The death of a previously little-known Iranian dissident who was on a hunger strike to protest his detention by Iran has sparked an outcry from the United States, rights activists and other social media users.
Family members told VOA Persian that prison authorities in the northern city of Qom telephoned them Wednesday to say that Vahid Sayyadi-Nasiri had died in a Qom hospital earlier that day. His mother and a brother said they later tried to locate his body but hospital staff told them it had been taken to a morgue at Qom’s main cemetery.
Detained in July
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) described Sayyadi-Nasiri as a 28-year-old real estate specialist who was critical of Iranian state policy on social media, but had little national name recognition until his death.
Iran’s Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) said Iranian intelligence agents detained Sayyadi-Nasiri in Qom in July and authorities put him on trial in September on charges of disseminating propaganda against the state and insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It said a revolutionary court later sentenced him to 4½ years in prison.
Rights groups said Sayyadi-Nasiri previously had served a two-year prison term on similar charges before being released in March this year. They said he began a hunger strike against his latest detention Oct. 13 to protest inhumane prison conditions and a lack of access to a lawyer and he died on the 60th day of his protest.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino issued a statement late Thursday expressing sadness about Sayyadi-Nasiri's death and condemning Iran's Islamist rulers in the "strongest possible terms" for what he called their "unceasingly flagrant human rights violations." A tweet accompanied the statement:
Saddened by #humanrights activist Vahid Sayadi-Nassiri’s death in prison. Charged with “insulting the Supreme Leader” and deprived of legal counsel, he died protesting his arbitrary detention by #Iran’s regime and inhumane prison conditions. This. Must. Stop. pic.twitter.com/zyl1zoxWgw— Robert Palladino (@StateDeputySPOX) December 14, 2018
In a Thursday report, Iranian judiciary news agency Mizan quoted Qom province’s chief prosecutor Shokrollah Bahrami as saying Sayyadi-Nasiri had been in poor physical health as a result of a liver disease and was transferred to a hospital, before dying there seven days later.
Bahrami said the cause of the activist’s death was under investigation.
CHRI said Sayyadi-Nasiri’s apparent death from a hunger strike heightened the urgency of resolving what it called “legitimate” grievances of other Iranian dissidents who have been on similar hunger strikes to protest their ongoing detentions.
The group highlighted the case of 48-year-old Iranian physician and rights activist Farhad Meysami, who it said has been on a hunger strike at Tehran’s Evin prison since Aug. 1. Authorities had detained Meysami a day earlier for possessing books and badges protesting Iran’s Islamist policy of forcing women to wear a hijab in public.
CHRI said Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, detained in June for expressing support for women who had been publicly protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law, began a second hunger strike Nov. 26. It said she was protesting authorities’ refusal to allow Meysami, her friend, to receive hospital treatment.
“Sayyadi-Nasiri’s death and the danger of more deaths are a result of a judicial system that is out of control and which has abandoned any semblance of defending the rule of law,” said CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi. “More deaths will come if the authorities persist with these unlawful imprisonments, their denial of due process and the inhumane incarceration conditions in Iran,” he added.
Reports of Sayyadi-Nasiri’s death sparked further outrage on social media. Twitter users posted about 25,000 tweets with the hashtag #Vahid_Sayyadi_Nasiri in Farsi in a 24-hour period from Wednesday to Thursday, with many expressing sorrow for not previously having heard about his case.
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service. Ramin Haghjoo contributed to this report.