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Azeri Activists Detained In Iran For Environmental Protests

A tire lies on a dried-up section of Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran.
A tire lies on a dried-up section of Lake Urmia in northwestern Iran.
BAKU -- Iran's Intelligence Ministry has detained over 30 ethnic Azeris in recent days over environmental protests, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The activists in Tabriz were protesting the Iranian government's failure to take measures to save Lake Orumieh (Urmia), a saltwater lake situated between Iran's East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan provinces that is drying up.

Members of the activists' families told RFE/RL that over 30 people were detained on August 24 during an iftar evening meal when Muslims observing Ramadan break their fast.

On August 25, several more activists were detained before and after a soccer match in Tabriz between Azerbaijan's Trakhtorsazi team and local team Shahrdari Tabriz. Thousands of Azerbaijani fans chanted "Lake Urmia is dying, the Majlis orders its execution" during the match.

Several more activists were reportedly detained in Ardabil and other cities.

Iran's parliament recently voted against allocating funds to channel water from the Araz River to raise the level of the lake. Instead, they proposed relocating Azeris living around Lake Orumieh.

Turan Kheyri, the wife of detained activist Mustafa Avazpur, told RFE/RL that he had been detained twice before for demanding the protection of Azeri rights. She says Avazpur was released from jail last year.

Asgar Sadiqi, the brother of detained activist Abdullah Sadiqi, said Abdullah telephoned them to say he was being held at an Intelligence Ministry facility in Tabriz. He said the ministry did not inform the family why Abdullah was arrested.

Vahid Qaradagli, an Azeri human rights activist in Iran, told RFE/RL that Azeri activists are enraged at the Iranian government's failure to take measures to prevent Lake Orumieh from drying up.

"The activists were planning more protests on August 27, and the government is arresting activists to avert the wave of protests," he said

Qaradagli said the government had built a fence around the lake, but no steps have been taken to preserve it. He said if the lake dried up, some 10 million tons of salt would remain that would damage the environment and could cause illness among people living in the vicinity.

Read more in Azeri here