Four Iranian ethnic Azerbaijanis have been issued long prison sentences for peacefully defending their rights, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.
One defendant, Alireza Farshi, told the Campaign that Branch 1 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison and two years in exile while three of his colleagues-Akbar Azad, Behnam Sheikhi and Hamid Manafi-had each been sentenced to 10 years in prison and two years in exile.
The four men were arrested by Intelligence Ministry agents in 2014 during a peaceful event marking International Mother Language Day (February 21) and released on bail after being charged with "forming an illegal group" and "assembly and collusion against national security."
The written verdict against the four, obtained by the Campaign, alleges that their activities were "secessionist" in nature. They plan to appeal their sentences within the 20-day time limit, said Farshi.
Between 16 to 25 percent of Iran's population are Turkish-speaking (different from the language spoken in Turkey) Azeris living mostly in Iran's northeastern East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil and Zanjan Provinces.
Azeri civil rights activists have been fighting, among other discriminatory policies, a state-imposed ban on Turkish being taught along with the official Persian language in their schools.
On June 3, 2013, days before he was elected to the presidency, Hassan Rouhani pledged to lift restrictions on teaching non-Persian languages, including Turkish and Kurdish, in state schools and universities.
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