Azeri Ethnic Rights Activists Beaten at Peaceful Protest Remain Detained Without Access to Legal Counsel
Iranian police units arrested several ethnic Azerbaijani rights activists at a peaceful protest gathering in Ghaleh Babak in East Azerbaijan Province on June 30, 2017, the Center for Human Rights (CHRI) in Iran has learned.
An eyewitness, who asked not to be identified, told CHRI on July 5 that six detainees were released the same day, while six others are still being held by the authorities.
“When the gathering was about to end, the police attacked the crowd with batons and detained 12 people,” said the eyewitness. “Six of them, including an 11-year-old boy, were released the same day. Two others [Morteza Parvin and Akbar Jahangiri] were taken to an Intelligence Ministry detention center, and four others [Milad Akbari, Rahim Zarei, Hamed Ravaji and Rahim Norouzi] to the city prison in Ahar.”
The detainees are being denied access to legal counsel and family visits.
The protest at Ghaleh Babak, the stronghold of the legendary ninth century rebel Babak Khorramdin, was organized to protest state discrimination against Azeri Turks, condemn the imprisonment of peaceful activists, and demand an end to the ban on teaching the Azeri language in schools, the source told CHRI.
According to Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution: “Public gatherings and marches may be freely held, provided arms are not carried and that they are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.”
Article 46 of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights, launched by President Hassan Rouhani in December 2016, states: “Citizens have the right to assembly and make demonstrations and to participate therein, freely and in compliance with the law, and to enjoy impartiality of the responsible bodies and protection and security for the assembly.”
Between 16 and 25 percent of Iran’s population are native Azeri speakers residing primarily in the northwestern provinces of Ardabil, Zanjan as well as East and West Azerbaijan.
Azeri ethnic rights activists are currently primarily focused on the state’s ban on teaching the Azeri-Turkish language at schools, which they argue is a violation of the Constitution.
Article 15 of the Constitution allows “the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for the teaching of their literature in schools.”
Two Azeri activists are currently on hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention for defending the right to teach the Azeri language in schools.
Habib Sasanian has been refusing food in Tabriz Prison, East Azerbaijan Province, since June 13, 2017. Siamak Mirzaei started a hunger strike on June 25 in Tehran’s Evin Prison to convince judicial authorities to end his yearlong legal limbo.
Rouhani’s 2013 presidential campaign pledge to “fully implement” Article 15 of the Constitution remains unfulfilled.
In a report to the United Nations’ General Assembly in September 2016, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Iran Ahmad Shaheed expressed concern that ethnic minorities in Iran “do not fully enjoy their right to take part in cultural life, including as a consequence of closures of publications and newspapers in minority languages.”
Continued the report: “Despite some important recent steps in this regard, particularly in Kurdish-majority areas of the country, the Special Rapporteur continues to receive reports that the right to teach and publish in local languages remains either curbed or restricted.”