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Political Prisoners Denied Medical Care Despite Promises

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016 (left). Narges Mohammadi is a distinguished Iranian human rights defender, a supporter of the anti-death penalty campaign Legam.

Two political prisoners in Tehran have said that they are still being denied access to medical treatment despite claims by Iranian authorities, according to the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC).

Narges Mohammadi and Iranian-British Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who are being held at Tehran's Evin Prison, have warned that if their demands are not met they will stage a protest again.

The DHRC, which is banned in Iran, was founded by Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi in 2001, and Mohammadi has been a permanent member since 2007.

In a letter to Tehran's prosecutor-general, Mohammadi and Zaghari-Ratcliffe said that they ended their last hunger strike after the authorities promised to meet their legal demands. "However, we are still deprived of having access to health care and medical treatment outside the prison, and we have been out of our needed medicines for months," they said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mohammadi went on a three-day hunger strike starting on January 14 to protest the conditions at Evin.

In response, Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said inmates convicted of security charges have access to “the best medical facilities.”

Jafari Dolatabadi dismissed comments by Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband accusing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' intelligence authorities of trying to coerce his wife into becoming a spy in exchange for her release.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also reacted to news of the hunger strike by summoning Tehran's ambassador to London, Hamid Baeidinejad, demanding proper medical help for the dual national.

"Today I summoned the Iranian Ambassador to demand Nazanin has immediate access to the healthcare she requires. Her ongoing detention is TOTALLY unacceptable and her treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities is a fundamental breach of human rights," Hunt wrote on Twitter on January 14.

The ambassador said little to Hunt at the time but later denounced the United Kingdom for "meddling in Iran's internal affairs.”

"I told Hunt that Zaghari is an Iranian citizen, as opposed to a dual national, and has access to health care," Baeidinejad was cited as saying by state-run Radio&TV.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 at Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran when she was leaving the country after visiting family. She was charged with ambiguous claims of spying and plotting against Iran and sentenced to five years in prison.

In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years' imprisonment "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian government."

The prosecutor-general of Tehran said in October 2017 that she was being held for running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran."

The charge has been denied by Zaghari-Ratcliffe's lawyers, the BBC, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Canadian news agency Thomson Reuters where she used to work.

In his latest report on the situation of human rights in Iran, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres voiced concern over the fate of dual nationals, including Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who are imprisoned in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's cell mate, Mohammadi, was dismissed from her job as an engineer with the Iran Engineering Inspection Corporation and imprisoned in 2007. Her incarceration is widely viewed as retribution for her public advocacy of women’s and human rights.

In 2011, Mohammadi was sentenced to six years in prison but was released in 2013 on medical furlough.

“She was arrested again in May 2015 for her continued peaceful activism, notably after meeting the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine, Ashton at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran in September 2014,” reported the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Iranian physicist Mohammadi has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including the American Physical Society’s 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize for outstanding leadership and achievements by scientists in upholding human rights, but was not able to receive the honor in person as she is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in Iran.

“Thoughts and dreams don’t die,” Mohammadi wrote in her acceptance speech. “Belief in freedom and justice does not perish with imprisonment and torture, and even death and tyranny do not prevail over freedom, even when they rely on the power of the state.”

According to Article 520 of Iran’s Criminal Code, prisoners suffering from acute illnesses are eligible for five days of leave if approved by the prosecutor. Article 522 states that prisoners who require medical treatment outside the prison for non-urgent issues are eligible for release for a period of time determined by a criminal court judge.