Iranian Judiciary Refuses to Budge on Denial of Medical Care, other Human Rights Issues

On October 26, the brothers sent a letter from Evin Prison alleging that they had received promises from the court that their medical needs would be attended to and that prison authorities would end their arbitrary separation of Mehdi and Hossein into different wards. But after ending their September hunger strike on the basis of these promises, conditions reportedly became even worse, prompting the brothers to resume their protest on October 28. 

In this case, they are evidently committed to persisting until they are actually reunited and granted medical furlough, not merely promises thereof. The International Campaign quoted a source close to brothers as saying, “Mehdi’s condition is critical. We’re worried that if he’s not transferred to the hospital, he will be in serious danger.” But the source then added, “Sending Mehdi to the hospital for a few hours to break his hunger strike and get hooked up to an IV will not solve anything.” 

But for that matter, even being granted release may ultimately do very little good, since the Iranian judiciary has a long record of arbitrarily ordering former political detainees back to prison after granting them some form of conditional release. This was recently the case with three different teachers’ rights activists, each of whom had carried out long hunger strikes of their own. 

The reports noted that Esmail Abdi had been contacted three times by Evin Prison authorities on October 9 and ordered to return to prison. This verbal order came two days after an appeals court had upheld his six-year prison sentence for his peaceful activities. On October 23, Mahmoud Beheshti-Langroudi was also ordered back to prison, as was Jafar Azimzadeh on the following day. 

All three had only been granted bail during the appeals process after lengthy hunger strikes. Beheshti-Langroudi’s had lasted 22 days and Azimzadeh’s had lasted nearly two months. Like Abdi, Azimzadeh had been sentenced to six years in prison for his work on behalf of an unofficial labor union. The charges against him were “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.” Beheshti-Langroudi received a staggering 14 year sentence as a result of three separate cases regarding his peaceful union activities. 

Each of these men’s return to prison reaffirms the continuation of a crackdown on political dissent and social activism, of which the Rajabians’ case is also a widely recognized example. The ongoing enforcement of such sentences and the additional pressure exerted on their recipients are examples of the actions that have been taken against political opponents in the wake of the election of the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani. But at the same time, longstanding cases continue to make headlines as the Rouhani administration and other Iranian authorities refuse to let up on the punishment of activists targeted for prosecution years ago. 

The International Campaign recently highlighted an example of this as well, pointing out that prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani had just marked his 64th birthday while being held in Evin Prison on a 13-year sentence that was initiated in 2011. The absence of an identifiable crime is at least as apparent in Soltani’s case as it is in any of the above-mentioned cases. Charges against him included giving media interviews about his clients’ cases and co-founding a human rights advocacy group. But perhaps most absurd of all, Soltania was convicted of having simply been the recipient of a European human rights award. 

The regime’s ongoing commitment to that sentence can be seen as further reiteration of Iranian authorities’ rejection of international human rights principles. This has been codified on various occasions, some of them quite recent, through the judiciary’s upholding of internationally-decried rulings such as death sentences for persons who were juveniles at the time of their crimes. 

There have been some recent indications of support for death penalty reform among Iranian members of parliament, although this support has focused not on the execution of minor offenders or on a reevaluation of human rights principles, but rather on the apparent lack of effectiveness of the death penalty in deterring non-violent drug crimes. 

Although a bill to diminish the number of those executions is under consideration, executions continue to run rampant in the Islamic Republic. The Iran Human Rights website reported on Monday that at least five persons were executed on Saturday alone, four of them for drug crimes. The same site also pointed out that two other people were known to be in imminent danger of having their death sentences carried out. 

At about the same time that those five executions were being carried out, the Human Rights Activists News Agency was still working to identify all of the prisoners who had been put to death in a mass execution at Ghezelhesar Prison. On Saturday, the outlet was able to confirm that the number of victims was at least 12, although information has been slow in coming from surviving inmates, and that figure might still increase. 

The persistence of these mass executions raises serious doubts about the prospects for the government to actually reform the death penalty. Meanwhile, other judicial behaviors underscore that any such reforms would not be ground in human rights considerations. As well as continuing to hold political prisoners and deny them medical treatment, the Iranian regime also continues to abide by hardline Islamic laws that have been repudiated by international human rights groups. These include the principle of “an eye for an eye,” which was applied on Tuesday to the case against a man who had blinded a young girl in 2009.  

That man has himself been blinded by judicial authorities, and Agence-France Presse reports that it is the second time this year that the country has carried out such a retributive punishment. However, the AFP report also suggests that in spite of the ongoing enforcement of such punishments by the ruling regime, the Iranian people are increasingly rejecting them. “In 2011, young Iranian woman Ameneh Bahrami, one of a number who have been blinded and disfigured in acid attacks in recent years, used the right [to spare her attacker from the planned punishment], saying she did not want her attacker to endure what she had.”