Iran: Freedom of Expression and Association in the Kurdish Regions
This 42-page report documents how Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The use of these laws to suppress basic rights, while not new, has greatly intensified since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005.
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- Iran: Freedom of Expression and Association in the Kurdish Regions
- Map of Kurdish regions in Iran
- I. Summary
- II. Recommendations to the Government of Iran
- III. Background
- IV. Limits on Freedoms of Expression
- V. Limits on Freedom of Association
- VI. Legal Standards
- Appendix 1
- Appendix 2
- Appendix 3
Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, Hellman/Hammett Award Winner
June, 2008Press release
January, 2009Press release
May, 2010Press release
(New York) – The Iranian Judiciary should provide urgent medical care to Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand and free him from his unfair detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Kaboudvand, a leading advocate of Kurdish rights in Iran, is serving an 11-year sentence on politically motivated charges. He suffered what may have been a stroke on July 15, 2010, and his family says he is not getting the medical attention he needs.
On July 20, Kaboudvand wrote an open letter to the public prosecutor’s office saying that he experienced “brain and neurological problems… that caused loss of consciousness during the afternoon of July 15.” Prison authorities transferred him to the Evin prison clinic, which diagnosed a sharp rise in his blood pressure, but failed to treat him. In his letter, Kaboudvand wrote that since he lost consciousness he has been experiencing “intense light-headedness and neurological issues associated with sensory, motion and sight difficulties.” His lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told Human Rights Watch that on July 15 she appealed to judiciary officials to allow Kaboudvand access to the medical treatment he needs, but that her request has gone unanswered.
“Kaboudvand needs an immediate and thorough assessment of his worsening condition. Denying a prisoner necessary medical care is both cruel and unlawful,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iranian authorities are responsible for his well-being and should immediately ensure he can get the medical attention he needs.”
Kaboudvand has suffered two heart attacks since his arrest and detention in July 2007. Information about Kaboudvand’s condition comes on the heels of reports by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Amnesty International indicating that prison authorities are systematically denying needed medical care to political prisoners.
International and Iranian law requires prison authorities to provide detainees with adequate medical care. Iran’s State Prison Organization regulations state that if necessary detainees must be transferred to a hospital outside the prison facility. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners require that authorities transfer prisoners needing specialist treatment to specialized institutions, including civilian hospitals.
On July 23, Kaboudvand’s sister told Human Rights Watch that authorities finally allowed her brother to see a neurologist in prison earlier that day. She said that instead of examining her brother thoroughly or administering tests, the doctor prescribed a series of pills and instructed Kaboudvand to take them daily without telling him what they were. Kaboudvand’s sister also told Human Rights Watch that authorities have denied him visitation rights and allow him to talk on the phone for only two minutes a day.
Kaboudvand is a prominent human rights defender, journalist, and founder in 2005 of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK). The group grew to include 200 local reporters throughout the Kurdish regions of Iran and provided timely reports in the now banned newspaper Payam-e Mardom (Message of the People), of which Kaboudvand was the managing director and editor.
Intelligence agents arrested Kaboudvand on July 1, 2007, and took him to Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is under Intelligence Ministry control and is used to detain political prisoners. They held him without charge in solitary confinement for nearly six months. In May 2008, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Kaboudvand to 10 years in prison for “acting against national security” by establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan, and another year for “widespread propaganda against the system by disseminating news, opposing Islamic penal laws by publicizing punishments such as stoning and executions, and advocating on behalf of political prisoners.” In October 2008, Branch 54 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld his sentence.
Kaboudvand is among dozens of Kurdish dissidents imprisoned by Iranian authorities, some of them on death row. The authorities routinely accuse Kurdish dissidents, including civil society activists, of belonging to armed separatist groups. Iran’s revolutionary courts have convicted many Kurdish dissidents of moharebeh, or “enmity with God.” Under articles 186 and 190-91 of Iran’s penal code, anyone charged with taking up arms against the state, or belonging to organizations that take up arms against the government, may be considered guilty of moharebeh and sentenced to death. Earlier this year, authorities executed Farzad Kamangar and three other Kurdish dissidents on these charges.
Currently, 16 Kurdish dissidents face execution, they are: Zeynab Jalalian, Rostam Arkia, Hossein Khezri, Anvar Rostami, Mohammad Amin Abdolahi, Ghader Mohammadzadeh, Habibollah Latifi, Sherko Moarefi, Mostafa Salimi, Hassan Tali, Iraj Mohammadi, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agoushi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Sayed Sami Hosseini, and Sayed Jamal Mohammadi.
Human Rights Watch has previously called on the Iranian government to end Kaboudvand’s unjust sentence and allow him access to urgent medical care. In 2009, Human Rights Watch awarded Kabouvand a Hellman/Hammett grant given to writers who face persecution for criticizing officials or policies, or writing about controversial topics.
“The Iranian authorities have unfairly jailed Kaboudvand because of his work as a human rights defender and journalist promoting ethnic minority rights,” Stork said. “Now they appear to be denying him appropriate medical assessment as a way of further punishing him for his peaceful political activities.”
(New York) – Iranian authorities executed five prisoners, four of them ethnic Kurds, without warning their families, and have so far refused to release their bodies, Human Rights Watch said today. These executions follow convictions that appear to have relied on the use of torture.
The Kurdish prisoners – Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heidarian, Farhad Vakili, and Shirin Alam Holi – were executed by hanging on the morning of May 9, 2010, in Tehran’s Evin prison, said a statement released by the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s office. The government also executed a fifth prisoner, Mehdi Eslamian, an alleged member of a banned pro-monarchist group. Authorities maintain that all five were engaged in “terrorist operations, including involvement in the bombing of government and public centers in various Iranian cities.”
“These hangings of four Kurdish prisoners are the latest example of the government’s unfair use of the death penalty against ethnic minority dissidents,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The judiciary routinely accuses Kurdish dissidents, including civil society activists, of belonging to armed separatist groups and sentences them to death in an effort to crush dissent.”
The Tehran prosecutor’s statement alleged that Kamangar, Heidarian, Vakili, and Alam Holi had confessed to being members of the outlawed Free Life Party of Kurdistan, or PJAK, and were involved in a series of bomb plots in northwestern Iran as well as Tehran. PJAK is widely regarded by analysts to be an Iranian affiliate of the banned Turkish Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK.
The government accused the fifth prisoner, Eslamian, of involvement in the bombing of a religious site in the southern city of Shiraz in 2008. Authorities alleged that Eslamian was a supporter of the pro-monarchist Anjoman-e Padeshahi, or the Kingdom Assembly. The government executed two other alleged members of this group, Arash Ramanipour and Mohammad-Reza Ali Zamani, earlier this year.
Branch 30 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Kamangar, Heidarian and Vakil to death on February 25, 2008. Khalil Bahramian, one of the lawyers representing Kamangar who was at the closed-door trial of the three men, said that gross irregularities, including the absence of a jury, plagued the initial trial and subsequent appellate court decisions upholding the convictions. Bahramian told the BBC on Sunday that Kamangar’s trial lasted all of 10 minutes, and that when Bahramian asked permission to present his client’s case, the judge simply instructed him to “write down [his] concerns.”
“In the end [the judge] never heard what I had to say,” Bahramian told the BBC. He sharply denied that his client was in any way involved with PJAK or any other terrorist group.
In addition to finding the five persons guilty of various national security crimes, the judiciary sentenced all five to death after convicting them of the crime of moharebeh, or “enmity with God.” Under articles 186 and 190-91 of Iran’s penal code, anyone charged with taking up arms against the state, or belonging to organizations that take up arms against the government, may be considered guilty of moharebeh and sentenced to death.
Security forces arrested Kamangar, a superintendent of high schools in the city of Kamyaran in July 2006 in Tehran. In February 2008, Bahramian informed Human Rights Watch that his client had alleged numerous instances of abuse and torture at the hands of prison authorities in Sanandaj, Kermanshah, and Tehran. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a letter Kamangar wrote and smuggled out of prison in which he detailed his torture, including threats of sexual violence. Bahramian also represented Eslamian.
Vakili, Heidarian, and Alam Holi made similar allegations in prison letters, indicating that authorities used torture to secure confessions from them. In a series of letters from prison, Alam Holi, a 28-year-old Kurdish woman accused of bombing a vehicle at a Revolutionary Guards compound in Tehran, described numerous instances of physical and psychological torture suffered at the hands of her captors, including beatings with cables and electric batons.
The May 9 executions were carried out unannounced – the government informed neither the lawyers nor the families of the prisoners, Bahramian and family members said. Bahramian told the BBC that “the law requires that I be informed regarding my two clients… but I was not informed [of their execution] in any way.” One of Kamangar’s brothers told the BBC that the families learned about the executions from media reports.
A family member of one of the other prisoners told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have so far prevented delivery of their bodies to the families for burial. Islamic custom generally requires burials to take place as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours.
“Iran’s judiciary should immediately issue a moratorium on all executions,” Stork said. “This includes the 17 Kurdish dissidents known to be on death row.”
The 17 Kurds presently facing execution are: Rostam Arkia, Hossein Khezri, Anvar Rostami, Mohammad Amin Abdolahi, Ghader Mohammadzadeh, Zeynab Jalalian, Habibollah Latifi, Sherko Moarefi, Mostafa Salimi, Hassan Tali, Iraj Mohammadi, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agoushi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Sayed Sami Hosseini, Sayed Jamal Mohammadi, and Aziz Mohammadzadeh.
Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel and inhumane nature.