The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported last week that the activist Esmail Ahmadi-Ragheb had been sentenced to six months in prison for “propaganda against the state.” The only apparent basis for this charge was his activity as a blogger and a participant in peaceful activism. Some things that were presented as evidence included his use of the phrase “religious dictatorship” in his online writings and the fact that he had met with the mother of Sattar Beheshti, another blogger who was famously murdered by his interrogators after being arrested.
On Monday, the Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that Nahid Gorji had been sentenced to a three year prison term – six times longer than Ahmadi-Ragheb’s sentence – and apparently on the basis of even less evidence. Sources close to Gorji said that she was engaged in no explicitly political activities and that her charges were based entirely upon her activities on social networking platforms such as Facebook.
Also on Monday, the International Campaign recalled attention to the September 2014 arrest of two men who had formerly served time as political prisoners. The incident also led to a friend of theirs and one man’s wife being held in jail, as well. Sentences were recently handed down and upheld on appeal in these cases, and as the International Campaign details in two separate reports, neither the reasons for the arrest nor the evidence leading to convictions were clear in any case.
The sole target of the original arrest warrant was Arash Sadeghi, and he received by far the heaviest sentence, a cumulative 15 years in prison for “collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” “spreading lies in cyberspace,” and “insulting the Founder of the Islamic Republic.” The decision to sentence him to a number of sentences back-to-back is in violation of Iranian law, as the New Islamic Penal Code specifies that inmates are to serve only the longest of multiple sentences.
The International Campaign also notes that Sadeghi’s lawyer was denied access to the case file on his client and was prevented from attending the opening session of the trial. Such secrecy is often regarded as evidence that the state has failed to formulate specific charges and is building a case through the course of the trial. And in the present case, defenders of the accused feel that this effort was motivated by a desire to retroactively and redundantly punish Sadeghi and his friend and fellow activist Navid Kamran for prior activities including their participation in the Green Movement protests in 2009.
In Kamran’s case, this perception is strengthened by the fact that some of the evidence presented against him was notably outdated, including posts from a Facebook account that had been inactive for some time. Other evidence was misrepresented, as when the prosecution said that Kamran had actively gathered signatures on political petitions when in fact he had merely signed them.
Kamran has received a sentence of one year in prison despite these prosecutorial deficiencies. And Sadeghi’s wife, Golrokh Iraee received a six year sentence for “propaganda against the state” and “insulting the sacred.” She has no previous criminal record, and the rather harsh sentence has led to suggestions that her punishment is based on guilt by association, or is being treated as a supplementary punishment for her husband. The Iranian judiciary is notorious for using threats against arrestee’s families in order to help secure false confessions.
Threats to one’s family can also simply be a punitive measure, and indeed the Iranian criminal justice system is known to utilize a number of extrajudicial punishments, especially against political prisoners. One well-known tactic is the denial of needed medical attention. The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported on multiple recent examples of this on Tuesday.
Journalist and human rights activist Mohammad Sadiq Kaboudvand has suffered two heart attacks while in prison and is at risk of another due to problems with blood pressure. He is also experiencing kidney and digestive diseases, but his relatives say that authorities are fiercely opposing efforts to transfer him to a hospital for treatment and monitoring.
Similar statements have been made by the family of Hossein Ronaghi. They allege that authorities prevented the blogger and human rights activist from going to hospital for recommended tests of his bone marrow. Since his arrest in 2009, he has developed kidney and respiration problems, blood and eye infections, and has experienced internal bleeding. His family has requested medical furlough in line with Iranian law that allows for release of persons whose life is at risk from continued imprisonment. But these requests also have been opposed by authorities.
IranWire reports that Ronaghi’s illness has left him with only one functioning kidney and that he has now been diagnosed with liver disease as well. This diagnosis came during a previous medical furlough which was truncated by the prosecutor’s office, which ordered him back to prison in January before he was able to receive treatment. This was described as “incomprehensible and illegal” by the blogger himself, and his father Ahmad Ronaghi-Maleki accused the regime of trying to “turn him into another Sattar Beheshti.”
In the case of Ali Moezzi, authorities not only opposed transfer, but reportedly opened a new case against him while he was in prison, at a time when he was in hospital to receive treatment for bladder and kidney problems. He was returned to prison and placed in solitary confinement before being sentenced to an additional year in prison for “propaganda against the state,” in addition to the four years that he was then serving for advocacy on behalf of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. Today, Moezzi is suffering from bladder cancer but he has been denied all subsequent requests of medical furlough.
Many of these stories are indicative of the harsh conditions and mistreatment that are prevalent in Iranian prisons, which contribute to severe deterioration in the health of some inmates. But in some cases, the deterioration is made worse by hunger strikes that prisoners stage to bring attention to these conditions or to the lack of due process in their cases. One recent example of this was also covered by the Human Rights Activists News Agency on Monday and Tuesday.
HRANA notes that Saeed Hoseinzadeh’s hunger strike has surpassed 15 days and has led him to critical health conditions including a substantial drop in blood pressure that puts him at severe risk of a heart attack. His action was motivated by other, preexisting health conditions, for which he too has been denied furlough. Despite urging from family, he has promised that the hunger strike will continue until his demands for release to hospital are met.