Annual Report on Human Rights Conditions in Iran in 1996

Democracy Network of Iran
February 1997

This report documents the performance of IRI during 1996, in the areas of freedom of expression, press, elections and religion based on the news dissiminated in DNI. It is by no means comprehensive specially in the area of freedom of elections. A major hurdle in achieving more freedom in the election process is the role of the Guardian Council which is deemed illegal by many observors. Elimination of the Guardian Council's role and securing [irrespective of the religion and ideology] the right to be elected for the dissidents will be a major step in improving the situation specially in the upcoming presidential elections. The freedom of expression and press report card in 1996 reveals the presense of a tremendous pressure on Iranian writers and journalists. While Faraj Sarkuhi's temporary release in Dec. 1996 was a major victory by huamn rights forces, it is indeed insignificant in the face of an all out attack on the rights of writers. At the time of publication of this report, Faraj Sarkuhi was arrested again by the security forces on January 27, 1997.

In a letter dated January 2, 1997 which was written by Faraj Sarkuhi and made public by Sarkuhi's brother on January 30, 1997, Sarkuhi states that "I am expecting at any moment that information agents will come and arrest me, place me in prison once again, torture and finally kill me, masking their crime as a suicide." He adds that "I was assaulted...I was brutalised...I was insulted...and during the night a security agent, who presented himself as a senior official, told me that I must pay for the others...so that the intellectuals are kept in their place." In regard to his forty day disappearance in late 1996, Faraj Sarkuhi says that "I was forced to write lies and repeat them in front of a camera in order to `confess' that I had connections to the German and French cultural attaches in Iran, that I was one of their agents, a spy on their payroll..." In the area of freedom of religion, last year was a difficult year for the Baha'is, Sunnies and some of the dissident Shi'ite clergy. The christians were also forced into self-censorship in order to avoid accusation of proselyzation. Four Bahai's have appealed their death penalty verdicts to the Supreme Court. Two of the Baha'is, Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami and Musa Talebi, have been informed that the Supreme Court have decided to uphold the death penalty verdict and their lives is in imminent danger. Tens of Shi'ite clergy are in detention simply for being dissidents and critical of the government and advocating a different interpretation of Shi'ite religion on government.

The number of executions in Iran more than doubled last year and many of the death sentences were carried out after unfair trials. 110 executions was recorded in Iran in 1996, compared with 50 in 1995.

We would like to point out one of the most outrageous Human Rights abuses and cases in Iran before we proceed to the actual 1996 report. This case's significance is not in the degree of abuse since thousands have suffered from the death penalty and thousands of political prisoners are still in IRI's jails. This case is significant because IRI has simply is refused to conduct a trial for its longest held political prisoner. Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam, who was a deputy prime minister in Mr. Bazargan's cabinet, is still in information ministry's house arrest in Tehran. His demand is to have a fair and open trial with a jury. One of his charges is spying for the USA.

I. Freedom of Expression and Press in 1996: The following 27 cases of violations of freedoms of expression and press have been observed by DNI in 1996. The list is not comprehensive, however, it is a credible and representative sample which reveals the status of freedoms of expression and press in the Islamic Republic of Iran. 1. January 1996: Mohammad Sadegh Javad Hassiri, the editor of provincial daily Tous was sentenced to six months of imprisonment and 20 lashes. He was charged with slander. Tous is published in Mashhad. Tous was banned on October of 1995, but the ban was lifted shortly after.

2. January 1996: The press court sentenced Abolghasem Golbaf, the publisher of the monthly Gozaresh, to three months in prison in a case brought by Agriculture minster Isa Kalantari, in violation of procedures for persecutions before the press court.

3. November 1995: Amir Alai, one of the signatories of the letter of 134 was mysteriously found dead in Isfahan. He had allegedly been abducted by the IRI security forces prior to his death.

4. January 1996: The daily salam was suspended for two days due to Hadi Khamenei's [supreme leader's brother] criticism of the role of Guardian Council in the fifth parliamentary elections. Salam's editor Abbas Abdi had been held for more than a year on undisclosed charges before being released in 1994.

5. January 1996: Abbas Ma'rufi the editor-in-chief of Gardoon was sentenced to six months imprisonment and 35 lashes. He was charged with publishing lies and insulting the supreme leader. Marufi was banned from working as a journalist for two years and Gardoon was closed down. There were many violations of fair trial procedures in the prosecution, including introduction of new charges during proceedings without new evidence and without giving defense lawyers time to prepare. Later was sent to exile to Germany at Maurice D. Copithorne's request.

6. February 1996: Siavosh Kasrai's wake was attacked by Hezbollahi hooligans in Tehran. Several well-known Iranian writers such as Mohammad Ghazi, Ibrahim Yunesi, Mahmood Dezhkam and Houshang Golshiri were severely beaten by the mob.

7. February 1996: Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Mostafa Mir Salim wrote in Tehran daily, Keyhan, that "the press does not understand its limits and acts without wisdom and commonsense". More than 190 journalists wrote an open letter to President Hashemi Rafsanjani and protested the minister's remarks and criticized arbitaray attacks on the freedom of press.

8. March 1996: The letter of 190 journalists was published by the Bahman newspaper. On March 14, this paper recieved a suspension order from the Press advisory board for its critical reporting. The ban was overturned by an appeals court in September. 9. February 1996: The ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance announced that it would impose pre-publication censorship on all books.. Previous policy had left the publishers with the obligation to abide by guidelines and subjected to penalties if they violated them. The new policy prompted deputy minister Ahmad Masjed Jamei to resign saying he would "not accept responsibility for them".

10. March 1996: Musavi Khoeiniha, the editor of Daily Salam, was banned from publishing for five years. He was accused of making false statements from Ayatollah Khamenei.

11. March 1996: The weekly journal, Bahar, was suspended less than a month after it started its publication in Tehran.

12. May 1996: Payam-e Daneshjoo was banned again for "violation of the press law". The weekly had resumed its publication in February of 1996 after a court acquitted its director of defamation charges which led to the ban in July of 1995.

13. June - July 1996: Dr. Soroush's lecture at the Amir Kabir University was disrupted by the Hezbollahi hooligans. Dr. Soroush's classes were also disrupted by Ansar Hezbollah, he was threatened to be killed by them and finally the ministry of intelligence banned Soroush from teaching altogether. [Dr. Soroush's interview with Kiyan journal: October 1996]

14. July 1996: Hooshang Golshiri, Faraj Sarkuhi, Reza Barahani, Mehrangiz Kar, Roshanak Darush, Simin Behbahani were beaten up by the IRI security forces in a gathering in the German Embassy in Tehran.

15. September 1996: Kanoone Nevisandegan's meeting at Mr. Kushabadi's house was ambushed by IRI security forces. 12 writers were taken to Evin. They were held in the prison over night. Faraj Sarkuhi were arrested and then released after interrogations.

16. September 1996: Ali Ashraf Darvishian was interrogated in Evin. They asked him to cooperate with IRI in return for travel rights. He declined and was released.

17. September 1996: Hooshang Golshiri, Faraj Sarkuhi, Reza Barahani, Mehrangiz Kar, Roshanak Darush, Simin Behbahani were arrested again. 18. October 1996: Hooshang Golshiri was banned from traveling. Mohammad Mokhtari was arrested for a few hours.

19. October 1996: Javad Mojabi was shortly, interrogated and released.

20. November 1996: Faraj Sarkuhi was allegedly abducted en route to Germany at Mehrabad Airport.

21. November 1996: Ghaffar hosseini, one of the signatories of the letter of 134 was found dead in his house. His death was suspicious.

22. November 1996: Mohammad Hossein Tahmasbpour Shahrak was en route to Fouzouli Congress in Azerbaijan Republic. He was allegedly arrested in Tehran.

23. November 1996: A well-known writer, Mehdi Parham, was allegedly arrested in Tehran.

24. December 1996: Kalimollah Tavakoli was arrested in Mashhad. His book titled "Historical migration of Kurdish people to Khorasan" had been reprinted four times.

25. December 1996: Faraj Sarkuhi reappeared on December 20, 1996. Mr. Sarkuhi was not allowed to travel according to his wife.

26. January 1997: In an open letter to the government officials, more than 350 Iranian journalists asked that journalism be recognized as a profession that entails hard work and should be rewarded with financial compnesation. In their letter, the journalists wrote that in Iran a reporter has to deal with various psychological stress and physical pressure because of which the average life expectancy of a reporter is 10 years less than the average.

27. January 1997: Faraj Sarkuhi was arrrested again by the security forces on January 27, 1997. His brother has apparently been arrested as well. Prior to his arrest he sent a letter to his brother in Sweden fearing re-arrest. He confirms his previous detention in November and December of 1996 in this letter.

II. Freedom of Election in 1996: The cases that we have enlisted here are again representative samples and are far from being comprehensive. These case reveal the degree of freedom of elections before and during the elections. The nationalist dissidents outside of the government such as Freedom Movement of Iran and National Front of Iran and the Nations Party of Iran do not enjoy the right to be elected as Parliamentary Representatives. It goes without saying that the outlawed groups cannot even publish their communiques inside of Iran not to mention the right to be elected. Although four fractions were present in the Fifth Parliamentary elections, 40% of the candidates were screened by the conservative Guardian Council unfairly and undemocratically mainly based on ideological reasons. This fact constitutes the most significant basis to claim that freedom of elections not only does not exist for critiques of the Islamic Republic and opponents of the Velayat-e Faghih, i.e., National Front of Iran, Nations Party of Iran and the Freedom Movement of Iran, but also it is extremely limited for the internal fractions inside IRI. A major hurdle in expansion of freedom of elections at the moment is the Guardian Council. With this introduction, we proceed to enumerate some of the case that were observed by Democracy Network of Iran in the area of freedom of elections in 1996.

1. January - February 1996: Disruption of the Press Conferences held by Seekers of Free Elections on two occasions in January and February in Tehran. The security forces prevented the National Front of Iran from holding their press conference in Tehran to communicate their position on their participation in the fifth parliamentary elections. IRI barred an election campaign demonstration by the Freedom Movement fo Iran on March 2, 1996 in Tehran.

2. February - March 1996: The Guardian council screenned 2867 [40% of total] of the candidates. 10 of these were among the well-known dissident nationalists such as Dr. Ebrahim Yazdi. Some of the above mentioned were among late Bazargans cabinet members. This screening process is a major component of lack of Freedom of elections in Iran today.

3. March - April 1996: Mrs. Akhavan from Isfahan and Mrs. Rastgoo from Malayer won the first round of elections in their respective cities. They were considered more of a moderate and Liberal as compared to the conservative clergy. The Guardian council blatently proceeded to nullify the election results in those cities.

4. March - April 1996: Mrs. Iran Ahvr and Dr. Chehregani were amongst the leading candidates in Tabriz in the first round of elections. The election authorities in Tabriz forced them out of the process. They claimed that Dr. Chehregani has withdrawn from elections in the face of his repeated denials. Forty thousand protested in Tabriz in response to removal of Dr. Chehregani's name in front of Tabriz city hall. close to 600 were arrested on that day. Later Dr. Chehregani and 40 students were arrested. They were released in May in the face of mounting pressure from the public opinion in Azarbaijan. Some of the earlier 600 arrestees were also released later. Dr. Chehregani is barred from travelling outside at the moment.

5. March - April 1996: Screening 2867 candidates prior to elections and nullifying the elections results in several cities after the first round of elections was not the Guardian Council's only achievements in the fifth parliamentary elections. The Guardian Council nullified the results for 22 seats after the second round of the elections in eight different states. On April 6, the Council accused some candidates of using anti-revolutionary slogans, making illusory promises and vote-buying. The Council did not identify those candidates and did not substantiate her claims. In other cities where first round results were annulled, no reason was provided, suggesting that the Guardian Council was not satisfied with the election results rather than the process.

6. May 1996: Five candidates from Tabriz who had received high number of votes during the first round of elections in Tabriz released a statement accusing the authorities of mishandling the elections. They complained of widespread cheating and harrassment by the Militant Clergy Society (Rohaniat-e Mobarez) in the second round of elections. Mr. Sobhanollahi and Mr. Ahvr were among the signatories of the communique.

7. December 1996 - January 1997: Mr. Hossein Sharifi of Miandoab was reported to be beaten up and arrested on January 6, 1997 in an attempt to be dissuaded from running for the parliamentary seat. Mr. Hossein Sharifi ran as an independent in the first round of the fifth parliamentary elections and won. However, the Guardian Council had nullified the results in Miandoab and total of nine states. Mr. Hossein Sharifi had decided to run again. The deadline for registeration was Monday January 6, 1996. In the morning of Monday January 6, 1996, Hossein Sharifi was beaten and arrested by the revolutionary Guards in front of his house in Miandoab.

8. January 1997: A woman who received the required votes in the March-April elections in Malayer, Hamedan Province for the fifth term of the Majlis, was disqualified from running in the by-election. She was disqualified because she `used misleading methods' in her campaign according to IRI papers. Results of the March 8, 1996 parliamentary elections in Malayer were declared null and void by the Guardians Council. The latest reports at the time of authorship of this report indicate that Mrs. Rastgoo of Malayer was allowed to run in the by-elections.

9. January 1997: From Natanz, Isfahan Province, credentials of 27 candidates were approved and eight nomination papers were rejected by the Screening Committee.

10. January 1997: Five of the 14 candidates from Astara were disqualified while 11 of the 21 nomination papers filed in Najafabad were rejected by the Screening Committee.

11. February 1997: The Guardian Council only approved 215 candidates from twice as many candidates for the by-elections of the fifth parliament in February 1997. Only 181 of the 215 were on the ballot boxes. Guardian council had backed from its decision on Mrs. Rastgoo of Malayer and Mr. Tajjedin of Isfahan due to public pressure which reveals the poltical nature of the Guardian Council's ilegal screening of candidates.

12. January 1997: Ayatollah Montazeri issued an open letter to Khamenei asking him not to block people's participation in the elections. He alleges that he is writing this letter in response to millions of inquiries by people. He demands facilitation of participation of non-clergy in the elections in this letter. And most importantly, he threatens that unless freedom of elections are provisioned, he and his followers will go on a hunger strike.

III. Freedom of Religion: According to IRI's constitution, "the official religion of Iran is Islam and the sect followed is Ja'fari Shi'ism". The Leader, President, cabinet ministers and the absolute majority of the Parliament, members of the Guardian Council, members of the Khebregan are Shi'ite Muslims. The right to governance is exclusive to Shi'a Muslim who believe in Velayat-e Faghih.

The constitution recognizes christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as divine religions and they have reserved seats in the Parliament. Their children can receive their own religious training and they are free to practice their religion. Non-Muslims may not proselytize Muslims. Three Christian ministers were killed in 1994. The Christian community is exercising self-censorship to avoid accusation of proselytization. A phenomenon which is widespread is suspicious murder of the Sunni Iranians which comprise close to 10% of the population. Dissident Kurds and Baluchies are found dead occasionally. In December, such a suspicious death in Kermanshah caused widespread protest and subsequent killing of several people by security forces.

The largest non-Muslim minority in Iran are the Baha'is [300,000-350,000]. They are considered a "misguided sect". Baha'is cannot teach and practise their Faith in Iran. The Baha'is are denied higher education. In 1993, the parliament passed a legislation to prohibit the government from employing people who deny the "divine religions". This law applies to the Baha'is. The same law stipulates penalties for government workers who do not adhere to "Islamic principles and rules". Currently hundreds of Bahai's are in prisons and four of them have appealed their death sentences to the Supreme Court. More than 200 Baha'is have been executed since 1979.

Religious persecution is not restricted to non-Shi'ites. 25 followers of Grand Ayatollah Sadegh Rohani were arrested in 1995. 18 followers of Ayatollah Shirazi were arrested in November 1995. Supporters of Ayatollah Montazeri have been continually harrassed and detained for the past few years. Ayatollah Montazeri's office was attaked by Hezbollahi forces in January 1997 in response to his open letter to Ayatollah Khamenei protesting the violations of social and political freedoms by IRI.

1. November 1996: Abdol-Aziz Kazemi-Vajd, professor of Zahedan University and one of the leaders of the Sunni religious minority, was abducted on November 12 in Zahedan (southeastern Iran) and subsequently found murdered.

2. February 1996: The dead body of Dr Ahmad Sayyad, a Sunni scholar and the director of a school was found in Minab, Iran.

3. February 1996: Religious meeting (leylatul Qadr) held in Dr Peyman's house was attacked by Hezbullah.

4. March 1996: Molavi Abdul Malek, a Sunni scholar, was killed in 4/3/96 in Pakistan, allegedly by the IRI agents.

5. December 1996: Mollah Rabee, a respected Sunni clergy was found dead in Kermanshah. The people of Kermanshah suspected foul play by IRI and protested his death. Several people were shot dead by Revolutionary Guards in Kermanshah as a result of this.

6. November 1996 - January 1997: 18 followers of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi were arrested in November of 1995.

According to Amnesty International, Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Fazel Mohammad al-Saffar was released from detention on 4 January 1997, and that Mohammad Ghaffari was released on 30 October 1996.

According to AI reports, Hojjatoleslam Seyyed Morteza Shirazi was released temporarily on 1 January 1997 and his brother, Seyyed Mehdi, was released temporarily on 28 December 1996. It is not known whether any date has been set for their return to detention.

There is still no information as to the fate of seven students arrested on 12 November 1995. Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Taqi Dhakeri, Hojjatoleslam Fu'ad Fujian, Hadi Dhakeri and Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Saleh Hedayati are still held in detention. Those detained may be held solely on account of their relationship to, or their peaceful support for, Grand Ayatollah Shirazi.

7. Jan. 1995 - June 1996: Ayatollah Sadegh Rohani issued two statements in January and June of 1995 criticizing the government. 25 of the Ayatollah's followers were arrested including Javad Rohani, the Ayatollah's son. Ayatollah's second letter had criticized the authorities for torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings.

8. February 1996: Ayatollah Yasub al-Din Rastgari, detained in late February 1996, was reportedly released from prison on 21 December 1996. However, unconfirmed reports suggest he is currently under house arrest in Qum. Amnesty International has no information about his legal status, but fears that he may be held under house arrest solely because of his expression of his conscientiously held beliefs.

9. February 1996: Mr. Zabihullah Mahrami was convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death by the Revolutionary Court of Yazd. In late February 1996, following international protest, the Supreme Court referred Mr. Mahrami's case to a civil court for retrial. Mr. Mahrami has been notified recently that his death sentence has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. Mr. Mahrami's life is in imminent danger.

10. 1996: Two other Baha'is, Mr. Bihnam Misaqi and Mr. Keyvan Khalajabadi, have also been sentenced to death. They have been confined since 1989 and are now held in the Evin Prison in Tehran. They have appealed their sentences to the Supreme Court. Thousands have been imprisoned, many subjected to torture. Baha'is have been systematically excluded from education and employment opportunities and the survival of the Baha'i community is threatened by continuing religious repression.

11. August 22, 1996: The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahai's in the United States announced that 20 Iranian Baha'i refugees and one Muslim teenager were deported from Turkey to Iran on August 7, 1996.

12. October 1996: Another member of the Bahai faith which is officially a "misleading and wayward" faith was sentenced to death on charges of "apostasy". Mr. Musa Talebi was arrested on June 7, 1994 in Isfahan. His death sentence came from teh Islamic revolutionary court branch 31. His case has been appealed to the supreme court for the second time. Mr. Talebi had been sentenced to 10 years on charges of sharing he tenets of his beliefs with others. An appellete court had reduced the sentence to 18 months. A public prosecutor refered the case to the Supreme court which in turn had given the case to the Islamic Revolutionary court branch 31. In July of 1996, at another trial he was sentenced to death. The case was appealed by his lawyer to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has decided to uphold the death sentence decision in January of 1997. Mr. Talebi's life is in imminent danger.

13. 1996: Only two Protestant churches that conducted services in Persian, the Assembly of God churches in Tehran and Rasht, remained open. The murder of three leading Protestant clergy in 1994 had a devastating impact on the Protestant community. In November 1995, church sources reported the detention of Reverend Harmik Torosian, an Assembly of God pastor in Shiraz.

Conclusion: Based on our observation and monitoring of the status of freedoms of expression, press, and elections in Iran in 1996, we are extremely concerned about the situation of the Iranian writers and journalists. We find the role of the Guardian Council in the election process unfair and undemocratic. We have documented both of these claims in this report. We are also extremely concerned about the fate of thousands of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Iran. At the end, we would like to echo Mr. Abbas Amir Entezam's request for an open and fair trail with a jury. Bahai's, Christians, Sunnies and dissident Shi'ite clerics are under significant pressure. The situation of Baha'is is worst since they do not enjoy legal rights and not are considered a religion but a "misguided sect". 1996 marks a year where freedoms of expression, election, religion and press were significantly contracted in Iran. Democracy Network of Iran calls upon all to pressure the Islamic Republic of Iran to adhere to UDHR. We ask all governments to condition the degree of their economic and trade relationship with IRI on the status of human right conditions in Iran. IRI is a signatory of the UDHR document and as such it must abide by the articles in that document.

@ copyright 1997 by Democracy Network of Iran You are free to redistribute and use this report provided that you acknowledge Democracy Network of Iran.

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