prison terms, and ten Azerbaijani university students are awaiting sentencing in Iranian prisons.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran called for an investigation of the arbitrary arrests on 10 September, and for the observation of cultural and linguistic rights of Azerbaijanis and all minorities in Iran.
“While the government of Iran, as a member of the United Nations, is obligated to protect the rights of its minority citizens to pursue studies in their own language, yet the authorities consider the study of Azerbaijani culture and language as a transgression,” the Campaign stated.