January 1, 2020
“Manouchehr Bakhtiari and Nahid Shirpisheh, Pouya’s parents, his sister Mona, and Asef and Mehrdad Bakhtiari, his uncles, are the five members of Pouya’s family still under arrest. They were supposed to have been released on Monday, December 30, but so far nothing has happened.”
This is a statement by Bahman Sadeghi-Noor, a cousin of Pouya Bakhtiari’s mother Nahid Shirpisheh. It confirms that a week on from the arrests of five members of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family, the Islamic Republic’s judiciary and security authorities refuse to release them.
Bakhtiari was shot and killed in front of his mother and sister on November 16, when nationwide protests against the increase in gas prices began. Authorities delivered his body to his family on Wednesday, November 20, but at 2am Tuesday, December 24, intelligence ministry agents raided the home of Pouya Bakhtiari’s family without any warrants and arrested at least nine members of the family.
Initially, there was skepticism about whether reports of the arrests were authentic. The reliability of the source was questionable and no member of the family could be reached to confirm the claim. A few hours before the arrests, Bakhtiari’s father Manouchehr Bakhtiari was scheduled to speak on an IranWire live internet program, but when the program started he could not be reached, an apparent result of disruption to the internet connection at his home.
Mehr News Agency, which is close to Iran’s security establishment, was the first media outlet to report the arrests [Persian link]. It quoted an unnamed “informed source” who accused the family of being “active elements in the project for the continuation of unrest” and “creating fatalities” in line with a “bankrupt and fugitive counter-revolution” who persist in their “destructive activities.”
According to Sadeghi-Noor, some family members have been released in recent days and the Intelligence Bureau of Alborz province and judiciary officials had promised that the five remaining people would be released on December 30. “Two other uncles of Pouya and his aunt wanted to visit his graveside to pray for him,” he says. “Intelligence agents followed them to the graveside and did not allow them to mourn and returned them to their homes. When an uncle of Pouya asked them when they were going to release the rest of the family, the senior intelligence agent told him that they would be released on December 30. And when they went to the Revolutionary Court to inquire about the arrested family members they were told the same thing.”
Apart from the accusations made by the source Mehr News Agency quoted, there is still no information available about the charges the arrested family members face. “The Intelligence Bureau told the family that they did not need a lawyer because they would be released soon but the day that they went to the Revolutionary Court they were told nothing about the charges or why they had been arrested,” says Sadeghi-Noor. “They are not guilty of anything.”
It has been confirmed that the intelligence ministry is responsible for the arrests, but no further information has been supplied regarding their whereabouts. Since their arrests a week ago, the families of Manouchehr Bakhtiari and Nahid Shirpisheh have not been able to talk to them or visit them, and they have become increasingly worried. “None of the five detainees have contacted the family by phone and we have no idea where they are detained and under what conditions,” says Sadeghi-Noor. “We do not know why they do not allow them to contact their family on the phone.”
Terrorizing the Family
According to him, authorities have seriously threatened Bakhtiari’s and Shirpisheh’s families, telling them that if they talk about the detainees they will take action against them too. “Members of the family inside Iran are unwilling even to talk to relatives outside Iran because they are under immense pressure,” he says. “They have terrorized them and it is no wonder: a regime that threatens the classmate and the family of a teenager who was killed in Shiraz and tells them not to talk would not shrink from threatening and pressuring our family.”
Sadeghi-Noor says that the Intelligence Bureau has also been trying to arrest another of Pouya Bakhtiari’s uncles. “The Intelligence Bureau believes that this uncle has been talking about the family’s situation. They went to his home to arrest him but, fortunately, he was not there and so far they have not succeeded in arresting him.”
In a video published by Deutsche Welle Persian on December 26, Pouya Bakhtiari’s grandmother, Tahereh Shirpisheh, said that intelligence agents prevented her from visiting her grandson’s graveside to say a prayer for him [Persian link]. In the same video, she asked for the release of her grandchildren and other members of her family. She also said that agents at Behesht Sakineh Cemetery told her that the family members would be released on Friday, December 27, a promise that was not kept.
Earlier, in an exclusive interview with IranWire, Pouya Bakhtiari’s father said that the Intelligence Bureau and the prosecutor’s office of Alborz province had asked him to retract his call for the Iranian people to participate in 40th-day mourning traditions at his son’s graveside and the family’s plans to hold the ceremonies in a mosque instead of in Behesht Sakineh Cemetery [Persian video]. Bakhtiari rejected this request and emphasized that he was one of the people, not a supporter of the regime, and that he considered the regime an enemy because they had murdered his son.
Pouya Bakhtiari’s father has dared to say that the regime is his enemy. From this perspective, he and four other members of the family could be regarded as prisoners of war, like many other protesters who are now in detention centers. The events of recent weeks have led some to ask whether a period of terror has taken hold in Iran.