Situation of Political Prisoners Worsens as Iranian Government’s Assault on Peaceful Dissent Intensifies
Activists, Lawyers, Dissidents being Kept Behind Bars with Continuous New Convictions
January 24, 2022 – In an ongoing campaign to silence human rights defenders and crush dissent in the Islamic Republic, the prominent rights defender Narges Mohammadi, already serving time at Iran’s notorious Gharchak Prison for her peaceful activism, has been sentenced to another eight years in prison and more than 70 lashes, according to a tweet by her Paris-based husband.
Mohammadi’s new conviction was after a 5-minute trial, her husband Taghi Rahmani wrote. He stated she also had a two–year ban on “communication,” but that she has not contacted the family and he did not know the details of the trial or the new sentence.
“One by one, the Iranian authorities are trying to silence the voices of dissent in Iran, through imprisonment, torture, and even death,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“The Iranian government fears these brave individuals because they speak truth to power and their voices carry great authority in Iranian society,” Ghaemi continued.
“Yet no matter the violence and injustice that the authorities in Iran are willing to inflict on human rights defenders, they are not able to silence them; these are the voices that are speaking out for the people of Iran, and their voices are heard,” said Ghaemi.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran calls on governments of the world, especially those with whom the Islamic Republic is presently negotiating, as well as all relevant UN bodies, to forcefully condemn these unlawful imprisonments and call for their immediate end.
Hunger Strikes Inside and Outside Iran’s Prisons Grow to Protest Government’s Actions
Outrage at the government’s actions—not only the unjust imprisonments but also the treatment of political prisoners—is growing both inside and outside Iran’s prisons.
Seven political prisoners in Evin Prison’s Ward 8 went on a hunger strike on January 16, 2022, to protest the death of Baktash Abtin, who died after contracting COVID-19 in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons, where even the most rudimentary precautions against the spread of the virus are not followed. They include: Sadegh Omidi, Peyman Pourdad, Moin Hajizadeh, Mehdi Dareyni, Hamid Haj Jafar Kashani, Aliasghar Hassani-Rad, and Mahmoud Alinaghi. The latter three were transferred to an unknown prison on January 23.
In solidarity with the hunger strikers, Shakila Monfared began a hunger strike in Gharchak Prison for women on January 17; Sina Beheshti joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary; and Mohammad Abdolhassani joined the hunger strike on January 17 in the Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary.
Meanwhile, British-Iranian dual national Anoosheh Ashoori, who is being held in Iran on unsubstantiated spying charges, began a hunger strike in Evin Prison on January 23, to bring “global attention to the plight” of those unfairly held by Iran.
Outside Iran, In Vienna, journalist Jamshid Barzegar, began a hunger strike on January 18 in solidarity with hunger strikers in Iran, in front of the hotel where the nuclear talks are being held in Vienna. He has been joined by more than a dozen Iranian activists abroad. Former American hostage Barry Rosen was on hunger strike from January 16-24 in Vienna “to demand the release of all hostages being held by Iran.” Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese former hostage in Iran, joined the hunger strikers in Vienna on January 21.
These names are only part of a larger, rapidly growing group. A list from January 24 was published on Twitter that included names of more than 40 activists hunger-striking outside prison to demonstrate solidarity with the hunger strikers and protest the government’s actions.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, responding to a question on hunger strikers in Vienna at a January 24 press conference in Tehran, said: “These matters are not very important. What’s important is to reach a reliable and stable agreement that satisfies Iran’s interests.”
Human Rights Defenders Kept Perpetually Behind Bars with New Sham Convictions
Like other prominent activists, Mohammadi has been jailed repeatedly in Iran; she has in fact spent the better part of the last 13 years (from 2009 to 2013 and from 2015 to 2020) behind bars for her peaceful rights advocacy.
The authorities have used similar tactics against other human rights defenders, for example, with the defense attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, the activist Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee Ebrahimi, and the teachers’ rights advocate Esmail Abdi, just to name a few, issuing new convictions continuously to keep them behind bars.
“Narges Mohammadi is only one of many individuals behind bars in Iran because of their peaceful dissent and the willingness of a judiciary to do the bidding of a brutal and unlawful security state,” Ghaemi added.
Renowned Activist Narges Mohammadi Arrested on Anniversary of Historic Protests
November 17, 2021 – The prominent rights advocate Narges Mohammadi was detained on the anniversary of the country’s violently repressed November 2019 protests and could be flogged and serve a 30-month prison term if the international community remains silent, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said today.
“By arresting Narges on the anniversary of these historic protests, Iran’s brutal security establishment is sending a clear message to the world: Peaceful dissent will be punished as a crime under President Ebrahim Raisi,” said CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.
“The Iranian government welcomes silence on the part of other nations, and it is now—not later—that the international community should present a united front against this crushing of freedom of speech and thought in Iran,” added Ghaemi.
Arrested, Placed in Solitary, for Honoring Bystander Killed by Security Forces During Protests
Mohammadi was arrested on November 16, 2021, in the city of Karaj at a ceremony honoring Ebrahim Ketabdar, a father of two who was shot and killed during the security forces’ indiscriminate firing at civilian protesters two years ago that day.
“Narges Mohammadi is in Evin Prison,” tweeted her husband Taghi Rahmani on November 16. “In a phone call she said they informed her that she is to serve 30 months in prison [a sentence issued earlier that had not been enforced] and they want to flog her.”
“I emphasize that she was informed of her 30-month sentence enforcement while in solitary confinement,” said Taghi who lives in France with their children. “Also, the flogging sentence is 80 lashes. By cutting off the phone, we have been denied the ability to get information on her condition.”
Mohammadi had previously announced the sentence in a September 26, 2021, Instagram post. It was issued against her almost one year after she’d been released from prison and was intended to punish her for filing a complaint against Evin Prison Director Gholamresa Ziaei.
Earlier that month, Mohammadi had confirmed that leaked cell phone footage from Evin Prison showing blood on the ground was the blood she lost the day she was violently assaulted by Ziaei and other security agents.
Continuous Harassment by Security Agents Aimed at Silencing Dissent
Mohammadi has been repeatedly harassed and assaulted by security agents since her release from prison in October 2020 after completing a five-year prison sentence for her peaceful rights advocacy.
Yet she has refused to allow the government’s intimidation tactics to stop her peaceful activism.
She has also spearheaded a major lawsuit by civil rights activists against Iranian authorities’ unlawful and routine use of prolonged solitary confinement—a form of white torture that she is currently experiencing and underwent as a political prisoner.
Repression Intensifying under Iran’s New President Ebrahim Raisi
In May 2021, the European Union called on Iran to review Mohammadi’s sentence, yet countries that are working to restart nuclear talks with Iran have since remained largely silent as the country’s new government solidifies its power by choking civil society.
“On the day Mohammadi was arrested, she was peacefully observing the anniversary of the killing of a father of two who happened to step into the street while security forces were firing indiscriminately at protesters,” said Ghaemi.
“Paying lip service to human rights without signaling that the international community will exact meaningful diplomatic and economic costs for these egregious rights violations gives the Iranian government a green light to stifle, torture, and kill those who peacefully resist with impunity,” said Ghaemi.
As part of a new policy to isolate political prisoners by incarcerating them alongside common criminals at various prisons in Iran, three women convicted of national security crimes for opposing Iran’s mandatory hijab laws were recently transferred out of Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.
The move follows the sudden transfer of human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh from Evin Prison in Tehran to Gharchak Prison in the city of Varamin, south of Tehran, on October 13, 2020, under the pretext that she has been convicted of a common crime and no longer “qualified” to be in a security ward.
“I heard about the transfer of my clients through another prisoner and I was shocked,” attorney Babak Paknia, representing all three activists, said in an interview with CHRI on October 22, 2020.
“The judicial authorities justify their action by pointing to new circumstances in prisons in the coronavirus era and they believe it would be preferable to send prisoners convicted of common crimes to cities of their birth,” he added.
However, the fact that all communications regarding the three women was with a judge presiding over security cases, debunks the claim that their convictions were for a common crime, Babaknia noted.
“This shows that despite what the authorities are saying, my clients have security convictions and moving them to the cities of their birth under the guise of being common criminals, is unacceptable,” the attorney told CHRI.
Attorney: They are using “trickery and lies” to transfer prisoners
Yasaman Ariyani is a theater actress arrested on April 10, 2020, for anti-forced hijab campaigns, serving a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence for “encouraging people to corruption and prostitution,” “assembly and collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the state.”
Her mother Monireh Arabshahi, arrested on April 11, 2020, is a civil activist and anti-compulsory hijab protester serving the same sentence.
Samaneh Norouz-Moradi, arrested in August 2018, is serving a sentence for “assembly and collusion against national security through membership in adversary channels (on the Telegram messaging app), such as the campaign for the return of the Prince [Reza Pahlavi], “insulting the Founder of the Islamic Republic and Leader of the Revolution [Rouhollah Khomeini]” and “propaganda against the state.”
In July 2020, Norouz-Moradi was also sentenced to an additional 15 months in prison for chanting “long live the shah (king)” in a video message.
All three women were transferred thinking they were meeting their lawyer, according to Babak Paknia.
“I got the news from inside (Evin) Prison that Yasaman Ariyani, Monireh Arabshahi, and Samaneh Norouz-Moradi were told by agents that their lawyer wants to meet them,” Paknia told CHRI.
“With that in mind, my clients were taken out of the ward and then moved to prisons in Karaj and Roudsar.”
The attorney continued: “The repeated use of trickery and lies to transfer prisoners a short time after doing the same against Nasrin Sotoudeh, raise a lot of questions.
“If the judicial authorities want to transfer prisoners, they can do so very easily since prisoners don’t have much power to resist. Using tricks is unjustified. It will add to the judiciary’s notoriety in people’s minds.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, Dangerously Weak, Transferred to Harsh Gharchak Prison
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh’s transfer on October 13, 2020 from Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, where she had been returned from hospital against the doctors’ urgings, to Gharchak Prison, which is notorious for its dangerous and inhumane conditions, has caused significant concern, given her deteriorated medical condition after her hunger strike from August 11 to September 26.
On October 20, 2020, the head of public relations for the Tehran Province Prisons Organization was quoted by the judiciary’s official news agency, Mizan, that Sotoudeh transfer was in compliance with her sentence.
“Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to five years in prison for the criminal act of assembly and collusion with the intention to acting against national security and one year in prison for acting against the State of the Islamic Republic. Also, recently she was sentenced to 12 years in prison for a common crime, which has become finalized and mandatory to enforce,” the unnamed official said.
[He did not specify what the “common crime” was.]
The PR official added: “As a result of combining all her other convictions in accordance with Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Law, the maximum punishment applied to this prisoner will be 12 years in prison.”
He continued: “In reference to Note B of Article 7 of the Regulations for the Separation and Classification of Prisoners, prisoners convicted of a common crime—that would include Nasrin Sotoudeh—are not qualified to be held in a security ward.”
“Given that this sentence has recently become final and the 12-year prison sentence is mandatory, Nasrin Sotoudeh has been transferred to the general ward of the Tehran Province Women’s Prison (Gharchak Prison).”
According to women’s rights activist Shima Babaei, as of October 4, 2020, there were “about 40 political prisoners” in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward alone.
U.N. World Humanitarian Day, Wednesday 19th August
The plight of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has gained the attention of the world. Her unlawful and arbitrary detention is just one example of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s breach of obligations under international human rights laws, a situation made more acute in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Many other women are under threat too including Bahareh Hedayat, Nasrin Sotoudeh who began a hunger strike on 11th August, and Narges Mohammadi who may have contracted coronavirus with underlying health conditions. They face life-or-death consequences.
UN experts, The Center for Human Rights in Iran, Amnesty International and PEN International have all called for the immediate release of these women before it is too late.
We urge you to email our Government and Opposition leaders to continue to press for the release of Kylie Moore-Gilbert and to raise concerns and advocate for the safety and immediate release of these courageous Iranian human rights advocates, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi and Bahareh Hedayat.
Below is a form letter you may wish to copy or adapt:
UN World Humanitarian Day: Unconditional Release of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi from the prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
RE: Australian Governments ongoing actions for the immediate release of Australian academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbertand your advocacy for the safety and immediate release of Iranian human rights advocates, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.
Dear [insert name].
Today on World Humanitarian Day I write to you to express my concern for the safety of these three women, Australian, Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert and Iranian Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.
Each of these women have their own complex circumstances of imprisonment by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I write to you today because I am deeply concerned about their ongoing imprisonment and their precarious health and safety.
The Australian Government is well aware of the situation of Moore-Gilbert. I am aware that your representative in Tehran visited her at the notorious Qarchak Prison on August 2.
I urge you to continue your efforts.
However, I also write to urge your actions equally on behalf of these two Iranian women human rights advocates, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi. This request is in view of the Australian Government’s commitment to humanitarian concerns as a signatory to UN Conventions on Human Rights.
One of the key strategic priorities of the 2020 World Humanitarian Day is to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and decrease morbidity and mortality.
As you will be aware the growth of the COVID-19 pandemic led the Government of Iran to release on furlough over 85,000 prisoners. The law stated that those who had been sentenced up to five years in prison and served a third of their term were pardoned. This was significant action by the Government of Iran. However, this did not include political prisoners.
In this context, I urge the Australian Government to advocate for both Sotoudeh and Mohammadi.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in June 2018 for defending women prosecuted for appearing in public without a headscarf, or hijab. She began a hunger strike on August 11, 2020 with a letter explaining her reasons. In her own words:
“In the midst of the coronavirus crisis engulfing Iran and the world, the situation facing political prisoners has become so difficult that their continued incarceration under these tyrannical conditions has become impossible.”…
“From the very start of the judicial process all the way through to sentencing, many suspects are denied independent legal representation or prevented from unrestrained consultation with their lawyers…
Given the lack of any response to communications and requests for the freedom of political prisoners, I am starting a hunger strike.”
Sotoudeh was also a key advocate in alerting the situation of Gilbert-Moore as a fellow prisoner in Evin Prison.
Narges Mohammadi has been committed to the care, protection and rights of political prisoners over many years and now finds herself in an increasingly precarious situation for her health and safety in prison. Mohammadi has been imprisoned since May 2015 as part of a 16-year sentence. She had been at Evin Prison and then in December 2019, was transferred to Zanjan Prison. It is recognised that her transfer to this second prison was carried out as further punishment for the peaceful protests she organised, whilst in Evin Prison, including against the apparent abuse by prison guards against other inmates.
Mohammadi suffers from a neurological disorder that can result in seizures, temporary partial paralysis, and a pulmonary embolism. Whilst she has received some medical treatment, other medical attention has been seriously lacking.
It seems Mohammadi was given a COVID test but that the results have not been disclosed. There is serious concern that she may have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan prison.
I write to you to raise your concerns and utilise all your efforts and capacities for the immediate and unconditional release of the three women, political prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran – Australian Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Iranians Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.
I welcome your urgent reply and action.
With kind regards,
The Hon. Scott Morrison MP
Prime Minister of Australia
CANBERRA ACT 2600 Send an email
Senator The Hon. M. Payne
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women,
PO Box 1420
Parramatta NSW 2150 Send an email
The Hon. Anthony Albanese MP
334a Marrickville Road
Sydney NSW 2204
Tehran, Shahr-e Ray, Gharchak, Nedamatgah-e Shahr-e Ray
Please also include this address in Farsi. You may want to print it out and paste it on the address section of the postcard.
Please remember to align the text to the right-hand side of the page:
Australian academic Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has recently been moved from Evin Prison where she was often held in solitary confinement, amid grave reports about her deteriorating physical and mental health. Now she is in the notorious Qarchak Prison. She was convicted for spying but no evidence was provided to substantiate the charges.
Lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh began a hunger strike on 11th August in Evin Prison, seeking the release of Political Prisoners amid COVID-19 outbreak. She was arrested in June 2018 for defending women prosecuted for appearing in public without a headscarf, or hijab.
Writer Narges Mohammadi. A group of 16 UN experts expressed grave concerns that Mohammadi contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison. Mohammadi has been imprisoned since 2015 when she was given a 16 year sentence for charges that stem from her work for political prisoners. In prison she continues to organise peaceful protests against abuse of other women inmates and has been charged again.
Civil rights activist Bahareh Hedayat was sentenced to 4.7 yrs in prison for protesting the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. She is currently out on appeal. She previously served 6.5 years for her peaceful civil rights activities. Hedayat is a senior member of the One Million Signatures Campaign for the Change of Discriminatory Laws Against Women.