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Iran: Release and Provide Urgent Medical Care to Jailed Activist

Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand May Have Suffered Stroke; Family Claim He is Not Receiving Adequate Health Care

(New York) - The Iranian Judiciary should provide urgent medical care to Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand and free him from his unfair detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Kaboudvand, a leading advocate of Kurdish rights in Iran, is serving an 11-year sentence on politically motivated charges. He suffered what may have been a stroke on July 15, 2010, and his family says he is not getting the medical attention he needs.

On July 20, Kaboudvand wrote an open letter to the public prosecutor's office saying that he experienced "brain and neurological problems... that caused loss of consciousness during the afternoon of July 15." Prison authorities transferred him to the Evin prison clinic, which diagnosed a sharp rise in his blood pressure, but failed to treat him. In his letter, Kaboudvand wrote that since he lost consciousness he has been experiencing "intense light-headedness and neurological issues associated with sensory, motion and sight difficulties." His lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told Human Rights Watch that on July 15 she appealed to judiciary officials to allow Kaboudvand access to the medical treatment he needs, but that her request has gone unanswered.

"Kaboudvand needs an immediate and thorough assessment of his worsening condition. Denying a prisoner necessary medical care is both cruel and unlawful," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Iranian authorities are responsible for his well-being and should immediately ensure he can get the medical attention he needs."

Kaboudvand has suffered two heart attacks since his arrest and detention in July 2007. Information about Kaboudvand's condition comes on the heels of reports by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and Amnesty International indicating that prison authorities are systematically denying needed medical care to political prisoners.

International and Iranian law requires prison authorities to provide detainees with adequate medical care. Iran's State Prison Organization regulations state that if necessary detainees must be transferred to a hospital outside the prison facility. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners require that authorities transfer prisoners needing specialist treatment to specialized institutions, including civilian hospitals.

On July 23, Kaboudvand's sister told Human Rights Watch that authorities finally allowed her brother to see a neurologist in prison earlier that day. She said that instead of examining her brother thoroughly or administering tests, the doctor prescribed a series of pills and instructed Kaboudvand to take them daily without telling him what they were. Kaboudvand's sister also told Human Rights Watch that authorities have denied him visitation rights and allow him to talk on the phone for only two minutes a day.

Kaboudvand is a prominent human rights defender, journalist, and founder in 2005 of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan (HROK). The group grew to include 200 local reporters throughout the Kurdish regions of Iran and provided timely reports in the now banned newspaper Payam-e Mardom (Message of the People), of which Kaboudvand was the managing director and editor.

Intelligence agents arrested Kaboudvand on July 1, 2007, and took him to Ward 209 of Evin Prison, which is under Intelligence Ministry control and is used to detain political prisoners. They held him without charge in solitary confinement for nearly six months. In May 2008, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Kaboudvand to 10 years in prison for "acting against national security" by establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan, and another year for "widespread propaganda against the system by disseminating news, opposing Islamic penal laws by publicizing punishments such as stoning and executions, and advocating on behalf of political prisoners." In October 2008, Branch 54 of the Tehran Appeals Court upheld his sentence.

Kaboudvand is among dozens of Kurdish dissidents imprisoned by Iranian authorities, some of them on death row. The authorities routinely accuse Kurdish dissidents, including civil society activists, of belonging to armed separatist groups. Iran's revolutionary courts have convicted many Kurdish dissidents of moharebeh, or "enmity with God." Under articles 186 and 190-91 of Iran's penal code, anyone charged with taking up arms against the state, or belonging to organizations that take up arms against the government, may be considered guilty of moharebeh and sentenced to death. Earlier this year, authorities executed Farzad Kamangar and three other Kurdish dissidents on these charges.

Currently, 16 Kurdish dissidents face execution, they are: Zeynab Jalalian, Rostam Arkia, Hossein Khezri, Anvar Rostami, Mohammad Amin Abdolahi, Ghader Mohammadzadeh, Habibollah Latifi, Sherko Moarefi, Mostafa Salimi, Hassan Tali, Iraj Mohammadi, Rashid Akhkandi, Mohammad Amin Agoushi, Ahmad Pouladkhani, Sayed Sami Hosseini, and Sayed Jamal Mohammadi.

Human Rights Watch has previously called on the Iranian government to end Kaboudvand's unjust sentence and allow him access to urgent medical care. In 2009, Human Rights Watch awarded Kabouvand a Hellman/Hammett grant given to writers who face persecution for criticizing officials or policies, or writing about controversial topics.

"The Iranian authorities have unfairly jailed Kaboudvand because of his work as a human rights defender and journalist promoting ethnic minority rights," Stork said. "Now they appear to be denying him appropriate medical assessment as a way of further punishing him for his peaceful political activities."

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