Detentions of Azerbaijani ethnic and human rights activists continue in Iran. Activists are arbitrarily detained without being tried or even told the reason for their detention. They are usually denied access to a lawyer and are generally tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment. Religious minorities in Iran are also discriminated against.

Azerbaijani scholar detained for over two months

Abdullah Abbasi Javan, an architect and lecturer at Tehran’s University of Shahid Rajai, is still being held in section 209 of Evin Prison, controlled by the Iran Intelligence Service. He was arrested on November 13, 2008 while participating in the Settar Khan celebration (Settar Khan is a national hero for Azerbaijani Iranians who lead the constitutional movements of 1906-14). He has not been allowed access to a lawyer or his family, who have not been told the reason for his detention. Abdullah’s brother, Yedollah Abbasi Javan, told to Radio Free Europe: “Abdullah has been arrested because of participating in a ceremony which took place on Sattar Khan’s grave for his Remembrance Day and is held incommunicado for more than two months.” He argued that “Is it a crime to demand the right to learn your mother tongue in schools?” Yedollah added that he believes that his brother is not healthy and is being tortured.

Abdullah was also detained for 130 days beginning on August 18, 2007 in section 209 of Evin Prison. During the detention he was subjected to psychological and physical torture. He was later sentenced to a year of suspended imprisonment, which was postponed for five years.

Azerbaijani activists released on bail

Huseyin Huseyni (Hossein Hosseini), the former president of the student union at the University of Razi, Ardebil, who was arrested on November 13, 2008 while participating in the anniversary of Settar Khan Celebrations, was released on bail of 500 million rials ($50,000) on January 20, 2009. The date of his trial and the charges against him has not been released.

Huseyin is the nephew of Abdullah Abassi Javan, who was held incommunicado for 68 days in detention. He says he was tortured and put under severe psychological and physical strain by security forces. He had already been held for three weeks in June 2008 in Naghadeh (Sulduz) Intelligence Service custody, where he was interrogated and tortured. He was later released on bail of 100 million rials ($10,000).

Vahid SheykhBaghlu, a graduate student in economics at Azad University in Tabriz and a former member of Arman student organization, was arrested on December 24, 2008 and is still being held in Tabriz Prison. During his time in detention he has been summoned twice to be present at trial, but his family has not been told the reason for his detention. The judge has told his family that his file is not yet complete and the case against him is still being investigated. His last trial, on January 28, 2009, was not public and his lawyer was not there.

Azerbaijani journalist and women’s rights defender Shanaz Gholami has been released on bail of 200 million rials ($20,000) on January 17, 2009, after 69 days in detention. The date of her trial has not been released. According to her lawyer, she will be charged with “provocation of public opinion” and “sending news to media connected to People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.”

Gholami is the moderator of a blog for Azerbaijani-Iranian women, azarwomen, and is also a member of Iran Women Journalists Association. She was arrested on November 9, 2008 and went on an eight-day hunger strike to object to the detention. Gholami was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment last September after being convicted of distributing “propaganda against the regime.” She was also in prison for five years from 1989 to 1994 as a result of her political activities. 



New detentions

Azerbaijani ethnic rights activist Hasan Asadi was arrested on January 20, 2009 by Tabriz Intelligence Service forces and transferred to Tabriz prison. No information has been released about the reason for his detention.

Asadi was previously arrested in May 2008, the second anniversary of Azerbaijani demonstrations against a cartoon comparing Azerbaijanis to cockroaches published in state-run newspaper Iran, which Azerbaijanis found offensive. He was not allowed to visit his family and denied access to a lawyer. Local human rights activists say he was tortured and badly treated during the detention. He was transferred to hospital as his health deteriorated as a result of torture. His nails were pulled out and some of his fingers were broken. He also went into a coma several times during the interrogations. He was released on bail after 33 days in detention.

Prior to this, Asadi was detained for four months starting on February 8, 2007 in Ardebil Intelligence Service custody and Tabriz prison because he participated in a demonstration against the jail sentence for Abbas Lisani (a prominent Azerbaijani ethnic rights activist) in front of Ardebil prison. He was later released on bail of 700 million rials ($70,000) and charged with “membership in separatist parties”.

Asadi was also charged with membership in GAIP (South Azerbaijan Independents Party) and on January 29, 2008 was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. The sentence was later reduced on appeal to six months. He was released on December 17, 2008 after serving his six-month sentence.

Azerbaijani student activists tried

The trial of eight Azerbaijani student activists took place on January 17, 2009 in Tabriz Revolutionary Court. These activists, including Maghsud Ahdi, Mansur Imanian, Aydin khajeyi, Amir Mardani, Faraz Zehtab, Sejjad Radmehr from Tabriz University along with Majid Makuyi from Esfahan’s Malek Eshter University and Driush Hatemi, who is completing his military service in Iranian army, were charged with “establishing or membership in illegal organizations in order to organize activities against national security” and also “propaganda against the regime.” The trial was not public.

The students were arrested just after start of the university summer holidays and were detained for three months in Tabriz Intelligence Service custody. They were tortured, denied access to a lawyer and were not allowed to visit with their families. The detainees were finally released on bail of 200 or 500 million rials ($20,000 and $50,000 respectively) and are to be tried later.

The first stage of the trial of Hamid Valayi, an Azerbaijani writer and human rights activist, took place on January 28, 2009 in Tabriz Revolutionary Court. According to his lawyer, he was charged with “propaganda against the regime.” Valayi’s trial was supposed to take place on December 1, 2008, but it was postponed by the trial judge, even though Valayi and his advocate were present at the appointed time. Valayi was arrested on July 15, 2008 and was tortured in custody. His teeth were broken and his right leg and head were injured.

The trial of Azerbaijani student and cultural activists Behruz Alizade, Vadud Saadeti, Rahim Gholami, Huseyin Huseyni, and Ardashir Karimi Khiyavi took place on January 29, 2009 in Ardebil. According to their advocate, they are charged with “propaganda of ethnicity.”

All five activists were arrested on April 8, 2008 by Ardebil Intelligence Service forces and were detained for 20 days. They were released on bail of 300 million rials ($30,000) and are to be tried later. They were denied access to a lawyer, not allowed to visit their families and subjected to torture and other ill-treatments.

Bloody event of Sunni village of Qizil Khanaya, Urmia

On January 14, 2009, Iranian police forces attacked the farmers of Qizil Khanaya Village (Khaneghah-e Sorkh), Urmia, in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran. Hundreds of farmers of the Qizil Khanaya had gathered to prevent the redirection of the village’s underground water supplies for industrial consumption. In Urmia-Salmas road, dozens of police attacked farmers using tear gas and firing on unarmed demonstrators. Police also damaged the farmers’ vehicles, which were parked in the village, confiscating their registration plates.

More than 30 people were arrested including Barzad Nizami Afshar, Mighdad Nizami Afshar, Said Jafarpur, Muhammad Samadzada, Bahram Quluzada, Nadali Quluzada, Nadali Alipur, Meraj Alipur, Heydar Alipur, Suleyman Ibrahimzada, Nasir Quluzada, Akbar Rustami, Iskandar Aslani, Allahverdi Aslani, Faramaz Jafari, Muahammad Jafari, Naqi-A and Davud-Sh.

Some of the detainees were wounded. They were transferred to Imam Khomeini Hospital, Urmia after just five hours. The detainees were interrogated and tortured before being released over 10 days. They are to be tried in Nushin Shahr Court and will be charged with “rebellion against the government” and “contempt of court order.”

Qizil Khanaya village (pop. 2,000) is located 30 kilometres north of Urmia city and the people are mainly Sunni Muslims. Sunni Azerbaijanis, who are called “Sunni Turks” or “Kuresunni,” by other Azerbaijanis in Iran, mainly live in Ardabil province as well as the West Azerbaijan province. Sunni Azerbaijanis in Iran are subjected to both ethnic and religious discrimination.

Unofficial sources estimate that more than 400,000 Sunni Turks live in four cities of West Azerbaijan province near the Turkish border: Urmia, Khoy, Salmas and Piranshahr (Khana). Because of persecution and insecurity, hundreds of thousands of Sunni Turk inhabitants of the West Azerbaijan immigrated to Turkey both before and after 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Sunnis are restricted in their access to higher education and state jobs. They are not allowed to establish associations, non-governmental organizations or set up religious schools.

According to the residents of some Sunni Azerbaijani villages, the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran try to redirect underground water supplies away from their villages to cause water shortages on their farms. 

More student journals shut down

Khalaj student journal published in the Azerbaijani Turkish and Persian languages in Yazd University was closed down, the latest in a series of similar incidents. The reasons given were that articles in the journal promoted ethnic propaganda and Pan-Turkism.




Many Azerbaijani student journals have been closed down by the government over the last year. Some of them include: Bulud, Ulus, Nasim, Araz, Ozluk, Oyanish, Sattar Khan, Kimlik, Yoldash, Yagish, Aydin Gelecel, Gunesh, Yarpaq, Telenger, Yashil, Yol, Anayurdu, Achiq Soz and Sayan.