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His Excellency Ayatollah Sadegh Ardishir Larijani

Head of the Judiciary

Ministry of Justice

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Your Excellency,

We are writing to express our grave concern about the widespread and serious violations of human rights following the June 12 presidential elections. Human Rights Watch is hopeful that in your new position as Head of the Judiciary, you will act quickly and decisively to ensure the end of these abuses and to investigate and prosecute those responsible for them.

We also urge you to conduct impartial investigations into two earlier cases in which persons died in custody apparently after being subjected to torture and abuse, and to put an end to the practice of holding detainees in unauthorized and illegal places of detention.

Human Rights Watch has expressed alarm at the crackdown on peaceful protestors, political critics, human rights defenders, and journalists. We are particularly concerned about assaults by security forces that have injured hundreds and resulted in the deaths of at least 30. Witnesses have told Human Rights Watch in detail about unprovoked attacks by police and Basij forces against mostly peaceful protestors, and late night raids on homes in residential areas throughout Tehran. We are also aware of reports of similar violence against protestors in other cities.

The Judiciary's spokesperson, Alireza Jamshidi, acknowledged on August 11 that security forces detained around 4,000 people in the post-election period. Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about detainees the government continues to hold without charge or access to lawyers. Recently the Judiciary conducted several sessions of a mass trial in which more than 100 individuals, including prominent reformist politicians, faced vague charges of "conspiracy." The government has also made public the alleged confessions of some of these individuals, including former vice-president Mohammad Ali-Abtahi, confessions where there is strong evidence of coercion. The government continues to deny detainees the right to be represented by lawyers of their choice and to receive free and fair trials.

Human Rights Watch has also collected evidence from released detainees and families of individuals still being held. They report torture and inhumane treatment in detention. Former detainees told Human Rights Watch that authorities physically beat them and threatened them with prolonged confinement if they did not cooperate with their interrogators in making statements incriminating themselves or others in plotting a so-called "velvet revolution" and other politicized charges that involve no criminal offense. According to those we spoke with, interrogators typically questioned detainees about their private lives, including their sexual relationships, and threatened to make these details public. Families of detainees told Human Rights Watch that authorities warned them that they too would face arrest if they spoke out about the detention conditions of their loved ones.

Human Rights Watch calls on Your Excellency to immediately address the range of human rights violations linked to the post-election unrest as well as a number of outstanding cases predating the elections.

Specifically, we urge you to take the following steps:

  • Immediately resolve the cases of dozens of individuals who remain in detention under harsh condition without charge or access to their lawyers. Many of these detainees have endured solitary confinement for more than two months. The Judiciary should release them or charge them with a recognizable criminal offense. For those it detains and charges, it should allow them immediate access to lawyers and families, and bring them immediately before an independent judge with the power to review the legality of their detention and order their release. Those charged should be promptly tried before a court whose proceedings meet international fair trial standards.
  • The Judiciary should investigate all government officials alleged to be responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in prisons, including Kahrizak and Evin, as well as in Basij and police detention centers, and discipline and prosecute those found to be responsible for ordering or carrying out serious abuses.
  • Immediately release Iranian-Canadian blogger Hossein Derakhshan or charge him with a recognizable criminal offense and try him before a court whose proceedings meet international fair trial standards. Derakhshan has been held in detention, largely without access to family or legal counsel, since October 2008. A recently released detainee from Evin prison told Human Rights Watch that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence service is holding him in solitary confinement in a section of the prison under their control. We have reason to believe that he is the alleged "spy" whose "confession" implicated prominent reformists and activists arrested since the presidential election for alleged "velvet revolution" activities.
  • Establish an independent and impartial fact-finding committee to identify those who ordered the crackdown on post-election protesters and the abuse of detainees. Specifically, the committee should investigate the roles of Hussein Taeb, head of Basij Resistance Forces, General Esmaeel Ahamdi Moghaddam, Chief of Police, Hojatoleslam Abdol-Hussein Ramazani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence division, and Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran's General Prosecutor.

Your Excellency, our research indicates that other official or quasi-official bodies, including the Ministry of Intelligence, the police, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps, run secret and unauthorized sites where they detain and interrogate persons arrested on politically-motivated charges. We call on you, in light of the Judiciary's legal authority over detention centers in the Islamic Republic, to investigate these claims and make the results of the investigation public, take immediate steps to end this practice, and hold accountable those responsible.

Your Excellency, we also urge you to move quickly to address serious human rights violations committed prior to the recent election. In particular we request your office look into two egregious cases of death in detention -- the 2003 death in custody of Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist Zahra Kazemi, and the 2007 death in custody of Zahra Baniyaghoub, a 27-year-old medical student. These two cases stand out because of widespread lack of confidence regarding official investigations into their deaths. In Zahra Kazemi's case, although a parliamentary investigative committee put responsibility for her death squarely on agents of the Judiciary, the only prosecution in connection with her death was of a low-ranking Intelligence Ministry official w who was acquitted. In Zahra Baniyaghoub's case, her family, citing signs of beatings on her body, have strongly protested the official verdict of suicide.

We also urge you to secure the release from prison of Silva Harotonian, Kamyar Alaei, and Arash Alaei. The Alaei brothers are medical doctors renowned for their work as HIV/AIDS physicians. Harotonian was an employee of the International Research & Echanges Board (IREX), an organization active in civil society development. All three were convicted on charges of "cooperation with the United States," apparently solely on the basis of their international connections. 

Finally, we urge you secure the release of seven Baha'i community leaders who have been detained since May 2008 on charges of "insulting religious sanctities" and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic. These seven men and women should, at a minimum, be brought before a judge to consider the legality and necessity of their detention, and given the opportunity to answer the charges against them before a court whose proceedings meet international fair trial standards.

Thank you for your immediate attention to these important matters.


Joe Stork

Deputy Director

Middle East and North Africa division

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