Freed Iranian Human Rights Activist Tells Amnesty International of Continuing Hunger Strike Over Prisoners’ Deaths

Press Release
June 21, 2011

Freed Iranian Human Rights Activist Tells Amnesty International of Continuing Hunger Strike Over Prisoners’ Deaths

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

Freed Iranian Human Rights Activist Tells Amnesty International of Continuing Hunger Strike Over Prisoners’ Deaths

(New York) -- Emadeddin Baghi, one of Iran’s most outspoken human rights activists, told Amnesty International Tuesday following his release from prison that his perspective on his freedom is subdued as many others remain unjustly imprisoned in Iran. When freed, Baghi said he told the other prisoners "although I am going, half my existence is still imprisoned with you".

Baghi was released after serving two concurrent one-year jail sentences for "propaganda against the state”. One related to his founding of the Association to Defend Prisoners' Rights and the other to an interview broadcast by the BBC. He was also banned from any political activity for five years. A further five-year prison term was overturned by an Appeals Court, although he spent an extra 19 days in prison.

Elise Auerbach, Iran country specialist for Amnesty International USA, said: “Human rights success stories in Iran have sadly been quite rare lately, but in just the past three weeks, human rights activists have had several reasons to celebrate. We suspect that the recent releases of prominent human rights defenders are more likely due to the constant pressure placed on authorities by human rights activists than to a sudden awakening of the Iranian authorities’ collective conscience.”

In addition to Baghi, Auerbach was referring to the release of three others, including the medical furlough of labor leader Mansour Ossanlu and journalist Hengameh Shahidi, and the news of recently released physician and HIV and AIDS researcher Kamiar Alaei’s receipt of a prestigious award. All of these four individuals were prominent cases on which activists from Amnesty International and its partner organizations had been tirelessly campaigning.

"We are of course delighted that Emadeddin Baghi has been released, but he should never have been in prison in the first place as he was a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association in his human rights work and journalism," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.

Baghi thanked Amnesty International for its campaign to free him. “I can only thank [the members of Amnesty International] for all their efforts and follow-up, which were so dedicated and responsible, that one really feels as though we are all part of one family. I’ve always felt that Amnesty is part of our family, and we are part of Amnesty’s family.

Before his release, Baghi had been among several prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protest against the deaths of two prisoners of conscience in the last month.

Haleh Sahabi died at the funeral of her father while on temporary release. Eyewitnesses said she died after she was hit by a member of the security forces. Hoda Saber died from a heart attack in jail after going on hunger strike in protest at Haleh Sahabi’s death. Fellow prisoners have said that the prison authorities beat him and failed to provide adequate medical care.

Baghi told Amnesty international that he believes between 10-15 prisoners remain on hunger strike in Evin Prison over this issue, but it was difficult to be certain because of the lack of telephone communication.

Baghi has endured persistent health problems in jail, including a slipped disc, which causes him excruciating pain. During previous stints in jail he suffered three seizures and a heart attack as well as kidney and bladder problems. He also now requires dental treatment.

Baghi says he is not currently facing any new charges, but added that the Iranian judiciary still has old cases pending against him.

"We hope that the Iranian authorities will now cease their continuing persecution of this brave man who has dedicated so much of his life to human rights in Iran, and allow him to recover his health, which has suffered under the appalling prison conditions in Iran. They should also take immediate steps to lift all bans imposed against him and allow him to travel abroad, as is his right under international law," said Smart.

Baghi won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for human rights in 2009 but was unable to receive the award in person because of the travel ban imposed on him – the first laureate not to be able to collect the award personally. He has received several other awards for his work and writings.

Baghi has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for his work as a human rights activist and journalist in Iran, having served a total of five years and 19 days in prison.