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Iranian Political Prisoners Go on Hunger Strike to Protest Country’s Human Rights Record

Iranian political prisoners are increasingly engaging in hunger strikes as a “last resort” to bring attention to their plight, researchers from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) reported in a policy brief on Wednesday.

One prisoner, Arash Sadeghi, was sentenced to 19 years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison for “assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the state, spreading lies in cyberspace and insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic and its supreme leader.” He has been on a hunger strike for ten weeks to pressure authorities to release his wife, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, who herself was sentenced in October to six years in prison for “insulting Islamic sanctities” because of an unpublished fictional story that authorities found on her computer.

Sadeghi’s campaign has garnered international support, prompting more than a half-million tweets in support of the couple. In response to the campaign, Iranian authorities announced that they would temporarily release the couple from prison in exchange for $500,000 in bail. Iraee was freed on January 3, but past prisoners’ similar experiences suggest that she could be returned to jail in weeks or even days.

Protesters supporting Sadeghi demonstrated outside Evin prison earlier this week.

Sadeghi and Iraee are not the only political prisoners to have turned to hunger strikes, researchers Saeed Ghasseminejad and Toby Dershowitz noted. Ali Shariati recently marked his ninth week on a hunger strike. Shariati is serving a five year sentence, which was imposed in 2015 for protesting against a series of acid-throwing attacks targeting women who were reportedly dressed immodestly. “Two years after the attacks, the perpetrators are still free, but those who protested them languish in prison,” Ghasseminejad and Dershowitz observed.

United States permanent resident Nizar Zakka is on the fourth week of his hunger strike. Zakka was arrested in the fall of 2015 by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after traveling to the country at the invitation of vice president Shahin Molaverdi to participate in a conference on sustainable development. Before he could leave, Zakka was convicted of espionage and sentenced to ten years in prison last June.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who stands for re-election in May, has been touting a Citizens’ Rights Charter, sending text messages to Iranian cellphone users claiming, “Noble people of Iran, let’s know our rights and protect them.” Such a charter may be “good public relations”, the researchers wrote, but it “cannot hide the appalling human rights abuses that the Rouhani government commits against citizens perceived to violate the government’s ideology.”

Ghasseminejad and Dershowitz urged Congress and the incoming Trump administration to take a stronger stand against Iranian human rights abuses. They advocated naming a special representative to investigate Iran’s human rights record and placing sanctions on individuals who implement Iran’s oppressive practices. At the very least, Ghasseminejad and Dershowitz concluded, “highlighting the Islamic Republic’s dismal human rights record may be a good place to start.”

[Photo: Danial Amiri / YouTube ]