June 28, 2011
Human rights activists have raised concerns about the health of almost 20 Iranian political prisoners who have been on hunger strike for more than a week.
A group of prisoners arrested in the aftermath of Iran‘s 2009 post-election unrest are refusing to eat, and some have stopped drinking water, in protest at the death of two of their fellow inmates, Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi.
Saber, 52, a leading journalist, died two weeks ago of a heart attack after 10 days on hunger strike in jail and Sahabi, 54, a women rights activist, died on 1 June during scuffles with security forces at the funeral of her father, Ezatollah Sahabi, a veteran activist. Saber was on hunger strike in protest at the death of Sahabi.
The hunger strikers – who include around 12 prisoners in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and at least six prisoners in Rajaee Shahr prison in Karaj, a city 12 miles west of the capital – believe that the Iranian authorities were responsible for the death of Saber and Sahabi.
Kaleme.com, the website of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, reported on Monday that 12 prisoners had ended their hunger strike after families of political activists and senior figures, including former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, urged them to do so. Others are believed to be continuing their protest and at least five are reported to have been transferred to prison hospitals.
Last week 64 prisoners from the same block where Saber was being held wrote a letter in which they testified that the journalist was severely beaten while on hunger strike on the night before his death.
Activists are worried about the domino effect the deaths of hunger strikers might have. Protesters say they are deprived of their basic rights such as access to their lawyers, family visits, a fair trial or temporary leave after two years in jail.
Mohsen Aminzadeh, a former deputy foreign minister, Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, a prominent journalist, Abdollah Momeni, a student leader and Keyvan Samimi, a human rights activist, were among the prisoners who began the hunger strike to highlight ongoing human rights violations in Iran.
Some of them were also among the signatories of an earlier letter complaining about the increasing use of sexual assault in Iran’s prison.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a US-based non-government organisation, which recently published a report on the situation of political prisoners in the country, has warned Iranian authorities over the fate of hunger strikers.
“Iranian prisons are a death trap for prisoners of conscience,” said Aaron Rhodes, a spokesman for the campaign. “Officials must change the culture of unchecked impunity in Iranian prisons and give all prisoners the protections they are promised under international law.”
Seventeen political prisoners have died while in custody in Iranian prisons since 2003, according to the group.