Hunger strikes are a form of protest used by various human rights activists and political prisoners to draw attention to the plight of prisoners and human rights in Iran. Iranian human rights defender Atena Daemi has been on a hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison since April 8th. She is protesting the suspended prison sentences imposed on two of her sisters. They were charged with “insulting public officers on duty”. Daemi has accused Iran’s security bodies of harassing family members as a way to inflict further pain and suffering on political prisoners.
Daemi, who has been unjustly imprisoned for her human rights activities, has since lost weight and developed heart palpitations, as well as kidney and urinary tract infections. The court also issued a prison sentence of the same length to her current seven-year sentence, for the same charges that her sisters were convicted of.
The convictions were in connection with the confrontation that she and her sisters had with three Revolutionary Guards officials on November 26, when they raided her parents’ house to arrest her. According to Daemi, the officials wore face masks and failed to present IDs or an arrest warrant. They beat and pepper-sprayed Daemi, when she peacefully protested that the manner in which they were carrying out her arrest was illegal. Physical abuse was also received by at least one of her sisters.
Despite filing a complaint against the Revolutionary Guards, the complaint was not processed. Officials claimed the letter had been lost. The reprisal for the complaint seemed to be prosecution and criminal proceedings.
Amnesty International considers the trial that led to their convictions was unfair and that her sisters would be prisoners of conscience, if they are imprisoned. Daemi believes they have been targeted based on their family relationship with her.
“I will defend the rights of my sisters until my last breath. I will not allow security bodies, which already violate Iran’s own laws, to treat our families as a means to inflict mental torture on us…I would rather die than be a slave of oppression,” said Daemi in a letter written from prison on April 8th.
There is a letter writing campaign underway, where individuals are being asked to write the authorities on her case, including asking for her to have access to medical treatment and that the allegations of abuse, ill-treatment and torture are investigated and those who are responsible are brought to justice through fair trials.
Officials within the Evin Prison appear to be indifferent to the hunger strike. One official told the family that her situation was none of his business. When faced by her parents’ repeated pleas for assistance, the Associate Prosecutor of Evin Prison threatened that the authorities could bring a criminal charge against Atena Daemi for her hunger strike.
Daemi has been repeatedly denied medical treatment, in breach of international law, which requires that states provide medical care for all prisoners, free of charge and without discrimination.
Her seven-year sentence was for peacefully defending human rights, including writing posts on Facebook criticizing the authorities’ execution record; distributing anti-death penalty leaflets; participating in a peaceful protest against the 2014 execution of a young Iranian woman; visiting the gravesite of those killed during the 2009 protests; and sending information about abuses against political prisoners to human rights groups based outside of Iran. Those activities were cited as evidence of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system”, and “insulting the Supreme Leader”.
During most of her lengthy interrogations, she had to sit blindfolded, facing a wall. Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced her to 14 years in prison after a grossly unfair trail in March 2015 that only lasted approximately 15 minutes. In September 2016, her sentence was reduced to seven years.