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Activist’s Forced Psychiatric Detention Continues, But Under Whose Orders?

Iran -- Iranian teachers rights activist, Hashem Khastar, undated.

The case of a prominent Iranian teachers’ rights activist who was abducted last month and found October 23 detained against his will in a psychiatric hospital is still shrouded in mystery.

No authority has claimed responsibility for the continued forced hospitalization of Hashem Khastar, a former teacher at the Agriculture Technical High School in Mashhad and head of the Mashhad Teachers Union. The Justice Department, Intelligence Ministry, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) intelligence apparatus have categorically denied any involvement in Khastar’s detention at the psychiatric facility in Mashhad, and hospital staff are not providing any information.

Khastar’s wife, Sediqhe Malekifar, told Radio Farda that her husband does not suffer from any mental or physical illness. He is, however, an outspoken teachers’ rights activist and critic of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In a January 2018 op-ed for Iran Kargar, an Iranian pro-union group operating outside the country, Khastar called Khamenei a dictator.

A former Iranian students’ rights activist who currently lives in exile near Washington, D.C., Ali Afshari, believes Khastar’s forced hospitalization is punishment for his vociferous defense of teachers’ rights in Iran.

In an op-ed for Radio Farda, Afshari argued that since repeated long prison terms have failed to deter Khastar’s activism on behalf of teachers and students, the Islamic Republic’s authorities decided instead to try humiliating him with punitive psychiatric detention.

Iranian teachers went on strike October 14 and 15, holding sit-ins at elementary and high schools across the country to demand better pay and conditions and an end to the detention of education activists. Khastar has been one of the most vocal supporters of the strikes and demonstrations.

Punitive psychiatric detention was a common tactic used against dissidents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Block countries, but it is unprecedented in Iran.

Khastar has been forced to take medication during his detention at the Ibn-e Sina and Dr. Hejazi Psychiatry Hospital, according to his wife, who said he was arrested by plainclothes men while tending a garden he maintains on the outskirts of Mashhad.

Iranian law requires an individual’s consent for mental health treatment unless their right of consent has been taken away by the National Medical Board or a judicial body, usually after being deemed mentally incapable of deciding on their treatment due to their illness.

However, the New York based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) said in a statement on Khastar’s case that, “Iranian law gives security forces and the judiciary the upper hand in all legal cases involving activists and other individuals targeted by Iran’s security establishment. It is also not known whether Khastar has been given access to a lawyer."