The husband of a jailed Iranian human rights lawyer suffering health complications from a recent hunger strike this week denounced Iran’s government for not allowing his wife to seek immediate medical treatment outside of prison.
Speaking to VOA Persian in a Tuesday interview from Tehran, Reza Khandan accused Iranian judiciary officials of acting stubbornly by not responding to multiple requests he and his wife, Nasrin Sotoudeh, made to grant her a medical furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison so that she can be treated at a reliable external hospital.
“Judicial authorities have been willing to grant furloughs to a few political prisoners in order to reduce international pressure on Iran,” Khandan said. “But this is not the case with Nasrin and some other political prisoners. They are treated differently out of malice,” he said.
Few political prisoners were included among tens of thousands of inmates granted temporary releases by Iran in March to curb the spread of the coronavirus in its overcrowded and unsanitary jails.
Those furloughs excluded dissidents such as Sotoudeh, sentenced to terms of more than five years for peaceful activities designated as national security offenses.
Sotoudeh has been jailed at Evin since June 2018 for alleged national security offenses related to her work in defending women’s rights activists arrested for removing their hijabs in public defiance of Iran’s Islamist laws. Rights activists have said Sotoudeh is serving a prison sentence of more than 30 years and must complete 12 years before being eligible for parole.
Khandan previously told Western media and his social media followers that Sotoudeh staged her second hunger strike of this year for 45 days from August to September to protest Iran’s refusal to furlough political prisoners despite their risk of coronavirus exposure in jail.
'Grave' cardiac problems
Iranian state media quoted Khandan as saying that the prolonged hunger strike weakened Sotoudeh’s health so much that prison authorities sent her to Tehran’s Taleghani hospital for five days in late September for emergency treatment. Khandan has said his wife ended the hunger strike two days later while being held in a quarantine section of the prison as her condition deteriorated further.
In a public statement released Tuesday, Khandan said authorities moved Sotoudeh from Evin’s quarantine section back to its women’s ward “without any medical supervision,” despite her suffering from “constricted breathing” and “grave” cardiac problems. He said outside doctors who reviewed Sotoudeh’s medical tests consider her return to Evin as a “deliberate attempt to put her life in danger.”
In his VOA interview, Khandan said his wife’s health has improved since she resumed eating. However, he said she still needs hospital treatment due to the ongoing complications from her hunger strike.
“The obstinacy of Iranian officials in refusing to respond to Nasrin’s furlough requests is not just in reaction to her hunger strike,” Khandan said. “It also is consistent with Iran’s long history of opposing the requests of human rights defenders.”
In a Monday op-ed citing Sotoudeh’s case, Iranian state-approved news site Tehran News said Iran’s judiciary and prison organization were “fulfilling their duties to fight corruption and national security crimes in the face of psychological warfare from enemy.” It also accused Sotoudeh of advocating for “illegal” demands of prisoners.
U.S. and U.N. officials long have expressed support for Sotoudeh and appealed for her release.
In an Oct. 6 statement, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Sotoudeh “has been a persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians, and it is time for the (Iranian) government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others.”
Last month, U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus posted a tweet saying Washington stands with Sotoudeh “in her steadfast fight for human rights in Iran”. She also condemned what she called Iran’s “barbarous use of unjust imprisonment.”