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UN Expert Alarmed over Iranian “Prisoners of conscience at risk of dying after prolonged hunger strike”

At least eight prisoners of conscience have been on hunger strike in Iran to contest the legality of their detention, leading to life threatening situations. Mr. Saeed Shirzad, Mr. Ali Shariati, Mr. Mohammad Reza Nekounam, Mr. Hassan Rastegari Majd, Mr. Mehdi Koukhian, Mr. Nizar Zakka, and Mr. Mohammed Ali Taheri, are among those raising grave concerns. 

Mr. Arash Sadeghi, ended the hunger strike he had started on October 24, 2016, after his wife, Ms. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, was released on bail last week. “Both Mr. Sadeghi and Ms. Ebrahimi Iraee are human rights defenders who have been imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association,” the expert said.  However, despite his critical health condition, Mr. Sadeghi is being denied transfer to specialized medical facilities and is reportedly kept in his cell, the Special Rapporteur noted. “I call on the Iranian authorities to ensure that Mr. Arash Sadeghi has access, as a matter of utmost priority, to specialized health care in a hospital outside prison, in compliance with international human rights standards and medical ethics in particular the principles of informed consent,” she said.

“I am deeply concerned about the continuous detention of human rights defenders in Iran, who have been tried on the basis of vaguely defined offences and heavily sentenced following trials marred with due process violations,” Ms. Jahangir said. “They are left with no other option but to put their life at risk to contest the legality of their detention.”  She points out that this situation continues just days after President Rouhani signed the Citizen Rights Charter, enshrining the right to life, to freedom of opinion, expression and assembly in Iran.

“I urge the Iranian Government to immediately and unconditionally release all those who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and for peacefully promoting human rights observance in the country,” she stressed.

Information about the critical health situation currently faced by Ali Shariati, was received by the UN expert. Shariati has has been on hunger strike since October 31, 2016.  He is serving a five-year prison sentence for his peaceful activism, including his participation in a non-violent protest condemning acid attacks against women in Iran.

Children’s rights activist Saeed Shirzad, sentenced to five years in prison in 2015, who began a hunger strike on December 7, 2016, and Mohammed Ali Taheri, who started a hunger strike on September 28, and whose whereabouts have been unknown since his reported transfer to Baghiatollah Military Hospital in October, have caused grave fear for their lives.

Attention was also drawn to the situation of Hassan Rastegari Majd, who is reported to be held in solitary confinement in retaliation for his prolonged hunger strike, by the UN expert.

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. Roland Adjovi have endorsed Ms. Jahangir’s call.

Ms. Asma Jahangir (Pakistan) was designated as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran by the Human Rights Council in September 2016. She was elected as President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and as Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.  She has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her contribution to the cause of human rights and is a recipient of major human rights awards. Working extensively in the field of women’s rights, protection of religious minorities and in eliminating bonded labour, she is also a former Special Rapporteur on summary executions, and on freedom of religion. 

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, which is the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system.  It is the general name for the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. 

Working on a voluntary basis, Special Procedures’ experts  are not UN staff, and do not receive a salary for their work. They serve in an individual capacity, and remain independent from any government or organization.