Hunger strikes of this kind are a long tradition in Iranian prisons, but there has been a notable increase such protests in recent months, as well as a backlash by Iranian authorities against activities that seem to be garnering a high degree of sympathy from the general population. In January, the Iranian activist Arash Sadeghi ended his 71-day hunger strike after protests and social media activities in support of his cause convinced the regime to grant temporary release to his wife and fellow activist, who had been summoned to begin a prison sentence on the basis of a fictional story that authorities had found in a personal notebook confiscated from her home.
In lieu of further concessions, the regime isolated some other political prisoners who had begun hunger strikes around the same time, in order to reduce the likelihood of their becoming a cause for the public to rally around. Furthermore, some political prisoners have been threatened with reprisals if they refused to end their protests.
This appears to be the case, for instance, with Alireza Jalali, who like Shahini, appears to have been targeted for arrest and prosecution solely on the basis of his status as a dual national. Jalali was living in Sweden when he was invited to give a talk at Tehran University regarding his medical profession, but he was arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence in April and then held in solitary confinement and interrogated for seven months.
According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, Jalali began his hunger strike on February 15 and stopped consuming fluids as well as solid food nine days later. In an apparent act of retaliation, the Iranian judiciary then blocked a lawyer that had previously been accepted to handle his case, and it has blocked all of Jalali’s subsequent choices of representation. The notoriously hardline Judge Salavati, who has also handled the cases of other recently imprisoned dual nationals, has also reportedly threatened Jalali with a predetermined death sentence.
Jalali’s relatives have attempted to write to government officials including the President Hassan Rouhani, but they have received no replies. Rouhani, regarded by some Western policymakers as a moderate when he was elected in 2013, has repeatedly encouraged dual nationals to return to Iran, saying that they would be in no danger from the government. But the arrests of people like Shahini and Jalali, along with the Rouhani administration’s inaction on their cases, shows the falsity of such claims.
Rouhani’s moderate credentials were called into question by some critics of the regime, like the National Council of Resistance of Iran, as soon as he was elected. And these critics have been joined by international human rights organizations in calling attention to undiminished domestic abuses throughout his term in office, which is set to end after his bid for reelection this year.
While existing political prisoners continue to face pressure from regime authorities and the self-imposed dangers of long-term hunger strikes, the ranks of those political prisoners continue to swell with new arrests. These arrests target religious and ethnic minorities, known activists, and anyone perceived as advocating for pro-Western social trends or the “soft overthrow” of Iran’s clerical regime.
The NCRI reported on Friday that two women and two men had been arrested in the cities of Tehran and Urmia, apparently on the basis of their Christian faith. Meanwhile, the International Campaign reported that a Kurdish civil activist named Farzaneh Jalali had been arrested by the Intelligence Ministry in absence of a warrant and had been held without charge since February 23. Another report by the same source notes that a former activist, Majid Asadi, who had previously served a four year sentence until 2015, has been detained in Evin Prison since February 21, also without charge and following a similarly warrantless arrest.