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Haleh Sahabi Dies at Father's Funeral, Reportedly Struck by Security Agent

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

01 Jun 2011 21:13Comments

Haleh Sahabi, at the bedside of her late father, Ezatollah Sahabi.

[ comment ] Dr. Haleh Sahabi, daughter of Ezatollah Sahabi, who passed away on Monday, died when security forces attacked the funeral of her father. According to Mizan Press, a website close to nationalist-religious groups, when Ezatollah Sahabi's body was brought out of his home to be taken to the cemetery, security forces attacked Haleh Sahabi to prevent her from overseeing the funeral. A heated argument began, and the security forces forcefully took the elder Sahabi's body away. According to Yahya Shamekhi, Haleh Sahabi's son, at that moment his mother collapsed. Doctors said that she died from cardiac arrest.

Haleh Sahabi was 57 years old. Convicted on charges of "propaganda against the system" and "disturbing public order" after participating in the protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, she was serving a two-year prison sentence and had been released temporarily to attend to her father after he slipped into a coma. She was a researcher of Qur'anic verses, a member of the Mothers of Peace Society, and an advocate for women's rights.

HalehSahabiPostMortem.jpgThe security forces put tremendous pressure on the Sahabi family to immediately bury Haleh Sahabi as well. According to the website Melli Mazhabi -- the official site of the Religious-Nationalist Coalition, which Ezatollah Sahabi headed -- the family relented and took her body to the Lavasan cemetery, where her father had just been interred. Shamekhi told the pro-Green Movement website Rahe Sabz that his mother will be buried at night in the dark.

Ahmad Montazeri, son of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, told Rahe Sabz, "I was only a few meters away from her. The security forces tried to take away a large poster of Ezatollah Sahabi that his daughter was carrying. After she resisted it, the security agent hit her with his elbow, causing her to fall down and faint. She was taken to a hospital, but unfortunately she passed away there." Montazeri added, "There were a number of security and plainclothes officers that were shouting, laughing loudly, and trying to disturb the funeral. In particular, their commander insulted the people. They were set on inciting chaos and violence. I was present while they were washing the late Sahabi. The security forces entered there and began shouting, insulting and provoking the people. But because no one was interested, they became angrier." He said that at least 11 people were arrested, including his own son.

Mansoor Sahabi, Haleh's uncle, told Rahe Sabz that the reason she died was that she was hit in her chest and abdomen, which caused her to have a heart attack. When told that the pro-government media have claimed that she was not attacked, Mansoor Sahabi responded that they assaulted her with great force. He added that a well-known security agent was involved and that there are photographs that show the attack. He said that Dr. Habibollah Peyman, who heads the Movement of Militant Muslims and is a member of the Religious-Nationalist Coalition, was with her when they took her to a hospital -- Peyman is now apparently under arrest. According to Mansoor Sahabi, 30 people in all were arrested. IRNA, the state news agency, claimed that the figure was only five.

Mansoor Sahabi also said that, to people's astonishment, the security forces grabbed Ezatollah Sahabi's corpse and threw it into a pickup truck. If they treated the deceased in that manner in the presence of the mourners, he observed, who knows what they did elsewhere. He added that the security forces prevented the mourners from saying the prayer for the dead, which was supposed to have been led by Ahmad Montazeri. He described how his own sister, already in tears, was attacked and thrown onto the sidewalk. According to him, up to ten people would attack a single person. Fereydoon Sahabi, Ezatollah's brother, confirmed that the security forces attacked the people.

An eyewitness reported the following:

Haleh Sahabi was leading the funeral procession. They [the security forces] had promised that the body can be carried by the people all the way from the home to the street [an Islamic ritual]. But, in the middle of the way, they stopped it. Haleh protested strongly, a heated argument began and they pushed her several times. Right at that time, the coffin of Sahabi arrived. The security forces began attacking those who were carrying the coffin. During the confrontation, Haleh fell on the ground. People asked to hold onto the coffin because "someone had fallen down." Haleh's eyes were open. People thought that she had fainted and asked to bring some water with sugar. We asked [the security forces' permission] to stop the procession for a few minutes, but they refused. Haleh was on the ground, and the agents were trying to take away the coffin. Then Haleh Sahabi was taken away with a car.

The government denied any involvement in Haleh Sahabi's death and claimed that the heat and the pressure of the burial caused her to collapse and perish. However, Lavasan, the Tehran suburb where the Sahabi family lives, almost always enjoys pleasant weather. The temperature was 70°F today.

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement strongly condemning the role of security forces in Haleh Sahabi's death. According to the statement,

Reporters without Borders is shocked to learn Haleh Sahabi, an activist and contributor to the magazine Chashm Andaz (Panorama), died in hospital after being hit hard in the stomach earlier today when she, fellow family members and friends resisted attempts by security officials to stop the funeral of her father, Ezatollah Sahabi, a leading opposition figure and onetime editor of the monthly Iran-é-Farda. We address our most sincere condolences to the Sahabi family for this double tragedy.

Iran has lost a great defender of freedom of expression and the regime has killed his daughter, an active defender of the families of political prisoners. We will not forget this crime. The two press freedom predators at the head of the Islamic Republic are responsible for this courageous woman's death.

We insist that the authorities shed light on all the circumstances of this murder. Those responsible must be tried and sentenced. The violence that the regime uses against its opponents is appalling. It not only bans all of their activities but also tries to erase them from society and the collective memory.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Iranian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LDDHI) also issued a joint statement: "FIDH and LDDHI have learned from reliable first-hand sources in Iran that Ms. Haleh Sahabi, daughter of Mr. Ezzatollah Sahabi, a veteran patriotic political leader, died this morning as a result of brutal mishandling by security agents, during the funeral ceremony for her father."

Karim Lahidji, president of the LDDHI and vice-president of the FIDH, said, "The Iranian security agents have attacked the peaceful funeral procession of the veteran patriotic and independent political leader who had spent more than 16 years of his life in the prisons of two successive regimes. His daughter, Haleh Sahabi, died after a brutal attack by plain-clothed agents. The authorities know no boundaries when it comes to clinging to their power and denying people their rights. We believe those responsible for such brutal attacks are acting with guaranteed impunity in the absence of an independent and competent judiciary."

The government has done to Ezatollah Sahabi what it did to the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and Mir Esmail Mousavi, father of Mir Hossein Mousavi -- because it is afraid even of the dead, it did not allow a normal funeral at which the grieving family could mourn in peace. Worse yet, it created a situation that caused the death of Haleh Sahabi. There are several versions of the circumstances surrounding the last minutes of her life, but in any event, it is clear that the hardliners are responsible for what happened. It simply does not matter whether Haleh Sahabi was struck, or pushed, or simply was so agitated by the security forces that she collapsed. A political system that is afraid of shadows and dead people will go to any length to prevent anything that it imagines might provide the occasion for a protest against what it has been doing to the nation.

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Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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