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Ali Younesi during an interview with Iranian Student News Agency after winning a gold medal as a member of Iran’s national team during the 12th International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics. © 2019 ISNA News 

(Beirut) – Iranian authorities have detained two students from Sharif University in Tehran in solitary confinement for nearly two months, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities should release the two students immediately – unless they can promptly charge them with a recognizable crime – and ensure all their due process rights.

The authorities arrested Ali Younesi, 20, on a Tehran street on April 10, 2020, then took him to his house with blood on his face to search his belongings, his sister told Human Rights Watch on May 29. His friend, Amirhossein Moradi, also 20, was arrested the same day, according to the Younesi family. On May 5, Gholamhossein Esmaili, the judiciary’s spokesperson, accused the two students, without citing any evidence, of having ties to anti-revolutionary groups, including the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), and of pursuing “destructive” actions.

“Iranian authorities have a history of targeting dissidents’ family members on bogus charges, and after nearly two months, they have failed to provide an iota of evidence against Younesi and Moradi,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The prolonged solitary confinement, lack of access to a lawyer, and the judiciary’s history of coerced confessions signal that there’s almost zero chance that the due process rights of these two students will be respected.”

The MKO is an Iranian opposition group currently based in Albania. In 2005, Human Rights Watch documented abuses by the group against its own members when it maintained a presence in Iraq. Younesi’s family has denied the accusation of ties to the group and said that authorities are using his parents’ former membership in the group as an excuse.

On April 21, Reza Younesi, Ali Younesi’s brother, tweeted that authorities had severely beaten his brother at the time of his arrest. They had also arrested his parents briefly and interrogated them for four or five hours. Younesi’s family said that the detained students have not had access to a lawyer and remain in solitary confinement. “He last called on May 21,” his sister said. “His voice was tired. He said he was still being interrogated.” The authorities have only allowed Younesi to make a few brief phone calls and have not permitted the family to visit, she said.

The Iranian authorities have a history of targeting family members in Iran of those who have real or perceived ties with the MKO, a banned organization in Iran that was disarmed after the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to Amnesty International, following the post-June 2009 election protests, the authorities arrested several people who had relatives with a past or current association with opposition groups, including the MKO.

As recently as 2014, the authorities executed Gholamreza Khosravi, convicted of helping the group, on the charge of “enmity against God” in a case that was marked with serious due process violations. On May 7, the National Council of Resistance, the political wing of the MKO, published the names of 18 other “supporters” who they say have been arrested over the past few months.

International treaty bodies and United Nations special rapporteurs on torture have concluded that prolonged solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment that violates human rights.

Article 48 of Iran’s criminal procedure law says that access to lawyers for those who face national security charges is limited to a list of lawyers approved by the judiciary. International law guarantees anyone accused of a crime access to a lawyer at all stages of criminal proceedings, including during the investigation, the pretrial proceedings, and during the trial itself. Under Article 1 of the UN basic principles of the role of a lawyer, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.”

“Arresting and holding these two college students in solitary confinement for two months without any credible evidence would be unreasonable at any time, but exposing them to prison conditions at the time of a pandemic adds to the concern,” Page said.

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