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Prison Protest Spreads, 130 Inmates Now On Hunger Strike

Rajaee Shahr prison
Rajaee Shahr prison

The Iran Human Rights Monitor website reported on Tuesday that the hunger strike in Rajai Shahr Prison continued to expand since its start nearly three weeks ago, and had spread to other prison facilities in the Islamic Republic.

The site had previously reported that several political prisoners in Ardabil Prison had announced a two-week hunger strike to be carried out in solidarity with the approximately two dozen individuals who are on an indefinite hunger strike in Rajai Shahr. Since then, one political prisoner in Central Zabol Prison has also joined in, bringing the total number of hunger strikers to about 130, plus untold numbers of activists who are conducting their own solidarity actions from outside the prison system and even outside the country.

The Iran Human Rights Monitor report also notes that one Rajai Shahr protester, Hamzeh Darvish, who had been participating in the hunger strike for 18 days, has become the first to be hospitalized. Darvish lost approximately 24 pounds before being transferred to the prison clinic, and was also reportedly suffering from internal bleeding and dangerously low blood pressure.

Many of the protesters had already reported heart, lung, and kidney ailments, among other illnesses that seemingly warrant hospitalization. However, prison authorities have been denying access to all medical care, having already confiscated prescribed medications before the hunger strike began. Additional medicines, purchased at great expense by families outside the prison, have been confiscated before they could reach prisoners.

These actions have evidently been aimed at putting pressure on the inmates to end their hunger strikes, and the hospitalization of Mr. Darvish suggests that his life was in great danger. While the death of any participant would certainly constitute a public relations crisis for the Iranian regime, its officials have committed themselves to disregarding the protestors’ demands, which include the return of medicines and various other confiscated belongings, as well as their transfer back to the ward they had been housed in prior to their forcible transfer on July 30.

Some prisoners have been transferred to a new ward and are under 24/7 video and audio surveillance and consist of notably less humane conditions. Windows are covered with sheet metal, blocking virtually all ventilation; there are not enough beds for the more than 50 prisoners who were transferred; and prisoners have little access to clean running water.

On Sunday, the Center for Human Rights in Iran noted that Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi had publicly dismissed the call for improvement of these conditions. “Prisoners must endure their punishment to the fullest,” he said. “We will not be influenced by the prisoners’ actions, such as hunger strikes.”

Dowlatabadi also referred to such protests as “threats” and he vowed that the Islamic Republic would not “surrender” to them. “To those prisoners who resort to hunger strikes and other actions, we say these methods have been defeated,” he said on August 23, at a Tehran conference focused on reducing the Iranian prison population.

But the CHRI report notes that in pursuit of this “defeat,” the Iranian judiciary appeared to be violating its own laws, including those that bar the arbitrary confiscation of personal belongings and the transfer of prisoners whose relatives have not been informed of the impending move.

Meanwhile, reports detailing the spread of the hunger strike both within and beyond Rajai Shahr Prison suggest the very opposite of Dowlatabadi’s conclusion about the potential success of those actions.

Although the regime has gone to great lengths to avoid addressing the demands of hunger strikers, some protests have grabbed the public’s attention and the regime has been compelled to make at least nominal concessions in case of some prominent prisoners.