Human rights groups working for the protection of Azerbaijani Turks living in Iran have demanded the release of imprisoned human rights and environmental activist Mortaza Moradpour. The Azerbaijani activist has been on a hunger strike for the past 56 days in Iran's Tabriz Prison with worsening health conditions and the risk of death, media sources stated.
29-year-old Moradpour protested Iranian policies against Azerbaijani Turks living there and has been convicted several times. His latest detention in 2009 was due to environmental protests against the drought at Lake Urmia. Urmia, which was one of the largest saltwater lakes in the world, considerably shrunk and dried up in the recent years.
Located in a region home to a large Iranian Azerbaijani community, the drought, partly blamed on government policy of building dams to supply water to other parts of Iran, dealt a blow to the livelihoods of Iran's Azerbaijani community. Moradpour received a three-year prison sentence; one year for propaganda offenses against the system and two years for rallying against national security and fraud offenses.
A release for Moradpour was requested according to Article 134 of the Iranian Penal Code; however it was rejected by Iranian officials.
Members of the for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani people in Iran (AHRAZ), who carry out studies on human rights violations against Turks living in Iran, requested immediate release of the unlawfully imprisoned Moradpour.
AHRAZ member and human rights activist Shahin Helali Khyavi argued that Iran has adopted an assimilation policy for people of Turkish ethnicity for the past 90 years, rejecting all requests of this community with harsh sanctions.
Another AHRAZ member Türkmen Gemiçi stated that people of Turkish origin experience regime pressure for demanding basic human rights and wanting to protect their ethnic identity.
Gemiçi also reminded that Persians and Shiites are not the only people living in Iran, demanding equal rights for all ethnic groups.
Dr. Arif Keskin, known for his academic studies on Iran, stated that the Iranian regime wants to threaten the Turkish community by oppressing, scaring and intimidating activists like Moradpour.
"Iran is turning all communities in the region to enemies. If the Iranian regime does not change, transform and meet the demands of its people in the near future, it may witness a big uprising," Keskin warned.
Turkic groups constitute a substantial minority of about 15 to 24 percent in the population of Iran. The largest group consists of Azerbaijanis, who are the second largest ethnicity in Iran as well as the largest minority group. Turkmen and Qashqai people are also among the Turkic groups.