Iran: Families of Detained and Killed Protesters Beaten, Threatened to Stay Silent
Attorneys Jailed to Prevent Them From Defending Protesters and Their Families
January 25, 2023 – Four months into the Islamic Republic’s violent suppression of anti-state protests, Iranian authorities are beating, firing and threatening the families of detained and killed protesters to force them to remain silent, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
“In addition to hanging, shooting, and imprisoning Iranians to crush the protests, Islamic Republic authorities are attacking the family members of those they have killed and jailed to silence cries for justice and freedom,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“Governments around the world should downgrade their relations with the Islamic Republic and communicate to the Iranian authorities that the diplomatic isolation and costs will intensify without an immediate cessation of the violence against the protesters and their families,” he said.
Beaten, Fired and Harassed for Seeking Justice
Many relatives of victims of state violence have been beaten, fired from their jobs, warned their injured relatives will not receive medical treatment, and otherwise threatened to prevent them from speaking publicly about their cases.
The sources that spoke to CHRI about the following cases requested anonymity to protect themselves from reprisals by the Iranian government.
Hossein Ekhtiarian and Mohammad Ekhtiarian
Hossein Ekhtiarian was violently beaten after being detained for inquiring about his brother, and now has a broken arm in prison, CHRI has been informed.
His brother, Mohammad Ekhtiarian—who has been in detention since October 27, 2022, when he was shot and arrested during a memorial for slain teenage protester Nika Shakarami in Khorramabad, Lorestan province—is now reportedly in a coma.
“Hossein is the only person in the family who could pursue his brother’s case,” a source speaking on condition of anonymity for security purposes told CHRI. “The parents are too old.”
“Initially there was no news about Mohammad for several days because he had been hospitalized anonymously after being shot and seriously injured in his left leg by the security agents during arrest,” said the source.
“When Hossein began to make inquiries about his brother at various security offices and prisons, he was also violently detained on November 22,” added the source.
“They beat Hossein so badly that his arm broke and he can’t move it,” said the source. “He has been on a hunger strike for the past week to protest being kept in limbo.”
Meanwhile, Hossein’s brother Mohammad is in a coma “as a result of an infection of the injuries suffered during arrest,” his lawyer, Ali Omidi, said on January 22.
Two months after state security forces shot and killed her nine-year-old son, Kian Pirfalak, in Izeh, Khuzestan province (and also shot and wounded her husband), Zeinab Molaei-Rad was inexplicably suspended from her place of work at the Fatemieh Technical School in Izeh, Khuzestan province, reported the Coordinating Council of the Iranian Teachers Trade Association on January 21, 2023.
Molaei-Rad was told by the local education department’s security officials that she is prohibited from working “until further notice” without any provided reason or legal justification.
“This isn’t the first time that the Pirfalak family has come under pressure,” said a source who requested anonymity during an interview with CHRI.
“On the day of Kian’s funeral, his mother addressed the crowd and explained how he was shot in the car,” added the source. “Then security officials forced her to make false confessions on state television by threatening to stop her husband’s treatment in the hospital.”
“To save her husband, the bereaved woman had to sit in front of a television camera and say she wasn’t responsible for any [social media] posts after Kian’s death as her Instagram was out of her control.”
When Molaei-Rad’s request for a termination letter was also denied, she was admitted to the hospital for stress, Sajjad Pirfalak, Kian’s uncle, told the Emtedad newspaper.
“Kian’s father, Meysam Pirfalak, was receiving treatment in Golestan Hospital in Ahvaz for very, very serious injuries,” the source said. “This was at a time when Zeinab and other family members were under a lot of pressure. They were grieving the loss of Kian and could not visit his father in the hospital. It was a horrific situation.”
Female teacher Atekeh Rajabi, who lives in Ahmadabad, Yazd province, was also dismissed from her job without explanation after appearing in a video online without the mandatory hijab and for allegedly peacefully calling for teachers’ rights amid the nationwide, anti-state protests.
“You did not fire me. I was the one who refused to cooperate with you,” Rajabi later said in a statement published by the Coordinating Council of Teachers Syndicates (CCTS).
She added that she could not cooperate with an institution “that allows repressive forces to take away the security and peace of our children.”
“I soon realized that not only is the Education Ministry not on the side of the people, but it is the [most] misanthropic institution I know,” Rajabi said.
Defense Lawyers Blocked from Defending Detained Protesters
Islamic Republic authorities are also using various tactics to prevent detained protesters from accessing due process, including arbitrarily jailing scores of defense lawyers. At least 44 lawyers have been detained since September 2022, according to research by CHRI.
Some lawyers are resigning from their cases after being blocked by the court from preparing a proper defense, including the lawyers of Armita Abbasi, 20, who was tortured and sexually assaulted in detention, as revealed in an investigation by CNN.
On January 23, the day of Armita Abbasi’s trial, her lawyers Mohammad Esmailbeigi and Sonia Mohammadi resigned because they were unable to conduct a proper defense due to a “shortage of time and rejection of requests for visitation in person.”
Abbasi’s mother expressed sympathy with the lawyers, saying it was impossible to defend her daughter if they could not see the indictment or meet with her in prison.
The charges against Abbasi include “waging war,” “corruption of earth” and “rebellion,” which could result in the death penalty.
A lawyer in Iran, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told CHRI that his clients had recently backed out of hiring him after they were bribed by state agents who took advantage of their dire economic condition. A partial transcription of the interview CHRI held with this lawyer follows below.
The security agencies don’t just make threats, in many cases they also try to persuade victims’ families, or those arrested, to remain silent.
During the recent protests, the family of a slain protester asked me to represent them to find and punish the assailant. However, a few days later, they reversed their decision and said they could not afford the cost. I said, we never spoke about the cost, so why was it financially difficult? Eventually I found out that the security agencies had convinced the family to keep quiet in exchange for naming their son a martyr, receiving blood money, and a state pension with benefits.
Although some of the protesters are students or members of civil society, many young protestors arrested or killed are from the working class and victims of this government’s financial and economic policies. A laborer who has received only a month’s salary in over eight months, and one of his children has been killed, will not seek justice because he must feed and clothe his two other children.
The lawyer also told CHRI that many state institutions have been given unlimited power to persecute street protesters.
“We have a lot of arbitrary, extra-judicial, regulations in Iran that have no legal basis,” said the lawyer. “For instance, some government agencies, such as the State Prisons Organization and university security offices, have been given authority without any legal foundation. They ban prisoners from visitation or students from entering the university.
“In recent days, the University Disciplinary Regulations was updated and one of the strange new provisions is that students and academics can be punished for joining groups on Telegram without permission,” added the lawyer.
At least 525 protesters, including 71 children, have been killed and more than 19,000 arrested by state security forces since September 2022, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency.
Four street protesters have meanwhile been hanged without due process while at least 20 have been sentenced to death and at least 47 are facing charges that could carry the death penalty, according to research by CHRI.
“Many journalists who’ve tried to cover the protests in Iran have asked us why it’s so difficult to get families to talk,” said Ghaemi. “The reason is that they’re putting themselves at grave risk by doing so,” said Ghaemi.
“Islamic Republic authorities detest the international condemnations and media coverage of their human rights violations and atrocities, which is why they’re going to such great lengths to cover up these cases,” he added.
“That’s why we must keep the spotlight on Iran, to prevent these atrocities from happening in the darkness,” Ghaemi said.
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