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Imprisoned Iran Activist Denied Hospital Visit Despite International Calls

Iranian civil and labor activist Sepideh Qolian (Gholian). File photo

The head prosecutor in the city of Shush has rejected calls to have imprisoned journalist and civil rights activist Sepideh Qolian (Gholian) taken to a hospital.

Citing an "informed source, the New York-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that at a meeting with her relatives last week, Qolian was in “extremely alarming mental and physical condition.”

"Qolian had lost weight, could not keep her balance while walking, and was reciting melancholic verses," the source told CHRI.

According to the Telegram app channel of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane mill workers’ union, Qolian, who is currently in solitary confinement, has been denied crucial medical treatment.

“Her condition has become so bad that she needs to be quickly taken to a medical center. But the prosecutor and Intelligence Ministry authorities in Shush are keeping her in solitary confinement in order to put more pressure on her and her family. They are putting her under the maximum amount of physical and mental pressure while she is sick and weak,” the union said.
Qolian’s relatives had asked the Shush prosecutor to allow her to be taken to a hospital, but they were told she would be visited by the prison's physician if needed.

Previously, the union had disclosed that Qolian, along with Haft Tapeh workers' spokesman Esmail Bakhshi, had been pressured to make "forced confessions" and written apologies.

“My client is under such intense pressure that he lost consciousness in front of his family during a visit today [February 24], and for a moment they thought he had died. Fortunately, he regained consciousness,” Bakhshi's attorney, Farzaneh Zilabi, told the union.

Bakhshi is the spokesman for the independent trade union of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane industrial complex, which has seen repeated strikes and protests in recent months, with workers demanding back pay and better conditions. Qolian and Bakhshi were first arrested on November 18 during protests at the complex along with more than a dozen other activists and workers.

Bakhshi and Qolian were released on December 12 after 80 international labor organizations signed a letter addressed to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for the release of all peacefully protesting workers.

After alleging abusive treatment while in detention and challenging the intelligence minister to a live television debate, Bakhshi, along with Qolian, was arrested again on January 20.

"I was beaten and tortured almost to death for no reason," Bakhshi said before he was re-arrested. "I was so badly battered that I could not move for 72 hours in my solitary confinement cell. The pain was so unbearable that it made sleeping impossible.”

Backing up Bakhshi's remarks, Qolian said she was also beaten and showered with sexualized insults while in custody.

In response, state television aired a “documentary” aiming to discredit the labor rights movement in which the activists said they were forced to confess to being part of an international Marxist cabal.

Aired on primetime national TV on January 19, the program attempted to connect the recent strikes and protest rallies at the Haft Tapeh Sugarcane plant to an Iranian exiled dissident group, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WCPI) Marxist, as well as to the United States and Israel.

Speaking exclusively to Radio Farda, WCPI's spokesman categorically denied any relation with Bakhshi.

The Haft Tapeh trade union also issued a statement calling the program “a desperate attempt to suppress the righteous voice of the workers, toilers, and oppressed.”

Amnesty International (AI) has launched a campaign for the unconditional and immediate release of Bakhshi and Qolian.

In a written letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, AI Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said, "I urge you to ensure that Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qolian are released immediately and unconditionally as they are prisoners of conscience, jailed solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedoms of expression, association, and assembly; pending their release, they are protected from further torture and other ill-treatment; their allegations of torture are investigated and those responsible are brought to justice in fair trials."

According to AI, “There are real fears that Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Qolian could be facing a second round of torture after their re-arrest. The timing of their arrest strongly suggests it is part of a sinister attempt to silence and punish them for speaking out about the horrific abuse they suffered in custody."

CHRI, Human Rights Watch, independent trade unions, and more than 800 civil rights activists have also called for the unconditional and immediate release of Qolian and Bakhshi.