Iran’s Intelligence Ministry Slaps Azeri Rights Activist With New Charges, Claim He’s Organizing Protests from Prison
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry is pressing new charges against prominent Azeri ethnic rights activist Abbas Lesani, claiming he has been organizing protests from inside the prison in the city of Ardabil where he is incarcerated.
Since January 15, 2019, the 57-year-old activist has been serving a 10-month prison sentence in the capital of Ardabil Province, 373 miles northwest of Tehran, for speaking at the funeral of Hassan Damirchi, a prominent Azeri musician.
For practicing free speech, Lesani was convicted of “propaganda against the state”
“When he was put in jail there were a lot of protests,” a source close to Lesani told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on March 5, 2019. “There were slogans written on walls and pamphlets distributed at night in Ardabil and Tabriz [capital of East Azerbaijan Province].
“But what made the authorities more upset was that some fans shouted slogans for his freedom during a soccer match between Persepolis and Tractor Sazi Tabriz [teams],” added the source who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The source continued: “Intelligence Ministry agents told Mr. Lesani that he was the instigator of these actions and if he didn’t stop, he would be held responsible. Mr. Lesani told them he could not stop the protests because he had nothing to do with them. Now, the Intelligence Ministry has opened a new case against him with more serious charges.”
The charges Lesani is facing include “inciting people to armed struggle,” “forming an illegal organization,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state,” which could land him 15 more years in jail.
The source told CHRI Iranian authorities had misinterpreted Lesani’s statements and charged him on a false premise.
“In the Azerbaijan [region of Iran], Mr. Lesani is known as a peaceful activist,” said the source. “But he has been charged with inciting ‘armed struggle’ because the authorities, who mostly speak Persian, don’t understand the Azeri-Turkish language.”
“In a speech, Lesani had used the word ‘duyush’ which means struggle, but the authorities have translated it as ‘war’ or ‘armed struggle,’” said the source.
Between 16 to 25 percent of Iran’s population are Turkish-speaking (different from the language spoken in Turkey) Azeris living mostly in Iran’s East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil and Zanjan Provinces.
Azeri civil rights activists have long been fighting (among other discriminatory policies) a state-imposed ban on Azeri-Turkish being taught along with the official Persian language in their schools.
Previously, Lesani served one year behind bars for “propaganda against the state” until he was released on May 26, 2016.