(CNSNews.com) – Concerns are deepening for the well-being of more than 20 Iranian political prisoners on hunger strike, who reportedly are being denied medical care by authorities who triggered their protest in the first place by forcibly transferring them to accommodation where conditions are described as “unbearable.”
The incident comes in the early weeks of the second term of Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, whose ostensibly “moderate” presidency has been characterized by ongoing repression at home, include a 20-year high in executions.
Some of those affected at the Gohardasht prison west of Tehran have been on hunger strike for a month now, and political prisoners at other jails have begun to voice support and in some cases have joined the protest action.
According to rights advocates the newly “renovated” section of the Gohardasht facility to which more than 50 prisoners were moved late last month lacks beds and clean drinking water, and the windows are covered by metal limiting air circulation and making it difficult to breathe freely.
The transfer – which was accompanied by guards’ assaults on prisoners unwilling to move – also reportedly deprived the inmates of privately-purchased prescribed medications and personal belongings they were unable to take with them, including personal photographs and letters.
In a penal system where inmates often have to buy food from canteens to supplement the inadequate meals provided, the political prisoners also lost food supplies, kitchenware and a refrigerator.
“They are held in cells with windows covered by metal sheets, and deprived of access to clean drinking water, food and sufficient beds,” Amnesty International reported. “They are also barred from having in-person family visits and denied access to telephones, which are usually available in other parts of the prison.”
Some of the prisoners concerned were identified by Amnesty International as human rights defender Jafar Eghdami, journalist and blogger Saeed Pour Heydar, postgraduate student Hamid Babaei, and Baha’i prisoners Adel Naimi, Farhad Dahandaj and Peyman Koushak Baghi.
(Adherents of the minority Baha’i faith face systematic discrimination and harassment in Iran and some 90 are currently imprisoned, Asma Jahangir, the U.N.’s independent “special rapporteur” on Iranian human rights, reported earlier this year.)
The exiled Iranian opposition group National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK) said the conditions in the prisoners’ new area were “unbearable.”
“Dozens of closed circuit cameras and sound surveillance devices have been installed to place even further pressure on prisoners, keep them under 24/7 control, and prevent any news about their conditions leaking out of the prison,” the NCRI secretariat reported, drawing attention to another issue of concern to the inmates. “During the renovation, 40 closed circuit cameras, and 64 listening devices were installed throughout the hall, even in bathrooms.”
The NCRI called for international action in support of the prisoners, “some of whom suffer from various diseases from years of imprisonment and torture.”
It said one of the protesting prisoners, Hassan Sadeghi, had been hospitalized for an eye injury caused by beatings from prison authorities and there were fears he may lose his eyesight. Sadeghi is serving a 15 year sentence for supporting the MEK.
‘Shouldn’t be behind bars in the first place’
The NCRI said the hunger strikers have been threatened with transfer to solitary confinement, and those on death row have been threatened with speedy execution if they continue with the protest.
It quoted Tehran prosecutor-general Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi as saying last week that his message to the hunger strikers was that “these actions have failed, and the judiciary will not surrender.”
Jafari-Dolatabadi has been under European Union sanctions since 2011 for human rights abuses, linked to crackdown on reformists.
Responding to his comment, longtime political prisoner Saeed Masouri said in a statement Monday the prisoners would never accept the “suppression and assaults.”
“In our 30th day of hunger strike, while we have lost our physical strength, we will never lose the will to die for not surrendering,” he said.
“The fact that detention conditions have become so poor that desperate prisoners feel they are forced to go on hunger strike to demand the most basic standards of human dignity is disgraceful and highlights the urgent need for reforms to Iran’s cruel prison system,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director Magdalena Mughrabi said.
“These are people who shouldn’t even be behind bars in the first place, yet instead of being released from custody they are being punished further by being held in appalling conditions,” she said.
The group called on the Iranian regime to allow international monitors to carry out independent, unannounced inspections of prisons across the country.
The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom said earlier it was “deeply concerned” about the prisoners’ situation and urged the British government and the U.N. human rights apparatus “to condemn the unacceptable treatment of political prisoners in Iran and to act for their immediate release.”
Earlier this year Jahangir, the U.N. special rapporteur, called on Tehran to release “all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience so that the climate of fear is replaced by an atmosphere that creates confidence and hope.”