Aug 15, 2011

Southern Azerbaijan: An Open Letter to the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

Renowned Iranian journalist Masoumel Alinejad pleads with the recently appointed Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran to bring recognition and justice to the travesties suffered by ethnic minorities at the hands of the Iranian government.

Below is an article published by the Huffington Post.


To: Dr. Ahmed Shaheed United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran

 Allow me to begin with my best wishes for a great success in your new mission.

Twenty six months have passed since the 2009 Presidential elections in Iran and the waves of mass protests that followed. Peaceful protests were met with the large-scale shutdown of free communication, censorship of independent press, dismantling of opposition parties and a bloody crackdown on protesting citizens, leading to the arrest and incarceration of tens of thousands of political activists, party leaders, members of unions-- particularly those of journalists, students, teachers--and workers across the country.

The government claimed that only three people were killed as a result of torture in prison, but based on credible local media outlets who had interviewed at least forty seven families with dead family members, the real number is in excess of official figures. Many Iranian reporters believe that the number of people killed in the aftermath of the elections was significantly higher-- this notwithstanding that the raping and murdering of prisoners and government critics began long before the 2009 elections.

Iran is a part of the global community, and hence it is obligated to respect and to uphold certain ethical and internationally recognized values. Based on Section 7 of the International Criminal Laws, organized military action against unarmed citizens of a country constitutes crimes against humanity.

Many families of the slain protesters in Iran are given renewed hope that, with your appointment as a special Rapporteur of the United Nations for human rights issues in Iran, their voices will be heard and the global silence and dismissive outlook will be broken. I recognize that this issue is not unique to Iran. The blood baths running through Syria do not seem to have raised as much global outrage as they should have. The global silence about these cries for justice, more than ever, cultivates the notion that the "death of one man is a tragedy, but the death of millions, a statistic."

Throughout the course of the two years since the 2009 elections, despite mounting pressures and intimidations, the families of the victims have broken their silence and repeatedly reported their painful cases.

Formal requests by a number of families to meet with the UN special Rapporteur have been published in the Persian-language media. At least three families have expressed to me personally their desire to attend a meeting with a UN representative in order to report and request an investigation into the murder of their loved ones. I will refer to these in the final paragraphs of my letter.

The real reporters of violence and carnage that has taken place in these countries, including Iran, are in fact these families who keep ignoring the enormous pressures and threats and continue to report and disseminate the information and details of the deaths of these Iranian citizens.

In the early days of the protests, many families reported these deaths to the investigative committee set up for such cases. The committee in turn published more than seventy names of the slain protesters, the fact or fallacy of which required investigation and a response from intelligence and judiciary officials. Instead, on 7 September 2009, security forces raided the office of the committee and confiscated every document and piece of property and arrested all the members of the committee. The authorities issued a statement denying the death of several people named on the list.

State-backed media reported that the number of protesters killed totaled thirty six. On the 2nd anniversary of the disputed elections, Sepaah (Revolutionary Guards) commander Saeed Ghaemi announced that over thirty people had been killed during the protests, all of whom members of the Basij [paramilitary militia].

The trend of intimidations has, with some degree of success, forced many such families into a gradual retreat from legally pursuing their cases--an all too familiar silence of the victims.

The phenomenon of Internet and virtual networks has enabled families to voice their grievance and prevent the prolonged silence. As they find the courage to break their silence after two years, more families come forward and add to the "killing list".

I personally interviewed a father of young student who was shot in front of a mosque on 20th June 2009, who said: "I had lost my child, I had lost every hope in my life. The mental and emotional pain was unbearable and unspeakable. I thought, what good would talking about his death do? It will not return my child to me."

The question of "Will an interview or legal pursuit bring my child back to me?" was asked by many of the families who were so dismayed and disappointed with the non-responsive authorities that they had simply given up all hope.

The mother of Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani, who had died under brutal beatings and torture at Kahrizak Prison, told SORKHSABZ (a website dedicated to information about the election victims): "What weighs heavily on my conscience is that I personally delivered my son to the authorities after he was summoned. This has driven me to the brink of madness in the last two years. I delivered my son to them; they delivered his corpse to me. Where was I supposed to go after that? And to what end? None of us in my family were into politics. Besides, I had other young children to worry about."

This mother had once before spoken in this regard, with Shargh newspaper-- but once again, her fear for her other children had prevented her from consenting to the publishing of the interview. Many families of the victims had reported that their other children had been threatened and forced into silence.

Fear was clear and present in the voice of family members of Hossein Akhtar Zand, the young man who was thrown from the top a medical clinic in Isfahan, on 15 June. Thus, the family briefly told JARAS: "All our pursuits proved to be futile. In order to stay alive - in a small town - there are not too many options except to maintain our silence!"

Most of these families also look at the efforts of the others with similar experiences, who had been vocal in the media and had actively pursued the cases of their children through daily trips to the courthouses, to no avail. Their remarks such as "They have ordered us to stay silent"-- without disclosing "who" has ordered them-- are in themselves incredible.

For example, Hamid Hossein Baik Araghi, another young man killed during the rallies on 20 June, was introduced as a Basiji by two of the most prominent state-backed newspapers, Kayhan and Fars. His family immediately told JARAS that such information was completely false. Other slain protesters tainted as Basij members are: Davoud Sadri; Saneh Zhaaleh; Kaveh Sabz-Alipour and Maysam Ebadi, all of whose families had denied any affiliation with the Basiji or the government. Many of the families had never been politically active or affiliated with any groups or parties. They had only participated in the protests against the election results. Others had been mere pedestrians or in the traffic and shuffled into the crowd.

The family of Lotfali Yousefian, the 50-year-old man who died of respiratory complications due to inhalation of tear gas on the second anniversary of the protests, was told by doctors in Ebn-Sina hospital: "We will declare 'heart attack' as the cause of death, because if the real cause is reported, then the authorities may not release his body to you." Yet other families had been forced to sign non-disclosure forms in order to be able to obtain the dead bodies of their loved ones, and were thus forced into silence.

It is not too late for many other families to still come forward and unravel the painful truth. The question is, what will be the heavier burden: the torment of their silence, or the consequence of telling the truth?

The Islamic Republic's blatant refusal to investigate and take responsibility for these cases comes at a time when there is an obvious and undeniable footprint left all over these cases by regime elements (both official or indirect). It also comes despite the death certificates issued by the coroner which indicate that the deaths were due to gun shots. They go further by arresting a prominent lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is jailed and banned from practicing law, for the crime of defending prisoners and acting on behalf of the families of the dead.

Sir, as the UN's Special Rapporteur to Iran, you are now responsible and have been commissioned to investigate such injustices-- and you hold the key to the window of hope for many families of the victims of 2009 presidential elections.

Among the families of the slain are those such as Sohrab A'raabi, Ali Hasanpour, Mostafa Karim Baigi and others, who despite the threats against them, have quite vocally and actively demanded from international organizations that they send representatives to meet with them in Iran.

I will now return to the three families who have requested a meeting by giving you a short background on each, as well as a list of those who have spoken out.

  Sohrab A'raabi, 19, was shot during the protests on 15 June. For twenty six days, his mother Parvin Fahimi had no idea as to Sohrab's whereabouts. For twenty six days, she thought her son was alive and in prison, like thousands of others, until one day they delivered his dead body to her. In a personal interview with me, Parvin Fahimi has emphasized, as she has done many times in the past, her pleas with every individual or organization or entity to review and investigate her son's case.


Ali Hasanpour, 48, father of two, was killed on 15 June 2009. His wife Ladan Mostafaie has asked numerous times in interviews: "Are bullets the way to respond to protests? My husband was killed for asking for his vote! And no one in this judicial system of ours can tell me who killed him."

For one hundred and five days, she thought her husband was alive and in prison. She was even told by the authorities that it was possible her husband might have fled the country. But she too was given the dead body of her husband. Also, in a recent interview with me, she said that Iran is a member of the UN Human Rights Council. She has asked me to convey her desire and request from the Special Rapporteur to hear her case and help find those responsible.

Mostafa Karim Baigi, 27, like thousand of others, had participated in the rallies of 28 December, 2009 (Ashura Day). He was shot in the head, then thrown from an overpass bridge. His family was not permitted to hold a funeral or a proper burial, so they were forced to bury him in the middle of the night in the presence of security forces. His mother Shahnaz Akmali has repeatedly demanded the attention of all human rights organizations and the United Nations to her son's case.

These are the names of 47 of post-election slain protesters whose families have given interviews to various media:

1- Amir Javadifar 2- Mohammad Kamrani 3- Mohsen Rouholamini 4- Ramin Pour Andarzjani 5- Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani 6-Ali Hasanpur 7- Sohrab Arabi 8-Ahmad Naimabadi 9- Moharram Chegini 10- Ramin Ramezani 11- Davood Sadri 12- Sorour Boroumand 13- Fatemeh Rajabpour 14- Hesam Hanifeh 15- Kianoosh Asaa 16- Mohammad Raisi najafi 17- Mostafa Ghanian 18- Ali Fathalian 19- Lotfali Yousefian 20- Bahman Jenabi 21-- Naser Amir Nejad 22- Hossein Akhtar Zand 23- Maysam Ebadi 24- Ahmad Nejati Kargar 25- Ashkan Sohrabi 26- Neda Agha Soltan 27- Masoud Khosravi Doust 28- Kaveh(Sajad) Sabz Alipour 29- Masoud Hashemzadeh 30- Abbas Disnad 31- Mohammad Barvayefh 32- Behzad Mohajer 33- Mohammad Javad Parandakh 34- Mostafa Kiarostami 45- Fatmeh Semsarpour 36- Hamid Hossein Araghi 37- Mohammad Hossein Fayz 38- Hossein Gholam Kabiri 39- Seyed Ali Mousavi 40- Mostafa Karim Baigi 41- Shabnam Sohrabi 42- Shahram Farajzadeh 43- Mehdi Farhadi 44- Saaneh Zhaleh 45- Mohammad Mokhtari 46- Behnood Ramezani 47- Alireza Eftekhari.