A jailed Iranian lawyer and human rights defender has suffered a significant decline in her health on the 21st day of a hunger strike to protest Iran’s treatment of political prisoners, according to her husband.
Speaking to VOA Persian by phone from Tehran, Reza Khandan said he learned of his wife’s worsening health in a phone call that authorities allowed her to make from the city’s Evin prison on Monday.
Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been detained at Evin since June 2018, began her second hunger strike of this year on August 11. In a letter written by Sotoudeh and sent to VOA on the same day, she said she was demanding the release of political prisoners such as herself from overcrowded and unsanitary Iranian jails infested with the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, she was not in a good condition and we are more concerned about her health now,” Khandan said, referring to himself and the couple’s two children. “She said a doctor told her that she needed a serum injection due to low blood pressure, but she was not given a blood pressure reading and she refused to get the injection.”
Khandan said Evin authorities were limiting Sotoudeh’s ability to make phone calls from the women’s prison ward, allowing her to do so only once every two or three days rather than daily.
In a Monday Facebook post, Khandan said Iran’s judiciary has an “extraordinary enmity” toward prisoners in the Evin women’s ward, limiting their phone calls to 10 minutes in duration.
“For eight months, authorities have suspended prisoners’ face-to-face meetings with visiting family members, especially children,” he wrote. “But they have not added a single minute to the phone call duration for the mothers among Evin’s female inmates.”
Khandan told VOA that he has been trying to follow up with Tehran judicial officials on Sotoudeh’s demands but they have refused to speak with him.
“Every time we go to the judiciary or prison office, there are soldiers at the front entrance. They don’t let us enter and just ask us to write a letter, but we never get a response,” he said.
In her August 11 letter, Sotoudeh wrote: “The conditions of political prisoners [in Iran] have become so difficult that it is impossible to continue their detention under these oppressive conditions.”
Iran temporarily released tens of thousands of inmates from its prisons in March as the nation’s coronavirus outbreak intensified but refused to release dissidents sentenced to more than five years in prison for peaceful activities designated as national security offenses.
Sotoudeh said many such dissidents were now eligible for conditional parole under recent reforms to Iranian law, but authorities were denying them their rights to seek judicial relief.
The prominent lawyer began her first hunger strike of this year on March 16 and continued it for several weeks as she made similar demands for Iranian authorities to free jailed dissidents.
Rights activists have said Sotoudeh is serving a sentence of more than 30 years for alleged national security offenses related to her work. Before her 2018 arrest, she defended Iranian women detained for removing their compulsory hijabs or headscarves in acts of public protest against Iran’s ruling clerics. Activists have said Sotoudeh must serve 12 years before being eligible for parole.
Sotoudeh’s latest hunger strike and worsening health have prompted an upsurge of support for her on social media. Thousands of Twitter users have tweeted the hashtag #FREENASRIN in recent days.
Among them is Sotoudeh’s lawyer, Mohammad Moghimi, who posted an August 29 tweet saying authorities should release her because her life is in danger.
In another tweet on the same date, Iranian human rights activist Shahin Milani said he does not know how many times Sotoudeh has gone on hunger strike, but he believes “history will show” what Iran’s Islamist rulers have done to their political prisoners.
The U.S. State Department tweeted its concern about Sotoudeh’s hunger strike on August 14 and called on Iran to release her and “all political prisoners unjustly detained” in the country.
Khandan was detained in September 2018 and charged with subversion for publicly campaigning for the release of his wife. He was released in December 2018 and sentenced the following month to six years in prison but has remained free pending an appeal.