By Aida Ghajar
July 4, 2020
On June 30, 2020, BBC Persian published a video concerning the arrest of Alireza Japalaghi, an Iranian parkour practitioner who was detained by Iranian authorities in May after publishing a video in which he kissed a girl on a Tehran rooftop.
In the video, Japalaghi appears in a car and says he has been detained by Turkish forces. Its release has led to contradictory accounts of what has happened to Japalaghi so far.
This week, on July 2, IranWire was able to make contact with lawyers in Turkey and establish the current situation of Alireza Japalaghi. It transpires that he is presently being held at the Kurubash camp in Van, Turkey.
Five weeks ago Japalaghi’s brother announced his brother’s arrest in a story published on his Instagram page. Japalaghi had been detained after posting a video entitled Dawn of Tehran on his Instagram and Twitter pages, in which he kissed a girl while hanging from a rooftop. The girl, who has not been named, was also arrested a day later.
Japalaghi confirmed his arrest on his Instagram channel on May 17. He said he had been summoned by telephone to “provide some explanations”, adding that security officials had told him: “A court order had been issued and you should come in for a series of questions and answers. If we come in a police car, it will cause a disgrace in front of the neighbors. You had better come in yourself.”
Sources close to Japalaghi say he was later released on a 200 million toman (US$12,000) bail. Then on June 30 the Persian arm of the BBC published a video of him riding in a car alongside his brother, reporting that he had been detained by the Turkish police.
“I crossed the border and came to Turkey,” Alireza said in the video. “The army arrested me and handed me over to the gendarmerie. But I don’t know where they will take me now. I’m sitting in this car with several policemen.”
Following the release of this video, reports surfaced of Alireza Japalaghi having been transferred to a Turkish detention center, and from there to a deportation camp. Musa Barzin Khalifehlu, a lawyer and adviser to IranWire who is a resident of Turkey, has now investigated Alireza’s condition and confirmed after 48 hours was able to confirm that he is being held in Kurubash deportation camp in the city of Van, eastern Turkey.
According to both international law and COVID-19 protocols, Turkey can keep the Iranian athlete in quarantine and detention for 14 days before making a determination on his fate.
Musa Barzin Khalifehlu explained to IranWire that Japalaghi would be allowed to see a lawyer after the quarantine period expired. “But to know the details of the case,” he said, “and to answer the question of whether or not the athlete has objected to leaving Turkish soil, the lawyer must be given official representation.”
Japalaghi does not formally have a lawyer yet. It is not clear how far his case has progressed if at all. Amnesty International has been informed about the fact the Iranian parkour tracer is being held at the camp, and calls have been issued to Turkish officials and human rights organizations to try to prevent his deportation.
In recent months, there have been several reports of Iranians detained in Turkey being deported back to Iran. These have included Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, two young men who pursued by Iranian authorities for their participation in the November 2019 protests.
The pair fled to Turkey and were arrested 20 km from the Turkish city of Antalya. Despite the fact that both the Antalya Immigration Office and the UN officials knew they were being politically persecuted in Iran, and an asylum case had been opened, Turkey then returned them to Iran as part of a group of around 20 detainees and the Iranian court sentenced them to death.
In another case, Turkish plainclothes officers arrested the Baluch activist Abdollah Sarbazi at his home and transferred him to a deportation camp. In this case, after a protracted investigation, he was able to evade deportation.
The concern for Alireza Japalaghi is that if Turkish officials are not made adequately aware of his situation or he does not have a lawyer, they may return him to Iran. By law he must protest against his deportation or the receipt of a deportation certificate himself, and also apply for asylum. Meanwhile, Turkey has an obligation under international law to shelter the athlete if a return to Iran would endanger his life.
The most important objective at the moment is therefore the admission of his case by a lawyer who is licensed in Turkey.