An outspoken Iranian reformist MP has accused the Islamic Republic’s security forces of framing the lawyer representing a young man who died in police custody after being detained in recent anti-establishment protests.
22-year-old Vahid Heydari died at the 12th Police Station in Arak, the capital of the Markazi province, at some point around the turn of the year, after being arrested for allegedly selling drugs.
His pro bono lawyer, Mohammad Najafi, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that the authorities are trying to cover up the real reason for his death by claiming he committed suicide.
“This young man was a protester. They arrested him and then they beat and killed him. Now they want to destroy his reputation,” said Najafi.
Just days after these comments, security agents stormed into Najafi’s house and took him away to an unknown detention center.
MP Mahmoud Sadeghi tweeted January 25 that Najafi “has proved that his young client was never involved in any drug dealing.”
Iranian authorities have confirmed the deaths of two other detainees, who they claim committed suicide behind bars.
Without mentioning Najafi by name, Sadeghi went on to tweet, “through field investigation at the village residence of a young man who died in custody and at a police station in the city of Arak, an honorable attorney has proved that none [of the villagers] believes the young man was dealing drugs.”
In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Ali Bagheri, a human rights activist based near Arak, said Heydari’s family have been threatened by security forces and told to keep quiet about their loved one’s suspicious death. They were told he was arrested for distributing narcotics and that his case could have “complications” for the whole family.
“Vahid Heydari was a vendor at Arak’s main bazaar. Protests in Arak flared up on December 31 and Vahid was detained on January 1,” Bagheri said.“The security forces dragged him to the 12th Precinct…on January 5, they informed his family that he had committed suicide and died behind bars.”
Bagheri says he spoke personally with Heydari’s uncle and cousin, who said they saw a 10-centimeter swollen wound on Heydari’s left temple when their relative’s body was released to them.
Just hours after giving the interview to Radio Farda, Ali Bagheri was also detained by the security forces.
Judiciary officials maintain that Heydari’s suicide was recorded by CCTV cameras, but have so far refused to release the footage.
On January 10, Central Province Prosecutor Abbas Ghassemi confirmed that one person had died in detention in Arak, but did not mention Heydari by name.
“There were definite signs of self-harm on this individual,” Abbas Ghassemi told Mizan, the judiciary’s official news agency. “There is also footage of the moment he committed suicide. Therefore, the evidence confirms that his death was caused by suicide.”
Authorities similarly maintain that the death of 23-year-old Sina Bagheri, who died in Tehran’s notorious Evian prison earlier in the month, was also a suicide. They say CCTV footage shows him committing suicide in the restroom, however former prisoners insist that the restrooms at Evin prison are always so crowded that it is impossible for anyone to commit suicide without attracting attention.