On September 6, 2010, the Iranian Refugees Action Network, a charity, received a request from a refugee in India to help another asylum seeker who was imprisoned in Iraq. As director of the charity, I started the process of contacting the refugee’s family and the appropriate officials to get the victim, formerly a university professor, and over 34 others released.
Over the course of the our efforts, we were informed that an Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) consul named Kuhi (Koohi or Kouhi) was attempting to force the professor, who was registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), back to Iran. This effort was made despite the fact that the professor had requested asylum in Iraq — this after two of his family members were murdered by the regime in Iran.
One member of his family was murdered by the regime, the other gunned down near the Iraqi border as he was attempting to flee Iran. The regime perpetrators then drove the latter’s body back to Iran and dumped it in the street, in front of his business, to intimidate others from speaking out against the crimes and brutality of the Islamic regime.
It is important to note that the professor went, on his own, to an Iraqi police station seeking directions to the UNHCR field office. Instead of helping him, however, they arrested him for entering the country illegally, for which he was sentenced to five years and one month detention and, upon the completion of his sentence, immediate deportation to Iran.
After the Iranian consul and two of his fellow thugs beat the professor for resisting their attempt to force him back to Iran to be murdered, they threw him back into his cell in an unresponsive state. Our translator was again notified through third parties of his situation, and we immediately forwarded the information to the ICRC and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A complaint to the prison was raised, and the professor was taken to hospital. Before he had chance to recover, and while he still had intravenous lines attached, the Iranian thugs took him from the hospital and returned him to the Iraqi prison, where he was then placed back into a cell, unattended.
After that, it took three weeks for the ICRC to get a security escort so they could visit the professor. In the meantime, I requested asylum for him at UNHCR Baghdad. After about two months of negotiations and court hearings, delayed by the interference of IRI Consul Kuhi, the professor, highly traumatized, was finally transferred to a safer prison in Kurdistan away from the regime thugs.
This, then, is the fundamental question from this and many other similar incidents: why does the Iraqi government allow the IRI regime to have an office within the prison where Iranians who have fled their country in fear of their lives are detained? Furthermore, why does Iraq allow the IRI Consul and his thugs to physically and mentally torture refugees? Under the United Nations Conventions for Human Rights, this question must be addressed by all of us.
After the professor arrived at the Iraq-Kurdistan prison, we were informed by his uncle that there was an eighteen-month-old baby, four children, and their mother being held in the prison in Al Amarah. The professor was able to further document the abuse he had undergone and advised his uncle that the same thing was happening to these children, including a thirteen-year-old girl; three of her brothers, aged 15, 16 and 17; and a fourth brother, who was 21.
Before the UNHCR could get them into protective custody, the Iranian regime coerced the mother into returning to Iran with her baby. This is a common tactic used by the IRI, who promise “amnesty” to refugees, some of whom are never heard from again if they accept such offers. Of the 34 Iranians originally reported to us who were in the prison, four have been freed by UNHCR, and only seven remain, with the others having been subject to these tactics and returned to Iran.
Upon returning to Iran, the mother was immediately taken to an unknown office of the Iran Intelligence Ministry and interrogated for three days before being released on a bail of approximately $350,000.00 USD. She is now awaiting court in Iran and is charged with being an enemy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such charges are subject to a death penalty by the IRI.
The UNHCR and ICRC tried to intervene but didn’t know that, before the mother’s court hearing, the Iranian consul made her take a call from her father in Iran, who was being forced to make that call by intelligence officers there. He was directed to tell her to come home and that if she did, everything would be all right. This is another common tactic by the IRI.
The mother was made to believe that by returning to Iran, she would be protecting the other members of her family. Meanwhile, her husband, also in the prison and understanding the actual situation, begged her not to go with the IRI consulate officers. She was also told by her father, under duress, that the UNHCR and ICRC could not protect her and that if she did not come home, she would spend the rest of her life in prison in Iraq.
After this was explained to ICRC and UNHCR protection officers, they tried to protect the rest of the family and others, but their attempts continued to be hampered by Kuhi and officials in Maysan and Basra Provinces. This area is home to Iran’s terrorist wing of the Mehdi Army and General Sadr, who are the Shia extremists responsible for the killing of U.S. troops and thousands of civilians with suicide bombs, IEDs, and rocket attacks throughout Iraq.
The UNHCR then managed to get the fifteen-year-old child released. This teenager had been held for two years. Before the UNHCR could pick this person up, she was taken to another police station in Maysan Province. A UNHCR officer and her uncle went there to get her. While they were there, the IRI thugs showed up to take her. An argument ensued, and the local police chief told the U.N. employee and uncle that they had to wait outside. The IRI then began to threaten the girl again. When she refused to go with the Iranian officials, they finally left. Once outside, the IRI thugs threatened the U.N. worker and uncle. The IRI then left the area. We were receiving updates from there via cell phone through a third party.
The girl’s uncle stayed all night to watch for the IRI. The next morning, a UNHCR employee produced an order for the teenager’s release from Baghdad, and she was taken into protective custody by the UNHCR.
A short time later, her seventeen-year-old brother was released and incurred the same problems. A fourth refugee was “released” about five weeks ago but instead was taken to a second camp on the orders of Kuhi. Kuhi again refused to release the refugee to the UNHCR. After a three-week battle between the consul and the U.N., and after more interrogations and torture by Kuhi and his thugs, the refugee was finally released to the custody of UNHCR.
These refugees, and others, are being persecuted because either they or their parents stood up for human rights against the dictators in Iran. They themselves had to flee Iran and seek asylum. They have committed no crimes whatsoever, and there is no question that they are innocent victims who are refugees under the U.N.’s Human Rights Conventions definitions.
The Iranian regime is persecuting children and relatives in Iran simply because relatives have managed to escape to safety in another country. Revenge and oppression are the only reasons for the terrorist regime’s brutality against their own citizens.
When I called the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., a polite lady answered and listened to my concerns about the situation. She told me that she would immediately bring this to someone’s attention and return my call in a few minutes. She was very eager to intervene on behalf of the refugees.
About ten minutes later, she returned the call, but now in a more sombre tone, and quoted what seemed to be a prepared statement from a superior that went like this: “The U.S. State Department has taken the position that they cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.” How ironic, when the U.S. has just spent ten years fighting and “interfering” for the freedom of Iraqi citizens against these terrorists.
The U.S. State Department employee was very apologetic, and it seemed to as though someone from above had just scolded her. There was nothing she could do — orders from above.
In about seven weeks, when U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq, these men, women and children are likely be handed over to the IRI. This is contrary to a document signed by General Sahib Abd Darvesh Alkhavaji, from the Ministry of the Interior in Iraq, on 26 July 2010. He clearly states, “They are to be freed according to the item number 15 of the 1971 Refugee Conventions and inform me of their freedom.”
The UNHCR continues to appear powerless to stop the persecution and pending forced return of refugees to Iran and cannot travel into this area without armored vehicles and an armed U.S. escort. Only we, as a nation, can prevent yet another atrocity and tragedy in Iraq. Who cares enough to shout out for these innocent people, who will otherwise be imprisoned, tortured, and likely executed by the Islamic terrorists in Iran? The detainees and their families have asked us and the United States to help them. Will you?
Walton K. Martin is the director of the Iranian Refugees Action Network.