Authorities in Iran have sentenced four Iranian ethnic Azerbaijanis to long jail terms for “peacefully defending their rights,” the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reports. Alireza Farshi, one Azeri defendant, told the Campaign that the Tehran Revolutionary Court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison and two years in exile, and his three colleagues had been sentenced to spend 10 years in jail and two years in exile. According to the report, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry agents arrested the four men in 2014 during a peaceful event marking “International Mother Language Day. The Iranian authorities charged them with “forming an illegal group” and “assembly and collusion against national security.” They plan to appear their sentences.

Comment: Iranian Azerbaijanis, also known as Iranian Azeris or Iranian Turks, constitute the largest ethnic minority in Iran. Azeri activists have long been fighting state discriminatory policies against their community, particularly a government-imposed ban on Azeri language being taught at their schools. The Islamic Republic’s constitution stipulates that the country’s "official and educational language is Persian, but the languages of other ethnic groups may also be used." In practice, however, Azeris have been denied of this right.

During the 2013 presidential election campaign, then-candidate Hassan Rouhani pledged to lift the ban on teaching non-Persian languages in state schools and universities, but he has not fulfilled that promise. The Amnesty International’s annual report released earlier this week stated that “Iran’s disadvantaged ethnic minorities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, remained subject to entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to employment, adequate housing, political office, and their exercise of cultural, civil and political rights.”