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Deteriorating Conditions and Televised Confessions for Jailed Ahwazi Arab Activists

Ali Chobayshat in traditional local garb.

(June 28, 2013) – The Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC) has received troubling reports regarding the conditions of three Ahwazi Arab detainees who have spent nearly eight months in detention without being formally arraigned by any authority.

A source close to the case reports that the three detainees, Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi, and Salman Chayan were arrested along with five others at a funeral for Chobayshat’s mother Farheh in Khalaf Mosallam village in rural western Khuzestan on November 10, 2012. Chobayshat, a 46-year old Ahwazi Arab farmer, Iran-Iraq War veteran, cultural activist and poet in Khalaf Mosallam is known for addressing political questions in his work, like many other local poets. Chobayshat was reportedly summoned to the local offices of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) no less than ten times in the period between April 2005, when mass protests by Ahwazi Arabs shook much of Khuzestan province, and his arrest in 2012.  Some of these arrests occurred during the annual Muslim holy days of Eid Fitr and Eid Ghorban—during which he held well-attended prayer meetings at his private home rather than attending ceremonies at local mosques funded by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI).

Neither Chobayshat nor any of the other individuals arrested were involved with any political organizations, but all were members of a cultural association called al-Shabab (“Youth”). IHRDC’s source reports that the funeral was raided by 20-30 armed men wearing black uniforms and facemasks who surrounded the Chobayshat home with seven black sport utility vehicles and violently seized Chobayshat and several other mourners.

Chobayshat’s sons Hossein, 29, and Salah, 20, and Chayan’s cousins Mohammad and Karim Chayan were among the other attendees who were arrested at the funeral. Habib Silawi, a friend of Hossein Chobayshat was also taken into custody, and Ashur Sorkheh, an acquaintance of the other detainees, was arrested elsewhere shortly after the raid. Despite the fact that the detainees were never formally charged, local sources report that the authorities had arrested them in connection with the explosion of the Chogha Zanbil natural gas pipeline near their village on October 23, 2012. It is worth noting that news sites affiliated with the IRI declared the explosion an accident long before the arrests.

The families of the nine detainees attempted to locate and secure visitation with their relatives under the assumption that they were being held at the detention center of the local branch of the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) in Shush, the largest nearby city. But for two months, the families were unsuccessful in securing any information about the detainees—until one of the families reportedly sold a house to finance a bribe of 20 million Toumans (roughly $16,000 US) to a local official, who was reportedly able to confirm that all nine detainees were in fact being held in the MOIS detention center in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan.

Once they learned of their relatives’ whereabouts, the families were given a chance to meet with Salah Chobayshat, Mohammad and Karim Chayan, Ashur Sorkheh and Habib Silawi—the three other detainees were not afforded visitation rights. The prisoners reportedly gave details of physical torture during the visit—the visiting relatives were told that Hossein Chobayshat, who was not present, was suffering from a severe eye infection, and that Ali Chobayshat had the fingernails of his right hand extracted during interrogations. IHRDC’s source adds that Hossein and Salah Chobayshat had been subjected to violent torture in front of their father.

For the following three months, no news about the conditions of the nine detainees was forthcoming. Finally, two months ago, the families were informed that they would be given a chance to visit all of the detainees. When they reported to the Information Office of the local MOIS branch in Shush, however, they were loaded onto a minibus which took them to a nearby village, Jarieh Seyyed Mohammad. When they arrived, the families were shown video footage of three taped confessions by Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi and Salman Chayan. After protesting that the confessions must have been made under duress, the families were dismissed.

IHRDC’s source indicates that after this, the families were kept in the dark as to the status of the nine detainees, until last week, when officials at the MOIS branch in Shush told them to bring documents to post bail for six of the nine detainees, except for Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi and Salman Chayan. The bail for Hossein Chobayshat was set at 300,500,000 Toumans (roughly $245,000 USD). Bail amounts for other detainees are reportedly comparable, despite the fact that none of the nine detainees has yet been formally informed of any charges against them or given access to legal counsel. All six of these detainees have been since released on bail.

Local human rights activists report that the three others are to be charged and prosecuted in connection with the pipeline blast. Neither Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi, nor Salman Chayan have been seen or heard from since their arrest on November 10, 2012. All three are reportedly in solitary confinement in the MOIS detention center in Ahvaz, although Ali Chobayshat has been transported to the hospital twice since his arrest to deal with worsening health as a result of his detention. On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, PressTV, the English-language television station belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), televised the taped confessions of Ali Chobayshat, Yasin Mousavi and Salman Chayan. In this footage, the three men are shown confessing to involvement in the pipeline explosion.

The arrests, detentions and purportedly forced confessions outlined above suggest violations of the IRI’s international treaty obligations and its own constitution. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, prohibits the torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment of prisoners and Article 10 of the ICCPR requires that prisoners be treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity. Similarly, Article 38 of the Constitution of the IRI prohibits the use of torture for the purpose of extracting confessions and voids all testimony obtained under duress, and Article 39 prohibits offenses to the dignity of detained persons. Furthermore, Article 32 of the Constitution of the IRI states that detainees must be informed of the charges against them as soon as possible, adding that “the legal process must be initiated as early as possible.”