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Iranian Azeri Detained

Iranian authorities have sentenced Abbas Lisani to a year and a half in prison and fifty lashes allegedly for "spreading anti-government propaganda." The charges actually are a result of his peaceful activism on behalf of Iran's Azeri minority.

Arrested in June for taking part in a demonstration by Azeri-Iranians in Ardebil, Mr. Lisani was detained until his release on bail on September 26th and re-detained on October 31st. In a statement published on the Internet, the human rights monitoring group Amnesty International described Mr. Lisani as "a prisoner of conscience," and called for "his immediate and unconditional release."

Mr. Lisani's wife, Rugayya, told the Voice of America her husband is being imprisoned illegally. "He is arrested for demanding respect for the rights of [Iranian] Azerbaijanis," she said. "He is arrested for demanding schools [and] newspapers in Azerbaijani. He wants tens of millions of Azeris living in Iran to be respected. There is nothing illegal with demanding that. And now they want to arrest me. If they will arrest me, I told my children, don't stop telling the world what is going on here."

In May, demonstrations broke out in northwest Iran following the publication of a cartoon in a state-owned newspaper that offended many Iranian Azeris. Human rights monitors say that authorities used excessive force to disperse demonstrators. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators were reportedly detained. Most have since been released, but others, like Abbas Lisani, are reported to have been tried and sentenced to imprisonment or flogging.

In its human rights report on Iran, the U.S. State Department says Iranian Azeris report "ethnic and linguistic discrimination, including the banning of the Azeri language in schools, harassing Azeri activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names."

In a written response, State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside said the U.S. condemns the Iranian government’s repression of Iran’s ethnic Azeri minority. Ms. Reside said the U.S. calls on 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.