The Iranian government should immediately release 19 students and activists arrested in May and June on apparently politically motivated charges, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the authorities have been subjecting them to abuse to coerce confessions.
On July 24, the families of detained students Majid Tavakoli, Ahmad Ghasaban, and Ehsan Mansouri sent an open letter to Ayatollah Shahrudi, head of the Judiciary, about the physical and psychological abuse of their sons in section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, a security section of the prison where Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of prisoner abuse, including torture to coerce confessions.
Following two visits with their sons, the families alleged that authorities have subjected them to 24-hour interrogation sessions, sleep deprivation, and threats of harming the prisoners and their families. The families also said that the detainees had been confined in cells with dangerous convicted prisoners, beaten with cables and fists, and forced to remain standing for long periods of time.
“Reports that Iranian authorities have beaten and threatened these students to obtain confessions are all too consistent with accounts we have collected in the past,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should release these 19 students and activists immediately.”
The three students were among eight whom agents of the Ministry of Intelligence arrested in May on charges of “insulting state leaders,” “inciting public opinion,” and “printing inflammatory and derogatory materials” in student publications. The students consistently maintained that the publications were forged and that they had no role in producing them. On July 18, five of the students were released on bail.
Six additional students were arrested on July 9 during a peaceful demonstration to protest the detentions outside the main gate of Amir Kabir University. They were holding a sit-in at the university to commemorate the anniversary of extensive student protests in July 1999 that the government violently suppressed. According to reports from activists, police and plainclothes security agents beat and arrested the six students and transferred them to Evin section 209.
Later that day, at 11:30 a.m, plainclothes officers arrived at the Office of the Alumni Association of Iran. They fired in the air before forcefully entering the premises and arresting 10 students and activists. The police then closed down the offices.
The Office of the Alumni Association of Iran is legally registered in accordance with amendment 10 of the Law of Political Parties. According to Iranian law, written notices and court appearances are required for shutting down legally registered organizations.
On July 10, Alireza Jamshidi, the official spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary, confirmed these arrests. He denied that any of the detainees were students and said that the charges against them related to “security issues,” including “gathering illegally” and “colluding to act illegally.”
Since the July 9 arrests, security officials stormed the homes of seven of the detainees and confiscated their personal belongings.
On July 18, security agents ransacked the home of Abdollah Momeni, bringing him along from prison in handcuffs. According to activists who met with Momeni’s family following the search, Momeni’s face and body showed visible signs of beatings, and he appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight during his nine days in custody. Security agents reportedly conducted the other home searches in a similar fashion.
According to sources in Iran who have been in touch with Momeni’s family, security agents have been attempting to force him to confess to acts he has not committed, such as being connected to forces outside the country who are attempting to implement a “soft revolution.”
International human rights law protects detainees from mistreatment, including forced “confessions.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, protects the right of every person “[n]ot to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.”
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the well-being of 19-year-old Amir Yaghoub Ali, a student supporter of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which aims to eliminate discriminatory laws against women.
On the evening of July 11, Yaghoub Ali was collecting signatures at Tehran’s Andishe Park on Shariati Street. Park security officers, after detaining him in the park’s security headquarters, transferred him to the 104th police station in Niloufar Square, where he spent the night. The next morning, authorities transferred him to the Revolutionary Court on Moallem Street, where Judge Sobhani ordered that he continue to be held pending completion of investigations into his case. His mother and sister were not able to obtain information about their son either at the police station or the courthouse on July 11. Upon their return to the court on July 12, Judge Sobhani informed them that he had ordered Yaghoub Ali’s transfer to Evin section 209.
Activists in Iran told Human Rights Watch that authorities are particularly vindictive toward male supporters of campaigns for women’s rights. A witness to the peaceful women’s protest of March 8, 2006 in Tehran’s Daneshjoo Park told Human Rights Watch that when security and police forces attacked the gathering with batons in order to disperse the crowds, they severely beat the men who were present.
The names of the students arrested on July 9 in front of the main gate of Amir Kabir University are:
1. Bahareh Hedayat
2. Mohammad Hashemi
3. Ali Niko-Nesbati
4. Mehdi Arabshahi
5. Hanif Yazdani
6. Ali Veghfi
The names of the students and activists arrested on July 9 at the Office of the Alumni Association are:
1. Abdollah Momeni
2. Bahram Fayazi
3. Morteza Eslahchi
4. Mojtaba Bayat
5. Habib Haji-Heidari
6. Massoud Habibi
7. Saieed Hosseinia
8. Arash Khandel
9. Ashkan Gheysvandi
10. Ezatollah Ghalandari
11. Mohammad Hossein Mehrzad
Activists who have been in contact with the detainees’ families have confirmed to Human Rights Watch that at least eight persons detained on July 9 are being held in solitary confinement. They are:
1. Bahareh Hedayat
2. Mojtaba Bayat
3. Abdollah Momeni
4. Ali Niko-Nesbati
5. Hanif Yazdani
6. Ali Veghfi
7. Mehdi Arabshahi
8. Mohammad Hashemi