Washington, D.C., November 1, 2021 — Iranian authorities must release journalist Manoochehr Aghaei immediately and unconditionally, and cease jailing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 27, Aghaei, the editor-in-chief of the independent, social media-based news outlet MiandoabPress and a reporter for the state-run news website Young Journalists’ Club, presented himself to authorities at Miandoab Central Prison, in West Azerbaijan province, to begin an eight-month prison sentence, according to reports by the exile-run news website IranWire and the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), a U.S.-based outlet that covers Iran.
Earlier that day, Aghaei tweeted that he had been convicted of “spreading propaganda against the system.” Neither that tweet nor those news reports specified when he was charged or tried.
“Iranian authorities must release reporter Manoochehr Aghaei immediately and unconditionally, and stop jailing journalists in connection with their work,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Authorities need to recognize that not every piece of journalism or commentary is anti-state propaganda, and must cease their brutal censorship of the press.”
Aghaei’s conviction stemmed from readers’ comments on MiandoabPress’s Telegram and Instagram accounts. According to IranWire, authorities considered those comments to be anti-state propaganda, and held Aghaei responsible for them.
MiandoabPress is an independent news outlet that covers daily national news topics, such as politics and finance, as well as local news in West Azerbaijan, according to CPJ’s review of its Telegram channel, which has about 21,000 followers, and Instagram, where it has 82,000 followers. The outlet publishes in both Azeri and Farsi.
In the tweet before his imprisonment, Aghaei wrote, “I have to present myself to judicial officials to start serving my sentence only due to people’s comments. Pressuring journalists is not the solution to the problems.”
CPJ called the Miandoab judiciary office for comment, but no one answered.
Online videos show police firing tear gas and fighting protesters with batons in a central Iranian city that has seen days of demonstrations demanding government action over a drought By The Associated Press 27 November 2021
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Police fired tear gas and birdshot while fighting protesters with batons on Friday in a central Iranian city that has seen days of demonstrations demanding government action over a drought, online videos show.
The social media videos and others from activists show police and protesters clashing in the dry bed of the Zayandehrud River in the city of Isfahan. The videos correspond to reporting by The Associated Press and satellite images of the area, as well as some semiofficial Iranian news agency accounts of the unrest.
Videos from Human Rights Activists in Iran show demonstrators throwing stones at police, while others depict bloodied protesters, including one man who appeared to have wounds in his back from birdshot. They also show similar unrest in nearby streets in Isfahan, which is 340 kilometers (210 miles) south of the capital Tehran.
The Iranian semiofficial Fars news agency said a heavy presence of security forces brought the gathering of some 500 people in Isfahan to an end. A separate report carried by the semiofficial Tasnim agency said unknown perpetrators had damaged a pipeline that transfers water from Isfahan to other provinces Thursday night.
Some people in Isfahan later Friday reported that mobile internet service was disrupted in the city. The group NetBlocks reported an outage in recent days that also affected the southwestern city of Ahvaz amid water protests there.
Iran in the past has shut down both mobile and landline internet to halt protests. That included a nationwide shutdown during 2019 protests over rising government-set gasoline prices that Amnesty International says saw over 300 people killed.
Farmers reportedly ended a long protest in the area on Thursday after authorities promised to compensate them for losses suffered in drought-stricken areas of central Iran.
Drought has been a problem in Iran for some 30 years, but it has worsened over the past decade, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The Iran Meteorological Organization says that an estimated 97% of the country now faces some level of drought.
The farming area around Isfahan was once well supplied by the Zayandehrud River, but nearby factories have increasingly drawn on it over the years. The river once flowed under historic bridges in Isfahan’s city center, but is now a barren strip of dirt.
In 2012, farmers clashed with police in a town in Isfahan province, breaking a water pipe that diverted some 50 million cubic meters of water a year to a neighboring province. Similar protests have continued sporadically since then.
A protester accused of shooting a Special Riot Force commander in Mahshahr, southern Iran in the nation-wide November 2019 protests has been sentenced to death.
The foreign-based Iranian Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported Friday that authorities informed the family of Abbas Shelishat (Driss), 45, that he has been sentenced to death on a number of charges including taking up arms against the Islamic Republic and shooting a commander of the Special Anti-Riot Forces, Reza Sayyadi, during protests in Mahshahrin November 2019.
A source close to the family told HRANA that the judicial authorities gave a verbal notice of the sentence to the family four months ago and have since refused to provide any official confirmation of the sentence to them or Shelishat’s two lawyers who have also not even been allowed to read the case files.
The Judiciary has also sentenced several others to death for the protests in November 2019 including three young menwhose death sentences have been confirmed by the Supreme Court but not carried out yet.
Abbas Shelishat, sentenced to death. Undated photo
Shelishat’s brother, Mohsen, who has also been accused of complicity in the killing of the anti-riot officer, has been sentenced to life in prison, the family have said.
Karim Dahimi, Iranian Arab activist, told Iran International Saturday that this case has been sent to the Supreme Court for approval. According to Dahimi, a second expert has testified to the court that Shelishat could not be responsible for the killing of the officer as Shileshat’s position at the time of the killing made it impossible for him to shoot the officer in the back.
Sources close to the family have told HRANA that Shelishat’s wife died of a brain stroke after finding out about the sentence. In the past four months the family apparently kept the news of the death sentence secret waiting to get official confirmation.
A few weeks after the protests, the state-run television aired a video of Shileshat and other prisoners whose faces were obscured and presented as “confessions of armed terrorists”. The state media described the Mahshahr protesters as terrorists and Arab separatist groups.
In the video, a man allegedly Shileshat, said with his brother’s complicity he had shot an officer in a green uniform during the protests from the roof of his house.
In the same program, two other prisoners spoke about the events at the time of the killing with one of them claiming that two protesters who arrived on motorcycles shot at police officers while the officers were praying together.
The events described in the program happened during a bloody crackdown by the Revolutionary Guards and other security forces against largely unarmed protesters in the southern city of Mahshahr and its suburbs after protesters gained control of the city’s transit roads.
The port city of Mahshahr is in the oil-producing Khuzestan province and close to large petrochemical plants and other oil facilities.
The crackdown on protesters seeking refuge in the marshlands on the outskirts of the city security forces reportedly opened fire indiscriminately. The lethal attack has come to be widely referred to as the Mahshahr Massacre among Iranians.
President Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vaezi, on December 11, 2019 confirmed the reports about the killing of protesters in Mahsharhr but claimed that a group of armed individuals were responsible for the violence and shooting at both the protesters and the security forces.
Two weeks after the incident in Mahshahr, the New York Times reported that between 40 to 100 protesters were killed during the crackdown based on multiple interviews with eyewitnesses including a nurse at a hospital where the wounded were treated.
It’s hard to imagine what the men and women incarcerated in Syria’s notorious Al-Khatib prison had to endure.
At the heart of it, Raslan was accused of being a high-ranking security service officer under President Bashar al-Assad as mass anti-government protests were violently crushed in 2011.
Many protesters and others suspected of opposing the regime were rounded up and detained in the Al-Khatib facility in Damascus where, prosecutors say, Mr Raslan directed operations.
He was charged with 58 murders as well as rape and sexual assault, and the torture of at least 4,000 people held there between 2011 and 2012.
The ruling is significant, especially for those who survived Al-Khatib and gave evidence during the trial. A criminal court has now formally acknowledged that crimes against humanity were perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own citizens.
Raslan was arrested in Germany in 2019 having successfully sought asylum there. He denied all the charges against him, saying he had nothing to do with the mistreatment of prisoners and that he actually tried to help some detainees.
His trial was extraordinary for several reasons. It was unprecedented in taking on Syria’s state-led torture and it was prompted by the arrival in Germany of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who’d fled their own country.
Many of the almost 800,000 Syrians who now live in Germany brought with them terrible stories of what happened to those who opposed the Assad regime, and German human rights lawyers took up their cause, using the principle of universal jurisdiction to bring the case to court. This allows serious crimes committed in one country to be tried elsewhere.
Wolfgang Kaleck, head of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights which has led the case, says it’s hard to talk about justice given that hundreds of thousands of people have been tortured and tens of thousands have died as a result.BBC International criminal justice, universal jurisdiction always comes too late and it’s never enough but… I would say it’s an important step forward Wolfgang Kaleck European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights
But perhaps most importantly the trial gave a voice to those whom the Assad regime tried to silence. Fifty survivors have given evidence to the court in Koblenz; 24 are co-plaintiffs in the case.
Screams of torture
Their stories are horrifying. The court heard how detainees were beaten and doused in cold water. Others were raped or hung from the ceiling for hours on end. Torturers tore out their fingernails and administered electric shocks.
One survivor told me that he could hear the screams of people being tortured all day, every day. Another that his attackers had used special “tools’ and that they had appeared to enjoy what they were doing.
Raslan now faces life in prison and prosecutors sought to bar any possibility of probation after 15 years.
Prosecutors were encouraged by the conviction last year of another Syrian official as part of the same trial. Eyad-al-Gharib, who helped to arrest protesters who were later tortured and killed, was jailed for four and a half years for complicity in crimes against humanity.
Lawyers are preparing cases against a number of other suspects but, ultimately, they’d like to bring to justice those right at the top of the chain of command.
Bashar al-Assad has indicated that he’s following the trial, but he and his government have repeatedly denied accusations of torturing or forcibly “disappearing” hundreds of thousands of his own citizens.
This trial serves another purpose too: to build a body of evidence for use in future proceedings. In addition to witness testimonies, prosecutors in Koblenz have relied on the “Caesar files” – gruesome photographs smuggled out of Syria by a regime whistleblower which show the dead bodies of thousands of people who are believed to have died in detention facilities – many of whom appear to have been tortured.
And it’s a reminder of the ongoing plight of many Syrians.
Wassim Mukdad, who was first detained in 2011 and now lives in Germany, gave evidence to the trial and returned to the court for the verdict.
“For me, this is the first step in a very long way towards justice,” he has told the BBC.
There are many stories that have not been heard, he says: “Either because they are still detained now – while we’re talking, they’re suffering torture and horrible situations in the detention centres. Or because they were murdered.”
And then, he adds, there were those who died as they tried to reach Europe, drowning at sea or freezing on Europe’s borders.