Apr 13, 2007

Southern Azerbaijan: Activist Forced to Iran

Political activist Hadi Sid Javad Musavi, known for supporting minority rights of the Azeri community in Iran, was extradited from Azerbaijan to Iran yesterday, where reports indicate he was immediately arrested.

Below is an article published by Baku Today:

Hadi Sid Javad Musavi, an activist with a nationalist Azeri group inside Iran, flew from the Azerbaijani capital Baku to Tehran early Thursday [12 April 2007], his legal representative, Alovsat Aliyev, said.

"As far as we know, he was arrested as soon as he arrived on Iranian territory," said Aliyev, director of Azerbaijan's Centre for Legal Aid to Migrants.

"This was someone who was involved in a struggle for freedom in Iran," he said. "He should never have been deported to a country where he is under threat."

Aliyev said Musavi, born in 1981, was arrested and tortured after he participated in a July 2004 protest in northwestern Iran during which he burned an Iranian flag. Musavi fled to Baku in January 2006, where he requested asylum as a political refugee.

He is linked to the nationalist National Awakening Movement of Southern Azerbaijan, which opposes Tehran's rule over parts of northern Iran bordering Azerbaijan.

Aliyev said the decision to expel Musavi violated international refugee conventions and was based on Azerbaijan's unwillingness to anger Iran.

Azerbaijani authorities rejected the accusation.

"Musavi has not been deported from the country and there was no underlying political reason involved," the head of the Azerbaijani interior ministry's migration service, Shovgi Gadiyev, said.

"Musavi was administratively expelled because he was residing on the territory of Azerbaijan without a visa, in violation of the law," Gadiyev said.

Northern Iran is home to 16-30 million ethnic Azeris, according to varying estimates, far more than the eight million in Azerbaijan itself.

Azeris speak a language close to Turkish, but have cultural and religious links to Shiite Muslim Iran.

Azeri nationalists claim Iranian authorities have violently suppressed attempts to promote minority rights, most recently last May, when protests broke out over an official newspaper's caricature of Azeris as cockroaches.

Dissident groups claim more than two dozen protesters were killed and hundreds arrested in an ensuing crackdown. The claims have not been independently verified.

Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan is a key US ally in the Caucasus region but also has close diplomatic and trade relations with Iran.