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Political Sentencing, Hunger Strikes, and Expanding Propaganda

The three were reportedly beaten and otherwise mistreated during their extensive interrogations before being subjected to a trial in 2015 which lasted only three minutes, involved no legal representation for the defendants, and led to their conviction on charges including “insulting Islamic sanctities” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” They were initially sentenced to six years in prison each, but after an appeals process that concluded early this year their sentences were reduced to three years in prison and three-year suspended sentences.

The Rajabian brothers and their friend were back in the news on Tuesday because it had been announced that they had officially begun their sentences. The Guardian added that advocates for these prisoners are concerned about the effects that their newfound imprisonment could have on their health, especially that of Mehdi Rajabian, who reportedly began to develop muscular dystrophy while being subjected to authorities’ torturous interrogations.

Rajabian is in need of regular injections for his condition and there is good reason to worry that he will not receive them while serving his sentence. Iranian authorities routinely deprive prisoners of medical treatment. This is especially true of political prisoners, in whose case such deprivations are apparently used as a means of imposing extra-judicial punishment or exerting pressure on the individuals to confess wrongdoing or disavow their earlier activities.

The Guardian notes that these concerns about Mehdi Rajabian are made more serious by the fact that his imprisonment comes at a time of generally intensifying pressure on activists, artists, and prisoners of conscience. The report identifies some other political prisoners who are currently subject to mistreatment, including the deprivation of medical treatment for persons whose health is at tremendous risk as a result of long hunger strikes.

One of these individuals, Mohammad Kabudovand, was the focus of a separate report that appeared in Eurasia Review on Tuesday. It explains that his hunger strike is nearing the 30-day mark and that it has been motivated by the fact that authorities are currently engaged in efforts to arbitrarily extend his 10-year sentence on political charges, which is nearing its end. This also is a regularly repeated tactic of the Iranian judiciary and law enforcement bodies, particularly in cases where a prisoner is expected to return to activism or political activities once freed from prison.

Eurasia Review reports that Kabudovand has been repeatedly summoned to court since late last year and has had new charges added to his file each time. He initiated his hunger strike on May 8 in an effort to bring attention to his case and to psychological torture of levying charges against him one at a time over a period of months. Thirteen days of the hunger strike passed before he was hospitalized, and he was then quickly returned to his prison cell. Now his has been hospitalized once again, apparently because he is now at imminent risk of cardiac arrest.

Other prominent activists are also in the midst of life-threatening hunger strikes, and there is a good chance that their ranks will swell in the near future as the overall population of Iranian political prisoners continues to grow. Numerous reports have indicated that this is an ongoing trend in the Islamic Republic, especially in the wake of this year’s implementation of the nuclear agreement with the United States and five other world powers.

In what many see as a bid to reassert tight hardline control over Iranian society, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the regime as a whole have been cracking down on a number of groups that they perceive as threats to the country’s Persian Islamic identity. These include Kurdish activists like Kabudovand, as well as religious minorities and their allies, such as the fiercely persecuted Baha’i community.