IRAN

Did Iranian security forces kill opposition activist Haleh Sahabi?

 On June 1, hundreds of people gathered in the Iranian city of Lavasan to pay a last homage to the late Iranian opposition leader Ezzatollah Sahabi. His daughter, Haleh Sahabi, a feminist and political activist, had been released from jail especially for the occasion. Yet in a tragic turn of events, she suffered a fatal heart attack after armed forces blocked the funeral march.  

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Iranian political activistHaleh Sahabi and her father.Photo published by unity4iran.

 

On June 1, hundreds of people gathered in the Iranian city of Lavasan to pay a last homage to the late Iranian opposition leader Ezzatollah Sahabi. His daughter, Haleh Sahabi, a feminist and political activist, had been released from jail especially for the occasion. Yet in a tragic turn of events, she suffered a fatal heart attack after armed forces blocked the funeral march.

 

Haleh Sahabi was sentenced to two years in prison in 2009 for participating in demonstrations against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election that year. She was temporarily freed a few weeks ago due to her father’s deteriorating health condition. Ezzatollah Sahabi, who died on May 31 at age 81, was a leading figure of Iran's pro-democracy opposition.

 

There are several contradictory accounts of how Haleh Sahabi died circulating on the Web. Her uncle was quoted on opposition website Kaleme.com as saying that Haleh suffered a heart attack after being “severely beaten” by armed forces that attacked the funeral march. But an Iranian security official says police present at the funeral never beat Haleh, adding that she suffered from “chronic heart problems” and that her death was due to “the stress and heat”. 

 

The US State department said Thursday that it held Iranian security forces responsible for Haleh’s death and added that it would ask that the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteur on Iran "fully investigate" the incident.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Cécile Loïal.

 

"Haleh Sahabi was being beaten by a police officer when she collapsed to the ground"

 

Leila is an Iranian activist who attended the funeral of Ezzatollah Sahabi.

 

We arrived in Lavasan at six in the morning on Wednesday. Many checkpoints had been set up on the way to Ezzatollah Sahabi’s house. At each of these checkpoints, armed policemen asked us if we were carrying cameras or cellphones equipped with cameras. They warned us that if any of us tried to take photos or videos, we would get into big trouble. Some people – I don’t know why – were barred access to the house altogether.

 

When we arrived, I saw dozens of secret service agents posted on the roofs of nearby buildings. They were filming and taking photos of people present at the funeral. Police vans lined streets near Sahabi’s home. I heard that some secret service agents had even spent the night on location.

 

There was a brief ceremony during which Ezzatollah’s body was washed according to tradition, and a few words were said on the great service he did for the nation. At 7:30 in the morning we were ready to head for the cemetery.

Haleh Sahabi mourning her father, a few hours before her own death. Video posted on YouTube by unity4iran.

 

 

In Iran, when a person dies, tradition has it that his friends carry his coffin on their shoulders. It had been decided that Ezatollah Sahabi’s friends would carry his coffin to the end of the street, then put it in a hearth to be driven to the cemetery. We prepared to begin a slow procession – the friends with the coffin in front and the 500-1000 people gathered in front of the house silently following.

 

All of a sudden, security forces announced that the march couldn’t take place and that the coffin had to be put in the hearth and driven away immediately. The crowd began protesting, because that was not what had been agreed by authorities just several hours earlier.

 

"I saw Haleh Sahabi on her doorstep crying and shouting that they were stealing her father"

 

I saw Haleh Sahabi on her doorstep crying and shouting that they were stealing her father. Then a scuffle broke out between security forces and protesters, and police began beating people with truncheons. Several security agents seized the coffin and carried it away.

 

Haleh Sahabi was being beaten by a policeman when she collapsed to the ground. I heard people cry that she was unconscious. Security forces then took her away in one of their cars and drove her to the nearest hospital. Her husband went with her.

 

After that we tried to go to Ezatollah Sahabi’s grave, but the cemetery entrance was locked. After much pleading and crying, a small group of us were allowed into the cemetery. But we were barely allowed time to murmur a few prayers, while men hastily buried Sahabi’s body.

 

"Suddenly, we heard someone cry: Haleh is dead!"

 

Suddenly, we heard someone cry: ‘Haleh is dead!’ I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. But when I saw the stricken look on her family members' faces, I realised it was true.

 

We tried to go to the clinic but were denied access. Afterwards, her body was transferred to her home under tight security. I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the house. A few hours later, police took the body and rushed it to the cemetery. A makeshift tomb was dug in the dark next to her father’s grave, and Haleh’s body was dumped inside. Only a few of her close family members were allowed to be present.

 

When I heard the news, the only thing I could do was run out and cry “Allah o akbar!” [God is great]. Haleh was a person who always called for more compassion, who refused to resort to violence and wanted peace for her country, and they killed her. How can we continue to protest peacefully? They may have got rid of her body but that won’t end the resistance, like they hope it will. Haleh’s soul is with us in our fight against this regime of terror”.

Security forces deployed in front of Haleh Sahabi's home after her death. Video published by sherlock72 on YouTube.

 

Haleh Sahabi's remains. Photo posted on Facebook, on June 1.

 

Photo published on Facebook on June 1.

 

Relatives of Haleh Sahabi gathered around her hastily dug grave in the middle of the night. Video posted on YouTube by sherlock72 on June 2.

Cries mourning Haleh Sahabi ring out in Tehran's Ekbatan neighbourhood during the night of June 1. Video posted on YouTube by greenway011.