Iranian witnesses who testified to the Aban Tribunal in London are now being harassed by the state, a consortium of human rights organizations has said.
Over the course of two hearings in November 2021 and February 2022, the “people’s tribunal” heard evidence from 55 individuals about atrocities committed by the state apparatus during Iran’s November 2019 protests.
Some 38 of those who gave evidence concealed their identities in a bid to preserve their safety while testifying via videolink from inside the country.
At least six who did not, Amnesty International and 14 other organizations said in a joint statement on Thursday, have since faced vicious reprisal from the Iranian authorities aimed at both themselves and their families.
"Don't Think They're Out of Harm's Way"
Amin Ansarifar, whose son Farzad Ansarifar was killed by security forces in Behbahan on November 16, 2019, was arrested together with his other son Arman on February 19 and 20.
The pair were accused by the Ministry of Intelligence of taking part in “the court of the enemy”. They were then held in Behbahan, without access to a lawyer or family visits, until March 16, then sentenced to three months in prison each and a five-year travel ban at the start of April.
Farzaneh, Farzad’s sister, was summoned to the Behbahan prosecutor’s office for speaking to the media about their detention. She was violently pushed against a wall and told she would receive “no mercy” if she continued to speak out.
On February 19, Farzaneh was sentenced to four years and six months in a separate case linked to an Instagram post she had shared raising awareness about her brother’s death.
The parents of Aram Mardoukhi, who fled Iran after taking part in the November 2019 protests and testified last winter, have faced what the statement’s co-signatories called “relentless harassment and intimidation” in Sanandaj, Kurdistan.
Aram’s mother, Behjat Mardoukhi, was interrogated about his whereabouts and activities after a raid on the family home. The agents gave her an ominous warning: Aram, they said, was still “within the grasp of the Iranian authorities”.
Intelligence Ministry operatives also twice raided the workplace of Aram’s father, Habibollah Mardoukhi, and interrogated him about his son. Later they summoned the whole family, insisting the parents bring their 15- and two-year-old sons with them.
There, the family were shown Aram Mardoukhi’s testimony at the Aban Tribunal and placed under immense pressure to publicly denounce him. Habibollah was physically beaten and told his son could meet the same fate as executed journalist Ruhollah Zam. Nevertheless, they refused to give a staged “interview” with the IRIB.
Finally on February 17, the report states, “Habibollah Mardoukhi was summoned again by the Ministry of Intelligence and forced under duress to provide a statement on video. The repeated harassment, intimidation and threats by the authorities have left the whole family living in severe fear, distress and anguish over their safety in Iran, and the safety of Aram Mardoukhi abroad.”
A young man named Alireza Barekati had also testified during the second set of hearings in February about the killing of his 21-year-old friend, Ali Hosseini, during protests in Meshkindasht, Alborz province, on November 16, 2019.
Several of Alireza’s family members have since received threatening messages to their mobile phones from people known to be linked to Iran’s security and intelligence bodies. They were told to cut ties with Barekati, who was described as a “traitor”, or face dire consequences. The anxiety has led Barekati to break off contact with his family.
The Opposite of Justice
No Iranian official has been held responsible for the large-scale slaughter and systematic human rights abuses exacted by the Iranian state in November 2019. Thousands of peaceful protesters and bystanders are believed to have been killed that month alone.
Bereaved family members, and campaigners supporting their call for justice, have for two years been obsessively monitored and intimidated inside Iran, with many arrested simply for organizing memorials.
In a press briefing on February 7, 2022, during the second hearing of the Aban Tribunal, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tehran had expressed “serious protests” to the UK government about the Aban Tribunal being allowed to go ahead.
Falsely implying that the UK government had the power to stop what a citizen-led initiative from taking place, he went on: “No responsible government would put such hostile behaviour on its agenda.”
In the public statement issued this week, 15 signatories called on the Iranian government to immediately stop harassing those who testified to the Aban Tribunal, and to quash any related convictions or sentences.
“These tactics,” they wrote, “have caused additional pain and suffering to survivors and victims' families who continue to be haunted by uncertainty and injustice. As such, these violations constitute a form of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
“We further reiterate our call on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an investigative and accountability mechanism on Iran to collect, analyse and preserve evidence of the most serious crimes under international law committed in Iran.”
The signatories were:
All Human Rights for All in Iran
Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani People in Iran (AHRAZ)
Association of Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran-Geneva
Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran (CFPPI)
Center for Human Rights in Iran ECPM
Together Against the Death Penalty
Hengaw Organization for Human Rights
Iran Human Rights
Justice for Iran
Kurdistan Human Rights Network
Siamak Pourzand Foundation (SPF)
The Baloch Activists Campaign