After being detained for more than one year on unsubstantiated espionage charges, Azeri political activist Habib Sasanian began a hunger strike on June 13, 2017, according to his wife.
“They have accused Habib of espionage and separatist activities without a shred of evidence,” said Farahnaz Sasanian in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on June 29. “When he asked his case investigator why he has been accused of espionage, he replied, ‘It’s just a charge. It might not be proven.’”
She continued: “My husband suffers from seizures and needs to take his medicine regularly. He has fainted several times as a result of drops in his blood pressure and prison staff tied him to a bed in the clinic and tried to forcefully connect him to an IV, which made his situation worse.”
A 41-year-old shopkeeper, Habib Sasanian was arrested on May 15, 2016 along with five other ethnic Azeri rights activists in Ardabil, 370 miles northwest of Tehran, by Intelligence Ministry agents. He has been held in Tabriz Prison, East Azerbaijan Province, ever since.
In June 2016, the provincial prosecutor, Ali Mozaffari, claimed the six detainees had given “military and economic secrets to enemies” as members of the “separatist group, GAMOH,” the Persian acronym for the banned Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, which advocates independence for the Azeri-majority regions of northwestern Iran.
“My husband was arrested for lawful activities in defense of the rights of the people of Azerbaijan,” Farahnaz Sasanian told CHRI. “The right to teach the Azeri mother language, and ending discrimination against ethnic groups in Iran.”
Azeri and Kurdish civil rights activists in Iran have been accused and prosecuted on separatist charges even though their activities were limited to ethnic rights without separatist ambitions.
“It has been a year and two months since my husband was arrested and still they have not processed his case,” Sasanian told CHRI.
She continued: “Once they wanted to hold a trial without prior notice, but Habib refused. Another time he didn’t appear in court because he wanted to protest the disappearance of some of the case documents. Then they demanded a billion tomans ($308,000 USD) to bail him out, which, obviously, the family can’t afford.”
The activist’s wife added that judicial and intelligence officials were not answering any questions about the case and had warned her not to speak to the media.
“The Tabriz Prison officials and Intelligence Ministry agents have been completely unhelpful,” she said. “They threatened to put his case on hold until he ends his hunger strike.”
Hunger Strike in Tehran
Azeri ethnic rights activist Siamak Mirzaei also started a hunger strike on June 25, 2017 in Tehran’s Evin Prison to convince judicial authorities to end his yearlong legal limbo, a source close to the family told CHRI.
“A year ago, a preliminary court sentenced Siamak to 10 years in prison and two years in exile for his peaceful activities,” said a source familiar with the case. “Even though he posted bail, which was set at one billion tomans ($308,185 USD), he has been kept in prison illegally.”
Mirzaei, a 32-year-old ethnic rights activist from the city of Ardabil, was arrested on December 14, 2016 by Intelligence Ministry agents in Parsabad Moghan, near the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan.
“None of his activities were illegal or hidden,” the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told CHRI. “The Intelligence Ministry decided he acted against national security when he took part in a gathering to mark International Mother Language Day (February 21, 2016) and protested against discrimination.”