Forced Psychiatric Hospitalization Cannot Become New Means of Silencing Dissent in Iran
*Editor’s Update: Teachers’ rights activist HashemKhastar was released November 10, 2018, from the psychiatric facility in Mashhad where he had been illegally held since October 23.
Teachers’ Rights Activist, Held Against His Will at Psychiatric Hospital in Iran and Forcibly Given Medications, Must Be Released Immediately
Wife and Son of Hashem Khastar Arrested with Other Protestors, Released Same Day
November 6, 2018—The Iranian government should immediately release teachers’ rights activist Hashem Khastar from the psychiatric facility where he has been forcibly and unlawfully held, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement today.
In addition, CHRI condemns the arrest on November 5, of Khastar’s wife, Sedigheh Maleki, and their two sons, Jahed Khastar and Ahmad Khastar, in addition to the other protesters who were with them, in front of the hospital where Khastar is being unlawfully held. While they were released at the end of the day, these arrests were a transparent means of intimidation to shut down protest over Khastar’s forced admittance into the psychiatric hospital.
“The Iranian authorities are using imprisonment in a psychiatric facility in order to silence a civil rights activist, and arresting family members or anyone else that dares to protest this abuse of power to enforce this silence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of CHRI. “This is right out of the playbook of the worst abuses by authoritarian powers.”
By arresting the prominent activist, forcibly admitting him to a psychiatric facility and administering medication against his will, Iranian officials have committed a blatant act of arbitrary detention and torture and violated the right to health, which requires free and informed consent to any medical care, CHRI said in its statement.
Forced Hospitalization and “Treatment” Is Arbitrary Detention and Torture
What has transpired against Khastar is legally defined as “arbitrary detention” and a violation of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a signatory, which states “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” As remarked by the UN Human Rights Committee, the body interpreting the covenant, “any form of physical restriction not allowing the person to leave the facility is considered detention and the fact that the facility is a medical center does not change this.”
The authorities have also violated Article 7 of the ICCPR, which states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.”
Even if an individual has mental health issues, in accordance with Article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a disability in and of itself cannot justify the deprivation of liberty. Article 15 of the CRPD also prohibits any medical or scientific tests on people without their consent, which they consider to be acts of torture and degrading, inhuman treatment.
In addition, according to the CRPD’s Article 25 and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, (ICESCR), as interpreted by the relevant UN Committee, providing medical care must be on the basis of free and informed consent and prescribing any medication or procedure without such informed consent is a blatant and serious violation of human rights.
According to Iran’s domestic rules on medical procedure, the only exceptions to the principle of consent concern children and individuals whose decisions are made by legal guardians. Even in emergency situations, the consent of the individual or his family is required as soon as possible.
Iran’s Guidelines for Special Situations in Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers for Psychiatric Patients stipulate that if a person with acute mental health conditions has not been declared “incapacitated” by medical or judicial authorities, her/his personal consent is necessary to carry out any medical treatment.
“We are deeply concerned that the forcible admission of individuals into psychiatric facilities will become the norm in dealing with civil activists and critics of the state, giving the Iranian authorities yet another means to ignore judicial procedure and unlawfully arrest and detain critics of the state,” Ghaemi said.
“We urge international human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran to forcefully condemn this action and demand the immediate release of Khastar.”
Khastar’s Arrest for Peaceful Activism and Forced Hospitalization
According to Sedigheh Maleki, who spoke about her husband’s forced admittance into the psychiatric hospital before she herself was arrested, the retired teachers’ rights advocate was arrested in Mashhad, in the northeast province of Khorasan Razavi on October 23 by plain-clothed individuals who did not reveal their identity or present a warrant. They forcibly put Khastar in an ambulance and admitted him to the Ibn-e Sina and Dr. Hejazi Psychiatry Hospital against his will.
Despite his resistance and objections, Khastar was tied to a bed, given a number of injections, had blood withdrawn and was administered unknown tests.
According to his family, his close friend and colleague, Javad La’l-Mohammadi, and the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), who issued a statement, Khastar has never had any psychiatric issues and there have never been any questions about his full mental health.
Since his arrest, he has been visited once by two of his relatives for 10 minutes in the presence of a security agent.
None of the judicial, security or military officials have responded to inquiries by Khastar’s family or taken responsibility for his forced arrest. Meanwhile, hospital staff have said they cannot give information without a written permission from the prosecutor of Mashhad, Gholamali Sadeghi.
Khastar was arrested ten days after teachers in several cities in Iran participated in a peaceful sit-in to demand educational reforms and the release of imprisoned teachers’ rights activists.
Arrest of Family Members
The arrest of Khastar’s family members, meanwhile, is a continuation of the authorities’ use of pressure, harassment and detainment of family members as a means to intimidate and silence criticism of unlawful and politically motivated arrests, CHRI added.
An eyewitness at the gathering at the hospital where Khastar’s family members were arrested, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told CHRI that the police blocked streets leading to the hospital prior to the arrests of the family members and other protesters.
“On Monday [November 5, 2018] I went toward the hospital along with a few friends and colleagues but there were a lot of security forces stationed there—Intelligence Ministry agents in plain clothes and policemen. They were stationed in a square near the hospital, blocking the street leading to it. Mr. Khastar’s wife and their sons were quickly taken into custody along with several protesters,” the source said.
Those arrested include Khastar’s academic colleagues Hadi Lotfinia and Mohammad Yazdi as well as eight others whose names have not been released.
In interviews about her husband’s illegal hospitalization prior to her arrest, Sedigheh Maleki had said she had been warned that if she continued to talk to the media she would face prosecution.
The detainees were first transferred to a local police station and later taken away by security forces to an unknown location, according to the source.
“The rally and arguments with the police went on until five-thirty in the afternoon. They took the detainees to the Shafa Police Station and when we went to ask about their situation, the guard at the gate would not let us inside. We then talked to the station officer and he told us that the security agents came and took the detainees but didn’t say where. They told us to come back tomorrow for more information.”
CHRI has learned that Khastar’s wife and their two sons, along with all the other detained protesters, were released at 10:00 p.m. Tehran-time on November 5.