Protest rallies were held in several cities in Iran to show support for Azerbaijan as the clashes over Nagorno-Karabakh continue, October 1, 2020. (Supplied)

By Ebrahim Ramezani

October 5, 2020

More than 100 protesters voicing support for Azerbaijan and anger over Iran’s backing of Armenia have been arrested in Iran.

As military clashes between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia continue, protests against Iran’s support of Armenia erupted in several Iranian cities on October 1. Some of the demonstrations, which took place in Tehran, Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan, Meshkinshahr, Maragheh, Marand, Naqadeh, Parsabad and other cities, turned violent when Iranian security forces intervened. Many of the cities where protests took place have large ethnic Azeri populations.

Turkish Azeri Iranian activists have expressed anger over the Iranian government’s apparent support for Armenia, along with Russia. Islamic Republic officials, however, have stated they are neutral on the two countries’ dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. In response, activists posted videos on social media showing the alleged transfer of Russian military equipment from Iran to Armenia.

The protests against Iranian and Russian support for neighboring Armenia followed a call-out on social media to support Azerbaijan on October 1.

Following this, dozens of Azerbaijani political, civil society and student activists were summoned by the intelligence and security police in several cities. Security agents also carried out raids on some of their homes.

“The security forces arrested citizens before the rallies began,” one citizen journalist in Tehran told IranWire. “As the rallies, which were attended by a large number of women, began, the protesters were beaten and detained by police and plainclothes officers and transferred to Etrat Cultural Center in Imam Hossein Square.” According to him, “the security agents used more than four vans to transfer the detainees.”

In Tabriz, a protest rally was held on Rasteh Koocheh Street at the same time as protests in Tehran and Urmia. As videos citizen journalists sent to IranWire show, security forces violently disrupted a peaceful gathering in Tabriz. Police and plainclothes officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets and used batons to disperse the demonstrators. According to eyewitnesses in the city, officers attacked and beat dozens of people and detained about 40 protesters.

According to information IranWire received from sources in Tabriz, intelligence security agents detained the following people there: Morteza Naghizadeh, Mojtaba Naghizadeh, Mohammad Naghizadeh, Sadollah Sasani, and Milad Akbari. The five men were beaten, arrested, and transferred to an unknown location.

Protests in Urmia Led by Women

An IranWire source said that in Urmia, protesters on Imam Street and Ataei Street were beaten and arrested by police and intelligence forces. The source said the main initiators of the protest in Urmia were women.

According to information received by IranWire, the protesters arrested in Urmia on October 1 were identified as Javad Rezaei, Younes Shirzad, Sahand Behnamoon, Salar Taher Afshar, Farhad Mohammadi, and Khanom Entekhabi. Authorities took information about the men’s business licenses before releasing them on a temporary basis on October 2. They now await trial. Azerbaijani activists,  named as Houshang Naghizadeh, Amir Gohari, Ashkan Saadatmehr, and Reza Khalili were summoned to the Urmia Security Police on October 1, and were released after interrogation at 8:00 pm on the same day.

On the morning of October 2Urmia intelligence and security police summoned more than a hundred activists in the city by phone, and threatened to detain them. Many of these activists ignored the order, stating that it was not legal for authorities to issue summons over the phone.

Protests in Zanjan and Ardabil

In Zanjan, protests turned violent and at least seven people were arrested. Two of them have been identified as Majid Karimi and Akbar Gharabaghi, and another has been identified only by his last name, Soltani. On October 2, Akbar Gharabaghi’s sister announced on social media that all three had been released, and that her brother had been beaten while incarcerated.

According to sources in Ardabil, crowds voicing their support for Azerbaijan gathered in Jiral Park. Several of them were attacked by officers and then taken to Branch 10 of the city’s court, where their cases were heard by Judge Nonahal, who informed them they faced charges of “insulting the leadership,” “disrupting public order,” “rebelling against government officials,” and “acting against national security by participating in rallies.”

They were then transferred to Ardabil Prison and told they would have to settle large bail amounts — 500 million tomans [US$17,000] — to secure their release before a further trial. The arrested were named as Asgar Akbarzadeh, Mehdi Hooshmand, Sajjad Jolani, Hossein Balakhani, Mojtaba Parvin, Mostafa Parvin, Mohammad Jolani, Hamed Heidari Baris, Bahman Khairjoo, Parviz Siabi, Morteza Parvin and Sobhan Bakhshi.

Some detainees were able to speak with their families on the phone.”Seyed Abdollah Tabatabai, the prosecutor of Ardabil, saw the effects of the beatings the arrested activists endured, but did not accept a report written by a forensic doctor,” one of the jailed men told his family.

According to several detained activists, a visually impaired artist named Sajjad Jolani who took part in the protest is in critical condition, but no action has been taken to treat him.

Other detainees have been named as Ahmad Mohammadpour, Yashar Moradi, Ali Ma’ali, Younes Moradi and Marzieh Javanshir. Dariush Niazi Shiran, a civil society activist living in Ardabil, was also arrested by intelligence security police and taken to an unknown location.

A sister of one of the detainees told IranWire in an interview: “My brother was beaten both during his arrest and in the detention center. The prosecutor’s action in not sending my brother and other detainees to doctors is a form of support for the violence officers used in the rallies. The agents are relieved that no one will interrogate them for their violence.”

Elsewhere in Ardabil province, Peyman Aghaei, a civil society activist from Parsabad, was also arrested by intelligence security forces on October 1 and taken to an unknown location.

In Meshkinshahr, the following people were arrested:  Siamak Seifi, charged with “propaganda against the regime” and ordered to pay a bail amount of 50 million tomans ($1,700); Kazem Safabakhsh, who was ordered to pay 30 million tomans; and Vahid Khavand. The judge sent the three men to Meshkinshahr Prison pending further interrogations and referred the case to another court.

There is currently no news about the whereabouts and condition of another person detained, Ahmad Yaghoubi. Mehdi Ebadolahi, Ghodrat Manafzadegan, and Shahrooz Hematoghli were also held at Meshkinshahr Prison, and were acquitted and released after interrogation.

Prior to the recent arrests, authorities arrested and detained dozens of Turkish Azeri Iranian political and civil society activists on July 16, 2020 after they staged a protest opposing Iran’s policy toward Azerbaijan.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.