A representative of the city of Tehran in the Iranian Parliament has officially demanded that the justice and intelligence ministers explain the reasons behind the arrest, and ultimate death, of a political prisoner behind bars.
In two separate letters addressed to Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi and Justice Minister Alireza Avaei, the chairman of the parliament's Culture Commission, Ahmad Mazani, asked them to explain why Vahid Sayadi Nasiri was detained and how he died.
Iranian political activist Sayadi Nasiri died after weeks of being on a hunger strike at a prison in Qom, 127 kilometers (79 miles) south of the capital city, Tehran.
His sister, Elaheh Sayadi Nasiri, told Radio Farda's Mahtab Vahid-Rad that the authorities contacted the family on December 12 instructing them to go to Behesht-Masoumeh Cemetery in Qom to receive his body.
"Protesting the situation of prisoners in Qom, my brother had gone on hunger strike and demanded to be returned to the political ward at Tehran's Evin Prison," she said.
Sayadi Nasiri went on hunger strike in late October to protest being locked up with “ordinary criminals,” in violation of Iran’s regulations on separation of inmates.
Days after his death, the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA) cited an "informed authority" as saying that the political prisoner belonged to a militant exiled group.
The news agency said Sayadi Nasiri was a member of the Tondar group and arrested for planning malign operations against the establishment in Iran.
Sayadi Nasiri's relatives and human rights activists have dismissed the accusations as fake and unfounded.
At least four other prisoners have mysteriously died in the past year in Iran. Investigations into their deaths have led to no conclusions so far.
The Iranian authorities, as a rule, attribute such deaths to suicide. In Sayadi Nasiri's case, Qom Prosecutor Mehdi Kaheh claimed the 37-year-old activist suffered from liver malfunction and died of related causes nine days after being taken to a hospital.
"What worries the public and their representatives to parliament is the repetition of such unpleasant incidents," mid-ranking cleric Mazani wrote to the two ministers. "Therefore, for the sake of informing people and eliminating ambiguities, firstly, make public the legal evidence and the reasons for arresting Vahid Sayadi Nasiri; secondly, disclose his cause of death, whether he died on hunger strike or because of a disease or other factors. Thirdly, report on possible negligence of the prison authorities in looking after the prisoners."
The ministers have not yet responded.
Iranian prosecutors and prison authorities hold little accountability to an independent body, especially when it comes to cases of political detainees.
Deaths in prison are rarely investigated in a transparent manner, and relatives and defense lawyers are usually kept in the dark.
Sayadi Nasiri was initially arrested in September 2015 and sentenced to eight years on charges of insulting religious sanctities including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and propaganda against the state on his Facebook account.
Benefiting from an Iranian New Year pardon, he was released last March after spending two and a half years behind bars.
However, his release was short-lived, and intelligence agents in Qom arrested him again for the same charges in August.
Iran is routinely criticized by all major international human rights groups for gross violations of civil rights and individual rights of dissidents.
On December 17, French authorities called for "light to be shed" on the death of Sayadi Nasiri.
The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had learned "with consternation of the death in detention" of Sayadi Nasiri, saying he had been imprisoned "for his political activity.”
France's statement added that the death of Sayadi Nasiri, who was not well-known among activists in Iran, comes at a time of "mounting harassment of human rights defenders in Iran."
Earlier, the United States had also condemned Tehran for the “unconscionable” death of Sayadi Nasiri.
In a statement on December 13, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said Sayadi Nasiri, who died on December 12, had been “arbitrarily detained” by Iranian authorities after his arrest four months ago.
The State Department statement said he was “just one of many more unjustly detained prisoners held at the mercy of the Iranian regime’s whims.”