Iran has imprisoned an ailing female dissident who signed a 2019 letter calling on its Islamist ruler to quit, rejecting her pleas to delay the start of an effective 27-month prison term until she is treated for severe pain, according to her husband.
Speaking to VOA Persian from Iran on Tuesday, Abbas Vahedian Shahroudi, the husband of Shahla Jahanbin, said she had gone to Tehran’s Evin prison on November 14 in response to her latest summons, and had hoped to be granted a further delay in starting her prison term for medical reasons.
Jahanbin previously told VOA that she received a summons to start her sentence in May and persuaded prison officials to postpone the incarceration by several months so she could undergo needed back surgery and have time to recover. She said, though, that she could not schedule the surgery in the following months because of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting her at risk of being arrested and jailed at any time unless she received another delay.
In his VOA interview, Vahedian said Iranian authorities who met his wife at her November 14 arrival at Evin told her that she would have to begin serving her prison term immediately because Iran’s top military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, objected to further delays in her incarceration.
Vahedian later posted a Wednesday tweet saying he had spoken to Jahanbin by phone minutes earlier in their first contact since her Saturday arrest. He said his wife told him that she still was suffering from severe pain in her shoulder and back.
VOA could not independently verify the circumstances of Jahanbin’s detention because it is barred from reporting from Iran.
Jahanbin was among 14 Iranian women who signed the August 2019 open letter demanding the resignation of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Authorities initially arrested her in connection with the letter later that month before releasing her on bail in November 2019.
The 14 signatories of the letter were charged by Iranian authorities with spreading anti-government propaganda and “gathering and conspiring against national security.” Jahanbin received a final prison sentence of 30 months for her role in the letter, but her effective term was reduced to 27 months to account for the time that she already served in jail last year.
Jahanbin was defiant in a VOA interview last month, saying she had no regrets about the letter despite the prospect of imminent imprisonment that could exacerbate her osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease affecting both her neck and shoulders. She also faced a risk of coronavirus exposure in an Iranian prison system criticized by international rights activists as unsanitary and overcrowded.
Shahla Entesari and Shahla Jahanbin told VOA Persian they received Wednesday phone calls summoning them to Tehran’s Evin prison within 10 days to start serving sentences.
Vahedian was one of 14 mostly male dissidents who signed an open letter in June 2019 making similar demands for Khamenei to quit and for Iran’s Islamist constitution to be changed. Authorities arrested him in August 2019 and granted him a temporary release from a prison in Mashhad in July.
In his comments to VOA, Vahedian accused Iran’s Islamist rulers of trying to pressure him and his wife into signing what he called a letter of repentance. He also had a defiant message for them.
“The only way out of this authoritarian regime is to create a strong alternative to it, and no alternative is more powerful than a unified nation,” Vahedian said. "No one will help us to make Iran free. We are the only ones who can do it.”