(New York) – Iranian authorities should immediately put an end to the mistreatment of two prominent imprisoned journalists and provide them with necessary medical care. Human Rights Watch again called on authorities to quash the men’s convictions, which violate their freedom of expression, and release them unconditionally.
Mohammad Sadigh Kaboudvand, a leading advocate of Kurdish rights in Iran, is serving a 10-and-a-half-year sentence on politically motivated charges. He began a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison on May 26, 2012, to protest prison authorities’ denial of his repeated requests to visit his adult son, Pejman, who is seriously ill with a blood condition. Bahman Ahmadi-Amoui, a journalist affiliated with numerous reformist publications, had been serving a five-year prison sentence in the same ward but was transferred to a prison in the city of Karaj on June 12, apparently as punishment for marking the anniversary of the death of another hunger-striking prisoner.
“Kaboudvand has already suffered five years of abuse, ill-treatment, and neglect simply because he chose to speak out against injustice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Denying him even temporary leave to see his seriously ill son is an unnecessarily callous act by Iranian authorities.”
Kaboudvand himself suffers from ill health, including a serious heart condition. His wife told Human Rights Watch that his condition has deteriorated drastically as a result of the hunger strike. Ahmadi-Amoui’s family has been informed that prison officials are holding him in incommunicado solitary confinement as punishment. His family has not seen him since his transfer and is worried about his psychological and physical health.
Kaboudvand was a 2009 recipient and Ahmadi-Amoui was a 2011 recipient of Human Rights Watch’s Hellmann-Hammett award, which recognizes writers for their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of political persecution.
Kaboudvand’s wife, Parinaz Hassani, told Human Rights Watch that when she visited her husband on July 9, he had lost a lot of weight and had a lung infection as a result of his hunger strike. He has refused to allow prison doctors to feed him via a serum intravenously. Authorities last allowed him to visit his son in the hospital for less than an hour about two-and-a-half months ago, in the presence of prison authorities, but have not allowed him a visit since.
Prison authorities have also denied him leave to seek medical treatment for his various physical ailments despite the advice of prison doctors. Human Rights Watch has previously expressed concern regarding Kaboudvand’s physical condition and called on authorities to release him unconditionally. Since his imprisonment in 2007, Kaboudvand has suffered two heart attacks, high blood pressure, neurological difficulties, and problems with his prostate.
Intelligence agents arrested Kaboudvand on July 1, 2007. In May 2008, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to 10-and-a-half 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.
“It’s hard to fathom that Iranian authorities have jailed a journalist for the supposed crimes of opposing barbaric punishments like stoning and for advocacy on behalf of political prisoners,” Whitson said.
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 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners require that authorities transfer prisoners needing specialist treatment to specialized institutions, including civilian hospitals.
Since authorities violently transferred Ahmadi-Amoui from Ward 350 of Evin prison to a solitary cell in Rajai Shahr prison on June 12 in shackles, his family had not received any news about his condition from officials until July 17. An informed source told Human Rights Watch that during the transfer, authorities harassed and insulted Ahmadi-Amoui, and subjected him to a strip search after he arrived in Rajai Shahr prison and before he was sent to solitary confinement. On July 17 authorities finally transferred Ahmadi-Amoui out of solitary confinement and allowed him to see his wife, Jila Baniyaghoob, for the first time in 50 days. Rajai Shahr is located in the city of Karaj which is approximately 47 kilometers west of Tehran.
The informed source said authorities transferred Ahmadi-Amoui to Rajai Shahr prison to punish him for his role in commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of another political prisoner, Hoda Saber. Saber, a journalist and political activist who was serving a prison sentence in Ward 350 of Evin prison, died on June 10, 2011, at a Tehran hospital after a hunger strike to protest the death of Haleh Sahabi, a political activist. The source said authorities are still planning on keeping her husband in Rajai Shahr, and expressed concern about the substandard conditions at that prison facility.
Security forces arrested Ahmadi-Amoui on June 20, 2009, following the disputed presidential elections in Iran. He was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison and 34 lashes, which was reduced on appeal to five years. The main charges against him, which included “propaganda against the state,” “insulting the president,” and “acting against the national security,” were in relation to articles critical of the Ahmadinejad government for official newspapers, as well as his website.
Prison authorities have repeatedly restricted Ahmadi-Amoui’s visitation rights and phone privileges. In August 2010, Human Rights Watch called on Evin prison authorities to end their mistreatment and punishment of Ahmadi-Amoui and 16 other political prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protest deteriorating prison conditions, including lack of access to their families. As punishment, authorities had transferred Ahmadi-Amoui and the others to solitary confinement cells.
Both Iranian law and international law require prison authorities to provide basic necessities to all prisoners and to treat them with dignity and respect. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party, prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In 2004, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention criticized Iran’s systematic use of solitary confinement and noted, “[S]uch absolute solitary confinement, when it is of a long duration, can be likened to inhuman treatment within the meaning of the Convention Against Torture.” The UN Basic Principles on the Treatment of Prisoners state that “efforts addressed to the abolition of solitary confinement as a punishment, or to the restriction of its use, should be undertaken and encouraged.”
“Kaboudvand and Ahmadi-Amoui should be celebrated, not imprisoned and mistreated, for having the courage to stand for their principles,” Whitson said. “These men have sacrificed a great deal to insist on the right of all Iranians to speak their minds.”