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)

January 13, 2021

Iran has sentenced an activist from its Azerbaijani Turk ethnic minority to an effective three-year prison term for joining a public protest last year in support of Azerbaijan while it engaged in a brief conflict with neighboring Armenia, according to a knowledgeable source.

In a January 8 interview with VOA Persian from Iran, the source said a Revolutionary Court in the northwestern city of Urmia issued a verbal notification of the sentence to the lawyer of activist Salar Taher Afshar on January 2. The source said the verdict followed a December 14 trial attended by both the lawyer and the activist in Urmia, the largest city in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province.

Taher Afshar received a three-year sentence for the charge of participating in an illegal gathering and a one-year sentence for the charge of spreading antigovernment propaganda, the source said.

Authorities had arrested Taher Afshar on July 16 last year after he joined pro-Azerbaijan street protests that day in Urmia and several other predominantly Azerbaijani Turk cities in northwestern Iran. VOA’s Azerbaijani service had reported that heavy deployments of Iranian security forces dispersed the protests and made arrests.

Taher Afshar was released on bail after a six-day detention and has remained free in Urmia pending an outcome to the trial. VOA’s source said the activist’s lawyer plans to appeal the three-year and one-year prison sentences in the coming days.

Under Iranian law, Taher Afshar would have to serve only the longest of the prison terms, three years, if they are confirmed on appeal.

But, the source said the activist also would have to serve an additional eight-month term related to a previous conviction for participating in Urmia street protests as part of Iran’s nationwide antigovernment demonstrations of November 2019. He had been arrested on November 20 of that year and released on bail sometime later.

A West Azerbaijan criminal court had convicted Taher Afshar of disrupting public order in the protests and sentenced him to eight months in prison and 20 lashes following a January 15, 2020 trial, but it suspended the punishments for a three-year period, the source said. The eight-month term would be added to Taher Afshar’s three-year term for joining the July 2020 protests if the latter sentence is upheld on appeal, the source added.  

VOA cannot independently verify the judicial actions against Taher Afshar because it is barred from reporting inside Iran. There was no mention of them in Iranian state media.  

Weeks of deadly border battles between Azerbaijan and Armenia erupted on July 12, 2020. The former Soviet republics later escalated their decades-long conflict into a six-week war that began in late September and centered on the Armenian-controlled and populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan. The fighting ended in November with a Russia-mediated peace deal.


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.