Iran: Women Human Rights Defenders ailing in prison as a result of solitary confinement and hunger strikes

22.06.19

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is concerned for the health of imprisoned women human rights defenders in Iran, including several who are ill or who have been on hunger strike after being placed in solitary confinement; and calls for the immediate release of all jailed human rights defenders.

On 14 June 2019, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured centre), a 37-year-old British-Iranian citizen, began a water-only hunger strike to protest her continued imprisonment in an unknown location in the province of Kerman. She has been held in solitary confinement for over a month, according to her family. She was detained without charge on 3 April 2016 for reasons of “national security” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard during a family visit. She is a project manager for the Thomson-Reuters Foundation; which does not work in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe has undertaken a simultaneous hunger strike outside the Iranian Embassy in London to appeal to Iran to free her, and to press the United Kingdom for assistance. Their daughter Gabriella, who is almost two, cannot leave Iran because her British passport has been confiscated, and remains with her grandparents. Meanwhile, her mother is being held 1,000 kilometres south of Tehran and has not been allowed to see her child, or a lawyer, nor to call her husband. Ratcliffe also reported that the Red Cross cannot access his wife. Join over 2.2 million people and sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/free-nazanin-ratcliffe

Another imprisoned woman human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi (pictured left), is in poor health following surgery. According to reliable reports, in May 2019, she was taken to hospital after her health deteriorated and given an emergency hysterectomy. However, she was transferred back to Evin prison and denied proper medical care, leading to her wounds becoming infected due to lack of antibiotics.

Mohammadi is serving a combined 16-year prison sentence after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for establishing the Step by Step to Stop Death Penalty group (also known as LEGAM), as well as 5 years for “gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security,” and 1 year for “spreading propaganda against the system.” She was sentenced on 17 May 2016 and her sentence was upheld on 28 September 2016. According to the law, she must serve the longest sentence, namely the 10-year sentence. She has been held in Even prison since 5 May 2015, already serving a previous six-year sentence.

Earlier this year, Mohammadi wrote an open letter in which she describes solitary confinement as “White Torture,” which leads to serious health problems such as seizures, which she has suffered frequently. She writes, “One of the methods used by the government to undermine political activists and suppress civil society is imprisonment with pressure and psychological torture through solitary confinement.”

Mohammadi is also a journalist and Deputy Director of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC). She has 13-year-old twins who live in exile with her husband, and has previously gone on hunger strike to protest restrictions on phone calls with her children.

Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh (pictured right) has also carried out hunger strikes in the past to protest poor prison conditions, including lack of medical treatment, in Evin Prison. On 11 March 2019, her husband, human rights defender Reza Khandan reported that Sotoudeh was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes (five years in prison in relation to one case and 33 years in prison and 148 lashes in a second case.)

On 13 June 2018, Sotoudeh was arrested at home in Tehran and charged with “propaganda against the state,” for being a member of LEGAM, and “assembly and collusion against national security.” Her imprisonment is related to her legal representation of women arrested in Iran for peacefully protesting against the Islamic Republic’s compulsory hijab law and the charges include “inciting corruption and prostitution,” “openly committing a sinful act by... appearing in public without a hijab” and “disrupting public order.” Sotoudeh received the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2012. She has two children.

Since December 2017, hundreds of women have been arrested for removing their hijab during regular protest campaigns under hashtags including #mystealthyfreedom, #whitewednesdays, #girlsofenghelabstreet and #mycameraismyweapon. Numerous human rights defenders and lawyers have since been arrested in connection with the protests.

In response, Iran recently formed 2,000 morality police units composed of six women each who can arrest women who defy the compulsory hijab laws, according to news reports.

GCHR urges the authorities in Iran to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Narges Mohammadi, and overturn Sotoudeh and Mohammadi’s prison sentences;
  2. Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Narges Mohammadi, including ensuring they receive the medical attention needed due to hunger strikes or surgery;
  3. Stop arbitrarily arresting human rights defenders as a result of their participation in peaceful human rights activities, including women’s rights advocacy; and
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Iran are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment. 

Please send copies of your appeal to the following contacts:

Mr. Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Email: media@rouhani.ir http://rouhani.ir/register.php
Twitter: @HassanRouhani  @Rouhani_ir