Iran Seals Its Egregious Rights Record With Toxic Pick For Top Spot on Human Rights Council

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Selection of Avaei Shows Culture of Impunity For Human Rights Violators Will Continue in Iran

February 27, 2018—The Iranian government’s decision to name Minister of Justice Seyyed Alireza Avaei as its representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council—a man with an appalling human rights record that spans decades—reflects the Iranian government’s complete disregard for human rights violations.

The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) urges the Member States of the Human Rights Council to register their profound concern at Iran’s selection of an individual who is on the European Union’s (EU) list of individuals sanctioned for gross violations of human rights.

According to the Council of the European Union, Avaei was “responsible for human rights violations, arbitrary arrests, denials of prisoners’ rights and an increase of executions.”

“With the selection of Avaei as their rep to the UN Human Rights Council, Iran is telling the world that human rights violators can not only commit their abuses with impunity in Iran, they will be rewarded,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director.

Avaei, a prosecutor in 1988, was a member of the so-called Death Committee in Khuzestan Province. Such committees were established throughout the country and sent thousands of political prisoners to their death by hanging after Inquisition-type judicial proceedings.

In 2009, when millions took to the streets in Tehran to peacefully dispute the results of Iran’s presidential election, Avaei was Tehran’s chief justice as the state launched a brutal crackdown, arresting thousands of protesters. CHRI documented the systematic denial of due process in the ensuing judicial proceedings—violations that were condemned by many other human rights organizations.

During this time, numerous detainees were held at the Kahrizak Detention Center, where at least three people died. CHRI documented via eyewitness reports and interviews with released detainees that torture was rampant in the facility and those who died did so due to beatings. Yet when questioned, Avaei defended the integrity of the system.

CHRI calls on EU member states to condemn the appointment of an individual to a UN Human Rights body whom the EU has assessed to be a major human rights violator.

The Iranian Judiciary, which reports directly to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and Iran’s Foreign Ministry, which reports to President Hassan Rouhani, share responsibility for the selection of Avaei as minister of justice, and his appointment to head the UN’s Human Rights Council.

CHRI urges the authorities in Iran to select individuals for human rights positions who are not themselves internationally designated as “major human rights violators.”

“At a time when we are seeing egregious human rights violations in Iran, with no judicial oversight, investigation or remedy, the appointment of Avaei bodes poorly for any progress toward accountability,” Ghaemi added.

Family of Activist Allegedly Tortured in Tehran’s Evin Prison “Afraid” to File Complaint

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Civil rights activist Mahmoud Masoumi, who was arrested during Tehran’s December 2017 protests, was allegedly tortured in detention by an interrogator but his family is “afraid” to file a complaint, a relative told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“When he was released on January 9 (2018), he wouldn’t even leave the house. They had beaten him so badly and he was terrified to go out… There were marks on his body from a lot of electric shocks that were clearly visible after his release,” Masoumi’s godmother, Leila Faraji, told CHRI on February 20, 2018.

She continued: “The things he described to me were ghastly. He said his interrogator had put a gun on his leg and said, ‘Have you ever had a bullet emptied into your leg?’ and then pulled the trigger but the chamber was empty. Or they pretended to strike him with the sharp end of a knife but had instead beaten him with the handle. They wanted to scare him. They told him so many awful things that could mess up any human being.”

Asked if the family had filed any complaints, Faraji said, “We are too afraid to file a suit. Who can we complain to? If I did, would the interrogators admit they had beaten him? I don’t want him to face more problems. We’re afraid. We have kept quiet. I love him like my own child.”

CHRI was unable to independently verify Faraji’s statements about the abuse her grandson allegedly suffered in Evin Prison. Many former detainees said they had been tortured and subjected to ill treatment in prisons in Tehran after they were detained during the massive protests that occurred across the country in 2009.

Masoumi has been held in Evin Prison’s Ward 209, which is controlled by the Intelligence Ministry, since February 1. Previously he was arrested on January 2 and held for eight days for allegedly engaging in the anti-government protests, but was re-arrested again at an unknown date.

“We demand the Intelligence Ministry, as the arresting authority, to give assurances of his safety,” Faraji told CHRI.

“He only contacted us briefly on February 13,” she added. “All he said was that he’s well and had no problem. But it was obvious he’s not well… They are responsible for his life and health.”

On July 1, 2017, the civil rights activist was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the charges of “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader” and “insulting the sacred” for engaging in peaceful activism.

He is due to appear at the Appeals Court in Tehran for a hearing on those charges on February 28, 2018.

Faraji has been taking care of Masoumi since his mother’s death several years ago.

Masoumi, 22, a former trainee in aircraft mechanics at Saha Airlines, was previously arrested in June 2016 for taking part in a rally against the imprisonment of civil rights advocates and political activists. He was in detention for one month before being released on 200 million tomans bail ($66,300 USD).

“I have been going to Evin Prison every day but no one answers any questions,” Faraji told CHRI. “All they say is that he is facing heavy charges. When I ask why, what has he done, they only hurl insults and humiliate you.”

Woman Arrested For Peacefully Protesting Iran’s Compulsory Hijab After Policeman Pushes Her Off Platform

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Crowd Attempts to Protect Woman From Police

A woman who was pushed off a utility platform in Tehran by a policeman for peacefully protesting against Iran’s compulsory hijab law was detained later that night on February 22, 2018.

In a video posted on the Telegram messaging app on February 22, some bystanders shout words of support for the woman as the policeman confronts her. When the policeman pushes her down, he turns to the crowd and challenges them to “step forward if you’ve got balls.”

“When the policeman pushed her down in that violent way, it shocked the surrounding crowd,” an eyewitness who requested anonymity for security reasons told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“The girl was on the ground for a few minutes and she struggled to get up, limping,” added the source. “The crowd quickly surrounded her and didn’t let the police come close.”

“We got her a taxi and she left but the policemen followed her,” said the source. “I heard the taxi was stopped at the next crossing and they arrested her.”

In the clip of the protest posted on Telegram, some people can be heard urging the policeman not to arrest the woman.

Some Iranians took to social media to make fun of the policeman’s reaction.

“You want to know why the people of Iran are fed-up and angry? Here it is: Naked violence against the indisputable basic right to protest,” tweeted former political prisoner Atefeh Nabavi on February 22.

Reformist political activist Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi tweeted, “It’s not the Girl from Revolution St. falling in this clip; it’s actually the declining legitimacy of the state police, which is supposed to protect the lives and security of the people but is instead attacking them and breaking their legs.”

Shargh newspaper reporter Mohammad Mosaed, whose tongue-in-cheek tweet was shared by many, wrote: “We could have hit the girl with an RPG [rocket propelled grenade] but we limited ourselves to throwing her down.”

The eyewitness who spoke to CHRI said that the most recent protest happened on Revolution St. in Tehran on February 22 at 6 pm at the same corner where several other women had displayed the same peaceful protest in recent months.

Women and some men in various Iranian cities have been standing on something that elevates them on the street, removing their headscarves, and waving them on a stick like a flag or in their hand.

All women in Iran are legally required to cover their hair and bodies in public.

Vida Movahed was the first woman to be arrested after she did the same thing in late December 2017 in Tehran. The act of removing your headscarf in public and waving it like a flag has become a symbol for the “Girls of Revolution Street” movement, which advocates choice over compulsion for women’s clothing.

The authorities in Tehran have tried to prevent people from joining the movement by posting additional policemen on busy streets as well as installing slanted metal sheets on top of utility platforms to make it difficult for people to stand on them.

On February 21, the Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that police had arrested 29 women and men in Tehran for engaging in the peaceful protest. Their names were not published and it remains unclear how many remain in detention. The report claimed the protesters had been fooled by the “White Wednesdays” campaign.

White Wednesdays was launched by civil rights activist Masih Alinejad, a former journalist in Iran who now lives in New York, to encourage Iranian women who oppose the mandatory hijab to wear a white scarf on Wednesdays and share images of their uncovered hair on the My Stealthy Freedom page on Facebook.

But some women have stated that their protest actions are not related to Alinejad’s campaign.

Hours after protester Azam (Azi) Jangvari was detained on February 15, the following post appeared on her Instagram page.

“I, Azam (Azi) Jangvari, started my political activities for women in the Reformist Women’s Assembly and the Executives of Construction Party hoping for reform. I’m tired of it. It seems we have to act. Enough slogans. I’ve done this act for freedom, for putting an end to all these laws and regulations against us women and I accept all the consequences. My action has no connection with any group or individual, whether inside or outside Iran. I did this to fight against the mandatory hijab. Let us choose our own hijab. As an individual, I have the right to choose.”

Jangvari is a member of a centrist political party in Iran. It is unknown whether she remains in detention.

Shapark Shajarizadeh is another protester who was arrested in Tehran’s Gheytarieh neighborhood on February 21. Details about her detention have not been released to the public.

Iranians Debate Use of Violence Against Security Forces After Clashes With Sufi Gonabadis Leave Three Dead

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Clashes among members of a predominantly peaceful minority faith in Iran and security forces have resulted in a discussion on social media among Iranians about the use of violence as a form of self-defense.

“Mr. Dervish! There is no common ground between peaceful protest, sticks and Molotov cocktails. Don’t become fodder for this fire. Smoke from this fire will blind you first,” tweeted Maziar Khosravi, the political editor for the reformist Shargh newspaper, on February 19.

Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, a senior reformist politician, tweeted, “The terrorist bus attack against the police is an unacceptable act that leads to more violence. Resorting to violence by anyone is condemned.”

Secular journalist Nazli Kamvari, wrote, “Terrorism has a clear definition: it is an attack on civilians with the intention of spreading public fear. For a journalist to attribute terrorism to the dervishes without looking at the violent circumstances is an unfair attempt to justify suppression by the security forces.”

Three policemen and two members of Iran’s Basij militia were killed and hundreds of protesters were arrested after two days of confrontations between followers of Iran’s persecuted Muslim Sufi Gonabadi Order (referred to as Gonabadi dervishes) and security forces in Tehran.

Police officials said 300 people were detained in Tehran but Gonabadi sources pointed out that demonstrators in other Iranian cities were also arrested, resulting in a much higher number of total arrests.

“The number of detainees is much bigger than what has been reported by government news outlets and has possibly surpassed 3,000,” reported Majzooban Noor, the Gonabadis’ official channel on the Telegram messaging app, on February 20, 2018.

“Many of these arrests have taken place at entrances to cities, at airports and bus terminals,” added the report.

At a press conference on February 20, a spokesman for the Tehran police, Saeed Montazer al-Mahdi, announced casualties among the police and the volunteer Basij militia.

“During last night’s disturbances on Pasdaran St. [in Tehran], in addition to the martyrdom of three policemen, two of our dear Basijis were also martyred by this superstitious cult.”

The Gonabadi dervishes believe in a different interpretation of Islam than that of Iran’s ruling Muslim Shia establishment. The Islamic Republic views any alternative belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia establishment and has imprisoned members of the Sufi order as part of an ongoing persecution campaign.

According to al-Mahdi, the policemen died when a bus, allegedly driven by one of the protesters, ran over them.

Two members of the voluntary Basij militia died after a car hit one of them and the other was attacked with a “cold weapon,” according to the police spokesman, referring to a sharp weapon.

Farhad Nouri, a spokesman for the Gonabadis, condemned the bus attack that killed three policemen on February 19 and said the protesters were acting in self-defense.

“It was the police forces who started the whole story last night, not the dervishes,” he told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which later removed the report from its site.

“The dervishes never wanted these incidents to happen. They have always had peaceful rallies. We have to see who wants to take advantage of last night’s events and blame the dervishes,” he added.

Gonabadi Leader Condemns Violence

The 90-year-old leader of the Gonabadi dervishes, Nour Ali Tabandeh, posted a video on YouTube on February 20 calling for his followers to avoid violence while defending their right to defend themselves. But on February 21 he posted an updated message that singled out some dervishes for acting against his “advice and wishes.”

Wrote Tabandeh: “The recent bitter events surrounding my home, which took place against Islamic and spiritual principles with the false excuse that an arrest warrant had been issued against me, brought great sorrow. This riot occurred mainly because of overwhelming emotions, wrong assumptions, ignorance and lack of respect for my explicit orders by some of the dervishes who acted despite my advice and wishes. I do not endorse them in any way and I condemn such acts.”

He also expressed condolences to the families of the police and Basij forces who lost loved ones in the clashes.

The violence began on February 19 when police opened fire on a group of Gonabadis who were protesting in front of the 102nd Police Station in Tehran to demand the release of Nematollah Riahi, a fellow devotee. He had been arrested outside the home of Gonabadi spiritual leader Nour Ali Tabandeh.

Kasra Nouri, a spokesman for the Sufi order, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 19 that he had witnessed many plainclothes agents attacking the protesters with sticks and stones.

He was arrested hours after the interview, CHRI has learned.

The protests have died down but a source close to the Gonabadis, who requested anonymity, said security forces were continuing their search and arrest operations against the faith’s followers.

Images and videos shared on social media on February 20 show bloodied Gonabadi protesters being arrested.

In one video, Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam, a Gonabadi dervish and student activist, appears with a battered face and says he was beaten and injured by the police.

On February 21, the Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), posted a video on Twitter of an injured man in a hospital bed identified as Mohammad Salas who apologized for driving the bus.

CHRI was unable to verify the veracity of the video.

“I don’t know what I was thinking at that moment. I had no intention to kill anyone. I got angry and pressed the gas,” he said. “It was out of my control… It just happened. I give my condolences. What can I do?”

While some Iranians on social media condemned the security forces’ violent response to the protesters, there was also a heated debate over who was to blame.

Responding to Iranian state media reports that have labeled the dervishes as Iranian versions of the ISIS terrorist group (referred to in Iran as Daesh), Stanford University Professor Abbas Milani, tweeted: “The regime introduced Daeshi ideas and behavior in Iran before Daesh ever existed: From ‘revolutionary’ executions by [Ayatollah Sadegh] Khalkhali and [Ayatollah Hossein] Raissi to the murder of innocent prisoners, the suppression of Sunnis, Baha’is and Dervishes and imposing mandatory hijab and stoning women and falsifying history.”

“Violence is against the principle of civil disobedience but primary responsibility lies with the oppressor, not his victims,” he added.

Iranian nationalist journalist Morteza Kazemian meanwhile quoted American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Leftist Iranian activist Amir Yaghoubali also joined the discussion on Twitter: “The ruling establishment does not show any flexibility or compromise on any level. Our tweets won’t create or stop violence. The continuation of the status quo will breed more violence every day. Only change brought about by effective political and social pressure can prevent more violence.”

Seven Rights Activists Denied Legal Counsel After Being Arrested by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry

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Seven civil rights activists detained in Evin Prison since February 1, 2018, have been denied access to legal counsel, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.

A source with firsthand knowledge of the cases identified the detainees as Behnam Mousivand, Shima Babaei, Dariush Zand, Saeed Eghbali, Saeed Seifijahan, Mahmoud Masoumi and Nader Afshari.

“They are all being held in solitary confinement in the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons. “They all got permission to briefly contact their families by phone and received one visit but none of them have lawyers.”

“The interrogators have been instructed not to call any lawyers and the detainees have been told they cannot have lawyers during the interrogation phase,” added the source.

According to Article 48 of Iran’s Criminal Procedures Regulations, detainees have the right to ask for and have a meeting with a lawyer as soon as they are detained.

But the Note to Article 48 also permits judicial authorities to delay an individual’s access to a lawyer by up to a week in cases involving alleged “crimes against the country’s domestic and foreign security.”

The seven civil rights activists have been in state custody for more than three weeks.

The accusations against the seven include “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” “insulting the supreme leader” and “contacts with foreign media.”

According to the source, Shima Babaei was arrested for supporting the “White Wednesdays” anti-compulsory-hijab campaign. The others were taken into custody for sharing news and information about political prisoners and Iran’s December 2017 protests.

Mousivand was previously arrested for his peaceful activities on a number of occasions. Most recently, he was released in June 2017 from Rajaee Shahr Prison in the city of Karaj after serving a year for “propaganda against the state.”

Mousivand did not appear to be physically well when his mother visited him on February 15, 2018, the source added.

According to the source, the Intelligence Ministry also briefly detained Zand and Masoumi in 2016.

Iranian Authorities Arrest Lawyer Who Exposed Death of Protester in Police Custody

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Civil Rights Activists Also Detained

February 16, 2018 – Attorney Mohammad Najafi has been held in detention in the Iranian city of Arak since January 15, and is facing eight charges for exposing the death of a young man who died in police custody after being arrested during the recent protests in Iran.

Najafi’s own attorney has also been threatened with arrest, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.

“The Iranian authorities should immediately release Najafi and end the practice of intimidating and persecuting lawyers for exposing human rights violations inside the country,” said CHRI’s Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.

“There’s no justice in a system where lawyers are put in jail for doing their jobs,” he added.

Najafi was due to be released on February 14 but the month-long detention order against him was extended, according to his lawyer, Payam Derafshan.

“One of the things the authorities have been very sensitive about is Vahid Heydari’s suspicious death,” Derafshan told CHRI on February 15. Heydari was one of the thousands arrested for participating in the protests that swept through Iran in late December 2017. The authorities claimed his death was a suicide. “They asked Najafi a lot of questions about it,” said Derafshan.

Najafi told CHRI on January 8 that Heydari, 22, died in detention at the 12th Police Station in Arak after he was arrested at a protest in the city on December 31.

“I believe that this young man did not take his own life,” Najafi said. “This young man was a protester. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation.”

Derafshan said he and fellow attorney Arash Keykhosravi were also going to be arrested by the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shazand, near Arak in Markazi Province, for giving legal counsel to Najafi, “but the [Intelligence] Ministry in Tehran told us they had blocked it.”

Derafshan and Keykhosravi are also representing the family of Kavous Seyed-Emami, the Iranian-Canadian academic and environmentalist who died in custody in Evin Prison on February 9, 2018. The authorities are similarly claiming that death was a suicide.

According to Derafshan, Najafi has been charged with “organizing with the intention to disturb national security,” “membership in opposition groups,” “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the supreme leader,” “spreading falsehoods,” “disseminating information and news abroad,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “disturbing public peace and order.”

“Many of these charges are one and the same but they don’t have any reason or evidence to back them up,” he said. “Instead, the authorities have summoned and arrested a number of people and put them under pressure to make statements against Mohammad Najafi and accuse him of inciting protests, but none of them have given in, despite persistent questioning.”

In addition to Najafi, five civil rights activities were arrested in Shazand on January 15: Ali Bagheri, Kian Sadeghi, Abbas Safari, Gholamreza Ghasemi and Behzad Alibakhshi, according to Derafshan. All remain in detention except for Safari, who was released on bail at an unknown date.

In the days after Najafi’s arrest, 12 civil rights activists were also summoned to the Intelligence Ministry’s office in Shazand and questioned: Bijan Niou, Alireza Lak, Neda Yousefi, Davoud Rahimi, Ghodrat Abdi, Davoud Fadaei, Saman Gilani, Borzou Jafarifar, Vahid Moradi, Mehdi Rahimi, Mohammad Abedi and Javad Mahmoudi.

“The common theme in the interrogators’ insinuating questions has been whether Mohammad Najafi was organizing the civil rights activists to take part in the protests,” Derafshan told CHRI. “But none of them have made any statements against Mr. Najafi, despite the pressures.”

On January 8, Bagheri, a civil rights activist in Arak, told CHRI that one of Heydari’s relatives had seen evidence of a severe blow to Heydari’s skull before his body was buried.

“Unfortunately, the authorities have behaved badly towards Najafi and Bagheri,” said Derafshan. “They have forced them to wear prison uniforms, shaved their heads and put leg cuffs on them. This is against the rules. They have not been convicted of anything. They are only under temporary detention.”

He added: “The head of the bar association in Arak has had a meeting with the Markazi Province prosecutor to discuss Najafi’s case but for the moment, the situation is that he has been transferred from Arak Prison’s quarantine unit to the public ward and we will go there on Saturday [February 17] to check on him and follow up on his case.”

Pattern of Intimidation

Najafi was previously arrested in October 2016 for wearing a T-shirt honoring Iran’s Green Movement, which grew out of the protests against the disputed result of the country’s 2009 presidential election.

Iran has a documented history of harassing, intimidating and jailing lawyers who have taken on politically sensitive cases.

Well-known human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani is currently serving a 13-year sentence in Evin Prison for the charges of “being awarded the [2009] Nuremberg International Human Rights Award,” “interviewing with media about his clients’ cases,” and “co-founding the Defenders of Human Rights Center.”

In 2010, his colleague Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the charges of “acting against national security,” “collusion and propaganda against the regime,” and “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center. The prominent human rights defender was freed after serving three years but continues to face the threat of imprisonment.

Human rights attorney Hadi Esmailzadeh was imprisoned twice before he died from a heart attack in February 2016 after being sentenced to four years in prison in July 2014 by a Revolutionary Court for the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “membership in the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights.”

“I will never forget that this great man continued to defend us no matter how much the court tried to humiliate him,” Esmailzadeh’s former client, Baha’i leader Mahvash Sabet, told CHRI after being freed from Evin Prison in September 2017.


Iran’s Suppression of December 2017 Unrest Marked by Brutal Violations of Law

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New Briefing Details Beatings and Deaths of Detainees, Intimidation of Families, Denial of Due Process

February 19, 2018—The state crackdown that effectively crushed the protests that erupted across Iran in late December 2017 was marked by an unusually high degree of violence and disregard for the law, according to a new briefing by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

Silencing the Streets, Deaths in Prison: The December 2017 Crackdown in Iran, which is based on extensive interviews with released detainees, the families and attorneys of detainees, and journalists and human rights defenders inside Iran, provides a detailed look at the mass arrests, systematic denial of counsel, campaign of intimidation against detainees and their families, and ill treatment and deaths inside the prisons that characterized the state response to the week-long unrest.

Download full briefing here

“People came out to exercise their legitimate right to public protest,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI. “They came home beaten, too frightened to seek counsel or in coffins.”

Key Findings:

Some 4,970 people were arrested during protests that broke out on December 28, according to the government’s own sources, 90% of them under age 25.
Detainees were denied access to attorneys and threatened with charges that carry the death penalty if they sought counsel.
Multiple reports indicate many of the detainees were beaten.
Detainees were administered pills of an unknown substance, as well as methadone, without the presence of a doctor, in an attempt to depict the detainees as drug addicts.
At least two detainees died during detention. The bodies were quickly buried without an investigation or autopsy, with officials claiming the deaths were suicides.
A third detainee death, unrelated to the protests, was also labeled a “suicide” by officials, indicating a growing pattern of fatal ill treatment in prison and cover-up.
The families of deceased detainees, as well as released detainees and their families, have been under intense pressure by state authorities not to speak publicly.
“From arrests to burials, the authorities in Iran have demonstrated a refusal to allow peaceful protest, disregard for due process, abandonment of their responsibility to respect the safety of detainees, and a concerted effort to cover up rights violations,” said Ghaemi.

“Officials worldwide should register their condemnation of these violations directly with their Iranian counterparts,” he added.

Imprisoned Iranian-American Art Dealer Accuses IRGC of Judicial Interference

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Karan Vafadari: “I don’t think we will be justly treated unless there is greater and more effective international pressure.”

Karan Vafadari Arrested After Obtaining Legal Order to Force IRGC to Vacate His Building”

In a new letter from Evin Prison, Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari has accused Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of pressuring the judiciary to impose heavy sentences on him and his wife, Afarin Neyssari.

Vafadari’s sister, Kateh Vafadari told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 5, 2018, that her brother was arrested “a few days after he got a court order to force the IRGC to vacate one of our ancestral buildings.”

“He was seeking his inheritance in an action that was completely legal but ended up being arrested,” added Kateh Vafadari, who lives in the US, in a phone interview with CHRI.

For the first time since announcing his 27-year prison sentence, Vafadari listed the exact charges he was convicted of: “collusion in plots against national security,” “storing smuggled foreign alcohol,” “possessing my father’s opium pipe,” and having 124 “inappropriate” movies, six packs of playing cards and marijuana.

“I probably won’t get out of Evin Prison before I’m 70,” wrote the 56-year-old.

“Given the IRGC’s influence over the judiciary and their determination to completely ruin our lives, I don’t think we will be justly treated unless there is greater and more effective international pressure. The simple reason is that they want to make an example of us or add us to their list of hostages,” he added.

Kateh Vafadari published her brother’s letter, dated January 20, 2018, on her personal blog on January 31.

At least 12 dual and foreign nationals and foreign permanent residents are being held in Iranian prisons. In November 2017, Reuters reported that at least 30 dual nationals had been arrested by the IRGC since the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015.

A member of the Zoroastrian minority faith, Vafadari managed the Aun Art Gallery with his wife in Tehran before being arrested by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization on July 20, 2016.

In late January 2018, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran, presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati—known for his hardline views and imposing harsh sentences in cases involving those accused of opposing state policies—sentenced Vafadari to 27 years in prison and 124 lashes, and Neyssari to 16 years in prison and 74 lashes. They have also been fined with more than nine billion rials ($243,000 USD).

The exact breakdown of the charges against Neyssari remains unclear.

In his letter, Vafadari said the IRGC had “tried to convince Afarin to give false statements against me, to say I was a member of the Mossad and the CIA… so they could hang me.”

More excerpts from Vafadari’s letter:

– “To show how ridiculous and biased these convictions are and how they are intended to bring the highest prison sentences, it is enough for me to point out that a few months ago some of our broken handicraft pieces were studied by antique experts and if they had truly been antiques, the authorities would have sentenced us to death. That was their intention from the very beginning. I am sure this is the truth. They were looking for money transfer documents that could have been considered money laundering and interference in the country’s financial system.”

– “As innocents, we naively believed that keeping silent and avoiding interviews with the news media could provide an opportunity to resolve this issue in court, particularly after the judicial officials in Evin Prison rejected the initial espionage charges. But Judge Salavati’s ruling, which everyone believes was dictated by the IRGC, destroyed any illusions of fairness, justice, rule of law or autonomy. It’s now clear that without an active intervention, there’s no chance I will be freed in the near future or perhaps ever. Don’t forget I’m 56.”

– “Despite all the tricks and illegal tactics used during our interrogation, we were cleared of the initial charges concerning ‘espionage’ and ‘cooperation with foreign governments against Iran’s interests.’ Not even Judge Salavati could bring such baseless charges against us. But instead, we were convicted of ‘collusion in plots against national security’—another baseless charge… and to try to prove it, all they presented were our ‘feminist videos,’ ‘unacceptable visual works of art,’ and a few emails exchanged with the Prince Claus cultural fund (in Holland).”

– “Even though as a Zoroastrian I’m legally allowed to produce and consume alcohol as a religious minority, … I have been sentenced to a year and a half in prison, 74 lashes and fined about $40,000 for making wine that was for my private consumption.”

– “I was charged with ‘storing smuggled foreign alcohol’ and sentenced to three years in prison and fined $150,000 even though they were gifts from my diplomat friends.”

– “In addition, I was charged with and convicted of: 1) Keeping my father’s opium pipe in a box that I always had as a memento in my storage room. My father used it 40 years ago for treating Parkinson’s, which at the time was an unknown disease in Iran. 2) Having 124 ‘inappropriate’ CDs, 3) Having six packs of playing cards that you can buy from any peddler or gas station, 4) Having marijuana, which was found in our gardener’s house.”

– “It’s unbelievable that Afarin has been sentenced to a year in prison, 50 lashes and a monetary fine for ‘presenting and selling works of art against Islamic values.’ Those who have visited her gallery know this accusation is not true. Although, we did have some ‘inappropriate’ art in our house, which is completely legal.”

Shirin Ebadi: Bill That Restricts Protests to Designated Areas in Iran Adds “More Limits” to Freedom of Speech

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A proposed bill aimed at designating public spaces in Iran for protests will lead to “more limits” on the people’s right to voice their demands, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“No one would attack rallies without a green light from the state,” the Iranian human rights defender told CHRI on February 2, 2018. “It is the state that has attacked protesters for the past 39 years, therefore, these excuses don’t have any meaning other than imposing more limits.”

“Furthermore, the Constitution does not limit rallies to a certain time or place,” added Ebadi. “That means the Constitution allows anyone to rally anywhere at any time, on the condition that he or she does not carry weapons. If we limit this right to one or two places, it means we want to restrict it.”

A week after protests broke out across Iran on December 28, 2017, the Tehran City Council voted on January 7, 2018, to establish a designated area for public demonstrations in the capital city.

“What should people do if they want to criticize and protest against something?” said Tehran city councilman Ahmad Masjed-Jamei after the vote. “We should create a physical space where people can exercise their right to protest.”

On February 1, Abolfazel Abutorabi, a conservative member of the Parliamentary Committee on Councils, told the Parliament’s official news agency that a bill based on Article 27 was being drafted, and would restrict public protests to designated spaces in Tehran.

But not all Tehran City Council members agreed with the measure.

“The law already allows people to hold rallies but there are so many preconditions that you cannot have a lawful rally,” said reformist councilman Mahmoud Mirlowhi on January 8. “When our laws don’t facilitate rallies, the people will break the law rather than try to get a permit.”

Ebadi, a lawyer who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to promote human rights in Iran, told CHRI that politicians should be addressing the problem of state violence.

“The only condition set by Article 27 of the Constitution for holding rallies is that they should be peaceful and without weapons,” she said. “Adding other conditions with the excuse of providing security for the protesters is in reality only intended to limit this right.”

According to Article 27, “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.”

But Abutorabi, the conservative MP representing Isfahan, argued that protests should be restricted to a specific area in Tehran.

“An area for protests has been proposed in this bill to be held at the side of the Parliament building,” said Abutorabi, a former prosecutor.

He continued: “The bill includes provisions for the security of the protests and in some cases requires MPs to respond. For instance, for rallies of 100 people, 300 people, 700 people, 1,000 people and 2,000 people or more, the following lawmakers must appear respectively: the relevant MP, a committee chairperson, a member of the parliamentary chairing committee, the deputy speaker and the speaker.”

The MP’s comments suggest that such a law would criminalize protests held outside state-designated areas, such as in the streets, in front of government offices or at factories and universities.

In Iran, police and security forces often attack peaceful protests with excessive force, using batons, tasers, water cannons and tear gas. Demonstrators have been fired upon but the authorities rarely take responsibility for deaths.

At least 25 people were killed and thousands arrested in Iran’s December 2017 protests.

If approved this month, the protest law could soon face its first tests.

The Iran National Front, a secular political party, has requested a permit to hold a rally on March 5.

In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani on February 1, the party said it wanted to test the president’s recent assurances that his government respects the people’s right to peaceful protest.

“Criticism is the people’s right because the country belongs to them,” said Rouhani on January 8.

Previously, on January 24, seven politicians close to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also asked the Interior Ministry for permission to demonstrate against the government’s economic policies.