Friday, February 23, 2007

Iran: Free Wife of Political Prisoner Seized on Street

Human Rights Watch: (New York, February 23, 2007) – The Iranian government should immediately release Somaye Bayanat, wife of the well-known political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, and investigate the manner in which she was snatched from the streets, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The authorities seem to have arrested Somaye Bayanat by snatching her in a kind of kidnapping,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The Iranian government should release Bayanat and investigate this outrageous arrest.” According to Miad Bayanat, in the immediate aftermath of her apparent abduction, Bayanat’s family searched for her at police stations and security force offices, but no one had any information on her whereabouts or would confirm if she had been arrested. Confirmation that Bayanat was in the hands of the security forces came only on February 22, when the family received a phone call at 4 p.m. from her cell phone.

A man identified himself as calling from the Gorgan’s Women’s Prison, then handed the phone to Bayanat. Bayanat’s family had heard from her twice after her arrest but before they learned of her whereabouts. First, several hours after her detention, she called a cousin and told him that she would be sending her house keys to him by taxi so that he could take care of her pet. The family also repeatedly tried to call her cell phone between 8 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., when she finally answered her phone. On this occasion, in an extremely brief phone conversation, Bayanat told them that she was on a work-related trip to the city of Mashad. According to the family, Bayanat had not told them in advance about any such trip, and when they pressed her on the issue, she replied that she could not speak anymore but that she was not arrested. Finally, on February 22, the family received the phone call apparently made on Bayanat’s cell phone from Gorgan’s Women’s Prison. Bayanat told her family that she had been arrested in connection with a group of medical doctors with whom the authorities are alleging she works, and that she had been charged with several criminal offences, including forging medical documents and performing illegal abortions. She claimed that she would be released within five to seven days.

Miad Bayanat told Human Rights Watch that his family is not aware of any such group of doctors and does not believe any of these allegations, as Bayanat is a dentist. Bayanat’s arrest comes at a time when her husband, political prisoner Ahmad Batebi, has been suffering severe health problems resulting from the physical and mental pressures of detention, including severe beatings and torture. Security forces arrested Batebi in 1999 for participating in student protests, and the Judiciary subsequently sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment. On February 18, the authorities transferred Batebi from Tehran’s Evin prison to Tajrish Shohada Hospital. According to news reports, Batebi’s physician, Hesam Firoozi, announced that Batebi’s condition is dire and that he requires treatment outside of prison. On February 20, the Judiciary’s spokesman, Alireza Jamshidi, told reporters that Batebi’s health is fine. Batebi was returned to Evin and is currently held in section 350 of the prison. He has told his family that he is on a hunger strike to protest his wife’s abduction. “The Iranian government should release Somaye Bayanat, drop the dubious charges against her, and give proper medical care to her husband Ahmad Batebi,” said Whitson.

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