(Washington) - Members of two groups active in peaceful demonstrations following the disputed June presidential elections have been accused of - and in some cases formally charged with - crimes that carry the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today.
Iranian authorities have filed charges of "being at enmity with God" against members of the Liberal Student and Alumni Association and have detained people working with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters and accused them of membership in an armed opposition group.
"The authorities should be working to ensure the rights and safety of citizens exercising their rights to gather peacefully," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead, they are preparing the groundwork to impose the harshest of punishments."
In the context of Iranian laws, the vaguely defined charge of "being at enmity with God" can be applied to membership in or support for an organization that seeks to overthrow the Islamic Republic. High-ranking clerical members of the government have accused opposition groups of fueling the ongoing unrest and of "sedition."
On January 1, Ayatollah Seyyed Yousef Tabatabaee Nejad, the Friday prayer leader of the city of Esfehan and a member of the Assembly of Experts (an elected body charged with selecting the Supreme Leader), claimed that demonstrators were taking orders from the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization. Mujahedin-e Khalq is an Iraq-based opposition group that has previously taken up arms against the Iranian government.
Authorities have accused both the Liberal Student and Alumni Association and the Committee of Human Rights Reporters of ties to the Mujahedin-e Khalq. Neither Ayatollah Tabatabaee Nejad nor other authorities have furnished any proof to support his accusation.
The Liberal Student and Alumni Association (LSSA), a four-year-old campus group, has been active in peaceful demonstrations following the disputed presidential election in June.
On November 19, 2009, security forces arrested seven members of the group as they were leaving a meeting at the home of Ehsan Dolatshah. Four have since been released on bail, but Mehrdad Bozorg, Dolatshah, and Sina Shokohi remain in detention. The authorities have charged Bozorg and Dolatshah with "being at enmity with God" for their alleged affiliation with Mojahedin-e Khalq. On December 24, state-run television broadcast the two men "confessing" to having ties to Mojahedin-e Khalq. They have not had access to lawyers and are awaiting trial.
Saeed Ghaseminejad, a spokesperson for the group, told Human Rights Watch that the two men's statements were obtained under severe physical duress. The group's website says that other members who were released have reported physical abuse at the hands of their interrogators and that those who remain in detention suffered particularly harsh treatment.
A member of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR) who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that interrogators at Evin Prison in Teheran have threatened to bring similar charges against members of that group. The Committee consists of independent activists who have been monitoring human rights violations in Iran for nearly five years. They have also been peaceful participants in demonstrations following the elections.
On the evening of December 20, security forces in Enqelab Square in Tehran arrested Shiva Nazar Ahari, Koohyar Goodarzi, and Saeed Haeri, all members of the group. The three were on a bus about to leave for Qom, where they had planned to attend the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. A member of the group told Human Rights Watch that an interrogator known to the group by the name of "Alavi" boarded the bus and read their names from a list, after which security forces detained the three. On January 2, two other members of the group, Parisa Kakai and Mehrdad Rahimi, were arrested when they responded to a summons to report to the Intelligence Ministry in Teheran.
Authorities are also holding in Evin Prison two other members of the group detained since December 1, Saeed Kalanaki and Saeed Jalalifar. None of the detainees have been allowed access to lawyers or have been formally charged.
A member of the group who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that on December 29, interrogator "Alavi" directed Ahari, Kalanaki, and Jalalifar to ask members of the group to shut down the group's website. The person said that "Alavi" himself got on the phone to threaten the group with "severe consequences" if they did not obey and accused the group of links with Mujahedin-e Khalq.
Members report that detainees from the group face severe pressure to confess falsely to having links with Mojahedin-e Khalq. The group denies having any connection to that organization.
"Peaceful protesters should be free, not in jail facing harsh penalties," Stork said. "If authorities have credible evidence that anyone has engaged in violence, let them prove it in fair and open trials."