To protest his conditions inside Babol’s Matikola Prison, imprisoned student activist Ashkan Zahabian embarked on a hunger strike on 31 August. Zahabian’s father, Hassan Zahabian, told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that prison staff moved his son to solitary confinement after he began his hunger strike, even though, according to other prisoners, he was in a coma. Zahabian has had stomach bleeding since two weeks ago, and prison authorities have refused his requests for treatment outside prison. The prisoner’s father also said that Zahabian’s mother will start a hunger strike in solidarity with her son.
“My son’s conditions are critical. He fasted for 31 days [for Ramadan] and instead of breaking his fast at night, he started a hunger strike two nights ago. I learned that he has been moved to solitary since yesterday afternoon, though he was in a coma,” said Hassan Zahabian. “Ashkan is on a hunger strike to object to this condition and the state of limbo pertaining to his case. He has served half of his sentence and he is now legally eligible for a conditional pardon.”
“Please carry my voice to the Head of the Judiciary–the life of a young man in Mazandaran Province is in danger. My question of the Head of the Judiciary is why couldn’t he release one political prisoner in the vast Mazandaran Province [among the recently released prisoners]? As a political prisoner, should my son be placed with hardened criminals, thieves, and murderers? We maintained silence despite all of these concerns, but I can see that our silence will lead to my child’s death. What is my son’s crime that makes him guilty again? For what crime? If it was for the [2009 presidential] election, he has already served his sentence. Why was he sentenced to prison again?”continued Hassan Zahabian.
“I went to the prison several times and told them that my son was sick. They said we have doctors here. My son threw up blood yesterday. The last time I saw him was on Sunday. He has lost so much weight. The authorities are only throwing me from one side to another like a football. I tell the Prosecutor’s Office, they tell me to go to the Intelligence Office. I go there, they say to go to the case judge. The judge says that medical furlough is not in my hands. We don’t know whom to tell about this.’
ِRegarding his son being banned from pursuing his studies, Hassan Zahabian stated, “What is my son’s crime? He was banned from continuing his education, banned from social activities. He is routinely sent to prison. Why don’t you cancel his birth certificate and tell him to go die? This is not life for a young man. They say we must act honestly and amicably, but what part of this behavior is related to honesty and amicability?”
Asked whether his son is abused inside prison or not, he said: “He was mistreated during the first days, but because I pursued the matter and filed a grievance and spoke with the Prosecutor, his situation has improved. Even so, each time I ask him about his conditions, he says he can’t talk about it. He said ‘there are no problems, and you mustn’t say anything, either.’ I don’t really know what happens inside the ward. Judging from his paleness and looks, it is clear that he is under pressure. He just said ‘Dad, I am willing to return to the solitary ward of Sari Intelligence Office again, but not to be here one more day.’ He says ‘I mind my own business and do not speak with anyone,’ because he has no one to talk to in prison. He says ‘I shouldn’t be in this prison; I have to be next to other political prisoners.'”
Ashkan Zahabian was arrested on 16 June 2009 and sentenced to six months on prison on charges of “disrupting order,” “inciting people to demonstrate,” and “organizing Mazandaran University protests.” He was arrested for the second time on 5 November 2009 on charges of “acting against national security through forming the Islamic Associations organization in Northern Iran.” According to a source, if Zahabian was summoned to commence his prison term, he shouldn’t have been transferred to the Intelligence Office, but rather should have been taken to prison. Zahabian was a student campaigner at the campaign headquarters of Mehdi Karroubi in the city of Babol. During post-election arrests, he was severely beaten by security forces and in one instance was unconscious for three days. He was imprisoned for a total of 8 weeks.
In 2008, Zahabian was suspended for one academic term because of his student activism. Only four days after the disputed election of 2009, he was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence. Plainclothes forces known as Ansar-e Hezbollah severely beat him during his arrest. During Student’s Day protests on 4 November 2009, he was arrested for the second time. A Revolutionary Court in Babol sentenced him to six months in prison in his absence. In February 2009, while still suspended, he was banned from continuing his education based on an Intelligence Ministry decision, and was expelled from university just one term shy of graduating.