Iran: Former Inmate Gives Account Of Dissident's Death In Custody
By Golnaz Esfandiari
A political activist who was in jail
along with former student protest leader Akbar Mohammadi when he died has told
Radio Farda that he witnessed Mohammadi's recent death in custody. Mohammadi's
death, roughly one week into a hunger strike, has renewed criticism of the
Iranian government over its treatment of political dissidents -- particularly
since he suffered from serious ailments that rights groups blamed on official
PRAGUE, August 8, 2006
(RFE/RL) -- Former inmate Bina Darabzand told Radio Farda that he was being held
in the same prison block with Akbar Mohammadi at Tehran's Evin prison.
He says he saw Mohammadi around 8 p.m. on July 30, shortly before
RFE/RL could not independently corroborate his
account of the hours leading up to Mohammadi's death, but family members and
rights groups are calling for an independent autopsy and
Autopsy Being Conducted
Tehran's deputy prosecutor, Mahmoud Salarkia, has said prison physicians
believe Mohammadi died of a heart attack. But he added on August 1 that the
exact cause of his death should be determined by coroners, according to
Iranian authorities said that Mohammadi received treatment
at the prison's infirmary, including serums.
Salarkia said that
Mohammadi -- who was hunger striking in a bid to secure his release -- had
personally demanded to be transferred back to his cell.
Darabzand told Radio Farda a
different story. He claimed that prison authorities denied Mohammadi adequate
"I remember after he went on hunger strike on [July 23] that
on [July 27] he felt ill three times. They hospitalized him only after the third
time he felt ill," Darabzand said. "On [July 30], when they returned him to the
block, he told us during the last hour of his life that on [July 29] he had a
heart attack in the prison infirmary."
suffered from serious health problems -- including internal bleeding, lung and
kidney infection, and injury to his spinal cord.
Rights advocates and relatives said those
complications were the result of torture he had endured during prison
In July 2004, Mohammadi was released from prison
to receive medical care.
About two years later, on June 11, he was
rearrested at his family home in northern Iran and transferred to Evin
Iranian authorities said Mohammadi was returned to prison
to complete his 15-year prison term in connection with Tehran's 1999 student
A few weeks later, Mohammadi launched a hunger strike to
protest his imprisonment and win his release.
Darabzand said prison doctors had warned that
Mohammadi's continuing hunger strike could endanger his life.
head of the prison infirmary had warned the prison management that [Mohammadi]
had a syncope [a loss of consciousness, often from a lack of blood flow to the
brain], although he survived it. But he had said, 'If we don't react to his
conditions -- since he doesn't even drink water and doesn't accept medication --
whether we want to or not, we'll face a corpse here. The prison authorities said
to return him to his cell and let him die there. The next day, they again told
him to stop his hunger strike -- there are many witnesses. But he had said, 'I
won't stop until you meet my demands.' Then [prison authorities] told him that
they would return him to the cell block so that he could rot."
Darabzand -- who was released on August 6 after two years in prison -- said
Mohammadi was in poor health when he was returned to his block.
"They returned him to the block by ambulance -- he couldn't move," Darabzand
said. "[Other inmates] had to bring him in on a stretcher; it was clear that he
hadn't received medical care. Some inmates volunteered and took him to the
bathroom to change his clothes and wash him with a sponge. There his face turned
black and his jaw locked up. I wasn't there -- I was on the phone when I saw
that they were carrying him on the stretcher toward the infirmary. They had
called for an ambulance, but the infirmary didn't send one."
Darabzand said the 36-year-old Mohammadi died on the way to the
Iranian authorities have given a slightly different version of Mohammadi's
Deputy prosecutor Salarkia said that Mohammadi had a
heart attack while taking a cold shower. He said he was rushed to the infirmary
but that doctors' efforts to save him were futile.
have described Mohammadi's death as suspicious and called for an independent
investigation to determine the cause of death.
the blame squarely on the authorities.
"I disagree that it was
suspicious -- because for those of us who were there, what [the authorities] did
was very obvious. First of all, based on a recommendation made by [medical
authorities], Mr. Mohammadi went on an unlimited leave two years ago because he
couldn't stay in prison with all his health problems. Our question is: Who
ordered that he be returned to prison, illegally and over his
He also dismissed as "rumor" a report that suggested
Mohammadi was forcibly given some sort of medication.
witnessed his heart attack," Darabzand said. "We think that the fact that he had
a heart attack and then was returned to the block so that he died there is
enough to condemn this establishment. There is no need to spread rumors that
[Tehran General Prosecutor] Mortazavi poisoned him. Those who spread these
rumors apparently want to show that Iran's Islamic establishment has only one
evil -- and that is Mr. Mortazavi -- and that if you remove a few people like
Mortazavi, then there won't be any problems with the regime. No! they're all the
same in this establishment."
Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch have said Mohammadi's death is a black mark on the entire Iranian
justice system and called for independent inquiries.
correspondent Shirin Famili contributed to this report.)
Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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