Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Criticism of Iran's crackdown on Ashkan Zahabian, student activist

A May 29, 2013 article from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) states that on May 27, 2013, Iranian security officials broke into the home of Ashkan Zahabian and arrested him. He was a former student at Ferdowsi University and a former member of the Daftar Tahkim Vahdat Student Organization General Council. Zahabian was then transferred to Mati Kola Prison, located in the Iranian city of Babol, on the same day. This information has been provided to the ICHRI from an anonymous source. The ICHRI has also been informed that the security officials who broke into Zahabian's home first claimed that they were electricians, and asked to enter his house. When they were inside Zahabian's home, they threatened him with physical abuse and guns. They took him away, dragging him out of his bed, without even allowing him a chance to get dressed.

The source also noted that after Zahabian's family appeared in court, the Sentence Enforcement Unit officials claimed that they had sent three court orders to the family. However, the family stated that they had never received any court orders and challenged the validity of the claim. They also questioned why Zahabian was arrested without court orders and without any legal process. Babol Court authorities claim that the purpose of Zahabian's arrest was to enforce his eight-month jail term from his 2011 case. Zahabian was charged with spreading propaganda against the regime and threatening national security, according to a July 2011 ruling from Judge Bagherian. The source also commented that Zahabian was charged with associating with Grand Ayatollahs in the Iranian city of Qom. However, according to the attorney, this charge has not been proven with any evidence.

Zahabian studied chemistry while he was in university and was a former member of the university's Islamic Association. He was suspended for one academic term in 2008 due to his student activism. Four days after the 2009 elections, the Intelligence Ministry arrested him. A militant group identified as Ansar-e-Hezbollah, who were dressed in plainclothes at the time, beat him severely while he was arrested. He was arrested again on November 4, 2009 during Student Day protests. A Babol Revolutionary Court sentenced him to six months in jail without his presence in the courtroom. In February 2009, he was banned from continuing his education based on an Intelligence Ministry decision, while still suspended from university. He was then expelled, just one term away from graduation. He was arrested again on May 2, 2011. After spending 43 days in solitary cells and being interrogated in Shahid Kachooei Prison, located in the Iranian city of Sari, he was taken to Mati Kola Prison.

The source also noted that Zahabian started a hunger strike after serving more than half of his six month jail term at Mati Kola Prison, to protest his unjust imprisonment, where he was being kept in a ward with dangerous criminals. His health worsened, yet he was forced into solitary confinement. He was ignored by security guards and doctors working in the jail, which led to him losing consciousness. Zahabian developed liver, stomach, and speech problems as a result of being interrogated in jail and because of his hunger strike. After his release, he remained under medical care.

The fact that Zahabian has been arrested without any evidence shows once again that the Iranian legal system is not based on justice; it is based on persecuting innocent victims. It is also completely cowardly of the security officials who broke into Zahabian's home to misrepresent themselves as electricians, threaten him, and arrest him without any court orders. To make matters worse, Zahabian's health has been neglected with full knowledge from Iranian doctors and security officials, causing his condition to deteriorate even more. Zahabian is an innocent citizen who was working hard by going to university and getting educated, but now his future has been ruined. Zahabian's wrongful arrests have caused him to suffer needlessly, and illustrate the rampant corruption in the Iranian legal system and government.

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