Deteriorating Conditions and Recurring Arrests for Prisoners in Iran

Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine who has been imprisoned and periodically tortured in Iran for the past three and a half years on unsubstantiated accusations of espionage, has now begun a hunger strike in an attempt to secure the attention of US leaders. His brother-in-law, a physician, told Van Susteren that Hekmati’s treatment in prison has already left him malnourished, making this act of protest especially dangerous for him.

Van Susteren described Hekmati as “getting more desperate by the day.” The deteriorating situation is something that is faced by numerous political prisoners in Iran, including other American citizens. For instance, on Tuesday Christian Today reported that Pastor Saeed Abedini is under intense pressure to renounce the Christian faith for which he was imprisoned in the first place.

Abedini emigrated from Iran to Boise, Idaho after converting to Christianity, but returned on several trips to Iran, where he helped to support the house church movement for local Christians. In 2012 he was participating in the building of an orphanage in Iran when he was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps before being sentenced to eight years in prison the following year, on charges of compromising national security.

But the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been advocating for Abedini, reports that prison officials have warned Abedini, “Don’t think you’ll get out after eight years. We’ll add additional reasons to keep you.” Conversely, they have also reportedly told him that if he renounces Christianity and returns to Islam he will be let go.

Abedini has been subjected to harsh conditions and routine beatings in his time in prison, and has been denied medical treatment – a common tactic for exerting pressure on political prisoners in Iran. By a number of accounts, he has been singled out both by authorities and fellow prisoners, as both a Christian and an American.

But the apparent persecution of American-Iranians is part of a much broader trend of political imprisonment, which continues to affect a range of Iranian activists, dissidents, and minorities. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that prominent Iranian civil rights activist Narges Mohammadi had been arrested by security forces.

Earlier, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran had reported that Mohammadi was summoned to appear in court on May 3, where she was to answer to charges of “propaganda against the state,” “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “establishing the anti-security and illegal ‘Step by Step to Stop Death Penalty’ group.”

Mohammadi’s case file indicates that the Iranian court considers any opposition to the death penalty to be tantamount to opposition to Islamic society as a whole. The suspect’s lawyers have been given no opportunity to review the file. A request for a delay in the case was denied. But the file appears to consist primarily of a list of all of Mohammadi’s civil activism, including a seminar on the topic of air pollution and a peaceful protest that was described by officials as a “riot.”

Between 2009 and 2013, Mohammadi served four years of a six year sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and “propaganda against the state.” She was released on bail of approximately 200,000 dollars due to a serious illness. Her return to court barely two years later highlights the fact that prominent activists and dissenters are frequently targeted by the Iranian regime – a fact that has driven many of them out of the country.