A Series of Hunger Strikes among Iran’s Political Prisoners

#saveArash” — with 370,000 tweets — topped trending activity on Twitter for over three hours on December 30, 2016. The wave of social media support for Arash Sadeghi, a jailed Iranian student and political activist, who is 68 days into a hunger strike, was prompted by revelations that Sadeghi’s health has collapsed and he is in critical condition.

“They are taking his blood pressure twice a day. The pressure was seven over six yesterday. Today it was eight over six. They took him to the prison’s clinic and returned him with an oxygen machine. He is practically unconscious most of the time. His face is white as snow and he cannot complete his sentences. He stammers. He’s suffering from severe sleep deprivation. His face has no life in it, he is severely underweight and his heart beats too fast. Yesterday the doctor at the clinic said Arash’s blood- sugar level has fallen to 50. ‘There is a chance that very soon he’ll go into a coma or have a cardiac arrest,’ the doctor told another inmate. ‘But it is up to him to decide.’”

This is the testimony of a cellmate of who is held in Hall 10 of Evin Prison’s Ward 8. Sadeghi, who was expelled from Allameh Tabatabai University for political activities, has been in and out of prison since 2014, and earlier this year was sentenced to 19 years in jail for “conspiracy against national security” and “insulting the Supreme Leader.” He began his hunger strike on October 24 to protest against the jailing and sentencing of his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi, to 6 years on similar charges.

According to Sadeghi’s cellmate, his condition became critical a few nights ago when he was then transferred to Taleghani Hospital in Tehran. A hospital doctor said Sadeghi’s heart’s muscles had become extremely feeble and that his liver was badly damaged. He is unable even to go to the bathroom by himself.

“We are witnessing his death at close range,” says the cellmate. “This has put our cellmates under enormous mental pressure. What baffles me is why those who can help are doing nothing. Why is the death of a human being so unimportant to them? What would the regime lose by accepting Arash’s demands? Considering the rights asserted by their own constitution and the bylaws of the Prisons Organization, are they going to lose their honor if they let him see his wife or give him a few days of furlough?”

The Last Non-Violent Recourse

According to the doctors who have examined him, Sadeghi’s body has entered a dangerous phase, when it feeds on itself, its own muscles, until the liver and digestive system fail.

Going on hunger strike is the last non-violent recourse for a prisoner who has lost hope in the effectiveness of the law. In a note obtained by IranWire, Amir Amir-Gholi, an inmate at Evin’s Ward 8, writes that he couldn’t bring himself to urge Sadeghi to break his hunger strikes because his demands are logical and lawful.

“For more than 68 days the only food that his body has received is one-liter of water, 30 sugar cubes, and half a teaspoonful of salt every morning,” says Mehran, another fellow inmate. “We are very happy that [the civil rights activist] Morteza Moradpour ended his hunger strike after his mother asked him to. Perhaps if Arash’s mother had not died of a heart attack when the agents raided his home she would have asked his son to do the same.”

The List Goes On

Sadeghi is not alone. Ali Shariati, another prisoner of conscience, sentenced to 5 years in prison for protesting against acid attacks on women, is on the 59th day of his own hunger strike. Doctors say that he is in critical condition. His weight has dropped from 72kg to 52kg.

On October 31 Shariati, who lives outside the capital, was in Tehran on personal business when he was arrested and transferred to Evin to begin serving his sentence. Upon arriving at the prison Shariati started his hunger strike to protest at the manner of his arrest.

Another prisoner on hunger strike is the Lebanese-American national Nazar Zaka, arrested in November 2015 on espionage charges. He is being kept at an unknown location and little other information on his situation is available.

Hasan Rastegari Majd, a Turkish-Iranian citizen jailed for activities against national security and propaganda against the regime, who started his hunger strike on December 3, has been transferred to solitary confinement at Urmia Prison and is barred from contacting the outside world. Civil rights activist Mehdi Kookhian, who started his hunger strike 10 days ago at Maragheh Prison, has been transferred by the Revolutionary Guard to an unknown location.

Children’s rights activist Said Shirzad at Rajaei Shahr Prison and the dissident cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekounam at Qom prison are two more prisoners of conscience who are on hunger strike.

Fouad Yousefi, on hunger strike at Rajaei Shahr Prison, is a Sunni Kurdish inmate who has served 6 years of his 8-year sentence. “His condition is very critical,” says a cellmate of his. “He should not be in [this] prison. Anywhere else in the world he would have been sent to a well-equipped prison”.

This cellmate says that, according to Iranian laws governing incarceration, Yousefi should have been released long ago to a different facility. But not only has Yousefi been denied this right, he has also been barred from taking a short medical leave of absence from the prison.

“He is in very poor mental condition,” the cellmate adds. “He has attempted suicide repeatedly and he would have succeeded in killing himself if we had not stopped him.”

One night last week, after Yousefi’s condition had further deteriorated, he was transferred to the mental ward of a Tehran hospital, to the relief of his fellow Kurdish prisoners, but when he was returned to the prison the next morning he was in even worse condition.

Another prisoner on hunger strike is Mohammad Ali Taheri, founder of the mystic group Erfan-e Halgheh. Little information on his case is available. The Revolutionary Guards, which controls Evin Prison’s Ward 2A, where Taheri is thought to be, have barred him from communicating with the outside world. He has reportedly been on hunger strike for an unspecified but extended period of time. Taheri began his prison sentence in 2011 – some of his followers claim that he died in 2014 during his hunger strike but that his death has been covered up by the Revolutionary Guards. No one has been able to confirm the claim.

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