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Iranian Political Prisoners Continue Hunger Strike Over Basic Rights

Seventeen Iranian political prisoners, now being held at Tehran's notorious Evin prison, are continuing their ten day old hunger strike, despite pleas from opposition leaders to call it off. Reports say some have already been hospitalized. The prisoners, many of them journalists, are protesting the deplorable conditions under which they are being held.

The families of 17 Iranian political prisoners, now on a hunger strike, were given a verbal warning last week by prison officials not to congregate outside of Tehran's infamous Evin prison.

Iranian prison officials placed the hunger strikers in solitary confinement last month and have prevented their families and outside observers from seeing them. Opposition leaders, religious figures, and Iran's Islamic Medical Society want them to call off their strike before it's too late.

Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders in Paris says that the hunger strikers are demanding their basic rights, which are being denied them, but that his group thinks they should call off the strike before putting their lives in danger:

He says that the lives of the political prisoners and journalists now on strike are in grave danger, and even though it is impossible to see them in prison, the situation is worrisome. He adds that the men are being denied their rights, guaranteed by the Iranian constitution, including health conditions, family visits, etc. Human rights groups, he insists, support them on their demands, but want them to call off their hunger strike.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied arresting or mistreating journalists, during a speech Saturday to mark Iranian Journalist's Day.

He says that during the past five years, his government has not taken any drastic measures against journalists, despite the fact that his government has received the most criticism by journalists of any previous government. He also insists that he condemns the imprisonment and detention of journalists for articles they write and claims that his government is not involved in any such practice.

Reza Moini, however, notes that there are some 200 cases of journalists who were arrested in the past several years simply for criticizing the government. He also argues that most of those who still practice the profession of journalism inside Iran are government supporters.

One Iranian political prisoner, who recently wrote an open letter describing his conditions of detention at the overcrowded Gohardasht prison facility in Karaj, described life there as a "hell and human catastrophe."

He wrote of "naked and sweaty bodies, red with lice bites," living amid "dirty, polluted air, the smell of rotten trash, sewage from clogged toilets, dried vomit from food poisoning, and mucus from infected throats."

Houchang Hassan-yari, who teaches at the Royal Military College of Canada, says that the families of many prisoners report similarly deplorable conditions.

"Their conditions are deplorable," said Hassan-yari. "They don't have access to fresh air, proper food, medication. Beside that, almost all of them are complaining that they are deprived of sleep, taking showers, but also to be tortured, physically, emotionally, [and] intellectually."

In a related development, the Iranian judiciary recently confirmed the death sentences of a group of political prisoners, condemned for being "mohareb," or enemies of God. The men, Jafar Kazemi, Ali Saremi, Abdolreza Ghanbari, Ahmad Daneshpour Moghaddam, Mohsen Daneshpour Moghaddam, Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei, and Javad Lari could be hanged at any moment, according to Amnesty International.