(New York, September 19, 2011) – The Iranian government should immediately provide information regarding the whereabouts and condition of prominent rights activist Koohyar Goodarzi, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the authorities to immediately charge or release Goodarzi, who was taken into custody in late July.
“Disappearing an Iranian citizen for more than six weeks without any semblance of legal process violates both Iranian and international laws which Iran’s government pretends to respect,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “At the very minimum, the Iranian government owes an explanation to the Goodarzi family for the whereabouts of their son, and on what basis they’ve deprived him of his liberty.”
Plainclothes security forces arrested Goodarzi at his friend Behnam Ganji’s home on July 31. The agents took Goodarzi, Ganji, and a third individual to an undisclosed location and later transferred them to Tehran’s Evin prison, sources told Human Rights Watch. Authorities have so far refused to acknowledge that they have arrested or detained Goodarzi. Human Rights Watch has not been able to ascertain the reasons for Goodarzi’s arrest or his current whereabouts.
An informed source told Human Rights Watch that a few days after Goodarzi’s arrest his friends and family went to the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office to seek information about his detention but were told there was no file regarding his case. The source said that his family and friends also visited the prosecutor’s office in Evin prison, but authorities there told them they knew nothing about Goodarzi’s arrest and that his family should file a missing persons report with the local police.
Mina Jafari, Goodarzi’s lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that she has made several requests to the government for information regarding Goodarzi’s whereabouts and condition but has so far been unsuccessful. Jafari said that she did not expect the authorities to allow her to visit her client before his case is referred to court.
Concerns about Goodarzi have increased since the suicide of a friend who was arrested along with him. Authorities released Ganji on August 8. He was found dead in his family’s home on September 2. Before his death, Ganji told a friend he and Goodarzi were taken to Ward 240 of Evin Prison where they were held in solitary cells. Ganji said he was blindfolded and subjected to interrogations. He said authorities told him they had charged him with “acting against national security through contact with Kouhyar Goudarzi.”
On August 1, a day after Goodarzi’s arrest, security forces arrested his mother, Parvin Mokhtareh, at her home in southern Kerman province. According to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters website, during a recent visit in Kerman prison, Mokhtareh told her family that she had been informed of her charges, which included “disturbing the public order” and “acting against national security” and were connected to interviews she gave during her son’s imprisonment. Mokhtareh’s first court session was held on Tuesday, September 6, at the revolutionary court in Kerman behind closed doors. Human Rights Watch has not been able to gather any information regarding her trial or the charges against her.
Goodarzi, 25, is a rights activist who Iranian security forces have arrested and imprisoned several times since 2006. Security forces first arrested Goodarzi on May 1, 2006, at a demonstration for the right to set up independent labor unions held by the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. They later released him. On the evening of December 20, 2009, security forces arrested Goodarzi, Shiva Nazar Ahari, and Saeed Haeri in Enqelab Square in Tehran. The three members of a local rights group, the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, were on a bus about to leave for Qom, where they had planned to attend the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri.
In June 2010, Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court convicted Goodarzi of “propaganda against the regime” and other security-related offenses and sentenced him to one year in prison. Authorities put him and 16 other prisoners in solitary confinement in July 2010 after they had staged a hunger strike to protest mistreatment by prison authorities. Authorities released Goodarzi from Rajai Shahr prison on December 14, 2010.
All members of the Committee of Human Rights Reporters who were active in Iran have either been imprisoned by the authorities, are out on furlough, or have been forced to leave the country.
International law considers a “disappearance” to be a continuing offense so long as the state continues to conceal the fate or the whereabouts of the “disappeared” person. Enforced disappearances are defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a state or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.”
Although Iran is not a signatory to the Rome Statute or the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Iran has signed, forbids prolonged pretrial detention without charge. The Covenant also requires authorities to provide detainees with “adequate time and facilities for the preparation of [their] defense” and to allow them “to communicate with counsel of [their] own choosing.”
Despite this, article 128 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure states that during the investigative phase of a case, which may last up to a month (though a judge may renew this detention phase indefinitely), counsel may be denied “in cases where the issue has a secretive aspect or the judge believes that the presence of anyone other than the accused may lead to corruption.” Article 133 also allows judicial authorities to renew a detainee’s pretrial detention indefinitely. While these laws contravene international standards, it seems that denying Goodarzi access to counsel and failing to acknowledge his detention violate even Iran’s own procedures.
“Iranian authorities have for years relied on repressive criminal procedure rules to ensure prolonged incommunicado detention for detainees prior to trial,” said Whitson. “But in Goodarzi’s case they are also violating their own laws by disavowing any knowledge of his detention more than a month and a half after arresting him.”