The human rights monitoring organization Amnesty International reports that hundreds of Azeri-Iranians have been arrested by Iranian authorities since May. The arrests were made in connection with demonstrations by Azeri-Iranians, marking the anniversary of protests held in May 2006 -- protests that were brutally suppressed by Iran’s security services. The protests were sparked by the publication of a cartoon in a state-run newspaper depicting a cockroach speaking in the Azeri language.
Fakhteh Zamani, the head of the Canada-based Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran, says that many of the detained were later released after promising not to take part in the anniversary demonstrations. About one-hundred or more Azeri-Iranians are in detention or missing. Among those detained are Azeri cultural rights activists Hasan Asadi, Ali Sadeqi, Hojiat Tarverdian, Akbar Hosseinzadeh, Ahad Razavi, Amir Mohammad Bana’i Sadeq, and Ashgar Akbarzadeh. Ms. Zamani said the detainees have reportedly been abused by Iranian authorities:
“They are kept incommunicado. There are no charges against them. There have been reports that some of the tortured are in immediate need of medical treatment.”
Ms. Zamani says the detentions are a violation of Iran’s constitution, which permits peaceful demonstrations. She says Iranian authorities often harass or intimidate family members of detainees:
“They don’t notify the families. When families are looking for these activists, they [the families] are threatened.”
Ethnic Azeris compose about one-quarter of Iran’s population. According to the U.S. State Department’s human rights report, Azeri-Iranians complain of ethnic and linguistic discrimination, including banning the Azeri language in schools, harassing Azeri activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names. The right of ethnic minorities to the free expression of their cultural heritage, including their language, is a fundamental human right. Iran’s rulers should respect that right and release ethnic Azeris and other Iranian prisoners of conscience.