By: Mahak Niknahad and Lida Hossaini Nejad
Radio Zamaneh is further informed of Islamic Republic’s intimidation tactics against families of media actvists.
Five weeks ago, on Saturday May 26, 2012, the father of Yashar Khameneh contacted his son to say that officers from the prosecutor’s office had come with an arrest warrant. He went on to inform his son that they had all the evidence and had heard all their conversations: “You must cooperate with them or they will take us away.”
The officials arrested Yashar’s father for the charge of funding his son, who is studying abroad and is linked to the “Campaign for Commemoration of Imam al-Naghi for Shi’ites.” They alleged that Yashar Khameneh has been using the funds forwarded by his father for the campaign’s activities; therefore, his father was charged with funding the campaign.
Yashar Khameneh has refused to heed the security officers’ orders to steer clear of the media and keep silent about the arrest of his father, Abbas Khameneh. He tells Radio Zamaneh: “Five days after my father was arrested, my mother contacted me and said that they are going to execute my father. My sister urged me to make a video recording of myself expressing regret and repentance. Under the circumstances, I thought I should do it. I have done everything I could in these five weeks. It wasn’t easy to reveal my identity, but now I have come to the conclusion that I have no choice but to publicize the information.”
Incarcerating the Father for Charges against the Son
“The Campaign for Commemoration of Imam al-Naghi for Shi’ites” is an online campaign with an expressed mission to fight superstition. The campaign uses humorous themes that, from its early days, made it controversial inside Iran, and these controversies reached a climax with the release of Shahin Najafi’s song “Naghi”, which has even triggered death threats for the singer from groups that feel sacred elements of their religious belief have been insulted.
Iranian security and judiciary officials had promised to deal with the campaign members. The arrest of Abbas Khameneh appears to be linked to this promise. Yashar Khameneh commented on his father’s arrest and the officials’ demands, saying: “My father spoke in a general and implicit manner. The phones have been tapped, and they know that I am connected with the Imam Naghi campaign. He said they want me to give them all information about my email, blog and Facebook passwords. I said I will delete whatever I have and never go back to it, but this was not apparently enough for them. They took my father to Evin Prison then, saying that I haven’t been attending classes in the past five months and have instead used the money my father sent me for these affairs. Through my sister, I sent them all the documents regarding my education such as report cards, etc., but that was not effective either.”
He insists that the charges against his father are baseless and asks: “When the campaign was launched, they kept saying it was guided by Israeli and U.S. elements. How come they are now accusing my father of funding the campaign?”
The Khameneh family has not been told which government department is responsible for the arrest of Abbas Khameneh, but the bets are on the Ministry of Intelligence. They have contacted a lawyer inside Iran but have been told that in such cases, until a trial has been set up, the lawyer’s hands are tied. They have been allowed just one visit with him at Evin Prison, on the day after his arrest. Since then, Abbas Khameneh has contacted his home twice, saying that he is being put under pressure in prison, and Yashar must provide the security forces with all the information he has access to.
Regarding the arrest of other people involved in the campaign, Yashar says: “All the people who are active in the campaign do so under a pseudonym, but recently some of the ones who were previously very active have disappeared, and it is not clear if their withdrawal is voluntary or something else has happened. Another allegation is that my father has seen some of my friends in prison, and they have indicated that I am the director of the campaign, which is an unfounded claim.”
We Must Not Provide Security Officials with False Evidence
Shadi Sadr, an Iranian lawyer, journalist and women’s rights activist, commented on the case of Abbas Khameneh, saying: “Until the family and a lawyer can have access to the file and receive adequate information, it is difficult to comment on who is behind the arrest. Especially since we know that there are many intelligence agencies now active in the issues concerning internet and cyber activities. My concern with this case is that, in view of similar cases, the intelligence branch of the Revolutionary Guards, especially the branch dedicated to so-called cyber defence, may be involved. This so-called cyber defence branch has a long and notorious history of abusing cyber activists and their families and friends, such as using severe torture to extract false confessions and disseminating them through various domestic and international media outlets, such as Press TV. My concern is that Yashar Kahmeneh’s father is in section 2 Alef of Evin, which is run by the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence services. The case appears to be at the Shaheed Moghadas Court at Evin, so it seems natural that a security agency is behind this case.”
Shadi Sadr refers to the case of Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian web developer who was arrested on a trip back to Iran and is now on death row in Evin prison: “Families must be aware that every single day that a prisoner is held in solitary confinement under pressure and abuse could lead to false confessions incriminating the prisoner. Therefore, even one extra day is too many. They must make every effort to shorten this period. Based on those very false confessions, they sentenced Saeed Malekpour to death, and his sentence was later approved by the appeals court. Therefore, the families of political prisoners must draw from these bitter experiences in the past to stop them from getting repeated.”
Considering the fact that the investigation has not yet been completed and the lawyer has no access to the case, what steps do you recommend to the Khameneh family?
Shadi Sadr: The little information that we now have points to a kind of kidnapping, and whatever charge is brought against the father of Yashar Kahmeneh is in essence a fabricated case to continue his arrest. This kind of kidnapping of the families of activists to pressure the human rights, cyber, women’s rights or media activist into halting their activities has a long history. At this stage, informing the public about the kidnapping is very important, and human rights organizations can be instrumental in pressuring security officials connected with the case to stop any further illegal actions. All the steps taken in this case so far have been illegal. They are not only in violation of human rights; they are even in violation of Islamic Republic laws.
Next, I always recommend that anyone who is in any way involved with government security forces should get a lawyer, because the presence of a lawyer, even when there is no access to the file or even visitation rights, can count as a vital and informed witness. The presence of the lawyer will remind the security officials that they cannot continue with their illegal actions.
A lawyer is the only person that can eventually communicate accurate and reliable information to the outside world. This is exactly why human rights lawyers were amongst the most persecuted social groups in recent years. For the same reason, security forces tell families to refrain from contacting the media or getting a lawyer, but families of detainees must not heed their statements, and to stop abuse and pressure of their loved ones by the security system, they must in fact do these two things.
Because they are not well informed, families often do exactly what is asked of them by the security forces, as in the case of Yashar Khameneh, where they are asked to record false confessions.
Families believe that these actions are for the benefit of their loved ones, but it is not so. In legal terms, many of these actions are providing the security officials with false evidence and they do not in any way help secure the release of the detainee. In fact, by doing the things that are asked, the families are helping to fabricate a case against the detainee, and then nothing can be done to undo them. The families must understand that the security officials are our enemies and against our loved ones, and we must not comply with what the enemy tells us.
Mysterious Murder of a Daughter for the Political Views of the Father
This is not the first time the families of political or media activists have been threatened and arrested.
The history of such actions by the Iranian security forces goes back to the 1980s. At various times since then, many families have been investigated and interrogated for the political activities of their relatives inside the country or abroad. Almost unfailingly, the families of political prisoners in Iran are warned against taking their relative’s case to the media, with a threat that such actions would make the situation worse.
While parents are often arrested and interrogated about the activities of their children, it’s also true that children are sometimes persecuted for their parents’ political partialities. In the latest example, Mohammadbagher Bagherian Nejadian Fard, a former Iranian MP, lost his daughter last year under mysterious circumstances that have been attributed to security officials. He believes that his daughter was sacrificed by the state for his reformist political views.
Bagherian Nejadian Fard has told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran: “In recent years, I’ve been attending the weekly meetings of the Defence of Political Prisoners Centre and expressing my views freely. After the Kahrizak crimes, I said at one of the weekly meetings that if the authorities decide to commit suicide over these crimes, they must not be reproached.”
In the past year, he has written many letters to the Iranian judiciary as well as the Supreme Leader about his daughter’s case, but security officials have threatened him that if he continues with his statements, the lives of his other children could be at stake.
Fatemeh Bagherian Nejadian Fard, a 28-year-old student in her final year of engineering at Iran’s Science and Technology University, left home on 28 July, 2011 and her dead body was found a day later in the mountains of Shahr-e Rey. Her family was threatened against holding a funeral service or trying to follow up on her case.
Her father has commented on his daughter’s death, saying: “They first told us she died of natural causes, then they said she had taken rice pills that had caused her death. But I am certain that security forces killed her, although I do not know why and how. It could be because of my reformist political views or because my daughter was involved in the post-elections events. On several occasions, I have been threatened to keep silent about my daughter’s case; isn’t this a sign?”
The body of Fatemeh Bagherian was found on July 29 and, according to her father: “The coroner first said her death was from natural causes, but we could not be convinced of this, and I wrote many letters to the authorities. Our home is in the north of Tehran, and Fatemeh was found on a mountain in the south of Tehran, Bibi Shahrbanu Mountain, where it is quite secluded. It is not possible to get from the north of the city to this place without a car. Fatemeh was not into mountain climbing and hiking and on that day, she was not even wearing running shoes or sneakers. One or two months after the incident, I was still writing letters and I went to the prosecutor’s office, and they said after new investigations they have found that my daughter had taken rice pills and died. But we believe that this is a pure lie. If there is any rice pill, then they must have forced it down her throat.”
Fatemeh’s father told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that his daughter’s body showed signs of beatings with bruises on her legs, arms and face.
Mohammadbagher Bagherian does not have a lawyer following up on his daughter’s case; he believes that getting a lawyer in the current system is useless. In an official letter, 22 MPs urged the judiciary to investigate the death of their colleague’s daughter. Mohammad Bagherian Nejadianfard has called on human rights activists and groups and the UN special rapporteur Ahmad Shaheed to follow up on his daughter’s case.
Threats against the Larger Family of Media Activists
One of the major groups whose families are being threatened by security officials is media activists. Pressure on the families of media activists as a blatant violation of human rights, pressure over media activists and restriction of free speech can be investigated in Iran.
Families of several Iranians collaborating with Radio Farda were recently interrogated in Iran. Arman Mostofi, the director of Radio Farda, reported that about a year ago, Iranian security forces summoned families and even distant relatives of Radio Farda employees for interrogation.
These interrogations took different forms and were accompanied by various threats or promises. In some cases, families were told to convince their kin to stop working for Prague-based Radio Farda and to return to Iran with promises that, if they did so, they would be given certain opportunities.
Earlier, a member of the Persian BBC staff was involved in a similar case. The Revolutionary Guards Corps security officials had interrogated the BBC employee over the internet, while the employee’s sister was under arrest and being pressured to make a televised confession. The BBC employee was told that if he refused to respond to the questions, the sister would not be released. The sister was finally released after a 40-minute interrogation.
In addition, the families of BBC employees in Iran have been persecuted in various forms, ranging from summonses and interrogations to the confiscation of passports.
A report published last year by Reporters Without Borders indicates that in the past seven years, the press rights groups has documented 50 cases in which journalists’ family members in Iran were intimidated or arrested. The report adds that more than 200 journalists and bloggers were forced to flee Iran after the severe crackdown on protesters that followed the controversial presidential elections of 2009, which gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another term. These journalists have begun collaborating with independent media abroad, and that has triggered more persecution of their families in Iran.
These actions are taking place even though there is no legal validity to arresting an individual for offences committed by others, and it is only done in order to fabricate a file and advance the policy of intimidation and threats.
[translated from the original in Persian]