(Washington, DC, April 10, 2008) – Iranian authorities should immediately investigate allegations that Ministry of Information agents and interrogators tortured four detained student activists, and punish officials involved in such abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. According to sources familiar with the case, the students have suffered physical and psychological abuse during detention. Three students remain imprisoned, and the whereabouts of the fourth detainee, taken from his hospital bed on April 5, are unknown.
“Iran should either charge these students with a crime, or release them,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Officials must investigate the reports of torture and punish anyone it finds responsible.”
The four detainees, Behrooz Karimizadeh, Peyman Piran, Ali Kantouri, and Majid Pourmajid, are activists with the organization Students Seeking Freedom and Equality. The group states that it seeks to peacefully resist various forms of inequality and exploitation. The group has branches and members on university campuses throughout Iran. Since December 2007, Iranian authorities have arrested over 40 students affiliated with the group. All but the four mentioned above are free; some of the students released alleged that their interrogators tortured and ill-treated them while in detention.
The arrests appear to have been triggered by demonstrations planned on several campuses to commemorate Students Day on December 7, 2007. Known by the date according to the Iranian calendar, 16 of Azar, Students Day observes the day in 1953 when police fatally shot three student protesters at the University of Tehran. The authorities began targeting members of the Students Seeking Freedom and Equality a few days before the planned events and continued to harass key members for months afterwards. The crackdown appears to be focused on the Students Seeking Freedom and Equality.
On December 2, 2007, Ministry of Information agents arrested Behrooz Karimizadeh, 22, at the home of a friend in Tehran. Two days later, plainclothes agents from that ministry arrested Peyman Piran, as he was leaving Tehran University following peaceful student demonstrations on campus. Authorities are holding the pair in Units 209 and 305, respectively, in Evin prison in Tehran. Information received by Human Rights Watch suggests the authorities are subjecting the detainees to long periods of solitary confinement and various forms of physical and psychological ill-treatment.
Approximately two weeks after the arrests of Karimizadeh and Piran, Ministry of Information agents arrested Ali Kantouri, also an activist with Students Seeking Freedom and Equality, in the town of Ghazvin, northwest of Tehran. Authorities transferred him to Ghezel Hesare, a prison located near the city of Karaj in Tehran province.
Court officials refused to set bail for Kantouri and set prohibitively high bails for Piran and Karimizadeh (nearly US$300,000 for Karimizadeh).
On March 29, 2008, Ministry of Information agents arrested Majid Pourmajid in the northwestern city of Tabriz and hospitalized him on April 2, 2008. Three days later, authorities transferred him from the hospital to an unknown location.