The mother of an Iranian citizen-journalist who has been jailed in Iran for four years says her son has been on a hunger strike for a month to raise awareness about poor conditions at his prison.
In a phone interview with VOA Persian broadcast on Wednesday, Farangis Mazloom said her activist son, Soheil Arabi, began refusing food a month ago at the Great Tehran Penitentiary. She denied rumors that Arabi had committed suicide and shared with VOA Persian a recent audio recording of him speaking from prison.
In the minute-long recording, Arabi said he was on a hunger strike to end inequality at the Great Tehran Penitentiary, where he said conditions were "worse than you can imagine." He said the prison had incarcerated thousands of young people and turned them into addicts of drugs such as heroin in order to enrich prison wardens engaged in drug trafficking.
Arabi ended the recording by stating his name and dating it as recorded in Khordad, the current Persian month that began on May 22. VOA Persian could not confirm Arabi's assertions about conditions at the prison because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.
Arabi has been imprisoned since November 2013, when security agents of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested him at his Tehran home.
The U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has said authorities charged Arabi with "insulting the Prophet [Muhammad]" in comments posted on Facebook. It said Arabi initially was sentenced to death but got the sentence reduced on appeal to 7½ years in prison with two years of religious studies to prove his repentance, and a two-year ban on traveling abroad.
Last year, Arabi wrote several letters while being detained at Tehran's Evin prison, stating that he began another hunger strike in late August and sustained it for at least a month. At the time, CHRI said Arabi was protesting IRGC harassment of his wife and relatives.
In a September statement, media rights group Reporters Sans Frontières (Reporters Without Borders) said it was "extremely concerned" about the prison conditions of detained journalists and citizen-journalists in Iran, especially those such as Arabi who were on hunger strikes or ill. RSF added: "More and more Iranian prisoners, including journalists, are risking their lives by going on hunger strikes in protest against prison conditions or mistreatment, or simply to demand proper medical care."
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian service.