WASHINGTON - A female Iranian dissident imprisoned since 2016 for a five-year term that was extended last September by two years now faces new charges that could keep her in prison even longer.
Speaking to VOA Persian by phone from Tehran on Monday, the father of jailed rights activist Atena Daemi said she learned of the new case against her the previous day, when she agreed to appear at the Evin prison prosecutor’s office in response to a summons. Iranian prisoners can choose to reject a summons under Iranian law but risk losing their prison privileges for doing so.
Hossein Daemi said the prosecutor’s office informed his daughter that she has been charged with “disturbing order” at Evin prison by chanting anti-government slogans on the night of February 11, the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. He said his daughter denies the charge.
Atena Daemi, who is in her early 30s, was arrested in 2014 and began serving a five-year prison term in 2016 for alleged national security offenses related to her peaceful human rights activism. Her activities included meeting the families of Iranian political prisoners, criticizing the government on Facebook and condemning the mass executions of political prisoners in Iran in 1988.
An Iranian court added two years and one month to her five-year term last September after convicting her of the additional offenses of disseminating anti-government propaganda and insulting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The charges related to her writing of an open letter from prison condemning the more recent executions of several political prisoners in September 2018 and her singing of a revolutionary anthem to honor those prisoners.
Hossein Daemi told VOA that last September’s extension of his daughter’s five-year prison term by more than two years meant that she could no longer be paroled on July 4 as originally scheduled. He said it also meant that his daughter was not eligible for temporary releases or furloughs that Iran granted to tens of thousands of inmates in recent months.
Iran’s judiciary said the furloughs were intended in part to protect inmates from coronavirus contagion in the nation’s overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. However, it said those serving prison terms of more than five years for security offenses would be denied leave.
Iranian authorities have not granted Atena Daemi any leave since she started her prison term in 2016.
Her father said that prior to Iran’s reported onset of coronavirus cases in February, he and his family had persuaded a supervisory judge to approve a medical furlough for his daughter so that she could be treated for several illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, outside of prison. However, he said Evin prison authorities rejected that authorization.
"Evin prison does not have essential health and medical facilities such as a clinic and lab that could test our children for the coronavirus,” Hossein Daemi said, referring to his daughter and other detained activists whose families are pressing for their release.
“Our children’s lives are in danger,” he said. “Atena was trying to advocate for people’s freedom and human rights and doesn’t deserve to be imprisoned.”