Monday, March 27, 2006

Honoring the Incarcerated on Nowruz

Shahram Rafizadeh, Rooz Online:
Iranians around the world celebrated the Persian New Year known as Nowruz last week. But the prison walls in Iran are taller than ever. Although Akbar Ganji's temporary release made freedom-lovers happy even though he is still legally registered as a prisoner, many other ideological and political prisoners were as lucky and could not celebrate Nowruz with their family and loved ones. Nasser Zarafshan, Mojtaba Samieenejad, Peyman Piran, Manouchehr and Akbar Mohammadi, Arash Sigarshi, Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, Elham Afroutan. Mansour Osanlou, Davoud Razavi, Bina Darabzand, Behruz Javid Tehrani, Khaled Hardani are just a handful of Iranian prisoners who are still behind prison walls awaiting their freedom. READ MORE

Last year was a year of larger prison population and group arrests in Iran. More than 1,100 bus-drivers were arrested during their syndicate strike and sent to the notorious Evin prison. Based on the official announcement of the Islamic government, around 1,200 Dervishes were arrested and transferred to unknown locations from the city of Qom. Banned from any visitations, Abdol-Fattah Soltani, the prominent lawyer who defended other prisoners spent 219 days in Evin's infamous 209 Ward. Siamak Pourzand, Ahmad Batebi and Abbas Amir Entezam are either still in prison or under house arrest. A number of syndicate managers of the bus-drivers' syndicate and many students and political activists from different cities continue to spend the New Year behind prison bars...

Nasser Zarafshan, the defense lawyer who boldly took up the defense of surviving family members of the official serial murders in Iran, is himself now in prison. Iran’s ministry of Intelligence that had broad powers to arrest and detain, killed dozens of Iranian intellectuals, writers and journalists in late 90s, as attested by its own officials and official government inquiries. Zarafshan took up the case of the victims, and has been forced to pay a high price for it. He boldly took up the murders cases of Parvaneh and Dariush Forouhar, Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Jaafar Pouyandeh. His persistence to summoning senior Islamic government intelligence officials to court, eventually led to his own arrest by the hardline judiciary. He is serving a 5-year sentence.

Even Iran’s best known political prisoner Akbar Ganji who was released just before Nowruz, he is officially registered as a prisoner and is out on “family leave.”

Heshmatollah Tabarzadi is another political prisoner who has spent years behind bars. There is no officially announced sentence for him, but it widely believed he has a 16-year sentence for charges that accuse him of “counter-revolutionary activities.” In his letter to the head of Iran's judiciary, Tabarzadi's father of six children complained about his son’s confinement to a solitary cell for more than 210 days and for being subjected to psychological torture in different Iranian prisons.

Mojtaba Sameeinejad was a blogger who was arrested amid the crackdown of internet activists. Sentenced to more than two years in prison, he is accused of offending Iran's supreme leader and defending prisoners.

Arash Sigarchi, a former blogger and editor of Gilan-e Emrooz daily was sentenced to 14 years in prison by the Gilan revolutionary court. He was later released on bail and his prison term decreased to three years. Despite losing his brother in a car accident, he returned to prison after his 10-day leave.

After months of uncharged prison detention and hunger strikes, Peyman Piran, a political activist is spending his 6-year sentence in notorious Evin prison.

Following the workers' strike, Mansour Osanlou and a member of the bus-drivers syndicate is among those who were arrested last January. Despite the release of a number of syndicate's managers, Osanlou has been kept behind bars.

Twenty year old Elham Afroutan was arrested when she was accused of offending officials of the Islamic republic through the publication of a satirical article in a local Hormozgan publication. Rumours of Afroutan's suicide spread fast and many human rights activists called for more information on her fate. The article she published in Hormozgan was taken form an internet site outside Iran.

The list of Dervishes who were arrested during the occupation and destruction of their temple in Qom has not yet been released, but some authorities in Qom estimate the number to be around 1200 people.

Tens of other political prisoners continue to spend their sentence in Iranian prisons. Prisoners such as Abbas Amir Entezam, Hussein Ghazian, Ahmad Batebi, Siamak Pourzand and many others are prisoners who have been temporarily allowed to visit their families, but are expected to return to prison serve their time.

There are no accurate or reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners in Iran, but what is clear is that the list is longer than what Iranian officials publicly present. And let’s not forget, officially there are no political prisoners in Iran and anybody who criticizes or present a different view from that of the official line, is considered to be “in conflict with God” or against the divine Islamic state.