Security Forces Repress Funeral Ceremony in Tabriz
Hundreds of members of the Azerbaijani community attended the funeral of linguistic and cultural rights activist Chingiz Bakhtavar on December 19, 2009 in the city of Tabriz. The burial, however, was interrupted by security forces including Tabriz Police and plain-clothed intelligence agents from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). 22 attendees were arrested and roughly 100 beaten, including prominent Azerbaijani Activist Abbas Lisani, who suffered major injury to his head and knees.
Azerbaijani cultural and linguistic rights activist Chingiz Bakhtavar died mysteriously on December 17, 2009 at work at an electrical plant. His body was discovered at roughly 1 P.M.
At the time, Bakhtavar had not been suffering any illnesses. Members of his family suspect foul play and claim that Iranian Secret Service agents killed him. Bakhtavar’s family members reported that upon his death, MOIS agents contacted them and warned them that if the body was not buried on the same day, agents would confiscate the body and proceed to bury it in an undisclosed location. A deal was subsequently reached to bury the body on December 19 on the condition that there would be no Azerbaijani rights protests at his funeral.
On the day of the burial, hundreds came to pay respects to Bakhtavar. The burial ceremony lasted from 10 until 11 A.M. Rights activists Abbas Lisani Hadi Hamidi Shafiq gave speeches praising the work of Bakhtavar in promoting linguistic and cultural rights. Scores of Azerbaijanis chanted rights slogans and sang the Azerbaijan Milli March, a song promoting the people of Iranian Azerbaijan.
As protesters exited the burial ceremony, Tabriz Police and plain-clothed MOIS agents wielding batons and chains charged the attendees, beating them mercilessly. Eyewitnesses say around 100 were beaten and 22 arrested and carried off in a police minibus. ADAPP has received the names of 11 of the 22 arrested thus far: Hadi Mortaza Silab, Ebrahim Farajzadeh, Ebrahim Asmani, Ali Tehemtan, Reza Abri, Alireza Yusefi, Farzin Asghari, Ali Imani, Majid Javadpour, Mehdi Javadpour and Nasib Javadpour. Nasib, Majid and Mehdi Javadpour were released the following day.
Among those severely injured by security forces was Abbas Lisani, a rights activist from the city of Ardabil. Eyewitnesses reported that upon exiting the cemetery, roughly 30 police and MOIS agents attacked Lisani. After seeing the attack friends of Lisani, Hadi Hamidi Shafiq, Mohammad Tajdehi and Hoseyn Nasiri, rushed to his aid and to separate Lisani from security forces. They were also attacked and sustained injuries. Lisani suffered injuries to his head and knees and was bleeding heavily. He was taken to a doctor after the violence quelled.
Lisani reported that he had been contacted by MOIS agents the day before the funeral and was threatened that if he was seen at Bakhtavar’s funeral he would be killed and returned to the city of Ardabil to be buried. Lisani, however, defiantly attended.
After the burial, a funeral ceremony took place at Imam Ali Mosque from 5-6 P.M. in Roshdiyye, a borough of Tabriz. Eyewitnesses claim that MOIS agents stood inside the mosque and filmed those who entered the ceremony in order to document them for future interrogation. There were also police outside of the mosque.
Yagub Vujudi, an Azerbaijani cultural rights activist, disappeared after attending the ceremony at Imam Ali Mosque. Members of Javadpour’s family claim that he was taken by MOIS agents. There is still no word regarding Vujudi’s whereabouts. His family members have been to the local court as well as police and MOIS stations, to no avail.
The crackdown and subsequent arrests at Chingiz Bakhtavar’s funeral and ceremony are yet another example of harshness that members of the Azerbaijani minority face in Iran. From the lack of information from police regarding Bakhtavar’s death to the severe beatings at his funeral, police and MOIS agents have shown no respect for the death of this prominent member of Azerbaijani minority. The burial ceremony was completely peaceful, yet was interrupted by a violent crackdown on the attendees.
Pictures of the funeral can be found at: http://www.savalansesi.com/2009/12/blog-post_29.html