Paris, 3 Aug. (IPS) Hundreds of leading Iranian personalities and groups joined their voices in urging the Iranian government to “immediately” allow an independent investigation into the suspicious death in prison of student activist Akbar Mohammadi.
The younger brother of Manouchehr Mohammadi, a student’s leader who is serving a 15 years sentence, Akbar was arrested following his participation in the 19 July students protests at Tehran University. He was originally sentenced to death in September 1999, but his sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison in April 2001.
On orders from Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, -- whom the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) describes as “one of the most dangerous predators of press freedom in the world” --, Revolutionary Guards, backed by the Basij volunteers and the pro-government vigilante group Ansar-e Hezbollah clashed with the students, killing at least one and arresting hundreds, many received court sentences, including the Mohammadi brothers.
Considering the black picture and criminal deeds of the Tehran Prosecutor and the Intelligence Ministry, one must not believe what the authorities say about the death of Mr. Mohammadi.
In September 1999, Tehran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Manouchehr to life imprisonment and Akbar Mohammadi to 15 years. Although Iran's Supreme Court upheld the sentences in 2000, Manouchehr’s was eventually commuted to 15 years in jail.
Two other leaders of the 1999 student protests, Ahmad Batebi and Ali Shafei, were sentenced to death along with Mohammadi. Their sentences were commuted to 10 years and 2 1/2 years in jail, respectively.
On Monday 31 July, Justice Minister Jamal Karimirad confirmed Mohammadi’s death in custody. He told reporters that “before his death, this prisoner [Mohammadi] was under medical supervision in the prison’s medical clinic and he had stated that he is in good health. Ultimately, we must await the autopsy report by the coroner’s office”, he said.
On the same day, the director of prisons, Sohrab Soleimani, said, “Last night Mohammadi’s conditions deteriorated and he was receiving medical treatment, but he insisted to be returned to his cell. Upon his return, his condition worsened again and he passed away while being transferred back to the clinic”.
Soleimani, who had earlier denied the reports, also confirmed that Mohammadi had been on hunger strike since July 25 and was consuming only water and tea. On July 25, when news agencies reported Mohammadi’s hunger strike, Soleimani said, “I absolutely deny this news – Akbar Mohammadi is not on hunger strike.”
“Considering the black picture and criminal deeds of the Tehran Prosecutor (Said Mortazavi) and the Intelligence Ministry, one must not believe what the authorities say about the death of Mr. Mohammadi. Prison authorities are responsible for the life of the prisoners and Mohammadi’s jailers have a long and established record of assassination”, said Mr. Ali Keshtgar, a political activist and journalist in Paris.
“All the years the Iranian authorities beat their chests in defence of the Palestinians, Hezbollah and now the Lebanese; they did not stop arresting students, journalists, intellectuals and political dissidents, torturing them ruthlessly in prisons and murdering them”, added Mr. Keshtgar, calling on Iranians to inform all concerned international bodies about the death of Mr. Mohammadi.
Mohammadi, 38, is the second inmate to die in the notorious Evin prison in the past three years. In June 2003, Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, died while in custody there. Iranian authorities arrested her as she was photographing Evin prison. A few days later, Kazemi fell into a coma and died. According to lawyers for Kazemi's family, her body showed signs of torture. The Iranian authorities have not charged anyone in connection with her death.
Like in the case of Ms. Kazemi, the authorities buried Mr. Mohammadi in a remote cemetery somewhere near the Caspian Sea and order the family, particularily the mother and the father, not to talk to the press and do not ask for autopsy, a practice forbidden under Islamic laws.
In a mourning gathering for Mr. Mohammadi, several leading Iranian personalities compared the situation of Iranian prisoners to that of Palestinians in Israeli jails.
“It’s a shame that some lawmakers praised the authorities at the infamous Evin prison for their “friendly care of the prisoners and their humanity” at a time that a young students was dead just because of the indifference of the same people”, noted another speaker.
Actually, the parliamentary delegation was not allowed to visit political prisoner’s row, but informed sources told Iran Press Service that informed about the visit, Akbar shouted loudly to attract their attention. “He was immediately hand cuffed by the guardians, his lips closed with a scotch tape and his voice shut by pouring something in his mouth”, the source said.
Veteran opponents like Mohsen Sazegara, Mehrangiz Kar, Ali Afshari, Reza Delbari, Akbar Atri and Mohammad Maleki, in a joint letter, called on the authorities for allowing an independent autopsy of Mr. Mohammadi’s corpse to find out the cause of his death, as several sources insists that like Zahra Kazemi, he too, had been killed under torture.
Several sources told the New York-based Human Rights Watch that after his arrest; Mohammadi was severely tortured and ill-treated, leading to serious health problems.
Ali Afshari, a student leader, was imprisoned in the same wing as Mohammadi in Evin prison from March 2002 to October 2003. Afshari told HRW that Mohammadi told him in detail of his torture and beatings. Another former detainee, who was also imprisoned with Mohammadi in Evin prison, and knew him well, confirmed that Mohammadi had been badly tortured and that his health had deteriorated.
Another brother of Akbar, Reza Mohammadi, also stated that interrogators severely tortured Mohammadi in prison. “He was healthy before his arrest in 1999, but during his detention he developed several complications, including internal bleeding, injury to his spinal cord and lung infection”, Reza Mohammadi told Human Rights Watch.
Iran’s judiciary is responsible for Mohammadi’s arrest, his torture and now his death in custody.
Human Rights Watch said that if responsibility for Mohammadi’s death in Tehran’s Evin prison on July 30 lies with the prison or other state authorities, the relevant individuals should be identified and prosecuted.
“Every death in custody must be investigated”, said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “But the failure to prosecute anyone for Kazemi’s death underlines the need for an independent inquiry into Mohammadi’s death.”
Human Rights Watch called for an independent commission comprised of Iranian lawyers and medical experts to investigate and report publicly on the circumstances resulting in Mohammadi’s death. Human Rights Watch also expressed its serious concern for the health and safety of other prisoners held for their political beliefs inside Iran’s prisons.
In July 2004, government medical authorities determined that Mohammadi’s continued imprisonment endangered his health and that he required immediate medical attention. In July 2004, Mohammadi was released on an indefinite medical leave and reportedly underwent at least three major operations. He was receiving medical treatment in his hometown of Amol until June 2006.
On June 11, security agents re-arrested Mohammadi in his home without any warning and put him in Evin prison. The authorities did not provide any reason for his arrest. Mohammadi’s lawyer, Khalil Bahramian, was informed that Mohammadi went on hunger strike on July 25 to protest his return to prison. He said that, upon learning of his client’s hunger strike, he asked to visit him, but prison officials denied his request.
On July 25, Bahramian told Iran's ILNA news agency that Mohammadi's brother, Manouchehr, was also in poor health.
“Iran’s judiciary is responsible for Mohammadi’s arrest, his torture and now his death in custody”, said Whitson. “Only an independent investigation can establish why he died, and whether he was tortured, beaten or force-fed. Someone must be held accountable for Mohammadi’s death”.
Reports suggest Mohammadi had been on hunger strike since July 23. But a fellow inmate -- another former dissident student -- told Reuters today that Mohammadi launched his protest in May in a bid to secure his release.
"A few days prior to going on hunger strike, [Mohammadi] called me and told me he would stop taking food, and stand [firm] until the end", Ahmadi said.
A friend of Mohammadi's, who identified himself as Morad Moallem, told the Prague-based Radio Farda that prison authorities tried forcibly to feed Mohammadi -- but to no avail.
"After five days of hunger strike, they took him to the [prison] infirmary in a possible bid to make him a serum injection, but he resisted and did not let them [inject the serum]", the acquaintance said. "He subsequently understood that the reason for [the injections] was that some parliamentarians were going to visit the prison. They had taken him to the infirmary so that [the parliamentarians] would not see him. They put tape on his mouth so that those parliamentarians could not even hear him, and they bound his hands and feed to his bed".
According to Iranian dissidents, with the pressures mounting on Iran about its suspicious nuclear activities, the government of the populist, hard line President Ahmadi Nezhad increased and intensified crackdown on dissidents.
In the past two months, an internationally known scholar and philosopher. Ramin Jahanbaglou, a former reformist lawmaker Ali Akbar Moussavi Kho’eini and a trade union’s leader Mansour Osanlou have been jailed, on various charges of espionage for the United States, anti-State activities and propaganda and insubordination.
Two days ago, the authorities had shut the offices of the Centre of Human Rights Activists, saying the group's organising meetings, giving interviews to the media, criticising the regime's bad human rights records, imprisoning dissidents, producing statements in favour of political prisoners etc.. "were illegal". ENDS MOHAMMADI 3806