One of Iran’s most outspoken human rights activists, released on Monday, has told Amnesty International that his freedom isn’t the end of the story, because many Iranians remain unjustly imprisoned. When freed, Baghi said he told the other prisoners "although I am going, half my existence is still imprisoned with you".
Emadeddin 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.
"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.
Prisoners on hunger strike
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 – who 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 – who 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.
Emadeddin 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 Malcolm Smart.
Emadeddin 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.
He spent three years in prison between 2000 and 2003 after being convicted of “acting against national security” for his writing.
He was then imprisoned for a year in 2007 after being found guilty of "printing lies" and "endangering national security" in his book, The Tragedy of Democracy.
As well as the Association to Defend Prisoners' Rights, Emadeddin Baghi also founded another non-governmental organization, the Society of Right to Life Guardians, which campaigns against the death penalty in Iran.