Five Political Prisoners in Iran on Life-Threatening Hunger Strikes in Desperate Bid for Case Reviews

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The lives of at least three imprisoned civil rights activists in Iran are perilously in danger after suffering health complications from weeks on hunger strike, while another has sewn his lips shut, but judicial authorities have yet to respond to their demands, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned.

Saeed Shirzad, Arash Sadeghi, Ali Shariati and Morteza Moradpour are all on life-threatening hunger strikes to demand reviews of their unjust prison sentences.

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese citizen with U.S. permanent resident status, has also started a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison to protest his sentence and the denial of consular access and medical treatment.

Political prisoners in Iran are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care.

SAEED SHIRZAD: Sewn Lips

Political activist Saeed Shirzad sewed his lips shut and began a hunger strike on December 7, 2016 in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj to protest “the quiet death of prisoners” because of numerous human rights abuses at the hands of prison officials, according to a letter he wrote to judicial officials.

Shirzad is serving a five-year prison sentence that was issued on September 12, 2015 for “assembly and collusion against national security” for helping the children of political prisoners pursue education. He has been waiting for a decision on his appeal for more than a year.

ARASH SADEGHI: Nearly 60 Days on Hunger Strike

Arash Sadeghi, who has been on hunger strike since October 24, 2016, was rushed to the hospital in Tehran on December 17 after suffering heart palpitations, but was returned to Evin Prison’s Ward 8 the same day after undergoing some tests, a source informed the Campaign.

“Despite the doctors’ strong recommendations to break his hunger strike after 55 days and accept (intravenous) injections, Arash is still insisting on continuing his action until he gets his demands,” said the source.

Sadeghi began serving a 15-year prison sentence in June 2016 for his peaceful activism in defense of civil rights. He was convicted of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “spreading lies in cyberspace,” and “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic.”

Sadeghi went on hunger strike after his wife Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was also taken to Evin Prison on October 24 to serve a six-year sentence for a story she never published and some Facebook posts. He is demanding a review of her sentence.

“My stories and poems were confiscated the night agents searched our home,” Iraee told the Campaign in October. “After the third day of questioning, the interrogators put me under pressure and accused me of insulting the sacred. I was interrogated dozens of times about the burning of the Quran in my story.”

“Each time I explained: it’s only a story,” she added. “I told them and I wrote [in my defense statement] that if what I did was a crime, then many scriptwriters and novelists should be arrested for committing the same crime. But they didn’t care, and in the end they gave me the maximum punishment.”

MORTEZA MORADPOUR: More than 50 Days on Hunger Strike

Morteza Moradpour has lost more than 50 pounds after refusing food at Tabriz Prison since October 25, 2016, a source told the Campaign. Since December 10 he has also stopped taking sugar with his tea, which has sped up the weight loss.

“Morteza’s life is in danger, but he is refusing to give up his hunger strike despite pleas from friends and relatives,” said the source. “He told his family in a phone conversation that if they talk about stopping the hunger strike, he would hang up. Judicial authorities in Tabriz are also saying that they would not look into his demands for parole as long as he continues his hunger strike.”

In November 2009 the Azeri civil rights activist was sentenced to one year in prison for “propaganda against the state” and two years for “assembly and collusion against national security.”

Moradpour has spent more than two years in prison, making him eligible for parole based on Article 134 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which allows for only the longest prison sentence to be served in cases involving multiple convictions.

Morteza and several other activists were arrested in the Shahgoli district of the city of Tabriz during a peaceful rally on May 22, 2009 for shouting slogans in favor of Azeri ethnic demands, his brother told the Campaign.

ALI SHARIATI: More Than 50 Days on Hunger Strike

Reformist political activist Ali Shariati, who has urged voters to support the government of President Hassan Rouhani from his prison cell, is protesting his five-year prison sentence for “acting against national security by participating in a protest against acid attacks in front of [Parliament] on October 22, 2014.” He began his hunger strike on October 31, 2016 after being taken to Evin Prison to serve his sentence.

“After four weeks we were given permission to see Ali,” wrote his wife, Motahhareh Parsi, on her Facebook page on December 14. “He had to go on a dry hunger strike to protest being denied phone calls and family visits. Thank God, that was effective and he changed his hunger strike to a wet one.”

Shariati was hospitalized on December 9 after a sudden drop in blood pressure.

“Ali has not committed any crime,” his mother told the Campaign in December 2016. “He was one of the supporters of the government [of Hassan Rouhani]. I don’t understand how the supporter of a sitting president can be arrested for ‘acting against national security.’ If that’s the case, the 20 million people who voted for Mr. Rouhani should also be arrested.”

NIZAR ZAKKA: Protesting Prosecution and Denial of Rights

In September 2016 Nizar Zakka was sentenced to 10-years in prison and fined $4.2 million USD for “collaboration and espionage for the U.S.” The Lebanese U.S. permanent resident was arrested on September 18, 2015 in Tehran after being invited to a seminar in Tehran by Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Mowlaverdi.

“Nizar has been on a hunger strike since December 8 to raise awareness about his plight, and that of other U.S. hostages being unlawfully held in Iran,” said his American lawyer, Jason Poblete, in a statement on December 15. “Nizar’s family, friends, and I are concerned about Nizar’s health; however, we support his decision.”

“After a year in captivity, the Iranians continue to deny Nizar access to consular services as well as medical care,” continued the statement. “Nizar continues to be subjected to psychological torture and physical strains. Despite the inhumane conditions that Nizar is being held in, his spirits are high and he continues to maintain his innocence and refuses to sign forced confessions stating otherwise. Nor will Nizar pay a ransom for his release.”

Increasing Hunger Strikes

Iran’s political prisoners have increasingly been refusing food, liquids, or both to highlight their plight. The Campaign has documented a particular increase in the number of prisoners on hunger strike in the last few months of 2016. Most of the prisoners were arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization and were given harsh prison sentences by the Judiciary for engaging in peaceful activism.

Of the eight political prisoners who were on hunger strike as of November 2016, only Mehdi Rajabian was granted a short medical furlough (temporary leave).

On July 31, 2006, imprisoned student activist Akbar Mohammadi died in Evin Prison after a weeklong hunger strike. Political activist Hoda Saber also lost his life on June 1, 2011 from lack of medical treatment in Evin Prison eight days after starting a hunger strike.

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