Iranian authorities have reportedly sentenced to death ethnic Balouchi civil rights activist Ya’qub Mehrnehad. Mr. Mehrnehad is the head of the Voice of Justice Young People’s Society, a non-governmental educational and cultural organization that is registered with the Iranian government.
According to Amnesty International, he was arrested in May 2007, along with five other members of the association, following a meeting at the Provincial Office of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The governor of Iran’s Sistan-Balouchistan province was reportedly present at that meeting.
The reason for Mr. Mehrnehad’s arrest has not been disclosed. He was tried behind closed doors in December in Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s Sistan-Balouchistan province. Mr. Mehrnehad’s family and attorney say he has been tortured and has lost about fifteen kilograms of weight since his arrest. According to Amnesty International, Mr. Mehrnehad “may be in imminent danger of execution.”
Ethnic Balouchis make up about two-percent of Iran’s population of more than sixty-five million. Mainly Sunni Muslims, they have complained for years of discrimination by Iranian authorities. Hundreds of ethnic Balouchis have reportedly been detained following attacks by Jondallah, an ethnic Balouchi armed extremist group.
Masoud Balouchi is Director of Balouchi Human Rights Watch, a monitoring group based in Sweden. He says Iranian authorities are using the violence of a few extremists as a pretext for suppressing legitimate political dissent.
“We know that Ya’qub Mehrnehad and the organization he represents has done nothing except criticize the human rights abuses of the Iranian regime,” Masoud Balouchi said.
In its human rights report, the U.S. State Department says Iran’s Sunni Muslims claim they are discriminated against by the Iranian government, although it is “hard to distinguish whether the cause for discrimination was religious or ethnic, since most Sunnis are also ethnic minorities, primarily Arabs, Balouchis, and Kurds.”
In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed U.S. concern about the growing number of cases in Iran “in which the death sentence is imposed after trials that were neither fair nor transparent.”