Officials Must Account for Recent Deaths

Unjustly Imprisoned Prisoners of Conscience Must be Released

(20 June 2011) Iranian officials should take all steps necessary to safeguard the lives of prisoners of conscience on hunger strike the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said today. The Campaign expressed serious concern for the lives of the prisoners on hunger strike.

Authorities should immediately investigate the recent deaths of political prisoners Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi and hold the responsible persons accountable, the Campaign added.

Since 18 June 2011, twelve prominent prisoners of conscience have joined a hunger strike protesting the recent deaths of Saber and Sahabi.

“Iranian officials at the highest level, from Ayatollah Khamenei on down, are responsible for the health and safety of these hunger strikers,” said Hadi Ghaemi, spokesperson for the Campaign. “The concerns of these men are legitimate and authorities should launch a credible investigation into the deaths of Saber and Sahabi to ensure that culprits are held accountable.”

“There is a culture of rampant impunity for prisoner abuse in Iran, that must end before more innocent lives are lost,” Ghaemi added.

On 1 June, dissident and women’s rights activist, Haleh Sahabi, died of a heart attack when security forces raided the funeral of her father, political activist Ezatollah Sahabi. Security forces beat Sahabi during the funeral procession and she subsequently suffered a fatal heart attack. She was on furlough to take care of her father who was in a coma at the time.

The following day, Hoda Saber, an imprisoned dissident and journalist, went on hunger strike to protest Sahabi’s death. On 8 June, Saber was transferred to a clinic in Evin Prison after complaining of chest and stomach pain. According to a letter signed by 64 prisoners from Saber’s prison ward, upon his return from the clinic, Saber told them he not receive medical care and was instead beaten by a security agent posing as a medical professional.

On 10 June, ten days into his hunger strike, Saber died of a heart attack. His family said prison officials were responsible for Saber’s death by failing to transfer him to a hospital for a full six hours after the heart attack began.

Iranian authorities have a grim record of causing the death of prisoners of conscience through physical abuse or willful neglect.

Since 2004, at least 18 prisoners of conscience have died in custody, including seven who have died since the 2009 election. The Campaign has also recently reported that a number of prisoners of conscience have issued open letters describing drastically substandard conditions in Iranian prisons, including poor health and safety conditions.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi, told the Campaign that, “all these elements indicate that over the years, the regime has attempted to end the lives of political prisoners. Meaning, when a political prisoner is not willing to surrender, interview or deliver false confessions, [authorities] try in different ways to break him. One of these ways is physical abuse, which in some cases has led to death, as in the case of Hoda Saber.”

“What happens in Iran is in fact systematic and not mere negligence,” Ebadi continued. “It is not just carried out by a few low-level prison guards, because if these were the acts of low-level guards, then at least after the first and second cases, the Islamic Republic would have ordered an investigation and punished the offenders. But we have seen that no one has been convicted.”

Maryam Shafiee, the wife of one of the strikers, Emad Behavar, told the Campaign that the prisoners were protesting the death of Saber and Sahabi with the aim of changing the situation of political prisoners generally.

She said that despite the request of Firouzeh Saber, Hoda Saber’s wife, and others to end the hunger strike, the prisoners “will not end their strike, and will continue until they get a reaction from judiciary officials. Emad said with this act they want the world to hear their pleas.”

“They want the officials to bring about change in the status of political prisoners,” Shafiee continued. “They are deprived of the rights guaranteed to ordinary prisoners such as phone calls, visitations, furloughs, and they and their families are subject to demeaning treatment. They said that they will pay any price until they attain their goal and their situation changes.”

Since the 2009 presidential election, authorities have arbitrarily detained hundreds of people for peaceful activities and exercise of free expression; including many of the country’s most prominent lawyers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders. Many convictions were based on coerced testimonies and in nearly all cases, trials did not meet international due process standards.

The Campaign restates its call for the immediate release of all unjustly convicted prisoners of conscience, including the twelve men on hunger strike.

The prisoners on hunger strike are: Ghorban Behzadian Nejad (advisor for Mir Hossein Mousavi); Bahman Ahmadi Amouee (journalist); Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi (of Daftar Tahkim-e Vahdat Alumni Association’s Central Council); Abdollah Momeni (of Daftar Tahkim-e Vahdat Alumni Association’s Central Council); Emad Behavar (head of the Freedom Movement’s Youth Branch); Amir Khosrow Dalirsani (nationalist-religious activist); Abolfazl Ghadyani (of the Islamic Revolution Organization’s Mojahedin); Feyzollah Arab Sorkhi (of the Islamic Revolution Organization’s Mojahedin); Mohammad Javad Mozaffar (publisher and Deputy Chairman of the Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners in Iran); Mohammad Reza Moghisseh (journalist and member of the Mousavi/Karroubi post-election fact-finding committee); Mohammad Davari (Chief Editor of Saham News); and Mehdi Eghbal.

On 20 June 2011, authorities released a thirteenth hunger-striker, human rights defender Emad Baghi, upon the completion of his sentence.