An Iranian political prisoner suffering from a panic disorder has been sent against his will to a psychiatric clinic after prison interference with his medical treatment led to his partial paralysis, according to a friend and family member of the dissident.
In a Tuesday interview with VOA Persian from Iran, the friend of dissident Behnam Mahjoubi said authorities transferred Mahjoubi from Tehran’s Evin prison to the Razi Aminabad psychiatric hospital in southern Tehran’s Shahr-e-Rey district on Sept. 26. Ebrahim Allah Bakhshi said he learned of the transfer by speaking with Mahjoubi on the phone that day.
Allah Bakhshi, a former political prisoner, and Mahjoubi both are members of Iran's Gonabadi Dervish religious minority. Members of the Sufi Muslim religious sect long have complained of harassment by Iran’s Shiite Islamist rulers, who view them as heretics.
Allah Bakhshi said he had been in regular phone contact with Mahjoubi in prison and learned that Evin authorities had been blocking Mahjoubi’s access to panic disorder medications provided by family members since August. He said Mahjoubi went on a hunger strike that month, not only to protest the denial of the medication, but also in solidarity with jailed Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who began her own hunger strike at Evin on August 11.
Mahjoubi began suffering coronavirus symptoms while on the hunger strike and ended the protest after 10 days to take the necessary medication, Allah Bakhshi said. Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, told rights activists on Sept. 26 that his wife ended her hunger strike due to worsening health.
Allah Bakhshi said a prison doctor also recently pressured Mahjoubi into taking sleeping pills to treat the jailed dissident’s panic disorder. He said Mahjoubi stopped taking the pills after feeling unwell and refused the doctor’s orders to take more, drawing a warning from prison authorities that a continued refusal would result in a transfer to the psychiatric clinic.
VOA could not independently confirm Allah Bakhshi’s account of Mahjoubi’s situation. Iranian state media have been silent on the matter.
In a series of Tuesday tweets, Mahjoubi’s wife, Saleheh Hosseini, said he suffered a fall in prison on Sept. 26, leaving him partially paralyzed. She said his transfer to the psychiatric clinic happened later that day.
Allah Bakhshi told VOA that he last spoke to Mahjoubi by phone on Monday. He said he learned that Mahjoubi received an unknown injection while being confined to a hospital bed and that a court had ordered Mahjoubi to remain at the psychiatric clinic until further notice.
“Mahjoubi wanted to be sent to a forensic medicine clinic, not a psychiatric hospital,” Allah Bakhshi said.
In a Friday tweet, Allah Bakhshi said five days had passed since what he called Mahjoubi’s forced transfer to the psychiatric clinic. “Behman’s life is in danger. Let’s be his voice,” he wrote.
Mahjoubi was among more than 300 Dervish community members arrested for involvement in anti-government protests in Tehran, February 19-20, 2018. The protests escalated into violent street confrontations between Iranian security forces and the activists. Five officers were killed.
Iranian rights activists have said Mahjoubi was released on bail later that year while also being sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” He began serving the sentence at Evin in June.
The Dervishes involved in the 2018 protests in Tehran had been demanding the release of arrested members of their community and the removal of security checkpoints around the house of their elderly leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh. He died in December 2019.