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Wave of Hunger Strikes in Iranian Prisons; Are We Aware?

Opinion article by Issa Saharkhiz (source: Rooz Online)

A widescale hunger strike is currently underway among Iranian political prisoners yet we are unaware of its details and are not doing anything about it. We won't until we hear the news of the death of one of them. If there are some who are doing something about this, their actions are limited to a small circle and they are doing it for well-known and prominent individuals. What is worse is that they are probably doing it merely out of duty and to satisfy their conscience or to simply get in the limelight.

I do not believe any organization that monitors prisons and political prisoners in Iran, or international organizations that work in this field can definitively pronounce how many prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in this country are on a hunger strike and how many of them need medical attention.

Whatever the number, if we added those who are in prisons for non-political reasons but are also protesting through hunger strikes, then we are talking about a very large group, again of which nobody outside knows much about the reason for their strike, the duration of their protest or the cause of the strike.

Under the current conditions in Iran, judiciary and security officials, and even the president of the country is not let into the prisons. Majlis representatives too do not seem to have a desire to inspect the prisons. Public groups active in human rights issues are either impotent in this regard or are behind bars themselves. Government agencies charged with human rights and legal issues too are mostly not heard of and their concerns are mostly personal or financial.

Many instances of such strikers however can be cited and one can find some detailed descriptions at international and local websites. I would like to share one such incident in prison.

During the gathering of the Islamic Organization Conference in Tehran in 2012, Iranian officials were deeply concerned that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may decide to visit the highest visible political prisoners in Iran Zahra Rahnavard, Mehdi Karoubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi who were - and still are - under house arrest or may ask to meet some individuals who were either in prison or in hospital because of the sentences they had received regarding the 2009 presidential election, I went on a hunger strike to protest my illegal transfer to the clinic of Evin Prison where I was kept with three prison guards in a cell.

My hunger strike which included medicine, lasted for three weeks and continued even after they transferred me to Rajaishahr prison in Karaj. That was the prison where another political prisoner Mohammad Nazari, had been through a hunger strike for weeks in protest for his two decade incarceration. He was on the death row and had actually sewed his lips with thread to help continue his strike. He drank minimal water using a straw. Few people outside new what he had been through and what suffering he had endured and was undergoing.

At that time, many of my friends had verbally and in writing asked that I end my strike. I ultimately accepted the call and pointed to a few issues. I said I was not the only one who had been subjected to that cruelty and called on former president Khatami, former president Rafsanjani and then president Ahmadinejad who displayed public support for prisoners in other countries but was absolutely silent on those in his own to attend to Mohammad Nazari and other prisoners, particularly Shii and Sunni and even Iraqi Kurds some of whose prison terms had exceeded the combined terms of these three presidents. I highlighted that Nazari was a Shiite and the brother of a martyr (for the Islamic republic) who had been behind bars for over 19 years, but nobody cares to listen to his plight and to review his case, as he has been asking.

Some two years have passed since that incident, but I doubt if his situation is any different today and don't believe his hunger strike, like those of many other prisoners, has changed the actions of those who hold him captive. Unless his situation is or becomes similar to the prisoner in Orumie sometime ago who suffered a heart attack the very night before his execution sentence was to be carried out, and astoundingly he was still dragged and his half living body subjected to the execution.

But it is not just the fear of execution, physical and psychological torture that comes with a hunger strike that threatens the life of prisoners of conscience, the conditions in the prison are another possibility that can cause death behind prison walls during a hunger strike.

These days mark the suspicious death of Afshin Osanloo, the labor activist while the death anniversary of Mansoor Radpoor is also close in a few days. Then there is the death of Mohammad Mehdi Zalie Naghshbandian in prison, a victim of chemical bombs in the Iran-Iraq war.

The number of deaths in Rajaishahr Prison by prisoners who were on hunger strikes is not small or limited to just these few people. Alireza Karami Kheirabadi too was so neglected that he faced the same fate as Mehdi Zalie, both of whose medical treatment came so late that they were ineffective. He passed away while he was handcuffed to a bed in Imam Khomeini hospital, the very same place where Mehdi Khazali and Reza Shahabi are held today.

Had officials or even we taken some preventive steps or exposed the horrific conditions of these prisoners, many of those vast number of people who died during their hunger strike, whose names we may not know or whose conditions we never knew, may have been with us today.

They are gone, but there are so many known and unknown people still in prison, undergoing hunger strikes, many of whom will not relinquish their fight until their human rights are fulfilled, and we need to help them now. Tomorrow may be too late.

... Payvand News - 07/09/14 ... --

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