Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekoonam, a dissident cleric serving a five-year sentence for speaking out against internet filtering and calling for his students to have greater online engagement, has been transferred to an outside hospital after spending three days in the clinic at Saheli Prison in Qom, where he is detained. 

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency [Persian link], although Ayatollah Nekoonam, aged 68, ended his 35-day hunger strike recently, he is in a poor physical condition as a result of a stroke he suffered in 2016 while in solitary confinement. On December 4, 2016 he was returned to Saheli Prison in Qom from hospital without receiving proper treatment.

At the time, a source speaking on behalf of Ayatollah Nekoonam’s family said Nekoonam had experienced a series of complications following his stroke while in solitary confinement, and had been badly treated by prison authorities. Because of “frequent transfers from prison to clinic and from clinic to hospital or from the clinic to home and vice versa” and pre-existing health problems, his health has deteriorated, the source said, adding:“Recently he has been suffering from pain and irritation in both eyes.”

Ayatollah Nekoonam, a teacher at Qom seminary, was arrested on December 22, 2014 after he gave a lecture criticizing internet filtering. The Special Court for the Clergy sentenced him to five years in prison. “Sell your carpet if necessary and buy a laptop, a tablet or a computer,” he told his students, “Set up a blog and have dialogue with society and the people.”

The last time Nekoonam was hospitalized, doctors warned that he was in danger of having another stroke and of going into a coma. Nevertheless, his treatment was cut short and he was returned to prison.

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