A Sunni political prisoner was taken to an unknown location earlier this week, after refusing to stop performing Sunni religious activities at Saghez prison, Kurdistan province of Iran.
According to reports, Aram Mikaeli was forcibly removed from his cell in Saghez prison, following numerous orders from the authorities to stop his religious activities. Aram had faced threats from the prison guards for holding Qur'an classes and for teaching Sunni beliefs within the prison. He had also been in trouble after organizing congregational prayers for Sunni prisoners on the day of Eid last week. Sources say he was treated violently as he was removed from his cell. There is currently no news about his whereabouts or his condition.
Aram is currently serving a 9 year prison sentence after being arrested for propagating Sunni Islam in his local village and for his involvement in discussing religious issues in his local mosque. Sunnis face widespread persecution in the Shia-dominated Iran, and many of those who openly propagate Sunni Islam have been imprisoned or executed under false charges. In 2011, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) stated that "Sunni Muslim leaders regularly are intimidated and harassed by intelligence and security services and report widespread official discrimination."
Aram Mikaeli was transferred to Saghez prison in August this year, after being removed from Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj. Since his arrival at the prison, he has endured numerous incidents of discrimination from the prison authorities. He and another prisoner, Farzad Samadi, were forced to spend 15 days in the prison quarantine after refusing to shave their beards. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), prison guards ordered the men to shave their heads and their beards, an order which the men refused to comply with. The beard is an important symbol of Sunni Islam, and shaving it is a sin. The order to shave their beards was seen to be a direct example of the Iranian authorities trying to prevent any manifestation of Sunni Islam.
Despite threats from the prison authorities, Aram remained active in holding Qur'an classes within the prison. He also taught fellow prisoners Sunni beliefs and called them to start practising Sunni Islam. He was repeatedly ordered to stop, with authorities threatening to transfer him back to Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj. Aram did not obey the orders, and continued with his religious activities. Finally, on Monday, guards violently removed him from his prison cell and he was taken to an undisclosed location.
Aram was arrested on November 14, 2010, in Saghez, in the Kurdistan Province of Iran . He, along with his teacher, were distributing rice to the poor on the night of Arafat, an Islamic holy day, when they were arrested by Iranian Intelligence agents. He had drawn the attention of the authorities due to his preaching of Sunni Islam in his village, and due to his involvement in discussing religious issues in his local mosque. He spent 17 months in solitary confinement whilst in the Ministry of Intelligence, before being sentenced to 9 years in prison by the Iranian Revolutionary court. He spent three years in Rajai Shahr prison, before being moved to Saghez prison last month.
The stress of his imprisonment has taken a huge toll on his family. His wife developed cancer whilst he was imprisoned, and her condition worsened due to stress when the authorities prevented meetings and phone calls. Aram's mother also suffers health conditions due to the stress.