February saw the state crackdown on protests by fuel traders in Sistan and Baluchestan that started in Saravan, southeastern Iran.
The protests erupted on February 22 when Baluch fuel carriers gathered near an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) base on the border in Saravan to protest the border closure. The Guards, who had dug large holes on the border to prevent fuel carriers from passing, gunned down the protesters, killing and wounding dozens of people.
The regime shut down or disrupted internet connections on February 24 to quell the Sistan and Baluchestan protests. However, sporadic clashes and other forms of protest continued for a week and spread to several other cities in the province including in the provincial capital, Zahedan.
At least 40 fuel traders were reported killed and 100 injured. Among those killed was a 16-year-old boy identified as Hassan Mohammadzehi.
In a statement released on March 2, Amnesty International called for an independent inquiry into the killing of Baluch fuel traders.
Amnesty International said: “By opening fire on a group of unarmed people, Iranian security forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life. There must be urgent, independent criminal investigations into these unlawful killings, in line with international law and standards. Anyone against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence must be prosecuted in a fair trial, without resorting to the death penalty.”
February was also marked by developments in Iran’s prisons, executions, and examples of violations of citizens’ rights to freedom of expression.
What follows is an overview of the human rights situation in Iran in February 2020, compiled by Iran Human Rights Monitor.
At least 34 executions were carried out in February. At least four prisoners were executed for politically motivated charges. There is also a woman among those executed.
Zahra Esma’ili’s lawyer, Omid Moradi announced that prison authorities in Iran hanged the lifeless body of his client who had a fatal heart failure before being executed.
“Today, I saw the death certificate of Zahra Esma’ili. The reason written for her death was heart failure,” Omid Moradi tweeted on February 19, 2021.
According to her lawyer, she saw 16 prisoners hanged before her eyes. So, she had a heart attack before being taken to the gallows. Nevertheless, prison guards hanged her lifeless body.
Zahra Esma’ili was an innocent woman. She claimed responsibility for the murder of her husband to save her teenage daughter who had shot him in the head.
Alireza Zamani was a managing director at the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence. He routinely mistreated and battered his wife and children.
Iran is the world’s top executioner of women and has the highest rate of per capita executions.
In yet another case on February 28 four Arab Ahvazi political prisoners were executed in the Ahvaz Sepidar prison, southwestern Iran.
The four men were identified as Jasem Heidari, Ali Khosraji, Hossein Silavi, and Naser Khafajin. Although all four were executed minutes after their last family visit, prison authorities had not informed their families beforehand of the execution, and they were informed by the prisoners themselves.
The political prisoners had gone on hunger strike on January 25 to protest a ban forbidding them from seeing their family and ill-treatment by prison authorities.
Amnesty International had expressed concern on the whereabouts of these prisoners in early February.
Last month, one of the most shocking cases of basic rights violations of prisoners was the suspicious death of a prisoner of conscience.
Behnam Mahjoubi, a detained Gonabadi Dervish, passed away on February 21, in a Tehran hospital days after being given an excessive amount of unknown medication in prison. He was transferred to Loghman Hospital on February 12 from the notorious Evin Prison. A source close to the family said before this that Behnam Mahjoubi was taken to the prison infirmary on February 12 and was given “sleeping pills” because there was no doctor on shift. His health deteriorated after taking the pills and he went into a coma.
Behnam was 33 years old and is survived by his wife. He was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, including through the denial of specialist medical care. He was serving his two-year prison sentence for attending a peaceful protest.
Torture and cruel punishment
A Kurd man who was detained on February 1 by security forces in Tehran was killed under torture. The 21-year-old man was identified as Mehrdad Taleshi, who was arrested along with another man under suspicions of carrying drugs. He was initially taken to the 113th Police Station but was later transferred to the 115th Station. The identity of the second man is still unknown.
An informed source said Mehrdad Taleshi was taken to the Shapour Police Station at 10 pm on the night of his arrest, where he was tortured and killed. Evidence of torture and severe beatings were found on his head and neck.
A man awaiting finger amputation in a northwestern Iran prison was lashed 60 times for “disrupting prison order”. The 8th Branch of the Implementation Unit of the Urmia Public and Revolutionary court flogged 34-year-old Hadi Rostami on February 14.
Rostami was recently sentenced to eight months of prison and 60 lashes in November 2020 for “disrupting prison order”, which could be referring to his several suicide attempts and hunger strikes in prison. The flogging was carried out even though Rostami is in poor physical condition due to his recent suicide attempts.
Rostami tried to commit suicide twice in the past months by consuming glass shards. Before this on June 30, 2020, he attempted suicide by consuming poison and was transferred to the hospital.
Hadi Rostami went on hunger strike twice in June 2018 for being kept in a state of limbo for one year.
In yet another case, an Iranian journalist was sentenced to three years of prison, 74 lashes, a financial penalty, and apologizing to the plaintiff yesterday by the Tehran Criminal Court. Fariborz Kalantari was charged for “insulting” Mehdi Jahangiri, the brother of Iran’s First Vice-President, Ishaq Jahangiri.
Mehdi Jahangiri sued Kalantari for writing an article which cited his financial corruption. Kalantari was charged with “insulting” Jahangiri and “publishing lies” and was sentenced to three years of prison and lashes. This is while before this Mehdi Jahangiri was convicted of corruption in court. But he will only spend two years in prison for “professional currency smuggling”.
A man was sentenced to amputation, in addition to other charges, in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari province, in southwestern Iran yesterday. According to the IRGC-affiliated YJC website, the man was detained for injuring a state environmental agent. He was sentenced to qisas, the Islamic term for “retaliation”, a financial penalty, prison, and confiscation of weapons. The report did not mention which part of his body would be amputated.
Discrimination against religious minorities
Pressure and repression against the members of religious minorities continued in Iran in February.
The 28th Branch of the Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced three members of a Bahai family to a total of seven years of prison yesterday. the three Bahais were identified as Afsaneh Imami, her husband Saeed Naseri, and his brother Hamid Naseri.
The three Bahais were tried in absentia and their sentences have been confirmed.
Afsaneh Imami, Saeed Naseri, and Hamid Naseri were charged with “membership in illegal organizations which are threats to national security”, for which Afsaneh was sentenced to three years of prison, while Hamid and Saeed were sentenced to two years of prison.
In another case in southern Iran, eight Bahai citizens were summoned on February 22 to the 2nd Branch of the Bandar Abbas Revolutionary Court to serve their prison terms. They were sentenced to a total of 14 years of prison in early February.
The eight men and women have been identified as Arash Rasekhi, Nasim Qanavatian, Maral Rasti, Mahnaz Jan Nesar, Omid Afaghi, Mehroallah Afshar, Adeeb Hagh Pejve and Farhad Amri.
They were previously tried in the 2nd Branch of the Bandar Abbas Court on December 24, 2020. They were each sentenced to two years of prison, except for Farhad and Adeeb, who were sentenced to one year of prison.