Azerbaijani cultural activists are under increasing pressure from Iranian security and judiciary systems. They are subjected to arbitrary detentions and are held in prisons without trial, without access to legal representation or to their families. During detention security forces often coerce the detainees to confess to crimes they have not committed by means of torture or other abuse in order to ensure that heavy sentences will be imposed upon them.

Fears for Safety of Two Brothers Arrested in Ardebil

Forces of the Ardebil Intelligence Service arrested two Azerbaijani activists, Ramin and Ebrahim Sadeghi Asl, on February 5, 2009.  Another brother, Mohhammad Sadeghi, was arrested on February 25.  Although Ebrahim was released on bail after two weeks of detention, the remaining two brothers are still in the custody of the Ardebil Intelligence Service. The reasons for the detentions have not been released; additionally, the brothers are being deprived of basic rights including access to a lawyer and visits from their families.

According to information obtained from other detainees released from custody of the Ardebil Intelligence Service, the Sadeghi brothers have been tortured to give false confessions which include statements against other Azerbaijani activists.

Prior to this episode, Ramin Sadeghi had been detained for a period of one month: he was arrested on February 21, 2007 during the International Mother Tongue Day celebrations after distributing articles about mother tongue language.  He was later released on bail. At the time of his detention, Amnesty International released a public action in which the liberation of Ramin Sadeghi, prisoner of conscience, was strongly demanded.

Recently Released Azerbaijani Student and Cultural Activists

Abdullah Abbasi Javan, an architect and lecturer at the University of Shahid Rajaii-Tehran, and a prominent Azerbaijani ethnic rights activist, was released on 700 million rial bail ($70,000) on February 25 after 105 days of temporary detention in Evin Prison. He was released just one day after the death of his ailing mother.

Abdullah Abbasi Javan is charged with “propaganda against the regime”: the case against him is still being investigated in Rey Revolutionary Court.

On November 13, 2008 Javan was arrested while participating in the Settar Khan celebration (Settar Khan is a national hero for Azerbaijani Iranians; he led the constitutional movements of 1906-14).  He has not been allowed access to a lawyer, and was only allowed to see his family after three months of detention. According to his family, Abdullah has been tortured and has endured physical and psychological abuses during his detention in Section 209 of Evin Prison, which is operated by the Iranian Intelligence Service.

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

Mehdi Nuri, Azerbaijani student and ethnic rights activist, was released on February 20 after serving his two year jail term in Tabriz Prison. 


Nuri was arrested in May 2006 during massive demonstrations condemning a cartoon which Azerbaijanis found offensive that was published in the state-run Iranian newspaper. He was released on bail after months of detention. Later he was tried in the Urmia Revolutionary Court and was sentenced to four years of imprisonment, three years of exile and also three years of suspended imprisonment.  After going to the court of appeals, his sentence was reduced to two years of imprisonment along with three years of suspended imprisonment.   

Vahid SheykhBaghlu, a graduate student in economics at Azad University in Tabriz, and a former member of the Arman Student Organization, was released on a 500 million rial bail ($50,000) after 49 days of temporary detention.  He will be tried later, and will be charged with “movement against national security” as well as “violation of public order”. He was arrested on December 24, 2008 and was being held in Tabriz Prison.

Prior to this, Vahid had been arrested during the Azerbaijani demonstrations against the offensive cartoon in May 2006 and was released on bail after 50 days of detention in the custody of the Tabriz Intelligence Service. He was later tried and sentenced to 91 days of suspended imprisonment.

Heavy Sentences Against Azerbaijani Activists

The Ardebil Revolutionary Court sentenced five Azerbaijani ethnic rights activists—Behruz Alizade, Vadud Saadeti, Rahim Ghulami, Huseyin Huseyni, and Ardashir Karimi Khiyavi—to five years of imprisonment in addition to exile.  The trial was not public.

According to the released verdict, the activists are charged with “establishing or membership in illegal organizations in order to organize activities against national security” and to ensure the security of the province they must serve their jail terms in Zahedan, Kerman, Hormozghan, Bojnurd and Semnan, and Hamedan. (far from their hometown)

All five activists were arrested on April 8, 2008 by forces of the Ardebil Intelligence Service; they were detained for 20 days. Released on a 300 million rial bail ($30,000), they are to be tried at a later date.  They were denied access to lawyers, not allowed to see their families and were subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

The trial of nine Azerbaijani student activists took place in Tabriz on January 18, 2009 but was not made public. Six student activists from Tabriz University —Sejjad Radmehr, Faraz Zehtab, Aydin khajeyi, Amir Mardani, and Ehsan Najafi Nasab—along with Majid Makuyi from Esfahan’s Malek Eshter University have been charged with “establishing or membership in illegal organizations in order to organize activities against national security.” They were sentenced to one year of imprisonment in addition to two years of suspended imprisonment. Following the trial, Maghsud Ahdi, Mansur Imanian, and Darush Hatemi were acquitted.

These students were arrested just after start of the university summer holidays and held for three months in the custody of the Tabriz Intelligence Service.  During this time they were tortured, denied access to lawyers and were not allowed to visit with their families. The detainees were finally released on a 200 or 500 million rial bail ($20,000 and $50,000 respectively) but are to be tried at a later date.

Hamid Valayi, an Azerbaijani writer and human rights activist, and Gholam Najafi, Azerbaijani ethnic rights activist, were tried in the Tabriz Revolutionary Court where they were sentenced to three months of imprisonment in addition to nine months of suspended imprisonment. They have been charged with “propaganda against the regime” though the trial was not public.

Both activists were arrested in July 2008 by Tabriz security forces because of writing an article in the student journal of Gunes, published by Iran’s University of Science and Technology. They were released later on bail after 15 days of temporary detention.

On August 8, 2008, Front Line published a public action indicating that Valayi was being subjected to torture and other inappropriate treatment while in the custody of the Intelligence Service. In addition to having sustained injuries to his head and right leg, his teeth had reportedly been broken.

Ehli-Haq Faith Prisoner Executed in Urmia Prison

Mehdi Ghasemzade, one of the Ehli-Haq religious prisoners in Urmia Prison, was executed on February 28, 2009.

Mehdi Ghasemzade, Sehend Ali Mohammadi, Bakhshali Mohammadi, Ebadollah Ghasemzade, and Yunes Aghayan, members of the Ehli-Haq religious order from “Uch Tepe” village, were all arrested following a clash between security forces and villagers in 2004; they were subsequently sentenced to death. The Court of Appeals reduced the verdict of Sehend Ali Mohammadi, Bakhshali Mohammadi, and Ebadollah Ghasemzade to 13 years of imprisonment coupled with exile to Yazd, but the verdict of Mehdi Ghasemzade and Yunes Aghayan did not change.

Sehend Ali Mohammadi, Bakhshali Mohammadi, and Ebadollah Ghasemzade have reportedly been on a hunger strike since October 2008 in order to protest against the execution of the Mehdi Ghasemzade.

Following this execution of Mehdi Ghasemzade, human rights organizations released their fears of the possible execution of Yunes Aghayan, the other Ehli-faith prisoner sentenced to death. 

Heavy Jail, Exile, and Whipping Sentences for Sunni Turks

The trial of 25 Sunni villagers of Qizil Khanaya in Urmia, who gathered to prevent the redirection of the village’s underground water supplies for industrial consumption, has concluded: they have been charged with “violation of public order” and “revolting against government officials”.

On January 14, 2009, hundreds of farmers of the Qizil Khanaya gathered to prevent the redirection of the village’s underground water supplies for industrial consumption. Iranian police forces opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators and attacked the farmers with tear gas.  More than 30 people were arrested; some of the detainees were wounded.  Held for more than 10 days, the detainees were interrogated and tortured before being released.

Soleyman Ebrahimi, Mohammad Samadzade, Mortaza Jafari, Allahverdi Asalani, Mohammad Manafzade, Ayyub Azizpur, Akbar Rostami, Meraj Alipur, Said Jafarpur, Majid Gholizade, and Ziyad Jafarpur were sentenced to two years of imprisonment in addition to exile to Minab (a city in southern Iran, thousands of miles far from their home town) and 74 lashes of the whip. Behruz Majidi was sentenced to one year of imprisonment along with exile to Minab and 74 lashes of whip; Barzad Nezami Afshar, Maghad Nezami Afshar, and Mohhammad Ashrafi were sentenced to six months of imprisonment by the Nazlu Court.

The Court also levied fines of 3 million rials ($3,000) against Heydar Ali Alipur, Huseyin Vahabzade, Soleyman Ahmadi and Habibollah Ahmadi, while Mohammad Jafari and Hojjat Mokarram were fined 2 million rials ($2,000) each in financial punishment. Mehdi Esmailli, Asghar Ghara Hajilu, Behzad Yaghubzade, and Jafari were acquitted from all charges against them.

Qizil Khanaya village (population 2,000) is located 30 kilometres north of Urmia city. The people are mainly Sunni Muslims—Sunni Azerbaijanis—who are called “Sunni Turks” or “Kuresunni,” by other Azerbaijanis in Iran.  They live mainly in Ardebil province as well as in Western Azerbaijan province. Sunni Azerbaijanis in Iran are subject to both ethnic and religious discrimination.

Azerbaijani Human Rights Activist Tried

The third stage of the trial of Vadud Asadi Azerbaijani, human rights activist, took place on February 10, 2009. Reportedly he is charged with “propaganda against the regime.”

Asadi was arrested on July 22, 2008 by Rasht security forces and was released on bail after 34 days of temporary detention. According to his family, he was held in a cell under physical and psychological pressure. During detention he was deprived of his rights of access to a lawyer and also his place of detention was withheld from his family.

Both Front Line and the U.S. Department of State condemned the detention of this Azerbaijani human rights activist on August 8th and on August 15tb, 2008, respectively.

Azerbaijani Political Activists Are Transferred to the Section of Thieves in Prisons

Ali Abbasi, Azerbaijani activist, was transferred to the section of thieves in Ardebil Prison from  Section 7, the section for political prisoners. He has been sentenced to five years of imprisonment and has been charged with “movement against the national security and spying”. Abbasi has told his family that the conditions of the new section are very poor and that the transfers are meant to increase pressure on political prisoners.

Abbasi was arrested on October 14, 2007 by the forces of the Ardebil Intelligence Service and detained for 38 days, during which time he endured torture and other abuses.  He was later tried and sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment. The trial was took place without Abbasi’s legal advocate and also was not made public. Following an appeal, the verdict was later reduced to five years.  A trip to the Republic of Azerbaijan formed the basis of the charges against him.

International Mother Tongue Day, Increased Pressures and Restrictions

Since UNESCO declared February 21 the International Mother Tongue Day, Azerbaijanis in Iran tried to celebrate: Azerbaijani ethnic rights activists organized vast celebrations of this day to take place in Tabriz, Urmia, Ardebil, Zencan, Maraghe, Ahar, Marand, Sulduz (Naghade), and several other cities with significant Azerbaijani populations. Activists distributed articles emphasizing the importance of the mother tongue in addition to education in one’s mother tongue; all articles were written in (Azerbaijani) Turkish. As in most of the cities security forces were standing guard to prevent activists from carrying out any celebrations for International Mother Tongue Day, these celebrations were carried out secretly. Moreover, university students in Tehran were threatened against organizing any celebrations related to International Mother Tongue Day.

In years past, Iranian security forces have detained Azerbaijani cultural and human rights activists who have demanded their humanitarian and constitutional rights during Mother Tongue Day celebrations. These people were later sentenced to months or even years of imprisonment. 

Although article 15 of Iran’s Constitution stipulates the right to education in the mother tongue for non-Persian ethnics, this article is never actualized; the groups or individuals who demand their right are charged with false crimes of “propaganda against the regime,” “violation of public order”, or other similar charges. It is important to note that more than half of Iran’s population is composed of non-Persian ethnics, but there is no school that provides education in any ethnic language.

Restrictions On Uses of Turkish Names

Even in cities populated with Azerbaijanis, government officials forbid shop owners from using Turkish names for their shops. Officials in some cases suggest that the owner choose a Persian name for their shop, but have gone so far as damaging shop signs. On February 21, security forces of Shahindej in West Azerbaijan province closed down several shops in addition to a cafe whose name was “Azerbaijan” where poets, writers and cultural activists had gathered there.

Last year following the restrictions on the use of Turkish names, Azerbaijani Members of Parliament demonstrated against these actions. As a result, Iran’s Ministry of Economy and Finance Affairs decided to allow the use of Turkish names on shops and financial institutions.


Student Journals Shut Down

Pressures on student journals have increased in recent years. Student journals which were only focused on cultural issues have also been closed down. Recently the “Isil Ay” journal, published by Yazd University, was closed down by university authorities. Reportedly journals in this university published in the Turkish or Kurdish language have been shut down by direct order of the university chairman.

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, Sayan and Khalaj.