Ten detained Iranian Kurdish activists are under pressure to make false confessions, with influential imams and officials demanding their immediate execution.

Recent changes to the administrators and security apparatus of Iran’s Kurdestan province and other Kurdish populated regions are the main factors behind the alarming security measures used to crack down on Kurdish activists.

The arrests were made following militarisation of Kurdish cities, towns and villages in Iran, where Kurdish environmental activists had held protests against damage caused by military drills and deployment.

A person accused of murder has been detained without the knowledge of the victim’s family.

KHRN calls on the Islamic Republic of Iran to release the ten Kurdish activists and all other prisoners of conscience across the country.

Who are the detainees?

Ten environmental and political activists were arrested in Kamyaran and Sanandaj from 1 to 6 January. Most of the detained are environmental activists. Some of them are current or former members of the Kurdestan branch of the National Unity Party, a legally registered party in Iran. At least two of the detained are civilians and another two are political activists.

The National Unity Party holds an official license from the Ministry of the Interior and its Kurdestan branch started to be active in Sanandaj, Marivan and Kamyaran two years ago. Its Kurdestan branch was the first to establish offices in Kermanshah and form popular headquarters in the cities of Kurdestan to help last year’s earthquake victims and carry out other aid-related activities.

The arrested environmental activists in Kamyaran had organised activities for many years and were active in many campaigns such as Oak Seed Planting Campaign and formation of fire fighting volunteers to respond to accidents such as wildfire in the forests, some of which were caused by IRGC drills and operations.

The following contains names of the Kurdish activists detained in Kamyaran and Sanandaj:

– Amanj Ghorbani, a senior environmental expert, employee of the Department of Environment in Kamyaran and a journalist. He was involved in environmental activities and wrote research papers on strategic environmental issues in local and national media.

– Bakhtiar Kamangar: civilian and trusted marketer in Kamyaran.

– Hossein Kamangar: former members of the legal party, who was previously arrested twice for his political activities.

– Rashed Montazeri: a bank employee, environmental activist and member of Village Council for Shahini Village in Kamyaran.

– Reza Asadi: environmental activist and member of the Kurdestan branch of National Unity Party in Kamyaran.

– Zanyar Zemiran: Director General for Kurdestan Province Regional Water, holds a masters degree and is a former Deputy Head of Kurdestan branch of National Unity Party in Sanandaj. He is a well-known member of the Central Council of the Academic Research Organization of Civil Engineering Students in Iran, secretary to the Permanent Secretariat of the Conferences of Civil Engineering Students in Iran.

– Isa Feizi, environmental activist and a former member of the Kurdestan branch of the National Unity Party in Kamyaran.

– Fazel Qeitasi: environmental activist and member of the Kurdestan branch of the National Unity Party in Kamyaran, former member of the Kamyaran City Council.

– Farhad Mohammadi: law specialist and Secretary of the Kurdestan branch of the National Unity Party in Sanandaj.

– Hadi Kamangar: environmental activist and former member of the Kurdistan branch of the National Unity Party in Kamyaran 

Detained activists from Oruniyeh, Saqqez and Sanandaj

Masoud ShamsNejad, a human rights lawyer and resident of Orumiyeh, arrested at Orumiyeh Court by security agents when he went to the local court to file a lawsuit for one of his clients on 8 January.

-Two Kurdish civilians, Aram Adwayee and Borhan Advaeian, from the village of Celin, arrested by IRGC’s Intelligence Department in Saravabad on 8 January.

– Security forces arrested four other civilians, Zaniar Moradi, Hamid Ahmadi, Fardin Adwayee and Ansar Adwayee, from the villages of Dagga and Celin Sarababad, in early December 2018

Mohammad Naeimpour, a Kurdish civilian from Hassan Abad of Sanandaj, sentenced to one-year imprisonment, was transferred to Sanandaj Central Prison to serve his sentence on 9 January. He was sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment on 15 February 2018, on charges of cooperating with a Kurdish opposition party.

Salahedin Ranjbar, director of the Telegram channel “Orumiyeh Dang” who had been previously sentenced to one year in prison, was arrested and transferred to ward 13 of Orumiyeh Central Prison on 13 December.

Ali Abedi, a well-known artist, was summoned by the Ministry of Intelligence in Saqqez and interrogated for several hours on 6 January 2019 over the widespread September 2018 strike in Kurdestan province. He was summoned in March 2018 and threatened.

Sahar Kazemi, an environmental activist detained on 9 August 2018. Three months later, her mother and her husband – Mahvash Amiri and Madi Fathi – were also arrested after they were questioned at the Sanandaj Intelligence Office. Mahvash Amiri was later released but Madi Fathi remains in prison

Kaveh Babamoradi, another environmental activist from Sanandaj, has been in detention since 20 June 2018. He was allowed to call his family on several occasions and has been detained for more than six months. However, he has not been allowed to call his family for the past two months and his family is completely unaware of his fate.

Break the silence

KHR contacted families of the detained from Kamyaran and they explained details of the arrest. KHRN also contacted a close relative of a murdered ambulance driver of Iran’s Red Crescent, whose killing has turned into a key issue behind the arrests, according to the adviser to the Governorate of Kurdestan province.

Sources in Kamyaran have told KHRN that a high-profile imam has given speeches at Friday Prayers against the detained activists and the head of the Kamyaran City Council has also called for the execution of the detained during Friday prayers at local mosques.

KHRN has investigated the allegations of security officials regarding the recent arrests in Kamyaran and Sanandaj for this report, which addresses the cases that have raised serious concerns about the dossier of the detained, as the security forces have since devised a scenario to torture the detained activists to make false confessions on serious allegations.

Changes made o the various administrative and executive levels of the Kurdestan Provincial Intelligence Department following widespread strikes in September last year and the subsequent militarisation of the Kurdish areas by the IRGC all indicate to the government’s frustration with the Kurdish strikes. The detention of the activists is a retaliation measure taken against those who had participated in organising the strikes. It is also an attempt at prohibiting environmental activists from organising protests in areas that are supposed to be under the control of IRGC at the cost of the destruction of the environment in Iran’s Kurdish regions.

KHRN urges the people of Kurdestan and the rest of Iran to break the silence on these arrests because these measures could follow further heavy-handed crack down on civil society activists and rights defenders across Iran, where the security and military apparatus would repeat the same scenario if they see no public condemnation of their unlawful acts.

Iranian and international human rights organisations also have a responsibility to react to the increasing number of recent arrests of activists and the allegations made against them in Kurdestan province and other Kurdish areas in Iran.

KHRN has repeatedly called on the Iranian judicial and governmental authorities to end suppression of civilians and activists in different areas, release political prisoners and abolish the death penalty. However, the government has shown no determination in making the slightest effort to address those matters.

KHRN is once again calling on the Islamic Republic of Iran to end suppression of citizens and arrest of activists and the use of torture.  Prosecution must take place based on international human rights treaties and Iran’s constitution and criminal laws.

KHRN is urging the Iranian authorities to respect human dignity and grant legal rights to every individual even during detention.  

Families seek information

Following the arrest of ten political and environmental activists by security forces in Kamyaran and Sanandaj during a week, families of the detained have frequently asked the Intelligence Office of those two cities to give them information about the fate of their loved ones. As a result of these follow-ups, the families have found out that all the detained have been transferred to the Ministry of Intelligence Detention Centre in Sanandaj and that they are being held at solitary confinement cells, respectively. These detainees have not been allowed to call their families; although their family members have made it clear to the Iranian intelligence authorities that they are seriously concerned about their fate.

Some security officials have told the families that they have evidence proving that the detained were members of outlawed groups and that they were accomplices in the killing of a Red Crescent ambulance driver, Kohsar Fatehi. The security and judicial authorities are now waiting for the detained to admit to their crimes, the families have been told. However, according to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran and international human rights laws, the accused is “Innocent until proven guilty”.

On the other hand, one of the most common methods of taking confessions from detainees in Iran’s security system is subjecting the accused to physical torture and great mental pressure. Therefore, it appears that the detained activists have been put under pressure from the ministry of Intelligence. The torture of individuals during detention and imprisonment for confessions are the main methods used at various prisons in Iran. Many prisoners have repeatedly confirmed this over the past 40 years.

What is worrying the families and human rights activists most is the possibility that that detained are being tortured. Family members of the detained told KHRN that agents of the intelligence ministry had physically and mentally abused the activists at the time of their arrest at their homes and workplaces. Parts of the raid on the homes and workplaces of the detained have been filmed, showing how the agents had made the arrests before forcing the activists into the vehicles of the security forces.

Agents of the intelligence ministry and other security forces have repeatedly searched homes and offices of the detained activists recently, according to their family members.  One of the streets leading to the office of one of the detained was closed shut for at least two hours as the place was being searched.

There is an increasing concern that the detained activists might be under huge physical and physiological torture to make false televised confessions, considering the violent manner the Iranian security forces when the arrests were made and during the subsequent inspection of their places of residence and work.

Execution risks

Numerous sources in Kamyaran have told KHRN that Mullah Tawfiq Qorbani, the Sunni imams in charge of official Friday Prayers in Kamyaran, and Khalil Azizi, the head of Kamyaran City Council, have given speeches in which they urged the authorities to punish and execute the “counter revolutionaries” for the alleged murder of the Red Crescent ambulance driver.

Azizi, whose affiliation with the security agencies is known to all Kamyaran residents, was involved in a confrontation with some of the detained activists when an earthquake hit Kermanshah last year. He confronted a campaign to raise funds for the victims of the earthquake.

Kurdestan branch of the National Unity Party had announced the aid campaign and Azizi had threatened to kill one of local activists currently among the detained ten. Azizi had even pointed his weapon at his face when he had made the death threat in pubic.

Khalil Azizi

According to information obtained by KHRN, that detained activist had joined the legal National Unity Party during that campaign which sent aid assistance from Kamyaran and Sanandaj to the victims in Kermanshah.

Azizi had asked the party’s Kurdish members to cooperate with the IRGC but the campaign activists had refused. The activists had told him that they did not want to work with the IRGC and called him “a collaborator with security forces”. This issue had caused a confrontation between Azizi and the activists of the party. It is essential to point out that had called the activists “counter revolutionaries” during the confrontation and threatened to make trouble for them using the security and intelligence agencies he had said were at his service whenever he needed them to carry out a certain task.    

Azizi’s confrontation with the party’s activists as well as his threats and his recent speech calling for their immediate execution shows that he could be the   man behind a scenario that the Iranian intelligence and security forces have devised for the detention of activists for an alleged murder case.

Murder allegation

In a conversation with Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on 7 January, Hussein Khoshgubal, Deputy Governor of Kurdestan’s Political, Security and Law Enforcement Affairs, claimed that the detained activists in Kamyaran were held in pre-trial detention due to their participation in the killing of a Red Crescent ambulance driver, Kohsar Fatehi.

Fatehi was assassinated in Kamyaran but many rumours have since circulated among locals on this murder, the most notable of which is that he was killed due in a family feud and that he has hi own involvement with drug smugglers and mafia bands. Political motivation has not been raised on his murder until the activists were detained.

Kohsar Fatehi

In the past few days, KHRN has been able to contact a close relative of slain Fatehi and asked about the concerns of the victim’s family regarding the connection of recent arrests According to this relative, who asked to remain anonymous, Fatehi’s family are completely unaware of the arrests.

“Three months ago, security agents told us that the killers were members of a [an armed opposition] Kurdish party, and that the perpetrators had been killed in an IRGC operation in Kamyaran,” the source said.

In September 2018 the family of the driver were told that an operation had been carried out targeting the perpetrator and that as a result they had killed six members of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), an armed opposition organisation. However, at the time, Kurdetsan’s commander of the IRGC’s Beitolmoghas said that the operation had taken place in response to a PJAK attack on a Basij base in Marivan in which 11 IRCG members has been killed.  Referring to the operation as retaliation for two separate cases raises doubts over the involvement of Kurdish parties in the killing of the Red Crescent ambulance driver. Moreover, PJAK and none of the other Kurdish rebel parties have claimed responsibility for the murder of the ambulance driver.

PJAK in an official statement on 13 January 2019 said none of detained activists in Kamyaran and Sanandaj were affiliated organisations. The Kurdish opposition party accused Iranian intelligence agents of the murder of the ambulance driver.

Invented scenario

KHRN and its network of activists and members have been involved in in human rights activities for years and they are very familiar with cases of prisoners, particularly political prisoners. Security agencies in Iran have previously devised various invented scenarios for political prisoners and forced them to make false televised confessions through physical and mental torture.

The Iranian government labels all civil and political activities by Kurds as affiliation to the Kurdish armed opposition parties to justify their suppression.

A usual method the security institutions use in the Kurdish regions is kidnapping Kurdish activists inside the country in retaliation for the activities of individuals and opposition parties based outside the country. Moreover, the security agencies seek to manipulate Kurdish activists inside and outside the country by putting pressure on their families in addition to attributing suspicious murders to Kurdish activists or claiming that they has participated in armed operations.

For instance, some civil and political activists who were jailed, tortured and executed, including Farzad Kamangar, Shirin Alamhuli, Ramin Hosseinpanahi, brothers Loghman and Zaniar Moradi, and dozens of other political prisoners like Zaynab Jalalian, faces serious abuses in prison and many scenarios were devised for their cases because they had family members who were activists in exile, or had close relatives who were active members of the Kurdish armed opposition parties.

It is that history of mistreatment and misinformation that are making families of the current ten detained activists and human rights activists concerned, the recent Kamyaran arrests could be part of a similar security under the pretext that the apprehended or their family members have affiliation with Kurdish parties, which has already been mentioned by security agents at recent meetings with family members of the detained who had demanded.

Environmental activism 

The Iranian government strongly cracks down in any activism that is not under is direct control, particularly in Kurdestan province and neighbouring Kurdish regions. Independent activism strengthens civil society but this is what the Iranian authorities curb with an iron fist when it begins to develop.

The protection of the environment is one of those matters that usually met with heavy-handed crack down from the Iranian intelligence and security agencies. Chya Green Association is one of the well-known environmental associations in Marivan that has faced such clampdown.

Sharif Bajour, a member of the Chya Green Association, and Mohammad Pazhouhi and Rahmat Hakiminia, members of the Marivan Department of Environment, died from smoke inhalation and severe burns in August 2018 when they had tried to put out a wildfire.

At the time, however, the possibility that these people were killed as a result of a mine explosion in the area and of wildfire was also mentioned. Bajour was a member of the Board of Directors of the Chya Green Association and a well-known environmental activist in Kurdestan.  Prior to his death he was interrogated and detained for his environmental activism several times. Thousands in Marivan attended the funeral of the environmental activists, which showed the respect that locals had for the volunteer work they had carried out to protect local nature.

The Iranian government has never admired popular and self-organised efforts of those activists who had campaigned for the prevention of hunting, which they did by breaking apart rifles and burning birdcages in a public campaign. The government also opposed individual and collective participation of Kurdish citizens in campaigns led by those activists to control fire in the forests due to natural disasters or as a result of bombardment by IRGC. The government does not have any institutions to protect the environment and the campaigns of those activists had indirectly heighted that the local authorities were undermining the protection of the environment.  

The forced closure of the office of the Association of Environment Protection in Bukan. Such security measures even led to the objection of Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, representative of Mahabad at the Tehran parliament. In a letter to the Ministry of Intelligence in January 2019, he referred to the valuable activities of those activists and asked why there have been serious security measures against media, civil and environmental activists in Mahabad.

Some local environmental activists well known among local Kurds are among the ten activists now held detained. But in several interviews with state media, the government’s Kurdestan provincial security advisor has said that the environmental activities of the detained mean “no excuse for their harmful illegal activities”.

Militarisation of Kurdestan

IRGC has built new military bases over the past few years in Kurdestan province under the pretext that they are stepping up efforts to confront Iranian Kurdish armed opposition parties.

IRGC has also destroyed forests and the nature of the Kurdish countryside areas for construction of military-only roads to their bases since it believes that the mountainous forests are strategic locations that could be used by the Kurdish armed opposition groups. IRGC has been bombing those areas or causing fire intentionally, which had resulted in considerable damage to the local environment.

IRGC’s policies have been implemented in different Kurdish regions in Iran for the past 40 years in various ways. A large part of its policies is implemented through the deployment of troops in the mountains and forest, which is what Iranian Kurdish environmental activists are protesting.

Environmental Activists have repeatedly expressed serious concerns to IRGC’s bombing that have set ablaze forests. They also protest the construction of multiple military bases where military training and drills take place, on which activists adamantly say will have serious long-term implications for the environment.

Residents and local activists have self-organised voluntarily to respond to fire that have cost lives recently and they say they have volunteered because the authorities do not respond to dangerous fire.  What seems to be the matter is that the IRGC wants to be the sole power in control of those areas because they are strategically significant militarily. Thus, it considers the volunteers as intruders interfering in areas where IRGC should act as the only military might, given that its officials even looks down on local Iranian government institutions. 

Security apparatus reshuffled  

In a detailed report entitled “Civil Protesters Summoned, Interrogated and Threatened with Murder by Security Forces”, KHRN previously covered the substantial changes made to the management of security institutions across Iran’s Kurdish regions.  

The reshuffle began by appointing a new Director General of the Sanandaj Intelligence Office in August 2018, and the changes continued with considerable alteration in the structure of offices affiliated with the Ministry of Intelligence and IRGC Intelligence Department in various cities of Kurdestan Province and Kurdish cities and towns in neighbouring areas.

These changes swelled after widespread strikes his cities of Kurdestan to protest the execution of four political prisoners, Zanyar and Loghman Moradi, Ramin Panahi and Kamal Ahmadnejad. They also protested IRGC’s missile attacks that targeted headquarters of the armed Kurdish armed opposition parties in exile in neighbouring Iraqi Kurdistan. The changes were made to prevent any such widespread public protest from repeating in the future.

According to numerous reports KHRN has obtained, the newly appointed security agents have questioned many Kurdish activists to intimidate local residents in the Kurdish cities, including in Sanandaj, Kamyaran, Marivan, Saqqez, Baneh and many other areas. Some of those who were interrogated have told KHRN that the interrogators had threatened them to avoid any political activities because any such activism would from now be considered as acts against the security of the state.

The interrogators have explicitly told some detainees that physically silencing and liquidating individuals could be an option that the security agencies could resort to use, in order to reduce “the pressure of international human rights organisations and media propaganda are making against Iran on arrest of civil activists”.

KHRN considers the security reshuffle and the arrest of the ten activists as a direct reaction of the government to the widespread participation of civilians in various cities of Kurdestan in last year’s protests. It seems that the security agencies are set to retaliate against any of those who in some way or another had taken part in the strikes.