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Monday, Oct 23rd

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Narges Mohammadi Calls on MPs to End the “Illegal” Torture of Solitary Confinement in Iran’s Prisons

NargesCHRI - Imprisoned prominent human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has called on members of Iran's Parliament to investigate and end the "illegal" practice of solitary confinement of prisoners.

Imprisoned Iranian-British Citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Threatened With 16 More Years Behind Bars

Imprisoned Iranian-British Citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Threatened With 16 More Years Behind BarsCHRI - Revolutionary Guards Bring New Charges Against Young Mother Who Was Eligible for Release in November 2017

Shocking video shows Iranian guards forcing Ahwazi Arabs to bark in detention

Al-Arabia - A video shared on social media showed Iranian security forces humiliating blindfolded Ahwazi Arabs and forcing them to bark.

Death Of Young 'Porter' Highlights Plight Of Iran's 'Human Mules'

Bent under the weight of their loads -- smuggled cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and even home appliances -- the RFL/RE - Working in the smuggling trade in Iran is a risky business -- one that has cost the lives of hundreds of anonymous "human mules" who carry heavy loads of contraband on their backs across the western border with Iraq and Turkey.


The death of 17-year-old Vahid Dolatkhah provides an exception to the norm -- a face, a name, and an identity of one of those who died plying the perilous trade.

Dolatkhah died on August 21 near the border with Turkey due to an "unnatural accident," according to Iran's semiofficial ILNA news agency. Opposition websites and groups documenting rights violations in Iran have claimed, however, that Dolatkhah was shot in the chest and stomach by Iranian border guards while carrying smuggled cigarettes.

Hundreds of the human mules have been killed or injured in past years, according to reports by rights groups. Some have been shot by security forces and border guards; others have died after being caught up in natural disasters, stepping on land mines that remain from the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, or falling from mountains.

As images and videos that emerged online attest, Dolatkhah was much more than a beast of burden. He had his whole life ahead of him, a young man who enjoyed playing the tar and singing in a Kurdish dialect: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=P2EPPjcWaL0

 

When he died of his injuries after being taken to a hospital in West Azerbaijan Province, he unintentionally became the human face of an occupation often born of economic desperation. By Iranian lawmaker Rasool Khezri's estimation, there are currently 70,000 smugglers, often referred to as "porters," working in Iran's border regions. The trade is particularly prominent in Kurdish-populated regions, such as Kurdistan Province and West Azerbaijan Province.

 

In 2016, 42 human mules in Kurdish areas were shot dead by Iranian border guards and 22 died as a result of hypothermia and other causes, according to the France-based Kurdish Human Rights Network.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran reported in 2012 that between February and March 2011, 70 porters, or smugglers, had died. The overwhelming majority were killed by security forces; four died as a result of mine explosions, avalanches, or extreme cold.

Bent under the weight of their loads -- smuggled cigarettes, alcohol, gasoline, and even home appliances -- the mules, known in Iran as kolbar, are a common sight in Iran's western border regions.

They're usually residents of local villages -- both men and women, and children as young as 13 and others in their 70s --who turn to smuggling goods to sustain their families.

The unemployment rate in Iran's Kurdish-populated provinces, where many of the porters come from, is about 20 percent. But a lawmaker last year suggested that unemployment in Kurdistan Province is much higher.

"The real rate of unemployment in the province of Kurdistan is between 40 to 50 percent – despite what officials claim -- and this is very worrying," Mohsen Biglari, who represents the people of Baneh and Sagez in the Iranian parliament, was quoted by the semiofficial Tasnim news agency as saying.

Sanandaj-based journalist Soma Safari says some of the mules have university educations.

"They basically have no other choice," Safari told RFE/RL. "They chose this profession because of lack of employment opportunities, lack of investment in the region, and ethnic and religious discrimination they face."

"Being a kolbar is not a choice, it is a compulsion," some 60 Kurdish civil society and political activists said in an open letter issued in January. "If other jobs were available, the majority of porters would definitely not choose their extreme profession."

The activists called on Iranian authorities to reach out to the porters in the short-term and to create jobs in Kurdish-populated regions in the long-term.

Nima Sarvestani, a Sweden-based filmmaker and the director of a documentary about the plight of several Iranian mules, says they risk their lives for little money.

Sarvestani spent about a year and half in the border region with Iraq to make his 2009 documentary, On The Border Of Desperation:

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"They would tie tanks with 60 liters of petrol on their backs and carry them out from Marivan to the border crossing of Bashmakh in Iraq, where they would sell it and make about $7 or $8 for a trip," Sarvestani told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.

"If the conditions were right, they would make the trip twice a day," he added.

Savestani says many of the mules must pay bribes to border guards. Those who don't face confiscation of their goods, detention, or even summary execution.

Safari says that in recent months there appears to have been a rise in public awareness and sensitivity about the lives of porters.

In early September, the killing of two of them by border guards led to protests and strikes in Baneh on Iran's western border.

Reports say police used tear gas to disperse the angry crowd.

Prosecutor Mojtaba Shiroudbozorgi in Iran's Kurdistan Province was quoted by domestic media as saying that five suspects in the killings of the porters have been identified and detained.

Sarvestani believes that unless jobs are created, the mules' plight is likely to continue.

"The only solution is for the government to create jobs, to create industry where people can be employed," Sarvestani said, suggesting that Kurds be given top regional posts.

He added that he's not hopeful, claiming the establishment "does not care about Kurdistan."

Safari agrees that many in the region believe only permanent and stable jobs and investment in the region can resolve the issue and suggests that the little guy is being singled out for abuse.

"Unfortunately, instead of fighting big and organized smugglers who have crippled Iran's economy, authorities are busy eradicating porters," lawmaker Shahab Naderi, who represents people from the majority Kurdish-populated city of Paveh in the Iranian parliament, was quoted as saying by the Mardom Salari daily.
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Golnaz Esfandiari
Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent with RFE/RL.

Q&A: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Husband Speaks Out About Dual National’s Imprisonment in Iran

Q&A: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Husband Speaks Out About Dual National’s Imprisonment in IranCHRI - The husband of imprisoned Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe speaks to CHRI about her case and their lives since she was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards in April 2016.

Iranian Miners’ Call for Justice Echoes in Social Media

Radiozamaneh - In December of 2015 miners of Agh Dareh gold mines staged a number of protests which earned many miners imprisonment, flogging and hefty fines. Some of the miners described their treatment in a 59 second video where one of the Agh Dareh residents stresses that miners were imprisoned, flogged and fined simply because they wanted to work and earn a living.


The video went viral in Iranian social media highlighting the importance of recounting acts of state cruelty against Iranian workers for the public.

The miners were arrested and sentenced following complaints filed by the mine’s ownership. They were charged with impeding business, vandalism and disorderly behaviour.

Watch the video:

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Media reflection of the events triggered a parliamentary probe which issued its report last August confirming that the charges had no foundation. According to the report, the miners had not engaged in impeding business and disturbing public safety and order. They were merely protesting their mas lay off and wanted to meet with management to talk matters over.

In early December 2015 Pouya Zarkan Company laid off 350 workers who had been working in the Agh Dareh mines for over ten years. The workers called for a meeting with the management but were refused.

The miners then proceeded to stage demonstrations in the company premises during which three of the miners, under stress of their job loss, attempted suicide but were rescued. The employer then proceeded to lay charges against the miners and 17 of the miners were sentenced for their participation in the protests.

Flogging of workers in Iran

Nine of the miners who were sentenced to imprisonment, 30 lashes and fines were released on bail after the complainant withdrew the charges against them.

Last June however the flogging sentence against 8 miners and a local resident was carried out triggering widespread outrage.

International Trade Confederation reported the incident to the International Labour Organization which added it to the complaint file against the Islamic Republic.

Head of Western Azerbaijan Labour Ministry was fired for denying any knowledge of the events; however, head of the province’s Justice Department defended the proceedings saying the punishment was not meted out for labour protests but for “disturbing public safety and order”.

Head of Takab Justice Department, where the sentences were carried out, also stood by the legality of the floggings and threatened the media with legal action. Counsel for the miners had reportedly managed to reach a settlement with the management who had withdrawn their complaint but the prosecutor had apparently pressed charges on the state’s behalf and proceeded to execute the sentences.

The parliamentary probe reveals widespread illegal handouts from the mining company to various security and administrative offices of the municipality of Takab aimed at tax evasion as well as avoiding environmental regulations.

Flogging of Iranian Workers a Cartoon by Assad Binakhahi for Zamaneh Media

Agh Dareh mines are located 40 kilometres outside Takab and their workers are mainly from local Kurdish residents who make their living through agriculture, stock farming and carpet weaving. The development of mining in the area in the past twenty years has provided employment for the residents however its extraction practices have rendered the region’s soil inadequate for farming. It has also polluted the air increasing the incidence of skin disease as well as lung and throat cancer. Additionally, it has increased mercury and cyanide levels in the local water supply and had adverse effects on the wildlife in the region.

The workers who were sentenced will face greater obstacles in finding work elsewhere since they now have a police record marking them as disturbers of public safety and security.

Currently from the 17 charged workers only six remain in Agh Dareh and the rest have migrated to other parts of the country in search of employment. Those who have remained are making do with odd jobs or have to rely on their spouse’s carpet weaving income.

However there may be a silver lining in these events. Once communicated across the web, the flogging of the miners of Agh Dareh became a symbol of the injustices borne by Iranian workers all across the country. Its reflection in social media and the outrage it engendered forced the hand of the state. It was pivotal in getting the miners released and in preventing such treatments from becoming the order of the day. A mighty feat for a simple 59 second video.

Rouhani’s Broken Promises

Rouhani’s Broken PromisesCHRI - Iranian President Rouhani is scheduled to speak this week at the 2017 UNGA in New York, but he won't mention his Broken Promises.

Maryam Akbari-Monfared: Political Prisoner and Mother in Evin Prison Iran

Maryam Akbari-Monfared: Political Prisoner and Mother in Evin Prison IranCHRI - Maryam Akbari-Monfared was forced to spend her childhood visiting family members in state prisons and cemeteries. Her three brothers and sister, all political prisoners, were executed without trial in the 1980s, and now Maryam is a political prisoner herself. If her case were reviewed, she would be eligible for release, but the authorities have refused all her demands, including for an inquiry into her siblings' deaths. The judiciary must halt the ongoing abuse and intimidation of Akbari-Monfared, investigate her legitimate demands and secure this innocent woman's release.

Rouhani’s Lost Battle: UN 2030 Education Guidelines

CHRI - In 2015, Iran adopted educational guidelines from the UN 2030 agenda that could substantially improve access to education throughout the country. Two years later, a vicious smear campaign and opposition by the supreme leader has resulted in President Hassan Rouhani scrapping the guidelines. Generations of Iranians stand to lose from the decision.

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