For the political prisoners held in Iran’s prisons, the conditions are just one more example of how this regime uses its religious beliefs to oppress and intimidate those who have a difference of belief. These prisoners often find themselves denied basic necessities, including medical treatment, because of their stand against the ideology of the regime.
Others choose to use hunger strikes as a means to get their message out regarding the torture and ill-treatment that they are enduring. One such prisoner is Soheil Arabi. He is being held in Section 7 of the Evin Prison. Recently, he wrote a letter announcing that he had begun a dry hunger strike. Prior to this, he had been on a hunger strike for over a month.
Arabi noted in his letter that his physical condition is deteriorating very rapidly, but he has refused to go to the prison medical center, an indication that the care there is substandard at best. Prison officials have also banned his family visits, due to his refusal to wear a prison uniform.
“I cannot be silent when I see the torture of people who have not committed a crime. This is Evin Prison, where they punish free thinkers,” said Arabi in a letter announcing his dry hunger strike. “Do not tell me to be silent, because at this time, silence is the biggest betrayal. My cry is not just to save myself. I have gone on hunger strike so that you hear the voice of our innocence.”
News of his physical condition, which includes dizziness, severe headaches, nausea, and vision problems due to the beatings he has endured, Arabi has been denied medical treatment by the authorities.
His experience is just one of many, as prisoners do whatever is available to bring attention to the mistreatment they receive within the prison system of Iran.
One prisoner, Maryan Akbari Monfared, has been denied necessary medical attention, according to her husband, Hassan Jafari. According to his interview, Evin prison authorities are refusing to allow her to go to a hospital for treatment.
“Despite her being in prison for close to eight years, she is still denied the right to a prison leave and does not enjoy any of the rights she’s legally entitled to,” said Jafari. “My wife’s family members were executed in the 80s and her siblings are members of the PMOI. At that time, Camp Ashraf was in Iraq, and my wife spoke several times over the phone with them. And that was her charge. I was present at the 15th Branch of the Revolutionary Court when my wife was being convicted. My daughter was in my lap and Judge Salavati told her that she had to pay instead of her brother and sister (who were PMOI members).”
A family has been torn apart because Monfared is related to members of the PMOI. Her crime is attempting to keep in contact with her family. This is how determined the Iranian regime is to suppress any ideas that might be in conflict with their fundamentalism and extremism.
Another political prisoner, Atena Daemi, refused to go to the hospital for a necessary gallbladder surgery, after she found out that she would have to remain in handcuffs and shackles during the entire time she was at the hospital. The prison also banned her from having any visitors or a companion with her during her hospital stay. Daemi’s mother said, “I do not understand how a prisoner who has gone to prison for her beliefs could escape from the hospital bed? Where can she escape?”
In other cases, the prison authorities deny medical treatment, even when the doctors claim it is necessary. Reza Shahabi was returned to prison from the hospital despite the doctor’s orders that he receive treatment. His family was only able to see him at the hospital for a few minutes before he was returned to the prison. He also was protesting prison conditions with a hunger strike.
Beyond political differences in ideology, the Iranian regime has also turned its focus to those who protest or call attention to the unjust treatment and human rights abuses within Iran. According to a report from Amnesty International, the space for human rights activism is rapidly shrinking, due to the intensified crackdown by judicial and security forces within Iran.
For example, Narges Mohammadi is a distinguished and award-winning human rights activist. An inspiration to many, she speaks out against the death penalty and passionately defends women’s rights. She has already served six years in prison for her work at the Centre for Human Rights Defenders. She has now been sentenced to a further 16 years behind bars.
Yet, she is just one of many activists that are being jailed on trumped up charges. The reality is that the atmosphere within Iran has become toxic for those who would ask for their rights and the freedom to speak and think without interference from the theocratic regime.