Deceased Blogger’s Sister Threatened with Death for Challenging Impunity
The sister of Sattar Beheshti, a blogger who died while undergoing interrogation in a police detention center in November 2012, has been receiving constant death threats to remain silent about his case, she told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Five months after his death, the investigation into his death has still not been forwarded to the court.
Sahar Beheshti, Sattar’s sister, told the Campaign that she has been threatened with death or imprisonment at the notorious Kahrizak Prison, where election protesters were killed in 2009. “They publicly stop me on the street and tell me they will take me to Kahrizak [Prison]; they talk about Taraneh Mousavi [an election protestor allegedly raped and killed while in custody in 2009], God knows what disgraceful things they tell me. We are still under pressure. They want us to keep quiet. When my mom gives interviews, their threatening phone calls come to me, asking me why my mom gave an interview, or saying that I should be happy I was allowed to go visit my brother’s grave again this week,” Sahar Beheshti told the Campaign.
Iran has a history of impunity for deaths in prison, according to many cases documented by the Campaign and by the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran. Rather than holding perpetrators accountable, Iranian authorities often target and pressure the family members of victims to be silent.
On April 9, 2013, Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar appeared before the Iranian Parliament to answer questions raised by MP Ali Motahari regarding the death of Sattar Beheshti while in custody of the police. In response to Motahari’s questions, Najjar said, “We must wait for the Judiciary’s ruling.” In his report, the Interior Minister described Sattar Beheshti as an individual who “through publishing content in his blogs acted to propagate against the state, and cooperated with political activists who are spiteful to the system and was in touch with them.” The Interior Minister, however, did not specify who the spiteful political activists were.
Motahari said April 9 that he could not find any insulting content in Sattar Beheshti’s blogs. “His charge was criticizing or insulting the state official in his blogs. Of course ‘insult’ has a specific definition in the law and includes profane words, but I did not find any such things in Sattar Beheshti’s writings,” Motahari noted.
Motahari, a member of the Parliament’s Cultural Commission, referred to other imprisoned bloggers and demanded that they not be treated harshly. Regarding claims that Sattar Beheshti’s mother signed a document waiving her right to pursue justice for wrongful death, he said, “It is possible that they say Sattar Beheshti’s mother has given her [signature], but she said that she was shown her daughter’s arrest warrant in order to receive her [signature], and that she did not want to lose another child: this is why she signed. Even if his mother gave her consent [waiving the right to pursue], the Prosecutor’s right to pursue this case is reserved.” Motahari and several other MPs said after the Parliament session that they were not convinced with the answers the Interior Minister provided about Sattar Beheshti’s cause of death.
About the officials’ frequent reference to her mother’s signature, Beheshti said, “Four days after Sattar was murdered, they took my mother without my knowledge on the pretext of showing her Sattar’s torturers. They threatened her there, telling her, ‘How do you know Sahar will be alive when you return home? We may kill Sahar like Sattar. You have to provide your [signature] and now allow Sahar to be taken away, too.’ My mother was frightened and because she didn’t want to lose another child, she was forced to give her consent, but this consent is not directed to any specific individual or individuals. The case lawyer, Ms. Pourfazel, also asked the judge and the forces later what purpose this [document] served, as they themselves say that Sattar died of natural causes, a heart attack. They took a [document waiving the right to pursue justice] for a death resulting from natural causes? His lawyer said that a [signature] given under threat is not acceptable.”
Sahar Beheshti, 28 and herself a young mother, told the Campaign that she and her family have grown tired of the threats and are no longer afraid of reporting them. “I swear we are tired of this life. As we were preparing to go to my brother’s gravesite on the last Friday of the Year [March 15, 2013], they called me and said, ‘We will arrest you and beat you. Don’t go there.’ I am under pressure even for going to my brother’s grave. When we go to the gravesite, a female officer comes and tells me, ‘Get up! What do you want here?’ I live with constant fear; now when I want to leave the house, I say my final prayers.”
Describing the latest developments in the case of her brother’s death, Sahar Beheshti said, “Before the New Year [March 21, 2013], the court asked for the probate document. We took it to court with our lawyer and gave it to the Judge. Judge Shariari said that the research is still incomplete, but he also gave us hope that the case will soon be delivered to court. He told us that Sattar’s torturer is in prison.”
Sahar Beheshti added, “We have been oppressed. We are not the oppressors. Our family member was murdered, we did not murder anyone, and someone has to come to our aid. When I say these things, the forces tell me, ‘Watch your words! Close your mouth!’”
Asked whether she knows from whom the threats come on the phone and on the street, Sahar Behesthi said, “From security forces. It’s not clear from which organization, because they are all plainclothes forces. They never show me their cards. Later, when I tell these to the police, they tell me, ‘Tell us who they are. File a complaint.’ Where should I file my complaint?”
Regarding her family and their requests, Sahar Beheshti told the Campaign, “My mother continues to demand fair punishment. We are absolutely not going to provide consent [to waive our rights] or to accept any of the other offers made to us. We only want the formation of a fair court with a jury . . . because Sattar was innocent and he died under torture. The forces entered my mother’s home without a warrant, took him, killed him four days later, and now they tell us to shut up.”
Sattar Beheshti, 35, laborer and blogger, was arrested by Iran’s Cyber Police on charges of “acting against national security through activities in social networks and Facebook.” He was brutally tortured during his interrogations and died in the process. He was buried at Robat Karim Cemetery near where he lived. His date of death is officially registered as November 3, 2012.
After news of Sattar Beheshti’s death was published, 41 Evin Prison political prisoners published a letter on Kaleme website and stated that Sattar Beheshti had been held at Evin Prison’s Ward 350 on October 31 and November 1, 2012, and that signs of torture could be seen all over different parts of his body.
In an article published November 9, 2012, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran quoted one of Sattar Beheshti’s relatives who had seen his corpse prior to burial saying, “There was a large dent on his head and they had put plaster over his head. His face was swollen. As soon as they untied his shroud, blood splattered on the shroud from the side of his right knee. There were signs of an autopsy on his body, as well.”