(New York) – The Iranian authorities should ensure a prompt and thorough investigation into threats and attempted attacks against Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi’s life, and allow him to seek proper medical care outside prison, Human Rights Watch said today. Boroujerdi, a prominent 53-year-old Shia cleric who has criticized the religious system of government, suffers from several serious health conditions.
A source close to Boroujerdi and his family told Human Rights Watch that on November 22, 2011, a cellmate tried to kill Boroujerdi during an altercation. Boroujerdi’s family and followers have long complained of the dangerous and substandard conditions under which the cleric is held, including detention with violent cellmates convicted of drug trafficking and violent crimes.
“We have serious concerns about Boroujerdi’s well-being and safety,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “In addition to denying him necessary medical care, authorities are playing with Boroujerdi’s life by apparently not protecting him from threats and attacks against his life.”
Boroujerdi is in ward 350 of Evin prison, in the sixth year of an 11-year sentence on charges never made public. His followers and family members have reported at least two previous incidents in which cellmates have attacked or seriously threatened the cleric’s life.
Security forces arrested Boroujerdi and dozens of his supporters on October 8, 2006 during a raid on his home in Tehran. Sources close to Boroujerdi told Human Rights Watch that authorities harassed and eventually detained Boroujerdi because of his views that Islam should be separated from politics. Since his arrest, Boroujerdi has been an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic and the concept of the velayat-e faqih, or leadership of the jurist, which endorses the idea espoused by the government of a Shia supreme leader.
Authorities have consistently denied Boroujerdi access to a lawyer of his choosing, including during his trial in 2007 before the Special Clerical Court, which was conducted behind closed doors. The Judiciary found Boroujerdi guilty on several security charges, including “moharebeh” – or enmity against God – a charge that carries the death penalty under Iranian law, sources told Human Rights Watch. Later, an appeals court reduced the death sentence to 11 years in jail.
The Special Court for Clergy was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, the founder of the Islamic Republic, to try both Shia and non-Shia dissident clerics. It operates independently from the Iranian Judiciary and is not bound by any constitutional provisions. Since its founding, the Special Court of the Clergy has tried or sentenced dozens of dissident and reformist clerics to prison on charges including insulting Islamic values, propaganda against the regime, and apostasy, for which the punishment is death.
Iranian authorities have so far refused to provide any public information regarding Boroujerdi’s prosecution and sentence. Authorities have consistently denied Boroujerdi regular visitation rights, and repeatedly targeted his family members and followers with harassment, confiscation of property, arrest, and detention, several sources close to him have told Human Rights Watch.
Boroujerdi reportedly suffers from failing eyesight, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. A source close to him told Human Rights Watch that the failure to treat Boroujerdi’s heart disease has resulted in pulmonary edema, the accumulation of fluid in the lungs. She said that doctors at Evin Prison have told Boroujerdi that he needs to be treated in a hospital, but that authorities have repeatedly refused to allow him proper medical care outside the prison.
In a public letter released on October 1, a group of human rights activists expressed concern about Boroujerdi’s deteriorating health, saying he “has been subjected to the most inhumane forms of physical and psychological torture to force him into signing a statement renouncing his beliefs.” Human Rights Watch has previously criticized Boroujerdi’s detention, calling on Iranian authorities to allow him access to necessary medical care.
International and Iranian law require prison authorities to provide detainees with adequate medical care. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners require that authorities transfer prisoners needing treatment by medical specialists to specialized institutions, including civilian hospitals. Additionally, Iran’s State Prison Organization regulations state that, if necessary, detainees must be transferred to a hospital outside the prison facilities to secure proper medical treatment.
“During the past several years, other political prisoners have died in Iran’s prisons as a result of abuse, torture, or medical neglect,” Whitson said. “Iranian authorities will have blood on their hands if Boroujerdi is attacked or his health deteriorates for lack of medical access.”