The report pointed out that two Iranian Kurds, Mohammad Milani and Tajaldin Mamkani, were arrested on July 28 in the city of Khoy, and charged with association with Kurdish opposition parties. Kurds make up a large group of political prisoners being held in Iran today.
According to some reports, currently, 60 Kurdish political prisoners are awaiting execution of the death penalty, and 15 are serving life sentences. More than 50 Kurdish prisoners are reportedly in need of medical treatment that has thus far been denied to them.
The denial of medical treatment is a common complaint with Iranian prisons, particularly among political prisoners. Whether this is a coercive policy among prison guards or simply a symptom of neglect, overcrowding, or incompetence, it has led to the needless deaths of some prisoners. The NCRI highlighted the recent case of Mehdi Mahin Phil, who died in his cell from complications resulting from asthma on July 30, after serving two years in Karaj Central Prison.
Phil’s cellmates repeatedly requested medical assistance from the guards as the 30 year-old inmate struggled to breathe. Guards reportedly used religion as a pretext for denying treatment, saying that due to the post-Ramadan feast of Eid al-Fitr, no one could be reached to help the dying man.
If other denials of medical treatment can be reasonably explained in the context of overcrowding, the sheer volume of political prisoners is a contributing factor to those circumstances. This factor is made more significant by the apparent broadening of criminalized activities that has resulted from the recent crackdown on both journalism and internet usage. The report indicateed that seven cyber activists were arrested on July 27 because of their online activities, and transferred to an undisclosed location.
Such secrecy about the details of political imprisonments is also commonplace in Iran. When six youths were arrested in May for dancing in a YouTube video, they too were held in isolation, and when they were released security forces compelled them to first agree to not discuss their treatment during their detention.
The recent high-profile arrests of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and Iranian reformist newspaper journalist Saba Azarpeik have been characterized not only by continued isolation of the arrestees, but also by the lack of any formal charges against them. Persons familiar with Iranian security force practices have stated that this is indicative of the regime’s efforts to interrogate the prisoners in order to build its cases against them before it decides what offenses they have committed.
This policy is not limited to journalists, as the NCRI report makes clear. It points to the case of Zahra Zahtabchi, a social sciences researcher and mother of two who has been held in solitary confinement in the women’s ward of Evin Prison since her arrest in October, 2013. The Intelligence Ministry has reportedly concluded preliminary investigations against her, but her case has not been referred to court, and the reason for her arrest remains unclear.