The mother of an Iranian blogger who died in custody was among those attacked by security forces today at her son’s graveside, prompting Amnesty International to call once more for a thorough and impartial investigation into the 35-year-old’s death.
Sattar Beheshti, from Robat Karim south-west of Tehran, was buried on 7 November. According to officials he died in the Cyber Police detention facility on 3 November.
Security forces and men in plainclothes reportedly attacked mourners on Thursday as they marked 40 days since his death – which in Iran closes the traditional mourning period for the deceased.
It appears that Beheshti’s mother was injured in the assault and there are reports that one person was arrested.
The attack came amid ongoing harassment of the blogger’s family members and concerns about the independence of investigations into his death.
“What is especially devastating for Sattar Beheshti’s family is that even though their traditional mourning period has come to a close, there are still many unanswered questions about how and why he died while in the custody of the Cyber Police,” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“The Iranian authorities must ensure that the ongoing investigations into the incident – and all other deaths in custody – are thorough, impartial and in line with international human rights law and standards, leading to those responsible being brought to justice. Intimidation and attacks against Sattar Beheshti’s family must not be tolerated.”
Following his arrest on 30 October at his home in Robat Karim, Beheshti’s family had no further contact with him until 6 November when they received a telephone call telling them to collect his body from Kahrizak detention centre.
Before being transferred to the Cyber Police detention centre, Beheshti had been held for one night in Section 350 of Tehran’s Evin Prison. While there, he lodged a complaint with the Evin Prison authorities claiming that his interrogators had tortured him after his arrest.
Fellow prisoners at Evin Prison later wrote an open letter corroborating that allegation, saying they had seen torture marks on his body.
Investigations under way
The Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission and the Judiciary’s High Commission for Human Rights have both launched investigations into the incident.
But various judicial officials and parliamentarians have given contradictory explanations for the blogger’s death even before the investigations have been completed, raising serious concerns about their impartiality, independence and transparency.
The role of the Cyber Police
On 27 November, Iran’s police chief, Brigadier General Esma'il Ahmadi-Moghaddam, accepted partial responsibility for Beheshti’s death in custody.
The head of Iran’s Cyber Police was subsequently removed from his position, but a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Commission later denied the removal had anything to do with the blogger’s death.
Family members silenced
Family members have also been threatened with arrest if they speak to the media about the case.
The family’s lawyer has expressed concern that the case – which is currently undergoing a criminal investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office – may not go to court.
“It is very troubling that Sattar Beheshti’s family members appear to be under pressure not to demand their right to justice over this fatal incident,” said Harrison.
“In addition to bringing charges against anyone responsible for torture or for causing his death, without imposing the death penalty, the authorities must not block this – or any other’s family’s – right to access justice.”
Amnesty International has over the years repeatedly raised concerns about torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in Iran, including cases where deaths in custody appear to have resulted from such treatment.