Vedud Asadi, an Azeri-Iranian minority rights activist, was recently arrested by Iranian authorities in Rasht. He was among hundreds of Azeri-Iranians who have been detained since May. While authorities have not announced the charges against him, human rights monitors believe Mr. Asadi's arrest is in connection with his recent traditional Azeri wedding, one that was celebrated with Azeri colors, flags, folk songs, and dances.
According to reports by human rights monitors, Mr. Asadi is being detained in Tehran in Section 209 of Evin prison, a place widely known for torture and maltreatment of its mostly human rights activist prisoners. Mr. Asadi is no stranger to Iranian authorities. In 2006, he was arrested during protests that started after a state-run newspaper depicted a cockroach speaking in the Azeri language.
Iranian authorities cite "pan-Turkism" and separatism as their reasons for detaining Azeri-Iranians. However, Fakhteh Zamani, Director of the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran, says these claims are far from the truth:
"Most of these activists are civil rights activists. They are human rights activists, and they are asking for implementation of the constitution. There is nothing in his [Mr. Asadi's] activism, nor are any other activists doing anything that implies they are separatists."
Ethnic Azeris are the largest minority group in Iran, comprising approximately one-quarter of the overall population. Despite being well integrated into the economy, Azeri-Iranians face discrimination. The government has taken measures to exclude Azeri culture from society, such as banning the Azeri language in schools, harassing activists or organizers, and changing Azeri geographic names.
Ms. Zamani said the Iranian Constitution grants minorities the right to education and media in their own languages, but these rights are rarely respected in practice:
"There is not a single course starting from kindergarten all the way to end of high school which is taught in minority languages. All the books, all the courses, basically all the education is in Persian."
Free expression of one's heritage is a human right. The Iranian government should release Mr. Asadi and other political prisoners immediately and protect and encourage the well being of all its minority citizens.