As protests in opposition to repressive regimes across the Middle East continue to make the headlines, the ongoing struggle for human rights in Iran continues. Widespread arrests, coupled with the death in custody of opponents of the regime and political activists, remain the order of the day in Tehran.
Hoda Saber, a prominent Iranian politician and a member of the Meli-Mazhabi Council, the progressive national-religious organization in Iran, died on the ninth day of his hunger strike in Evin prison on Saturday June 11. He was in prison on political charges.
Mr. Saber was one of the editors of the respected monthly, Iran Farda (Iran of Tomorrow). He was first imprisoned 11 years ago and spent a month in jail. On that occasion, he was released after providing bail. Three years later, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years “denial of civil rights.” Later, the appeals court reduced his term to five and a half years.
Hoda Saber and Amir-Khosrow Dalir Thaani, together with a number of other progressive political prisoners, started a hunger strike on June 2 to protest the murder of Haleh Sahabi by the regime on June 1. Haleh Sahabi was a women’s rights campaigner, an active member of Mothers for Peace and an official member of the Meli-Mazhabi Council. She was murdered while on temporary leave from prison when the regime’s security forces attacked her father’s funeral which she was attending.
According to reports from Iran, Hoda Saber complained of severe chest pains at 4.30 p.m. on Friday June 10. However, the prison authorities in section 350 of Evin Prison ignored his screams for six hours. Then, at 10.30 p.m. on Friday night he was rushed to the nearby Moddaress Hospital where he died on Saturday of a heart attack.
According to testimony published on Monday June 13, 64 political prisoners who had seen Hoda in Evin prison have testified that when he first complained about his health in early hours of morning on Friday June 10, he was transferred to the prison’s hospital. But when he was returned to his cell two hours later he was in pain, in a state of shock and very agitated. He told the other prisoners that while in the hospital, he had been physically and emotionally mistreated, insulted and then thrown out. Later in the day when his conditions worsened, the prison officials after extensive delays agreed to transfer him to Moddaress Hospital outside Evin.
As was the case with Haleh Sahabi, to prevent any independent autopsy, security forces have denied Hoda Saber’s family access to his corpse. Security forces moved his body to pathology where he was formally identified by his sister. Reports from Tehran indicate that following the release of the news of his death, many family members, friends and civil activists gathered outside Moddaress Hospital in protest. Hoda Saber’s body was then driven away in an ambulance as his widow, relatives and friends pleaded with the hospital staff to give them his body.
The treatment of both Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi is, sadly, not unusual in Iran. The victimization of human rights activists continues to be a key part of the strategy of the Iranian regime to keep the population in fear following the upsurge in opposition following the events of the June 2009 presidential election.
With the Iranian economy in freefall, the lives of the Iranian people remain blighted by unemployment, inflation and uncertainty. The removal of subsidies on fuel, food and other daily essentials continues to result in unrest.
The driving down of the minimum wage combined with the elimination of subsidies has put immense strain upon ordinary Iranian families. However, the launch of the so-called “grand economic surgery” was combined with a wave of arrests of political and social activists and journalists in Tehran and other cities which began on December 19 last year. The latest arrests, resulting in the deaths in custody, are an extension of that process.
The combination of economic austerity measures and the clampdown upon activists across Iran are no coincidence. The government has remained deeply unpopular since the stolen election of June 2009. It is clear that the leaders of the Islamic Republic are taking no chances as they bow to the pressures of the IMF and World Bank to tighten up on the limited social programs available to ordinary Iranians.
As the economic crisis in Iran worsens there is growing evidence that the population is turning to more open ways of expressing their anger against the regime’s policies. As the repressive machinery of the state moves into higher gear, with the approach of the parlimamentary election next March and the 2013 presidential election, the means of opposition will also diversify.
The winds of change are blowing across the Middle East from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen. Clearly the flame of resistance still burns on the streets of Iran as the current cuts bite. Having shown the way in taking to the streets following the 2009 election, the people of Iran may yet feel inspired by events elsewhere to once again put
pressure upon their leaders.
Against this background the solidarity of labor movement activists in other countries is more vital than ever. The Committee for Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR) strongly condemns the regime’s murderous disregard for the safety and security of political prisoners in Iran and their inhumane treatment. CODIR calls for an end to the detention of any person on political grounds and calls for the release of all political prisoners in Iran.
Jamshid Ahmadi is assistant general secretary of the Iran solidarity campaign, Committee for Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (CODIR). For further information on Iran and CODIR’s activities, visit www.codir.net or contact firstname.lastname@example.org