(New York) - The Iranian Judiciary should immediately release six women arrested in January and early February 2010, apparently in connection with their peaceful activities on behalf of the Mourning Mothers, Human Rights Watch said today.
Mourning Mothers is a civil society group established in June 2009 by mothers whose children lost their lives in state-sanctioned violence following Iran's disputed June 12 election. In recent months many Iranians have expressed support for the group.
"Supporters of the Mourning Mothers, like other Iranian civil society activists, are apparently being locked up for their public show of solidarity on behalf of the group," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These women have now spent weeks in detention without being allowed to see their families or having access to their lawyers."
In the latest arrests, Intelligence Ministry agents arrested five supporters of the group in their homes during the evening or early morning hours of February 6 and 8. Those detained are Omolbanin Ebrahimi, Elham Ahsani, Jila Karamzadeh-Makvandi, Fatemeh Rastegari, and Leila Seifollahi.
A sixth supporter, Farzaneh Zeinali, was among 32 Mourning Mothers supporters arrested on January 9, when they attempted to gather in Laleh Park, where the group held its peaceful vigils. Authorities gradually released 31 of them over the following few days, but Zeinali remains in detention nearly two months later.
It is not clear whether authorities have informed the women of the reasons for their arrest, and they have not charged any of the detainees with any offense, Human Rights Watch said.
Ahsani's mother told Human Rights Watch that six intelligence agents entered the family home on February 8, conducted a search and confiscated several items that belonged to her daughter. They then told Ahsani to come with them. When Ahsani's mother asked why, the arresting officers said that they had "questions for her regarding events that took place after the elections." They also said they were taking her to Evin Prison.
Her mother said that Ahsani was especially active with a registered civil society organization that provides social services to disadvantaged mothers and their children in Tehran. She had also attended one or two gatherings organized by the Mourning Mothers. The family later learned that it was Ahsani's participation in those gatherings that led to her arrest.
Another family member of a detained Mourning Mothers supporter told Human Rights Watch that Intelligence Ministry agents entered their home with a general search warrant, allowing the agents to inspect the premises of anyone suspected of being involved in unlawful activities during the past several months. They searched the home and confiscated personal items, including a computer, CDs, and notebooks. The agents refused to provide any information about why the woman was being detained, only saying that she would be transferred to Evin Prison.
A statement released by the Mourning Mothers on February 21 indicates that the six supporters are in Section 209 of Evin Prison, which is administered by the Intelligence Ministry. The families of these women gather in front of Evin Prison every night from about 8 to 11 p.m., along with many other families whose loved ones have been imprisoned in Evin during the past eight months.
Several of the families of the six arrested women were able to contact their loved ones by phone. One family member told Human Rights Watch that the phone conversations are very short and strictly monitored by guards. "She only said, ‘I am well, don't be worried,'" this person said. "The conversation usually takes 1 to 2 minutes ... sometimes I ask her questions, and she simply answers yes or no."
Families are often forced to go back and forth between Evin Prison and Revolutionary Court branch offices in search of any information regarding their loved ones. One family member indicated that prison authorities have prevented lawyers hired by the families from visiting the women for the purpose of signing retainer letters - a right granted to all detainees under Iranian law.
Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, prohibits arbitrary detention. Article 9 also states that anyone arrested should be informed, at the time of their arrest, of the reasons for their detention, should be "promptly" informed of any criminal charges, and should be "brought promptly" before a judge to review their detention. The Covenant also requires Iran to respect the right to freedom of association with others, and to peaceful assembly.