Iranian Authorities Irresponsibly Endanger Lives of Human Rights Activists in Squalid Prison

December 8, 2010

Emadeddin Baghi

Evin Prison has a well-earned reputation as a notoriously vile detention center.  While even previously healthy prisoners develop serious medical conditions when they spend time there, Evin Prison is especially dangerous to prisoners who are already ill.

The Iranian authorities are perfectly well aware of this and yet two seriously ailing human rights defenders—Emadeddin Baghi and Ebrahim Yazdi—are both back in Evin Prison, suffering from the squalid conditions there and not receiving proper—or, for that matter, any—medical care.  This blatant disregard for the health of these two courageous activists is utterly unconscionable; the Iranian authorities must take immediate measures to ensure the safety of Mr. Baghi and Dr. Yazdi before their conditions deteriorate even further.

Prominent human rights defender Emadeddin Baghi has been sentenced to a total of seven years in prison, including six years for recording an interview with the late reformist cleric Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. He was sent to prison on 5 December 2010 and is reportedly being held without access to his family. He suffers from serious heart, respiratory and kidney ailments which have been brought on or exacerbated by poor prison conditions and medical neglect suffered during previous imprisonments.

Mr. Baghi, the head of the banned Association for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights (ADPR), was told on 22 September 2010 that he had been convicted for “propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding with the aim of harming national security.”  Emadeddin Baghi had served nearly six months in detention following his arrest on 28 December 2009, shortly after the Shi’a religious observance of Ashoura which was marked by massive anti-government protests.  Prior to his arrest in December 2009, he had served a total of four and a half years in prison, including a one-year period ending in October 2008, during which he suffered three seizures. In November 2009, Iranian authorities refused to allow him to travel to Geneva to accept the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders.

Emadeddin Baghi  has focused attention on Iran’s appalling record of executing juvenile offenders, as well as the execution, following grossly flawed legal proceedings, of a number of Iranian Arabs accused of politically motivated crimes. In the late 1990s he exposed the mysterious serial murders of Iranian intellectuals. His books Right to Life and Right to Life II argue for the abolition of the death penalty using Islamic texts and jurisprudence. They have been banned by Iranian authorities–who had previously shut down his newspaper Joumhouriat in 2003– and Mr. Baghi has served years in prison on charges of “endangering national security” and “printing lies.”  Officials closed down the office of the Association for the Defense of Prisoners’ Rights in September 2009.

Ebrahim Yazdi is 80 years old and is said to now be Iran’s oldest prisoner of conscience. Dr. Yazdi, the secretary general of Nehzat-e Azadi (the Freedom Movement of Iran), has been held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison since his most recent arrest on 1 October.  His family is concerned that he is in very poor health; he suffers from prostrate cancer and recently had heart surgery and bladder cancer surgery. Prison authorities are reportedly not allowing him to receive his medication; his physicians had asked to see him but this was also denied.

Dr. Yazdi, together with other members of his party, had been arrested and charged with holding an illegal Friday prayer in Esfahan. He has been arrested three times already since the disputed June 2009 presidential elections; once when he was yanked out of an intensive care unit where he was recovering. He has been vocal in his support of the rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, and had condemned torture and other human rights violations by both the current government, as well as the previously existing monarchy.

Prisoners in Iran—particularly those held in Section 209 of Evin Prison or other locations controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence–are commonly subjected to torture and ill-treatment. Amnesty International and other organizations have reported on the inhuman and degrading prison conditions to which prisoners of conscience have been subjected, including poor food and water, dirty and unsanitary facilities, and medical neglect.

The Iranian government seems to be making a no-holds-barred effort to convince the world that it is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of its citizens. It has sent the avuncular Secretary-General of its Human Rights Commission, Mohammad Javad Larijani, to Geneva several times to strenuously argue the case for Iran’s virtue (Mr. Larijani claimed that Iran had a “stellar human rights record”) before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Mr. Larijani has also been busy promoting Iran’s image in interviews with western media.

If Mr. Larijani and the Iranian authorities really want to convince the world that Iran respects the human rights of its citizens, they can start by taking the responsible and humane measure of releasing these two critically ill prisoners of conscience from detention before it is too late.