IRGC Forces Stormed Earthquake Relief Camp, Confiscated Goods, Arrested Volunteers
At midnight on August 23, security and IRGC forces attacked a relief camp set up to help earthquake victims in Eastern Azerbaijan. Thirty five volunteer students and relief workers who had gathered to help the earthquake victims at the camp, located on the road between Tabriz and Varzaghan, were arrested and transferred to Tabriz Intelligence Office. All items donated by individuals and stored in the camp’s warehouse were transferred to an unknown location and the warehouse was sealed.
According to Kaleme Website, last Thursday all arrested women and three of the men were released on bail.
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a political prisoner free on medical furlough is one of the individuals arrested at the camp. Ronaghi Maleki, who is from Malekan, Azerbaijan, joined the camp immediately after the earthquake along with his father, Ahmad Ronaghi Maleki, and his older brother, Hassan Ronaghi Maleki. In an interview with the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Ronaghi’s mother, Zolaikha Mousavi said, “Hossein, his brother, and his father were working at this camp and yesterday they were all arrested. Fortunately, their father has been released and he is on his way home. Yesterday afternoon I couldn’t get through on their cell phones. I was worried, so I called some of Hossein’s friends who were with him there, but all their cell phones were off. At midnight, the mother of one of the relief workers called and said that they had all been arrested. We read about the arrests in the morning and it was confirmed.”
“I had seen this camp. I went there two days ago; all of them were students and young relief workers who had come from Tehran and other cities to help the people. They were working really hard, I saw it myself. The goods that were collected were distributed everywhere. I invited them to our home. I said at least take a shower here. Some of their parents had come along, too. Hossein, Hassan, and their father had also gone to help the people,” said Zolaikha Mousavi, who is a resident of Malekan, a town near the earthquake area.
A few hours after the arrests of the earthquake relief workers, the Young Journalists Club, affiliated with Iran’s state broadcasting (IRIB), claimed that the 35 arrested individuals are all Baha’i faith followers or representatives of anti-revolutionary networks, the BBC and Voice of America. YJC claimed that after the Azerbaijan earthquake, a secret organization for transmittal of reports and sale of news, masquerading as “eyewitnesses,” dispatched these individuals to the region to create rumors, sell false news, propagate the Baha’i faith, and collect exorbitant donations.
The Young Journalists Club, that is known to be close to security organizations, did not mention how within just a few hours after their arrests, it was capable of accessing such detailed information about the detainees. During the days following the Azerbaijan earthquake, many people visiting the region criticized the government’s slow reaction in areas of the information dissemination and aid distribution. Over the past few days, security forces have placed several new limitations on aid work by citizen groups who have traveled to the region.
The camp for distributing public contributions to the Azerbaijan earthquake victims was set up during the very fist days after the earthquake. The camp warehouse held goods purchased with public donations to help the victims. In an interview with independent journalist Massih Alinejad, the MP for Ahar and Heris asked people to dispatch their donations to the victims through citizen networks and not to deliver them to Red Crescent. Many groups engaged in independent distribution of aid.
“The forces said that all the people who worked in the camps had to return to their cities and to relinquish distribution of collected donations to the IRGC, but the kids didn’t accept this. Hossein’s father told them that people trusted us and we will proudly distribute the supplies ourselves, but the forces did not accept this and they sealed the camp and arrested some people,” Hossein Ronaghi Maleki’s mother told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
Saham News Website quoted civil activist Amir Kalhor about the attack on the aid camps. “The story about the arrests was that first according to orders from Heris Governor himself, police and security forces attacked the camp to take the supplies. When they faced the kids’ resistance, they decided to build a human circle around the camp. The security forces who wore IRGC uniforms, surrounded the camp for seven hours. A few hours later several anti-riot vehicles came to the camp. I was in touch with one of the guys inside the camp. He told me on the phone, ‘Amir, they just stormed the camp,’ and the contact was lost.”
Names of relief workers, according to JARAS website are: Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, Navid Khanjani, Vahed Kholoosi, Shima Ghousheh, Shayan Vahdati, Misagh Afshar, Hassan Ronaghi Maleki, Farid Rohani, Morteza Esmailpour, Hamid Reza Mosayebian, Ali Mohammadi, Mohsen Sameii, Kiana Karimpour, Artemis Varzandeh, Massoud Vafabakhsh, Houman Taheri, Danial Hassani, Nafiseh Saidifard, Bahram Shojaee, Mohammad Arjmandi Rad, Esmail Salmanpour, Mehdi Baghbanbashi, Narges Kheirollahi, Mohammad Amin Salehi, Behrouz Alavi, Milad Panahpour, Sepehrdad Saheban, Esmail Rafati, Hamid Ronaghi, Jafar Nezami, Zahra Sayadi, Farzan Ahmadzadeh, Rayhaneh Hessami, Amir Ronasi.
According to Kaleme website, so far Shima Ghousheh, Kiana karimpour, Artesmis Varzandeh, Nafiseh Saeedifard, Narges Kheirollahi, Zahra Sayadi, Rayhaneh Hessami, Ahmad Ronaghi, Jafar Nezami, and Esmail Rafati have been released.