A year after the arrest of more than two dozen Sunni Muslim men in southeast Iran, some of them still remain in detention and have reportedly been subjected to torture aimed at eliciting confessions and the denial of access to lawyers, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.

A relative of one of the men in detention told the Campaign about 30 men were taken into custody by security forces in the early morning hours of January 4, 2015, in the village of Nasirabad in Sistan and Baluchestan Province, close to the Pakistan border.

Of that group, at least 10 are still in detention. Their names are Abubakr Molla Zehi, Amer Gahram Zehi, Bashir Balidehie, Edris Balidehie, Abdol-Sattar Bahram Zehi, Abubar (Sedigh) Bahram Zehi, Mosib Zatankhah, Davood Bahram Zehi, Amin Raeesi, and Najib Raeesi.

The arrests took place three days after the murders of Adham Sabouri, a Basij militia member, and Issa Shahraki-Zadeh, a local teacher. The two killers were seen on a motorcycle firing bullets at the victims, according to a state media report.

The relative of one of the detainees told the Campaign that they have been charged with forming a “terrorist group,” “planting bombs,” and “attacking security forces and teachers in Sistan and Baluchestan Province” but have yet to be put on trial.

Some of the accused had made confessions but insisted in visits with family members that they did so under pressure and torture, especially in the first four months of detention when they were held by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the source added.

The practice of forced “confessions” in the Islamic Republic, including those elicited under torture or the threat of torture, has been well documented by international human rights organizations.

“They were exposed to Zahedan’s cold winter weather for hours without clothes in the open air. Then they were flogged in the cold and needles were pressed under their nails and told they would be executed if they did not confess to the charges,” the relative said. “There are some even in the Intelligence Ministry who say these men are innocent and that the [Revolutionary Guards] have arrested them without any reason.”

The detainees have been moved around from detention centers belonging to the Revolutionary Guards  as well as the Intelligence Ministry and then finally to the central prison in Zahedan, the province’s capital. So far only one of the men has been able to hire an attorney and has had only one meeting with him.

The first report to appear on this case was on January 14, 2015, when the province’s security chief, General Hossein Rahimi, announced the arrest of “18 members of a terrorist group in the east of the country.” He claimed most of them had been training for several weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan to make bombs and carry out military operations before entering Iran.

“This group was funded by an individual operating in one of the Arab countries,” he added.

Then on February 15, 2015, Sistan and Baluchestan’s Deputy Governor-Security, Ali Asghar Mirshekari, told a press conference in Zahedan that members of a terrorist group had been arrested separately in the province between December 24, 2014, and January 30, 2015. He accused them of killing 39 people during a religious ceremony in Chabahar in 2010, in addition to assassinating 43 state agents and nine civilians across the province. Other officials have given contradictory accounts on the number of those arrested and the charges against them. 

Sistan and Baluchestan are not only among Iran’s poorest regions, they are also rife with ethnic and religious discrimination. The region has one of the largest numbers of executions per capita in the country.

In his February 2013 report, UN Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed wrote: “Sistan-Balochistan is arguably the most underdeveloped region in Iran, with the highest poverty, infant and child mortality rates, and lowest life expectancy and literacy rates in the country. The Balochi are reportedly subjected to systematic social, racial, religious, and economic discrimination, and are also severely underrepresented in state apparatuses.”

“Accounts of the destruction of Sunni mosques and religious schools, and allegations of the imprisonment, and assassination of Sunni clerics, have also been reported.  Baloch activists have reportedly been subject to arbitrary arrests and torture. The Sistan-Balochistan province experiences a high rate of executions for drug-related offenses or crimes deemed to constitute ‘enmity against god’ in the absence of fair trials,” the report noted.