Minority-Rights Advocates Sentenced, Imprisoned, Tortured in Iran after Cultural Gathering

Right to Peaceful Assembly, Right to Protection Under Law.

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The right of any groups to gather together peacefully to raise awareness for the issues that affect them might hardly seem notable; an innocuous, naturally occurring behavior to convene and self-advocate. However its safe implementation can only occur in the context and in relation to the surrounding political system. This right in proper democratic contexts does not threaten to tip the political direction into any extreme; indeed it is fundamental to it, where a multitude of opposing groups create a sort of equilibrium against each other and ultimately against authoritative government tyranny. This ‘right to assembly’ also provides both vibrant diversity of opinion and ensures that groups, ultimately their members as individuals, can safely self-advocate.

For Iran’s authoritarian regime, however, even this seemingly minor freedom is an untenable existential threat; for a rivulet of dissent, when joined by enough others, can break the proverbial dam of top-down rule. Thus, the regime also flagrantly disregards the similar Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a state party, which provides that ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities must not be denied the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.

This is the corrupt context that leads to mass arrests, incarceration, and torture of gentle minority dissidence, such as the kind that the Islamist regime recently imposed on two cultural gatherings of Azerbaijani Turks, an ethnic minority in Iran: one on July 6-7, 2018 which takes place at a castle known as Babak Fort on a mountain top near the city of Kaleybar in East Azerbaijan province; the other on August 9-10, 2018 near the city of Meshgin-Shahr in Ardabil province. Both events are a peaceful assembly in the form of an annual cultural festival, accompanied with activities such as singing songs in the Azerbaijani Turkic native tongue, dancing and a hike up Sabalan Mountain. Regardless of the non-violence, the regime was anything but cavalier in its assessment of the cultural activity as existential threat. It proceeded to exert a death grip on even such a modest voice of representation of Azerbaijani Turks.

The regime forces, both police and plainclothes troops, moved in to arrest no less than 120 people taking part in the two events, one held around the birthday of Iran’s Azerbaijani region’s revolutionary hero Babak Khorramdin. Additionally, the purpose of this collection of festivals for the Turks was to discuss grievances regarding the deplorable treatment of their ethnic group, such as to address roadblocks to literacy and use of their native language, and stigma promoted on state-run media channels such as ethnic slurs.  

Those arrested were reportedly beaten by the Islamist regime’s police force before they were imprisoned in a facility in Laroud. According to Amnesty International, there were “eyewitness testimonies describing how security forces used violence against activists they had arrested in and around Kaleybar, including beatings with batons and wooden sticks, kicks and punches to the head, back, chest, and stomach, as well as the use of electroshock weapons.” Reportedly, no medical treatment was provided. Other Azerbaijani Turk activists, in fighting for basic rights of their group, have been subjected to torture, harassment, arbitrary arrest and other forms of systematic oppression. The Islamist regime regards all such activities as divisive to national unity by producing, in the regime’s parlance, “separatist tendencies.”

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Image Courtesy of: Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

† Known activists among those arrested according to Amnesty International: Mehdi Houshmand, Mostafa Parvin, Tohid Amir Amini, Ebrahim Nouri, Ebrahim Nouri, Jaffar Rostamirad, Kiumars Eslami, Mohammad Jolani, Meysam Jolani, Ali Khairjoo, Mohsen Esmaili, Asgar Akbarzadeh, Rahim Gholami, Ali Vaseghi, Saeed Sadeghifar and Mehdi Houshmand


Written by: Sacha A Saidek

*Sacha A Saidek is a computer programmer by trade. Via Middle Eastern studies in general and specifically the heart wrenching stories of dissident Iranian friends,  Sacha's eyes have been opened politically regarding the critical component of democracy,  worldwide, to ensure the progression of humanity. In Sacha's view, this democracy needs to be in place universally, as a sort of parallel to Maslow’s hierarchy at the foundation level. Sacha has a deep interest in helping Iranian people in particular, and takes keen interest in Persian culture and history. They will be taking Persian Cultural Studies (with Farsi language courses) in Fall 2019.

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