Sunday, April 26, 2009

American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi on hunger strike for past five days

Reporters Without Borders: Roxana Saberi, the young American-Iranian journalist who was sentenced to eight years in prison on a spying charge in Tehran on 18 April, has been on hunger strike for the past five days, her father has told Reporters Without Borders. He said she called him today from prison to tell him this. She is “determined and ready to go all the way,” Reza Saberi said, adding that he was “very worried.”

“We voice our complete solidarity with Roxana Saberi, who was unjustly arrested and convicted in a trial lacking any transparency,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Her decision to go on hunger strike, a last-ditch form of protest, is an act of rebellion against a fundamental injustice.”

The press freedom organisation added : “Saberi must know that she is not alone. Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists and 35 other press freedom organisations, as well as Iranian human rights activists and journalists, are all supporting her and demanding her release. We will not abandon her.”

Saberi’s lawyer was not allowed to speak at her trial, held behind closed doors on 13 April, five days before the verdict was issued. He has filed an appeal against her conviction. She will be 32 tomorrow.

Saberi was arrested at the start of February although her arrest was not revealed until the start of the following month. The daughter of an Iranian father who lives in the United States and who acquired US citizenship, Saberi moved to Iran six years ago and worked for various international news media including the BBC, Fox News and the US public radio network NPR.

She was initially accused of working illegally as a journalist but was finally tried for “spying” for the United States, a charge that the Iranian authorities often use to silence outspoken journalists. Several American-Iranian journalists have been arrested in Iran in recent years but Saberi is the first one to be tried and given a jail sentence.

Seven journalists are currently imprisoned in Iran, which was ranked 166th out of 173 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”

Read 24 April’s press release "International support for Roxana Saberi ahead for her birthday"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Student under critical condition in 209 Evin

Esmaiil Salmanpour, member of Student association of Amirkabir University, who was arrested on 6 February 2009 for participating in Bazargan's commemoration day ceremony with unspecific reasons, has been transferred to Evin clinic because of extreme physical conditions.

Human Right activists have reported that Mr. Salmanpour has had unusual weight loss, his hair was shaved and he did not seem to be physiologically apt. According to this report, the reason for the loss of weight is not clear, since this student has been kept in solitary confinement , under intense interrogation, all during his detention and while he was on hunger strike for several days.

He has not been allowed any visits by family or attorney so far. He is kept in incommunicado with the outside world as an extra method of pressure, known as the white torture.

Apart from Esmaiil Salmanpour, 8 other Amirkabir University students are under detention and extreme pressure in solitary confinement of 209 Evin prison, namely: Majid Tavakoli, Hossein Tarkoshvand, Kourosh Daneshyar, Ahmad Ghassaban, Nariaman Mostafavi, Mehdi Mashayekhi, Yasser Torkaman, Abbas Hakimzadeh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bahman Ghobadi, Iranian filmmaker, has written an open letter following the arrest and conviction of Roxana Saberi

The text of Bahman Ghobadi's letter is the following:

"To Roxana Saberi, Iranian with an American passeport"

If I kept quiet until now, it was for her sake. If today I speak, it is for her sake.

She is my friend, my fiancée, and my companion. An intelligent and talented young woman, whom I have always admired.

It was the 31st of January. The day of my birthday. That morning, she called to say she would pick me up so we would go out together. She never came. I called on her mobile, but it was off, and for two-three days I had no idea what had happened to her. I went to her apartment, and since we had each other's keys, I went in, but she wasn't there. Two days later, she called and said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go to Zahedan." I got angry: why hadn't she said anything to me? I told her I didn't believe her, and again she said: "Forgive me my dear, I had to go." And the line was cut. I waited for her to call back. But she didn't call back. She didn't call back.
I left for Zahedan. I looked for her in every hotel, but nobody had ever heard her name. For ten days, thousands of wild thoughts came to my mind. Until I learned, through her father, she had been arrested. I thought it was a joke.

I thought it was a misunderstanding and that she would be released after two or three days. But days went by and I had no news from her. I started to worry and knocked on every door for help, until I understood what had happened.

It is with tears in my eyes that I say she is innocent and guiltless. It is me, who has known her for years, and shared every moment with her, who declares it. She was always busy reading and doing her research. Nothing else. During all these years I've known her, she wouldn't go anywhere without letting me know, nor would do anything without asking my advice. To her friends, her family, everyone that surrounded her, she had given no signs of unreasonable behavior. How come someone who would spend days without going out of her apartment, except to see me; someone who, like a Japanese lady, would carefully spend her money, and had sometimes trouble making a living; someone who was looking for a sponsor to get in contact with a local publisher so her book would be printed here (in Iran); could now be charged with a spying accusation?! We all know – no, we have all seen in movies – that spies are malicious and sneaky, that they peep around for information, and that they are very well paid.
And now my heart is full of sorrow. Because it is me who incited her to stay here. And now I can't do anything for her. Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it.
At the beginning of our relationship, she wanted to go back to the United States. She would have liked us to go together. But I insisted for her to stay until my new film was over. She really wanted to leave Iran. And I kept her from it. And now I am devastated, for it is because of me she has been subject to these events. These past years, I have been subject to a serious depression. Why? Because my movie had been banned, and released on the black market. My next movie was not given an authorization, and I was forced to stay at home. If I've been able to stand it until today, it is thanks to the presence and help that she provided me with.
Since I had no authorization for my last movie, I was nervous and ill-tempered. And she was always there to calm me down.
Roxana wanted to leave Iran. I kept her from it. She is the one who took care of me while I was depressed. Then I convinced her to stay, I wanted her to write the book she had started in her head. I accompanied her, and thanks to my friends and contacts, I knocked on every door and was able to set up meetings with film makers, artists, sociologists, politics, and others. I would go with her myself.
She was absorbed by her book, to the point that she could stay and bear it all, until my film would be finished, and we would leave together.
Roxana's book was a praise to Iran. The manuscripts exist, and it will certainly be published one day, and all will see it. But why have they said nothing? All those who have talked, worked and sat with her, and who know how guiltless she is.

I am writing this letter for I am worried about her. I am worried about her health. I heard she was depressed and cried all the time. She is very sensitive. To the point she refuses to touch her food.
My letter is a desperate call to all statesmen and politics, and to all those who can do something to help. From the other side of the ocean, the Americans have protested against her imprisonment, because she is an American citizen. But I say no, she is Iranian, and she loves Iran. I beg you, let her go! I beg you not to throw her in the midst of you political games! She is too weak and too pure to take part in your games. Let me be present at her trial, sit next to her wise father and gentle mother, and testify she is without guilt or reproach.

However, I am optimistic about her release, and I firmly hope the verdict will be cancelled in the next stage of the trial.

My Iranian girl with Japanese eyes and an American ID, is in jail. Shame on me! Shame on us!

Bahman Ghobadi
April 21st, 2009.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ronak Safazadeh Sentenced to 6 Years Mandatory Prison

Change for Equality: The sentence of Ronak Safazadeh, women’s rights activist, was issued to Mr. Mohammad Sharif, her defense lawyer. According to the ruling of the court, Ronak Safazadeh has been sentenced to serve 6 years in prison. The courts acquitted Ronak, on the charge of enmity with god, of which she was accused in this case. Dr. Sharif, the lawyer representing Ronak intends to object to the ruling by the court.

Dr. Sharif explained further: “my client was acquitted on the charge of enmity with god, but on the issue of membership in Pejak, and in reference to Article 499 of the Penal Code, she was sentenced to 5 years mandatory prison sentence and with respect to spreading of propaganda against the state and in favor of Pejak she was sentenced to one year mandatory prison sentence. In accordance with the Articles in the Penal Code relating to the charges against her, my client will be serving her prison term in the city where the crime was committed, meaning Sanandaj. Clearly given the nature of this case, I will object to the ruling of the court, so that the appeals court can make the final ruling in the case pending against my client.”

With respect to Ronak’s membership in the political opposition group Pejak, Mohammad Sharif had the following to add: “the activities of my client were limited to activities within the Azar Mehr Women’s NGO, and so her activities in Pejak were carried out toward this end as well. My client aimed to research “the reasons for women’s participation in Pejak under difficult conditions.” We hope that the appeals court will take into consideration the fact that my client’s activities were limited to the women’s movement and examination of women’s issues in this relation and overturn the sentence issued in this case.”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Students Held in Incommunicado Detention Are At Risk of Torture

International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran:
(4 April 2009) The Iranian government should immediately and unconditionally release all detained students the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The students are being held in incommunicado detention in Tehran, Rejaee Shahr and Isfahan. The Campaign is seriously concerned for their safety and high risk of torture.

On 23 February 2009, the Amir Kabir University campus was violently attacked by government forces. Students were protesting the burial of “unknown martyrs” on their campus. The following day, 24 February 2009, security agents attacked the homes of four Amir Kabir students, Ahmad Ghasaban, Nariman Mostafavi, Mehdi Mashayekhi and Abbas Hakimzadeh. All four were detained. Previously, on 5 February 2009, four other Amir Kabir University students were detained. Majid Tavakoli, Hossein Torkashvand, Esmael Salmanpour and Koursh Daneshyar were arrested for participating in a ceremony to honor Mehdi Bazargan, the first Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic. The eight students are all being held in Evin Prison in Tehran.

In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) on 6 March 2009, Judge Hadad, the Deputy of the Security Prosecution Court, was asked him about the situation of the four students arrested on 24 February. He said, “We have been after these people for a long time. This group planned and implemented radical student actions and they disseminated and published false information in Amir Kabir News. They were also being interviewed by radio services abroad. This group of students conducted the majority of these activities.”
“It is a violation of due process to announce charges against detainees publicly while their attorneys have not been allowed to visit them or even read their files,” Hadi Ghaemi, the Campaign’s spokesperson, said.

“The students’ colleagues and family are seriously concerned they are being tortured to make false confessions. Any confessions obtained under such circumstances should be impermissible by any court,” he added.

Brief phone conversations of the eight students with their families indicate they are likely being tortured. Some of the students, including Hakimzadeh and Torkashvand, have not been allowed to contact their families at all. Hakimzadeh is also critically ill and requires special medical treatment. Any effort by family members and attorneys to visit the students and ask for their release has had no effect.

Security and judiciary forces have not stopped at targeting students. During New Year Celebrations, family and friends of the detained students gathered in front of Evin Prison to show their support. The gathering led to the detention of Bahareh Hedayat, Milad Asadi, Mehdi Arabshahi, Majid Dari, Saeed Fayzolahzadeh, Hamed Azizi, Nariman Mostafavi’s mother and Milad Asadi’s parents. Following these detentions, Farid Hashemi and Amin Nazari, members of the Office to Foster Unity (Daftar e Tahkim Vahdat) were arrested when they went to the security office to ask for the release their colleagues. All these detainees were held in Darabad Police Station and ill-treated, causing Judge Matteen Rasekh to issue an apology. The detainees were released over the course of three days, with the last being released on 23 March 2009.
The Campaign has consistently reported on the relentless surveillance and targeting of university students. A report issued on National Student Day in November 2008 included an alert on surveillance of Majid Tavakoli. For the past three years, Tavakoli and three other students have been the subject of an anti-Islamic defamation case, even though the prosecution hasn’t met Iranian and international standards of fair trials. The three accused students in the case, including Tavakoli, spent 15 months in jail under severe pressure, ill treatment and torture despite the fact that they weren’t found guilty by a court. After their release, not only were they denied the opportunity to continue their studies, but their daily lives were monitored constantly by security forces. In a short phone call to his family, Tavakoli told them that he is still being interrogated with regard to this case.

Regarding the arrest of Tavakoli and others on 5 February, Judge Hadad told ISNA, “Seven people were arrested in the illegal ceremony to honor Bazargan. All of them have records and one of them is Majid Tavakoli, who is the main accused in the anti Islam defamation case at Amir Kabir University. These people were being monitored and pursued by security and judiciary forces for some time.”

“The surveillance and detentions of innocent students is not justifiable and the words of Judge Hadad once again show that the Iranian Judiciary works in concert with the Intelligence Ministry,” Ghaemi said. “Hadad is the presiding judge and should make clear under which laws and regulations students can be followed and arrested without judicial warrants and without being formally charged,” he added.

Another student, Shabnam Madadzadeh, a student at Teacher Training University and a member of the Students Union, was arrested on the street after being surveilled. She was abducted while on her way to attend the Students’ Union meeting in Tehran on 19 November 2009. She was transferred to Evin Prison on 24 February. Her mother went to the University and asked for her daughter’s release but was told that Madadzadeh was under investigation by Judge Hadad. According to Madadzadeh’s friends and classmates, she was a student activist who was involved in the students concerns and played an important role as a member of a team that negotiated with university authorities during a sit-in last year. After six weeks Madazadeh is still in incommunicado detention and being denied access to her lawyer. According to informal reports, Madadzadeh was charged with “acting on behalf of political opposition groups abroad.”
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has previously expressed its deep concern about Madadzadeh’s health and safety. Last year in a similar situation, a group of students faced the same charge. One of them, Ibrahim Lotfolahi, died under suspicious circumstances. Two other students, charged with “acting on behalf of political opposition groups abroad,” were tortured to make false confessions. These confessions were used as evidence against them during their prosecution. The confessions led to an execution sentence for Habibolah Latifi and lengthy prison sentence for Yaser Goli.

Several members of the Freedom and Equality Seeking student group have also been detained in February and March 2009. On 12 February, Mohammad Pourabdolah was arrested in Tehran and Alireza Davoudi, the spokesperson for the Freedom and Equality Seeking students was arrested in Isfahan. Bahman Khodadadi, a student in Isfahan, disappeared on 17 February 2009. Security agents went to his home for further search where it was revealed that Khodadadi was arrested. Arsalan Sadeghi and Hossein Sarshoomi, members of the group in Isfahan, were arrested on 28 February after being summoned to Intelligence Offices by phone. On 29 February, Amirhossein Mohammadifar and Sanaz Allahyari were arrested when intelligence forces attacked their homes. After long periods of pressure and torture, Allahyari and Mohammadifar were released on 18 March with the signs of physical torture still on their bodies. Mohammad Pourabdolah’s parents reported that Mohammad was under torture in Evin Prison. Without any explanation he has been transferred to a prison in Rejaee Shahr which holds violent offenders.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, citing the Iranian government’s international obligations to respect the rights of students to freedom of association and freedom of expression, called for the immediate release of all detained students. The Campaign urged the Judiciary to investigate and prosecute officials who ordered and implemented these arbitrary detentions. The Campaign called on the international community and UN mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary Detentions and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, to condemn the wide range of student rights violations in Iran and remind Iranian authorities of their obligations under international treaties.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rejecting freedom of two woman activists arrested for New Year visits

On 26 March 2009, many families of political prisoners who were visiting their loved ones in prisons were arrested. Later ten of the arrested were released.

Ms. Khadijeh Moghadam and Mahboobeh Karami are still in custody of the security forces.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, attorney to one of those still in custody has explained that the Court has ordered Mrs. Moghadams' detention because she has had previous detention records. Accordingly they have announced Mrs. Moghadams' role in the families visiting their beloved ones for the New Year as pivotal and for this reason have prevented her release.

"My client in a telephone contact said she has been charged for "disturbing public order and congregating to create insecurity in public in favor of "strangers". The term "strangers" is absolutely illegal to be used for my clients" said Mrs. Sotoudeh.

Mrs. Sotoudeh reiterates: "According to article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, congregating is lawful; therefore even if our clients did try to congregate, they would not have underestimated the law. The fact is that; they were waiting in their cars for their friends to arrive, when they were surrounded by agents and arrested with no Court Order under the pretext that "they are under suspicion". They were therefore forced to accompany the agents to the police station. Therefore as is clear there was no "congregation".

Mr. Poor Babaii, attorney to Mahboobeh Karami has announced concern for his client explaining that her release under bail (Right of all individuals arrested under suspicion) has been rejected two times.

He declared his client innocent saying that it is not a crime to see relatives on the New Year! There fore her place is not in prison and that she should be encouraged for attaining to ancient customs with regards to the New Year.