For the past fifteen years, the Iranian Azerbaijani minority has been fighting for greater cultural and linguistic rights, including the right to attend Azerbaijani Turkic language schools. The Iranian constitution does provide for such freedom of expression. But in reality, the government continues to ban Azeribaijani Turkic language schools and harasses Azeribaijani activists, says Fakhteh Zamani, head of the Association for Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners:
"The Iranian regime has imprisoned cultural and linguistic activists who are trying to raise awareness about the most basic and fundamental rights of them as a people. Human rights activists, journalists, [and] writers have become victims of secret police. These activists are imprisoned and constantly harassed."
Amnesty International reported that in September more than fifteen members of the Iranian Azerbaijani community have been detained for advocating a student boycott of the first day of school. Those detained include Esedullah Selimi. He was in possession of leaflets advertising demonstrations to support the boycott when he was arrested and taken to a detention facility in Tabriz. Other arrested activists include Iskender Mierza'I, Mehdi Vahidi, and Eli Sediq Beyreq. Some, like Mohammad Reza Evezpoor, were reportedly tortured during their detention.
A major crackdown on the Iranian Azeri minority occurred in May. Demonstrations broke out in northwest Iran following the publication of a cartoon in a state-owned daily newspaper that offended many Iranian Azeris. Amnesty International said that authorities reportedly used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators were reportedly detained. Most have since been released, but some are reported to have been tried and sentenced to imprisonment or flogging.
In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside says the U.S. condemns the Iranian government's repression of Iran's ethnic Azerbaijani minority. The U.S., she says, calls on the government in Tehran "to respect the rights of all Iranian people, and to release those arrested and imprisoned for insisting on their universal rights to freedom of expression and association."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.