Iran urged to quash prison sentence for ‘Mourning Mothers’ activist

The Iranian authorities must quash a court ruling sentencing a Tehran woman to four and a half years in prison based on her peaceful human rights activities, Amnesty International said today. On 4 April, the Revolutionary Court notified Mansoureh Behkish’s lawyers that she had been sentenced on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security” for her work with the group the Mothers of Laleh Park – formerly known as the “Mourning Mothers”.Mansoureh Behkish, 54, has said she intends to appeal the decision. Amnesty International believes that she has also been targeted for supporting the families of political prisoners summarily executed in 1988-1989.“If Mansoureh Behkish’s jail sentence is carried out, she would be a prisoner of conscience, held solely for her peaceful human rights activities,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International. “The Iranian authorities must immediately quash the sentences against her and other members of the Mothers of Laleh Park.”Comprised largely of women whose children have been killed, disappeared or detained in Iran’s post-election violence since June 2009, the Mothers of Laleh Park gather in a central Tehran park to campaign against human rights violations. The group also includes relatives of victims of earlier violations, including mass killings during the 1980s.Another member of the group, Zhila Karamzadeh-Makvandi, was arrested in Tehran on 27 December 2011 and taken to Evin Prison to serve a two-year sentence on charges of “founding an illegal organization” and “acting against state security”. Leyla Seyfollahi and Nader Ahsani, a male supporter of the Mothers of Laleh Park, also face two-year sentences in connection with their membership and are at risk of imprisonment at any time.Mansoureh Behkish was arrested on a Tehran street on 12 June 2011 and held at Evin Prison for nearly a month before being released on bail. Her trial began on 25 December 2011. Ongoing repression Mansoureh Behkish’s own experiences span decades of human rights violations in Iran.Between 1981 and 1988, six of her relatives were killed or forcibly disappeared, including a sister, four brothers and a brother-in-law.Many of these unlawful killings took place during what are known in Iran as the “prison massacres”, from roughly August 1988 until February 1989. During the run-up to the 10th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian authorities summarily executed thousands of male and female political prisoners. No one has ever been brought to account for these mass killings, and hundreds of families, including Mansoureh Behkish’s, do not know where their loved ones’ bodies were placed. In 1989 the then UN human rights expert on Iran called for a detailed investigation into mass executions and violence in the country.Many of the victims of the mass killings are buried around southern Tehran’s Khavaran cemetery, where a another family support group, called the Mothers of Khavaran – of which Mansoureh Behkish is also a member – have met for the past two decades to hold vigils in their honour. During Iran’s New Year holiday in March 2012, security officials contacted hundreds of families – as they have regularly done since 1988 – ordering them not to go to Khavaran to mourn their dead relatives. Mansoureh’s brother, Jafar Behkish – who emigrated in 2002 – told Amnesty International that there were important bonds of solidarity between the Mothers of Khavaran and families of the victims of more recent human rights violations.“The past and recent atrocities affected the entire nation of Iran, therefore national effort is required to face these wrongdoings,” Jafar Behkish said. “The Iranian authorities try to prevent cooperation between families of the victims of past and recent atrocities, because they know that a united movement would be a strong force against their policy of oppression.”These attempts take the form of ongoing harassment of the victims’ family members, which has been commonplace since the 1980s. Before her arrest last year, Mansoureh Behkish faced repeated harassment from the authorities. In recent years, she has been arrested and detained on four occasions, including in August 2008, when she was held for three days at Evin Prison. In March 2010 she had her passport confiscated and was barred from travelling abroad.“The Iranian authorities have unlawfully killed hundreds of prisoners, covered up for it and are now persecuting those seeking to keep the memory of the dead alive. They   must end their ongoing harassment of human rights activists like the Mothers of Laleh Park, and remove unlawful restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.