U.S. Resident Imprisoned in Iran “Punished” for Going on Hunger Strike
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-born U.S. permanent resident on hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin Prison since December 8, 2016, has been moved to a ward for common criminals to force him to stop, his American lawyer told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Jason Poblete added that his client meanwhile continues to be denied medical and consular services.
“We have a source in the facility who told us that he was being punished for being on hunger strike,” said Jason Poblete in an interview on January 11, 2017. “He was moved to a room with 60 other men and forced to sleep on the floor side by side with common criminals.”
Zakka, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2016, is seeking his immediate release, and access to consular and medical services, which he has been denied since being detained.
Poblete also told the Campaign that Zakka was told that he would be allowed to speak to his family if he stopped the strike: “They are trying to get him to eat as a condition for getting the things he wants. So, obviously the hunger strike is having an effect.”
Poblete continued: “He is weak (from his hunger strike) and has ailments that we have not been able to address because he has not been given access to a doctor or a proper medical checkup for a long time,” said Poblete, adding that Zakka remains mentally “strong.”
He is due to have an appeal hearing “possibly this Saturday,” January 14, 2017, according to Poblete.
Zakka was arrested on September 18, 2015 while visiting Tehran after being invited by Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Mowlaverdi to attend a conference on women and sustainable development.
In September 2016, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Abolqasem Salavati found Zakka guilty of “collaboration and espionage for the U.S.” and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Zakka was also ordered to pay $4.2 million USD.
Based in Washington, D.C., Zakka is an internet freedom advocate and founding member of the Arab ICT Organization, a regional alliance of information and communication technology organizations from 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The internet is heavily restricted and censored in Iran, with hardliners in the government viewing any form of internet freedom as a threat to the sanctity of the Islamic Republic.
Denied Consular Service
Poblete told the Campaign that Zakka has also been denied consular services from his birth country of Lebanon.
“Based on my contacts with the Lebanese government, they have made many requests [to see him in prison], but they have all been denied,” he said. “The Iranians are not even talking to the Lebanese government [about him].”
Poblete continued: “We want to keep calling attention to the case because it seems to be having an effect. It’s unfortunate that he had to go to this extreme measure to receive basic fair treatment. He will continue this until he gets full access to a doctor and medical care and access to a U.S. or Lebanese governmental entity that can help him get what he needs.”