Continuation of Human Rights Violations Against Kurds In Iran

by

Human beings are members of a whole,

In creation of one essence and soul.

If one member is afflicted with pain,

Other members uneasy will remain.

Hassan Rouhani took the office of president this Saturday and it appears he did so with the approval and endorsement of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Despite being heralded by the international press as Iran’s moderate candidate, Rouhani has shown signs of being more of the same, especially for Iran’s repressed religious and ethnic minorities. Rouhani offered hope to these populations during his campaign, making promises to include minorities in his cabinet administration. Last month, however, he appeared on television for an interview and said, “There is only one nation in Iran and that is structured by Islamic system.” Even if Rouhani was compelled to take up the Kurdish cause and attempt administrative change to protect their rights, he would have a difficult time doing so, considering Iran’s two tiered government system. As Abduallah Mohtadi, the leader of Komala, told Vice not too long ago:

The whole structure of the Iranian constitution and its laws are not favorable to democratic change. Khamenei still has the final word as the Supreme Leader of Iran. The people who voted for Rohani are certainly for change, but whether he can deliver it or not is something else. I greatly doubt it.

Kurds in Iran have particular reason to worry about the new president. As one of Iran’s largest minorities, Kurds comprise 15-17 percent of the overall population and yet, like Kurds in other parts of the Middle East, Iranian Kurds are the target of the government’s harshest human rights violations. They are denied the right to speak their language, study their history, or participate in politics. Kurdish activists are under threat of harassment, arbitrary arrest, harsh prison sentences and execution without fair trial. The Iranian government characterizes Kurds as enemies of the state and accuses Kurdish activists of being spies for the United States, Israel and other foreign adversaries to Iran. This year, the regime has been exceptionally iron-fisted in its treatment of the Kurdish community, cracking down more fiercely on political activists, punishing their protest with increasing numbers of arrests, excessive sentences and hangings. In response, the Kurdish community has seen multiple self-immolations this past year, as well as several prisoners on hunger strike. As always, the accuracy of information is often dependent on news reported by the regime itself, which makes it difficult to judge the intensity of repression; however, here is a brief overview of the information available:

Arrests & Imprisonment

In February, Iranian security officials conducted a wave of arrests of Kurdish student activists. The officials would raid and search their homes and then confiscate their belongings. Then they would detain the arrested, often without disclosing a location or the charges leveled against them. It could be months or years before they’ve received a fair trial and it’s likely the only fate that awaits them is a harsh sentence in a prison among common criminals. This is modus operandi for the Iranian government and the narrative of experience for Kurdish activists on a daily basis in Iran.

Due to Iran’s ill-defined and often tacit laws, in addition to the unmitigated power conferred to the Supreme Leader, activists can be arrested for almost any pretense ranging from “propaganda against the regime and/or Islam” to “acting as a foreign agent”. Activists and non-activists alike can be targeted by these charges, for simply speaking out as a Kurd or for actively organizing in favor of Kurdish rights in Iran. According to an April 2012 report by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center:

Activists that engage in peaceful activities related to political parties are also a prime target of the Iranian authorities. Members of groups that offered monetary aid or emotional support to family members of killed Kurdish political party members said they were arrested by the Iranian authorities on allegations of aiding illegal groups Even poetry and literary writing—if political in tone—can land the author in jail for allegedly sympathizing with political opposition groups.

Once a Kurdish activist is targeted for arrest and imprisonment, they are subjected to the same pattern of mistreatment and deprivation of due process safeguards that many political prisoners throughout Iran endure…

Many are arrested without charges or are not informed of the charges against them until months into their detention; sometimes the charges against them are modified numerous times without adequate notice or additional case files created. Many suffer prolonged detentions, abuse and even torture.

Because of presidential elections, this year has seen a crackdown on Kurdish activists, from Khosro and Masoud Kordpour, journalists who were arrested in March on the charge of “releasing news of prisoners and human rights activists”, to Hadi Ghezelbash, who was accused of cooperation with PJAK in July. In May, a little over a month before elections were slated to take place, Iranian intelligence officials arrested three Kurds and detained them in Kermanshah security prison, with no information released to their family. Not long before that, in April, intelligence officials arrested four Kurds in Sarv Abad, after raiding their homes, destroying property and harassing their families — rounding out a 40-day marathon of arrests with 24 citizens.

Executions

Executions are part-and-parcel of the regime’s repression and persecution of Kurdish activists. According to Amnesty International, the regime facilitated over 500 executions in total over the course of 2012, the highest number in 15 years — and 180 of which were not reported by the government. Almost daily there is a fresh round of news of hangings all over Iran, of dissidents of all ethnicities and religions.

As of January 2013, 20 Kurds were awaiting executions on death row. At least of five of those Kurds were executed in July this year: five Kurdish youths who had been imprisoned in Urmiye, two of whom were “allegedly involved in smuggling activities”, had been hanged and their bodies delivered to their families.

Death row prisoners live uncertainly and made to wait long periods of time before their sentences are confirmed or their appeals are rejected. They’re often convicted on confessions given under duress or coercion — torture is not an unusual method of extracting a confession to secure to an execution sentence, although forced confessions are outlawed by the Iranian Constitution. Threats of execution are often utilized to suppress Kurdish activism preemptively.

Among the prominent prisoners on death row right now are Loghman and Zaniyar Moradi, two Kurdish brothers who are convicted of the assassination of Saadi Shirzadi, the son of a Friday prayer leader. Sources told the IHRDC that the written confessions of Loghman and Zaniyar were dictated to them after hours of torture and under the threat of more. During their trial, more charges were levelled against them: that they were spying for M16. Despite their denials, the judge handed down an execution sentence in February of 2011 and the Supreme Court later confirmed it. Two years later, and the Moradi brothers still anxiously await their sentence in Raja’i Shahr Prison. Last February, 19 political prisoners signed an open letter condemning the sentence. They wrote:

We are the political prisoners of Zahedan prison who have suffered of injustice and some sentenced to death. There are three Kurdish activists among us who were sentenced to death and now are here in exile. All of us demanding international community and human rights organizations to prevent the execution verdicts of our brothers to not see the tulips of this land sinking in blood.

Hunger Strikes

To protest the circumstances by which they arrived in prison, and the conditions they suffer there, many Kurdish prisoners are resisting the only non-violent way they know how: by hunger strike. Prisoners hunger strike to protest conditions inside the prison and the persecution of their kin that persists outside the prison. Hunger strikes within the Iranian prison system are especially difficult as prisoners are often denied medical attention — either because medical resources within the prison are scant or because authorities seek to make the prisoner’s stay more difficult.

Khosro Kordpour, the aforementioned journalist arrested in Marcj, engaged in a hunger strike in April, to protest the circumstances under which he and his brother, Loghman, are being detained. The brothers have been given very little information as to the charges they face or whether they will be released. The Kordpours haven’t even been allowed to speak to family.

Self-Immolations

The act of self-immolation is one that comes from a place of severe desperation and hopelessness. One who self-immolates seeks not only to burn away the pain of their own repression but to leave a scorch large enough that it may spark further protest, and eventually lead to systematic change.

In the past year alone, at least three Kurds in Iran have died by self-immolation in protest of the persecution they suffered at the hands of the regime. Two Kurdish men, Hassan Razavi and Nimkard Tahari, who were followers of the religion Yârsân, burned themselves alive after Iranian prison officials shaved off the mustache of Keyumars Tamnak, a follower of the same religion. Followers of Yârsân are not allowed by their faith to shave or trim their mustache.

Not long after, in July, another man died by the same method. Mohammad Ghanbari, also a follower of Yârsân, “set himself on fire in front of the Islamic Parliament on Saturday to protest the lack of action following the self-immolation and the treatment of other members of the religion Yârsân.”