Amnesty International has urged authorities in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province to thoroughly investigate reports that a women’s rights activist was tortured in custody amid mass arrests following environmental protests about a saltwater lake. Activist and journalist Faranak Farid, aged 50, was reportedly beaten severely after her arrest on 3 September in the north-western city of Tabriz. She was arrested after several demonstrations in towns and cities across the region called for government action to stop nearby Lake Oroumieh from drying up. Farid, who is a member of Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, has reportedly been accused of “insulting the Supreme Leader”, “propaganda against the system” and “acting against national security”. “If Faranak Farid is being held solely for her peaceful activism or her writings, then she is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Iranian authorities must carry out a thorough, independent investigation into reports that she was beaten in custody, and bring to justice anyone responsible.” Plain-clothes officers are said to have beaten Farid so severely that she temporarily lost hearing in her left ear and was left unable to move one of her arms. She was interrogated at length in a Tabriz detention centre and then apparently forced to sign a document that she was unable to read because her glasses had been taken away. A judge then ordered that she be detained for 10 days. Farid is currently being held in the women’s section of Tabriz Central Prison, where her sister has only been allowed to visit her once for 45 minutes. Amnesty International has been informed that Farid’s requests to see a doctor have so far not been met.“Faranak Farid must be given any medical treatment she needs, including for her injuries, as well as regular access to her lawyer,” said Philip Luther.On several occasions in recent years, activists in cities across north-western Iran have staged peaceful protests to call for change in government policies affecting Lake Oroumieh, the largest inland body of water in the Middle East. The construction of a network of more than 40 dams on 13 rivers that feed into the lake has accelerated the impact of a drought that began in 1999. Activists say the lake’s dwindling water and rising salinity pose an ecological threat in the region. Security forces in the region have increasingly clamped down on the demonstrations, allegedly using excessive force while arresting scores – possibly hundreds – of protesters. Among those arrested is Abbas Lisani, a leading advocate of greater rights for the Azerbaijani minority. He was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International during his previous imprisonment that ended in October 2008.“The Iranian authorities have a long and sorry history of using excessive force to repress demonstrations over legitimate grievances, with sometimes fatal consequences. These peaceful protests calling for action to save Lake Oroumieh must be allowed to go ahead,” said Philip Luther.