Insider news & Analysis in Iran

By INU Staff

INU - On Monday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported upon the death of political activist Ghobad Azami, which was announced by the Iranian intelligence service two days after his arrest on February 28. In a repeat of public statements that had been issued in response to other suspicious deaths following the widespread anti-government protests in late December and early January, regime authorities attempted to portray Azami’s death as a suicide. But in many of the previous cases, the bodies of the deceased showed signs of torture, and the NCRI identified Azami as the 14th person to die under these conditions since the start of the regime’s crackdown on participation in the recent demonstrations.

The NCRI had previously reported that those demonstrations continued beyond their peak in early January. It is not always clear whether individual incidents, such as protests by organized labor, are connected to the larger movement. However, it is clear that there have been notable clashes between protesters and security forces in the weeks since the uprising was largely suppressed.

Prominent among these were the clashes the resulted from mass protests on February 19 by members of the Sufi religious group known as the Gonabadi dervishes. Those protests reportedly stemmed from the group’s fears over the possibility that their leader, Noor Ali Tabandeh, would be arrested as part of the security forces sweep of activist communities in the wake of the January uprising. The homes of a number of activists were raided as part of that crackdown, and some reports indicate that members of the basij civilian militia attempted to raid Tabandeh’s home but were thwarted by the overwhelming presence of his supporters.

Although such news may be viewed as a victory by opponents of the Iranian regime, it does not represent a halt to the broader pattern of repression against political activists in general and against the Gonabadi dervishes in particular. In fact, IW reported on Monday that one member of the religious minority, Mohammad Raji, was arrested on February 20 and died on March 3 after being held in isolation without contact from his family.

IranWire spoke to Raji’s daughter Tayebeh Raji, who was arrested alongside him. She explained that when she last saw her father he was bloodied and badly beaten, suggesting that his death on Saturday placed him in the company of the 14 individuals identified by the NCRI as having been tortured to death since January. In keeping with the practice exhibited by regime authorities in some of those cases, Raji’s family was largely prevented from viewing the body and from requesting an immediate autopsy.

The families of some murdered detainees have been warned against speaking to the media about the deaths of their loved ones, and in some cases other family members have been arrested in an apparent effort to intensify this message. Mohammad Raji’s son is currently in custody in Fashafuyeh Prison, according to IranWire.

While cases like those of Azami and Raji speak to a worsening crackdown on persons who are allegedly affiliated with recent mass protests, other human rights crises continue to carry on from before the start of the nationwide uprising in late December. For instance, the Human Rights Activists News Agency reported on Saturday that pressure were still increasing on approximately two dozen political prisoners who were forcibly transferred in August to a ward of Rajai Shahr Prison that was outfitted with extraordinary repressive infrastructure.

The ward in question is subject to round-the-clock video surveillance, including in private cells and bathrooms. It also lacks ventilation and adequate water supplies, and all personal belongings that might have alleviated the associated problems were confiscated by prison authorities when the inmates were forcibly transferred. HRANA’s update on their situation notes that the prisoners were forced to take it upon themselves to cover windows with nylon in light of the lack of heating systems and despite the fact that this further restricted airflow in the stifling ward.

The initial transfer sparked a hunger strike among the affected prisoners and a number of supporters in other facilities. Some participants persisted in this protest action for several weeks before downgrading their hunger strikes in the midst of severe health effects and following apparently false promises of a review of their situation.

According to HRANA, some of these same inmates once again began refusing food on December 27, although it is not clear how long these renewed hunger strikes lasted or whether they are still ongoing. In any event, it is notable that the start date for the protest was the same as the date on which economic protests began in Mashhad and a number of small towns, leading to the nationwide uprising days later.

While this suggests that the prisoners may have taken their latest action in support of the broader activist movement, another report indicates that some beleaguered political prisoners have halted their own protests, partly out of concerns about distracting attention from the uprising and its possible resurgence. The report specifically points to Mohammad Saber Malek Raisi, who ended his hunger strike after 39 days and issued a public statement calling attention to the mass protests.

“My hunger strike began to protest against inhumane conditions imposed on me and lasted for 39 days,” he explained. “During this time, I received the attention of my fellow citizens and their increasing attention. However, this strike coincided with the national protests across the country.” He then went on to call upon all those who had taken up his personal cause to now “focus on supporting the Iranian people’s movement.”

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