Mohammad Saber Malek-Raeisi, imprisoned in Iran for the last eight years solely because of his brother’s alleged links with a terrorist organization, has gone on hunger strike in Ardabil Central Prison in northwestern Iran.
His mother, Golbibi Malek-Raeisi, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that she has been informed that her son would be released if she turns in his brother.
“Obeidolrahman is a fugitive,” she said. “I have no idea where he is. The Intelligence Ministry’s office in Zahedan [city] told me to hand him over in exchange for Mohammad Saber. But how can I find him? He ran away 10 years ago because the Intelligence Ministry said he must cooperate with them.”
Malek-Raeisi is hunger striking against the severe beatings he has received in prison, his mother told CHRI in an interview on December 11, 2017.
“Mohammad Saber called on the phone on November 28 and said he was going on hunger strike because he was beaten and tortured and held in quarantine,” said Golbibi Malek-Raeisi. “We have not heard anything since and we don’t know what has happened to him.”
In an open letter to the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran published on December 4, 2017, Malek-Raeisi wrote: “On Wednesday, November 29, 2017, the security office in Ardabil Central Prison accused me of insulting religious sanctities and I was transferred to the guardhouse where the head of the penitentiary and the guard officer tied my hands and feet and beat me with batons and kicked me while cursing my family.”
“After lots of beatings, I was moved with my bruised body in chains into quarantine where a prisoner, who is a prison agent, was instigated into starting a fight with me so the authorities could blame him for all my injuries,” he said.
“The prisoner struck me with a tea cup so hard that I lost consciousness and fell on the ground and injured the entire right side of my face,” he wrote. “I’m thankful that at least my nose was blue and bloody but didn’t break for the fourth time by this regime and its agents.”
An ethnic Baluchi from the port city of Chabahar in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, Malek-Raeisi was arrested in 2009, when he was 15-years old, upon returning to Iran after visiting his older brother Obeidolrahman Malek-Raeisi in Pakistan.
A source close to the family who requested anonymity for security reasons told CHRI in January 2017 that Obeidolrahman Malek-Raeisi is wanted by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry for allegedly cooperating with the militant terrorist group Jundallah (Army of God).
Claiming to fight for the rights of Baluchi Sunni Muslims in southeastern Iran, Jundallah has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on Iranian soil, including a suicide bombing in October 2009 that killed several members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the city of Sarbaz, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
However, Malek-Raeisi’s mother told CHRI that her son was only a young student in school at the time of his arrest with no ties to the group and had simply visited Pakistan to see his family.
“He was in 10th grade,” she said. “In the Chabahar region near Pakistan, it’s normal for people on both sides of the border to visit relatives. Mohammad Saber’s sister and one of his cousins live in Pakistan, too”
“Then they came and took Mohammad Saber hostage. My son was a good student,” said Golbibi Malek-Raeisi. “He was just 15-years old. He should not have been jailed. He could have been going to university now but instead, he has been in prison for eight years.”
Malek-Raeisi was initially held in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center in Chabahar and for another two years in the ministry’s detention center in Zahedan before being transferred to Ardabil Central Prison, more than 1,400 miles from Chabahar, to serve a 17-year prison sentence for “acting against national security by collaborating with an armed group.”
“I have not seen my son for two years,” Golbibi Malek-Raeisi told CHRI. “Ardabil is far away. I’m not healthy and can’t travel all that distance. We don’t have anybody to help us. He doesn’t have a lawyer. We are Baluchis. We are Iranian. Why are they doing this to us?”
The informed source told CHRI that Malek-Raeisi’s prison sentence could be overturned if reviewed by the judiciary because in the new version of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, passed after his conviction, contact with an armed opposition group is no longer categorized as a national security offense.
Golbibi Malek-Raeisi told CHRI that her son is unable to see from his right eye because it was badly injured as a result of the beatings he has received from guards in the four years he has been held in Ardabil Prison.
In his letter, Malek-Raeisi wrote that the medical staff at the prison has also mistreated him.
“When I opened my eyes, I was on a bed in the prison clinic and for a moment could not remember what had happened and why I was there,” he said. “I asked the doctor and the medical staff about my injuries and they said I had been in a fight and killed someone. I believed them and became terrified. But eventually my memory came back and I realized it was all a lie, like all the other lies they tell people.”
Continued Malek-Raeisi: “After the fight, the authorities opened a file and asked me to press charges but I refused to sign anything and I said I have no complaints against anyone other than Parviz Sourazar, the head of security in Ardabil Central Prison, Farhad Norouzi, the head of the penitentiary, and Ghafour Sadeghzadeh, the prison guard officer.”