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Iran: Rights group concerned over plight of a political prisoner

Iran: Rights group concerned over plight of a political prisonerNCRI -Amnesty International said it was concerned over the plight of a political prisoner jailed since June 8 in a public statement on August 25. The statement is as follows:


PUBLIC  AI Index: MDE 13/098/2006  
25 August 2006

UA 229/06 Health concern / Torture / Possible Prisoner of Conscience/ Fear for safety 

IRAN:  Ali Khodabakhshi (also known as Elyaz Yekanli) (m), activist, aged about 31
            His family

Ali Khodabakhshi (also known as Elyaz Yekanli) is a prominent activist for the cultural, social and political rights of the Azeri Turkish minority in Iran (who also refer to themselves as Iranian Azerbaijanis). He has been detained without charge since his arrest on 8 June. He has been tortured in detention in order to extract a ‘confession.’ He may be detained on account of his peaceful activities on behalf of the rights of the Azeri Turkish minority, in which case Amnesty International would consider him a prisoner of conscience.  The Ministry of Intelligence has allegedly been attempting to intimidate Ali Khodabakhshi’s family through phone calls and by visiting their house. There are concerns for their safety.
Ali Khodabakhshi served an eighteen-month prison sentence from 1993, reportedly in connection with his activities on behalf of the rights of the Azeri Turkish community. He left Iran for Turkey, and was granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in September 2005. He returned to Iran of his own accord in around April 2006. Upon his return, he was detained by the Ministry of Intelligence, and detained for ten days, during which time he was allegedly tortured.

On or around 8 June, Ali Khodabakhshi was arrested at his home in the village of Kahriz Yekan, in northwestern Iran. He had participated in mass demonstrations that took place across the region in May. He was detained for 30 days in solitary confinement, at a detention facility run by the Ministry of Intelligence (Etelaat) in the city of Tabriz, northwestern Iran. During this time, he did not have access to his family or lawyer, and his family did not know where he was detained. He was then transferred to Qirkhlar prison in the city of Marand, northwestern Iran, where he is still being held.

Ali Khodabakhshi was reportedly subjected to physical and psychological torture while detained in Tabriz. He was badly beaten, and was given electric shocks. He was apparently tortured until he made a forced confession. When his family visited him in Qirkhlar prison, Ali Khodabakhshi appeared extremely weak, and did not talk much. He apparently struggled to hold a glass due to the effect of electric shocks on his arms.
Ali Khodabakhshi is reportedly to be suffering from a variety of medical complaints. As a result of being tortured, and of previous medical conditions, he has a poor sense of balance, and has problems with his heart, kidneys, and digestion system, as well as impaired hearing and vision. It is not known whether he has received prompt or adequate medical treatment. It is feared that if the authorities fail to provide him with regular treatment, it could have grave consequences for his health.

Ali Khodabakhshi is reportedly detained in a cell in Qirkhlar prison with drug addicts and criminals, who harass and threaten him. Prison officers have reportedly told Ali Khodabakhshi that they are going to keep him there until he suffers a psychological breakdown. He reportedly has limited access to food.

In May 2006, massive demonstrations took place in towns and cities in north-western Iran, where the majority of the population is Azeri Turkish, in protest at a cartoon published on 12 May by the state-owned daily newspaper Iran which many Azeri Turks found offensive. Hundreds were arrested during or following the demonstrations (see UA 151/06, MDE 13/055/2006 and UA 163/06, MDE 13/063/2006). Some of those detained have allegedly been tortured, with some requiring hospital treatment.  Publication of the newspaper was suspended on 23 May and the editor-in-chief and the cartoonist were arrested. Azeri sources have claimed that dozens were killed and hundreds injured by the security forces. The security forces have generally denied that anyone was killed, although on 29 May a police official acknowledged that 4 people had been killed and 43 injured in the town of Naqada.