(New York) - Harsh interrogation conditions and inadequate medical care are threatening the life of the detained prominent Iranian reformist Saeed Hajjarian, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch urged the Iranian authorities to immediately transfer Hajjarian, who has been severely disabled and ill since a 2000 assassination attempt, to a competent medical facility for the specialized care he needs, or to release him into the care of his family.

"It's bad enough that the authorities would detain a man as ill as Saeed Hajjarian in their crackdown in the protests," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "But the conditions, harsh treatment, and intense pressure to make a false confession are putting his life at risk."

Hajjarian, 55, was detained without charge on June 15, 2009, one of scores of prominent reformist politicians, intellectuals, journalists, clerics, student leaders, and others whom the authorities have arrested in a coordinated and continuing effort to stamp out nationwide protests against the disputed results of the June 12 elections in Iran. He requires constant medical care, and his wife, a physician, said after a visit that his condition is seriously deteriorating.

A senior intelligence official in the 1980s, Hajjarian became a leading strategist in the reformist movement in the 1990s. His newspaper, Sobh-e Emrooz, played a major role in exposing the involvement of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence, in which he had previously worked, in a series of killings and disappearances of leading intellectuals during the late 1990s. He became a political adviser to President Mohammed Khatami in 1997, and was elected to Tehran's City Council in 1999.

Among those named by Sobh-e Emrooz journalists as being involved in the so-called "chain murders" were Mostafa Pour Mohammad and Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhei, who were never tried for their suspected role in the killings. Mohammad was serving as the interior minister until last year in the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is now director of the General Inspection Organization. Ezhei is currently the intelligence minister.

"Hajjarian played a critical role in exposing official involvement in a series of murders of intellectuals in the 1990s," said Whitson. "The fact that two of the major figures linked by his newspaper to the killings remain in senior positions raises serious concerns for his safety in custody."

On March 12, 2000, a gunman on a motorcycle shot Hajjarian in the face in front of Tehran's city council building. After lapsing into a coma, the badly wounded Hajjarian survived, but he is permanently disabled. The authorities later arrested a member of the Basij militia, Saeed Asgar, for the attempted assassination. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was soon released.

Hajjarian suffered severe brain and spinal cord injuries during the 2000 assassination attempt. He remains largely wheelchair-bound, because the injuries severely affected his sense of balance. He requires constant medical care to monitor his condition, nursing assistance, and multiple medications.

Since the assassination attempt, Hajjarian has continued to be an outspoken advocate for reform. The Iranian authorities allowed Hajjarian's relatives, including his wife, Vajiheh Marsousi, a physician, to visit him briefly on June 26, following rumors that he had died in prison.

Following the visit, Marsoussi told Human Rights Watch that Hajjarian's medical condition was deteriorating severely in prison, with his blood pressure rising significantly and his mental state deteriorating: "After the injury caused by the unsuccessful assassination attempt, his blood pressure was always below normal," she said. "Currently due to the stressful prison conditions, his blood pressure is up to a critical level. In addition his situation has been exasperated by the poor diet in prison and this may cause him to have a heart attack." She also told Human Rights Watch that: "He was constantly crying when we saw him."

Marsoussi said that the authorities had been interrogating Hajjarian constantly and putting him under severe pressure to sign a false confession implicating himself and other reformist leaders in an "illegal" plot against the Iranian state. One of his doctors, Taghi Asadi, who is now in the United States, told Human Rights Watch that Hajjarian's continued detention was putting his life in danger.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners require that: "Sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals." Failing to provide adequate medical care for a seriously ill detainee has been considered inhuman or degrading treatment by international courts, a very serious human rights violation.

"The Iranian government is using Hajjarian's medical condition and disability to augment coercive and abusive interrogation - in order, it appears, to force a false confession," said Whitson. "That is a very serious violation of his rights, and they need to ensure he has adequate medical care immediately, starting by removing him from Evin."