Human rights monitors say that at least eight activists have been detained by the Iranian government since July of this year.
According to the director of the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners, Fakhteh Zamani, university students Maqsoud Ahdi, Mansour Aminian, Aydin Khajei, Amir Mardani, Majid Makuyi, Sejjad Radmehr, Feraz Zahtab, and Dariush Hatemi, were arrested in a series of raids in July and August.
Although none of these men has been charged with a crime, human rights monitors say that they are prisoners of conscience, arrested for the expression of their beliefs. All of them have been active in the movement calling for Azerbaijani minority rights, says Fakhteh Zamani:
"They are calling for greater cultural and linguistic rights. These include the right to education using the Azerbaijani-Turkic language, which they believe is provided under the constitution."
According to Article Fifteen of the Iranian Constitution, although Persian is the official language, "the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian."
The Azerbaijanis are the largest minority in Iran, believed to constitute 25 to 30 percent of the population. Despite a long-standing policy of forced assimilation and discrimination by the Iranian government against non-Persian ethnic groups, recent years have seen a rise of Azerbaijani national consciousness, and a degree of promotion of the study and celebration of Azerbaijani culture, language and history. The Iranian government has responded with arrests, detentions, threats and other violations of human rights.
The U.S. calls on Iran to heed its own Constitution, and afford its minorities the rights guaranteed by Article Nineteen, which states, in its entirety: "All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege."