Former Opposition Leader Aide Refusing Vital Medication During Hunger Strike to Protest Detainment
Reformist activist and former political prisoner Hengameh Shahidi has started a hunger strike and is refusing to take vital prescription medication in protest against her detention, her mother informed the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The authorities have not told us anything,” Nahid Kermanshahi told CHRI on March 15. “They didn’t send my daughter a summons or say what she is charged with.”
“I begged her and said she needs to take her pills because of her (heart) problem,” added Kermanshahi. “She said, ‘I’m not going to accept any of this because I haven’t done anything and so I’m going to continue my hunger strike.’”
A former senior political aide to opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi—under extrajudicial house arrest since 2011—Shahidi was arrested by security agents on March 9, 2017 in the city of Mashhad and flown to Tehran. In Evin Prison she was transferred to Ward 209, which is run by the Intelligence Ministry.
“Two months ago, someone called me and said Hengameh has to appear at Branch 2 of the Media Court,” Kermanshahi told CHRI. “At the time, she was in Mashhad taking care of her grandmother’s funeral arrangements. They arrested her while she was staying at a relative’s house.”
“Between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, agents stormed in and took her,” she continued. “She was held for a day in Mashhad and then they brought her on a plane to Tehran. They took her to Branch 2 of the Media Court and then to Ward 209 in Evin.”
“We went to visit her on (March 14),” she added. “We had made an appointment through the Media Court. We went there with Hengameh’s daughter Parmis and her sister Bahar and we sat waiting in the prison courtyard from 2 to 6 p.m. But nothing happened. They didn’t bring Hengameh out. I got very worried because she has a heart condition and was previously hospitalized in the emergency room. I thought maybe something had happened to her.”
Continued Kermanshahi: “The next day I went to the Media Court and told them my child has heart problems. I told them that two or three months ago, doctors had even banned her from going on social media because of her condition. She had disconnected all her phones and didn’t get involved in anything.”
“I told the Media Court officials that we had waited in the prison yard and wanted to know why she wasn’t brought to us for a visit,” she added. “I cried and cried and said something must have happened to my child…I guessed she was sick in the clinic with some kind of problem. Or maybe they had transferred her to a medical center.”
“Mr. (Mostafa) Tork Hamadani is Hengameh’s lawyer,” Kermanshahi told CHRI. “The authorities have not approved him yet, but he told the court assistant to at least let me call her on the phone so that I could stop worrying as a mother does. They gave permission and she called us. She said she didn’t know what had happened the previous day and they had not told her that her family was waiting in the prison yard.”
“Then she said she’s on hunger strike and she’s not taking her pills,” she said. “I begged her and said she needs to take her pills because of her problem. She said, ‘I’m not going to accept any of this because I haven’t done anything and so I’m going to continue my hunger strike.’”
Hamadani told CHRI that Shahidi has been accused of an unspecified “security” crime and therefore the judiciary must approve his credentials before he can represent her.
Shahidi is one among several political activists and journalists who have been detained in a new wave of arrests carried out by the Intelligence Ministry or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ahead of Iran’s May 2017 presidential election.
A senior member of Karroubi’s reformist Etemad Melli (National Trust) party who also reported for the party’s newspaper, Shahidi has already served three years in prison (2009-12) for reporting on the state’s violent crackdown on the peaceful protests following Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election.
In 2016 she was fired from an university-level teaching position after the institution caved in to pressure by the IRGC.
Predicting her arrest, Shahidi had pre-written a letter, published on March 11 on her Instagram page, describing it “as part of a project to arrest political activists and journalists before the presidential election so that the designated candidate (of hardliner’s) could be guaranteed a victory, just like in the 2009 election.”
Addressing President Hassan Rouhani, whom she had supported in the country’s 2013 election, she wrote in a second letter: “You were supposed to be a breath of fresh air for reformists after the oppressive years under (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, and not choke the air out of them to become president like he did.”