Police Arrest Peaceful Participants at Annual Commemoration for Popular Dissident Poet Ahmad Shamlu
Iranian police and security forces dispersed a gathering marking the 17th anniversary of popular poet Ahmad Shamlu’s death and arrested several participants, including a senior member of the Iranian Writers Association (IWA), a spokesman for the group told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“This year, as in last year, we were not allowed to mark this day,” said Reza Khandan Mahabadi about the event on July 24, 2017. “The cemetery gates were locked and when people insisted on staying, the authorities made some arrests and threatened not to free them until everyone left the scene. Eventually the few dozen people who had come for the ceremony decided to disperse so the detainees could go free.”
“IWA board member Baktash Abtin has been detained, as well as two or three younger people who we have lost contact with,” he added. “They have not contacted anyone yet to say where they are or when they will be freed.”
CHRI has also learned from an eyewitness who spoke on the condition of anonymity that former imprisoned labor activist As’ad (Behnam) Ebrahimzadeh was among those arrested at the July 24 incident.
Ahmad Shamlu, who died in 2000 at the age of 75, is often referred to as Iran’s greatest contemporary poet. Taking stands against injustice by the state before and after Iran’s 1979 revolution enhanced his popularity.
The commemoration ceremony took place at Imamzadeh Taher Cemetery in Karaj, 33.5 miles west of Tehran, but the police prevented people from gathering around the poet’s grave.
According to the IWA official, the police were supported by plainclothes agents working for an unknown security agency.
“The agents had normal civilian clothes and did not show any identification or judicial order,” Mahabadi told CHRI. “They shouted and made threats against the crowd and then handcuffed a few people and took them away.”
Until 2015, the authorities allowed people to gather every July 24 at the poet’s gravesite relatively freely, without any major incidents with the police or security forces. However, in the past two years the cemetery gates have been locked on the anniversary and crowds have been forced to disperse.
Asked why the police and security forces have continued to disrupt the commemoration, the IWA spokesman pointed to Shamlu’s reputation as a dissident poet.
“The security forces generally have a problem with any kind of gathering of critics and dissidents, even if it’s just a few dozen people,” said Mahabadi. “Maybe they are afraid that in the current climate of crises and social dissatisfaction, these small gatherings could turn into widespread protests.
“In the past two years, they have taken harsher measures, he added.
“Before they would summon us and make threats, but we could still gather to sing, read a few poems and make speeches. But in the past two years, people have not even been allowed to gather at Imamzadeh Taher.”
In its July 20th public invitation for the Shamlu commemoration, IWA stated, “We will gather in his memory. He who wanted the world to be prosperous and free. He who wanted people to regain their lost glory. He who lost his legs but stood his ground. We will remember him for justice, equality and everything he left for posterity.”
According to Article 27 of Iran’s Constitution, people can gather in groups freely “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, signed by President Hassan Rouhani in Decembers 2016 without a path to implementation, 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.”
A member of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, IWA is Iran’s largest organization representing writers, editors, translators and publishers. Many of its members have been persecuted for their secular and critical views of state policies.
Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jafar Pouyandeh, two prominent IWA members, were killed by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry agents in 1998 in a series of assassinations that came to be known as the “chain murders.”