Kurdish activist arbitrarily detained
Who is Zahra Mohammadi?
Zahra Mohammadi is a Kurdish civil society activist in Iran, currently being charged with national security offences for peacefully working to empower members of the marginalised Kurdish community. She has experienced periods of incommunicado detention and met with her lawyer for the first time only after a second round of interrogations, while being held incommunicado, nearly four months after her initial arrest. Incommunicado detention means being held without access to a lawyer or family.
Zahra serves as the director of the Nojin Cultural Association, an organisation whose activities include teaching the Kurdish language and literature, as well as other civil society activities. Civil society organisations include community groups, NGOs, labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations.
Since being held in incommunicado detention, Zahra has experienced a stomach-related illness, for which the prison doctor has prescribed medication, but she has said that the medication makes her nauseous and that her illness continues. She also has a pre-existing digestive condition, which requires a special diet and medication. Since entering detention, she has not been able to follow the special diet nor take her medication. Her family has requested she be transferred to hospital for examinations, but no response has been given to them.
The Kurdish people are an ethnic minority group in Iran who face discrimination, holding them back in terms of access to education, employment and adequate housing. Continued economic neglect of regions with large minority populations – such as Zahra’s location in the Kurdistan province – have increased poverty and marginalisation. The Persian language is the sole medium of instruction in primary and secondary education in Iran.
Ill-treatment in detention
On 23 May 2019, Zahra was arrested in her home by plain-clothes agents from the Ministry of Intelligence. She was then held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location until 31 May, when she was transferred to Sanandaj prison, and her family were informed of her whereabouts.
When her family was finally able to visit her, Zahra told them she had been pressured to provide a forced “confession” during the eight days she was held in secret detention. From early June until early July 2019, she had ongoing contact with her family. From 6 July to 16 September 2019, Zahra was again held in incommunicado detention, and her family was denied all information about her, despite multiple attempts to learn what had happened to her.
Without giving any notice to her lawyers or family, Zahra was transferred to Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of Sanandaj. When her lawyer and family were alerted that she had been taken to court, they promptly arrived to protest the hearing taking place with no prior notice. Her court session was then postponed to a later date, though no further hearings have taken place since. The court has sent the case back to the office of the prosecutor for further investigation.
During the period she was held incommunicado and subjected to interrogations, Zahra’s family made numerous attempts with different government offices in Sanandaj to learn what had happened to her. During one visit to the Ministry of Intelligence office, her family was permitted to speak over the phone with her interrogator.
According to information received by Amnesty International, the interrogator told her family that Zahra was being denied contact with her family to put her under greater pressure to sign documents, and to agree to work for the Ministry of Intelligence. They told her that once she had done so, she would again be able to see her family again.
Prior to her 23 May 2019 arrest, Zahra had been subjected to several lengthy interrogations by the Ministry of Intelligence. The last took place on 8 March 2019, when she was interrogated for eight hours without the presence of a lawyer.