Detained Iranian Azeri Rights Activists Badly Injured During Interrogations
Several ethnic rights activists detained at an annual celebration at Babak Fort in Iran’s East Azerbaijan Province required medical attention after being violently interrogated.
“All of the 20 people so far have been released from the [Intelligence Ministry’s] detention center in Kaleibar have signs of physical abuse and broken bones,” an Azeri rights advocate told the Center for Human Rights (CHRI) on July 10.
“One of the detainees who had been badly beaten while his hands were tied suffered convulsions and was transferred to a clinic,” added the source who requested anonymity for security reasons. “He had so many bruises on his head and face that the judge said he should not be freed for the time being.”
According to the source, several activists were taken into custody on July 5 and 6 while taking part in a peaceful ceremony held every year at the fort, which is believed to be the historical stronghold of Babak Khorramdin, a ninth-century rebel who fought against Islamic rulers.
Several other people were also arrested during the three weeks leading up to the event.
Between 16 to 25 percent of Iran’s population is made up of Turkish-speaking (different from the language spoken in Turkey) Azeris living mostly in Iran’s northeastern East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil and Zanjan Provinces.
Azeri ethnic rights activists are primarily focused on protesting the state ban on teaching the Azeri-Turkish language in schools, a ban they argue violates the Constitution. Iran’s security establishment often suppresses their peaceful campaigns while claiming they have separatist aspirations.
“We were going to hold a gathering at Babak Fort just like every year,” the Azeri activist told CHRI. “But since June 22, agents have been summoning and detaining known activists and so far our figures show more than 80 people have been taken into custody. Some of them were quickly released but around 50 of them are still in detention at unknown locations.”
The source added that the detainees have been denied access to legal counsel and that the judicial authorities are not responding to inquiries by their relatives.
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.”