The labor activist Shahrokh Zamani, who was serving an 11-year sentence on security charges, has died in Karaj Rajai Shahr Prison.
Zamani died on September 12 after serving almost five years of his sentence.
One of his cellmates described his surprise when he discovered that Zamani had not woken up to attend an exercise session on the morning of September 13, a daily routine for the political prisoner. The inmate said that Zamani was always the first to rise, and usually began exercising at 3am each morning, so the fact that he was still asleep at 5am was cause for alarm. When the cellmate moved a blanket from Zamani’s head, he found him with “grey lips and a cold body.” He and other inmates lifted him from his bunk bed and called for prison guards to take him to the prison clinic.
Zamani was arrested in Tabriz on June 4, 2011 on charges of “propaganda against the regime”, “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “helping to establish groups that undermined national security.”
Zamani was active in Iran’s labor movement, helping to facilitate the establishment of independent workers’ associations. He belonged to a committee that oversaw the creation of workers’ groups and was a member of Iran’s Construction and Painters Syndicate.
He was transferred back and forth from different prisons during his incarceration. Prison authorities chained his feet as they transferred him from Ghezel Hessar to Rajai Shahr prisons. He went on several hunger strikes to protest against the repeated transfers.
His file was subsequently transferred to branch one of Tabriz Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Rahim Hamlbar, who appears on the European Union's list of blacklisted judges. Though he appealed, the court upheld all terms of a 11-year prison sentence.
Authorities refused to grant the activist permission to attend his daughter’s wedding or his mother’s funeral last year.
An hour after news of Shahrokh Zamani’s death emerged, the head of the prison and his acting deputy entered the section of the prison that houses political prisoners, and inspected and took photographs of Zamani’s cell.
Zamani’s cellmate reported that the night before his death, Zamani had been putting together some written materials as part of his labor rights work, as well as documenting events in the prison that day, another of his daily routines. He had spoken with fellow inmates earlier that day. According to his cellmate, he seemed fine when he went to bed on the evening of September 12.
Zamani’s cellmate said Shahrokh Zamani was fond of sports and in good physical shape, and showed no signs of illness; he was a non-smoker who got on well with the other inmates, regularly sharing jokes with them.
The cellmate said news of his death had shocked inmates, and many gathered outside his cell after hearing the news. According to him, he was the last prisoner they would have expected to die.
Some of the inmates requested further information from the prison clinic and authorities as to what had happened to Zamani. “The doctor who had examined him said he will never come back,” Zamani's cellmate said. Some inmates asked for authorities to conduct an investigation into the sudden death. “The inmates were deeply sorry. In prison, being a closed and restricted place, all inmates are close to each other. We become familiar with each other’s pains and joys and understand each other deeply.”
After hearing of Zamani’s death, the prison’s inmates canceled their regular sports session. “A shadow of sorrow spread over the prison,” said Zamani's cellmate. “Everyone tried to enter Zamani’s room and ask about how it happened.”
But he also said that they did not expect any requests for further information to be addressed.
A number of suspicious deaths have been reported at Rajai Shahr Prison in recent years. “The clinic simply writes ‘stroke’ as the cause of death and tries to transfer the body to the morgue as quickly as possible,” said Zamani’s cellmate. It is not regular practice for the prison to carry out a post mortem to determine the cause of death.
According to the inmate, Rajai Shahr Prison does not have facilities for storing the bodies of deceased prisoners; Zamani’s body was transferred to the morgue at Tehran’s Behesht Zahra Cemetery on September 13.
While prison authorities examined Zamani’s room, some prisoners raised the issue of poor prison conditions with them, saying iron bars across the windows meant prisoners had very little access to light, and that the cells suffered from poor air circulation, leading to a range of illnesses among prisoners in that part of the prison. “One can feel the heavy air when entering this section of the prison,” Zamani’s cellmate said.
He also said that prisoners once again criticised the installation of satellite jamming devices on the roof of the prison, as it is believed these devices are linked to a number of health issues, including dizziness and even cancer.
Political prisoners Saiid Razavi Faqih and Ramazan Ahmad Kamal are currently being held in Rajai Shahr Prison. They began hunger strikes on September 12 in protest against the lack of medical care and the conduct of prison authorities with regard to prisoners’ medical conditions.
Political prisoners must obtain permission from a prosecutor before being granted permission to be transferred to prison clinic. In cases of political prisoners, a doctor’s opinion is not normally considered when deciding whether to allow such a transfer, despite a medical professional obviously being best placed to deal with such a matter.