Human rights monitors say members of Iran's Azeri ethnic community are under increasing pressure from Iranian authorities.
Amnesty International reports that more than 30 Sunni Azeris were arrested on January 14th in the village of Khanegah-e Sork near Oroumiye in west Azerbaijan province. They were protesting the diversion of their water supply when police forcibly dispersed them.
Some demonstrators were reportedly injured during arrest; others were reportedly tortured or mistreated during detention. At least 21 of those arrested were tried February 1 before a court in Nazlu. Those convicted received sentences that included up to a year in prison, fines, flogging, and enforced residency in south-eastern Iran, far from their homes.
On February 2, 5 ethnic Azeri activists were sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in Ardebil for supporting Azeri-language schools in Iran. On February 4, 5 Azeri students were sentenced to one-year prison terms for running a blog that advocates language rights for Iranian Azeris. And Abdullah Abbasi Javan, a professor at Tehran's Shahid Raja'I University, remains in detention.
Arrested on November 13 following the annual celebration of Sattar Khan, a leading figure in the 1906 Constitutional Revolution in Iran, Mr. Javan has been denied access to a lawyer or family members. According to Amnesty International, Mr. Javan spent 130 days in detention in 2007, on charges of so-called "pan-Turkism" and "propaganda against the system." He was reportedly tortured during his incarceration.
Fakhteh Zamani, Director of the Canada-based Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners, says Iran has stepped up its repression:
"The situation has been [was] bad in 2008, but since the start of 2009 pressure on minorities is increasing. For Azerbaijanis, since the start of 2009, we have had the harshest prison sentences in several years."
Ms. Zamani says Iran's Azeri community is asking for the rights guaranteed by Iran's constitution to all Iranians:
"They are asking for their basic human rights, one of them being language rights. Also there are many discriminatory policies – economic, cultural, linguistic, and religious."
The United States, together with its international partners, urges the government of Iran to respect the fundamental rights of all Iranian citizens.