Mar 13, 2007

Southern Azerbaijan: Linguistic Rights Threatened

Amnesty International has issued a notice of Urgent Action regarding the arrest of activists during peaceful demonstrations commemorating International Mother Language Day.

Below is an Urgent Action notice published by Amnesty International on 9 March 2007:

The Iranian Azerbaijani cultural and linguistic rights activists named above [Esma’il Javadi, Ebulfezl Alilu, Ramin Sadeghi, Qahreman Qanbarpour, Adel Allahverdipour, Jelil Qanilu, Safar Ali Kho’ini, and Ja’far Haqnazari] were arrested at around the time of peaceful demonstrations marking the 21 February International Mother Language Day, intended to celebrate linguistic diversity. They were arrested in various towns and cities in Iranian Azerbaijan. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful expression of their conscientiously held beliefs and their right to freedom of association.

Amnesty International has received the names of approximately 100 Iranian Azerbaijanis who were reportedly detained. Peaceful demonstrations were organised in different parts of Iranian Azerbaijan and elsewhere in the country calling for education in Azerbaijani Turkic. Most of those detained have
reportedly now been released, generally on bail, but scores may still be detained incommunicado, and may be at risk of torture or ill treatment. An unknown number of detainees, possibly including minors, have reportedly been tried summarily.

Journalist Esma’il Javadi was detained in Orumiye on 18 February. He is detained in a facility controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence in the Dokkuz Pille area of Orumiye and has been severely beaten. He is in urgent need of medical care. Family members who have been permitted to meet with him have reportedly been threatened by security officials and told that they should not speak about Esma’il Javadi to anyone.

According to ASMEK (Azerbaycan Siyasi Mahpuslarını Müdafaa Komitesi), the Committee for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners, up to 50 people were detained in Orumiye on 21 February. Among them was shopkeeper Ebulfezl Alilu. The authorities have shut down his shop in Orumiye Bazaar. He too is reportedly detained in the Dokkuz Pille detention facility, where he has been tortured.

ASMEK has reported that on 21 February at least 25 people were detained in Naqadeh (called Sulduz in Azerbaijani Turkic), including Qahreman Qanbarpour and Adel Allahverdipour. Some of those detained in Naqadeh have reportedly been transferred to detention facilities in Orumiye. They have reportedly been denied access to legal representation and put through summary trials.

ASMEK has also reported scores of arrests in the city of Miyandoab (Qoshachay) including Ja’far Haqnazari, a member of the editorial board of a student publication called Bulud.

Human rights activist Ramin Sadeghi was one of around 20 arrested in Ardabil on 19 February. He is believed to have been held in a detention facility run by the Ministry of Intelligence and was reportedly transferred to Section 1 of Ardabil prison on 3 March. He has reportedly gone on hunger strike, but the authorities have denied him any visits. He is believed to be in poor health and  in urgent need of medical care.

Jelil Qanilu and Safar Ali Kho’ini were among at least 25 people detained during International Mother Language Day demonstrations in Zenjan on 21 February.


Article 15 of Iran’s Constitution states that Persian is the official language of Iran and that "official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as textbooks, must be in this language and script." It adds that "the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian."