When Masoumeh Nemati answers the telephone, I introduce myself. I say I’m calling for an interview. “I was waiting for the phone to ring,” she says, her voice sounding strange. “Atena calls on Saturdays. I thought it was Atena.”
For the last 15 days, the imprisoned civil rights activist Atena Daemi, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for her human rights work, has refused to eat. Her mother, Masoumeh Nemati, is determined to make sure her daughter’s story is told. “Last Sunday when we went to visit her she had lost five kilos. She must have lost more than ten kilos by now. What else can happen to somebody who has lived on sugar water for 15 days?”
If Atena’s story gets out to the world, Nemati says, maybe authorities will listen, and maybe her 29-year old daughter will break her hunger strike. “I worked hard to bring up my child,” she says, “and now she is melting away right before my eyes.”
Daemi, who is detained at Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, has been on a hunger strike since April 8. Her strike is a protest against a verdict — but not her own. She is protesting because of the verdict brought against her two sisters, Aniseh and Hanieh.
In March, Branch 1163 of the Qods Criminal Court in Tehran issued a suspended 91-day sentence to Aniseh and Hanieh Daemi following a complaint by the Revolutionary Guards, who accused them of “resisting agents carrying out their duty” and “insulting agents while on duty.”
Insisting that the verdict is unjust, Daemi wrote an open letter to judicial authorities on April 8. She said she would continue her hunger strike until her sisters are acquitted of the charges. “I will not let the security agencies trample their own laws and abuse our families as a means of psychological torture to create a climate of fear,” she wrote.
Daemi, a defender of the rights of working children, was first arrested on October 21, 2014. The Revolutionary Guards held her for several months in “temporary detention” and in solitary confinement at Evin Prison in Tehran. On March 7, 2016, Daemi stood trial on charges of “conspiracy against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” and “concealing evidence of a crime.”
According to a source quoted by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, all charges against Daemi were based on her Facebook posts, information stored on her phone, and her participation in gatherings to oppose the death penalty and to support the children of Kobane in Syria.
In the lower court, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh – a man the European Union has accused of violating defendants’ human rights – sentenced Daemi to 14 years in prison. The sentence was consolidated by the appeals court and converted to a seven-year sentence based on the Penal Code of the Islamic Republic. (Under Article 134 of the Penal Code, some sentences can be served simultaneously.)
After 16 months in detention, she was released on bail. In November 2016, she was instructed to begin serving her sentence. “I am worried about my family but I am staying the course that I have chosen,” she told IranWire. “This choice was not easy for me to make, but I have made my decision.”
Masked Agents, No Warrant
On November 26, 2016, Revolutionary Guards agents arrived at her home without notice and forcefully transported Daemi to Evin Prison. “When they contacted us and told us that her furlough was over and she had to start serving her sentence we contacted her lawyer,” says Daemi’s mother. “He said that we had at least five days after being informed. Her father and I went on a trip, but two days before she was to start her sentence, Revolutionary Guards agents came to our home. They forced their way in without showing a warrant or any ID. They had covered their faces as well. In such a situation it is only logical for family members to intervene. Atena’s sisters called 110 [the police]. Words were exchanged and a clash followed; one agent used pepper spray.”
After the ordeal, Aniseh and Hanieh Daemi and Hanieh’s husband Hossein Fatemi were summoned to the office of Evin’s Prosecutor. Fatemi was released without charge, but Aniseh and Hanieh were charged and released on a bail of around $12,000.
When the court announced its verdict against her sisters, Atena Daemi first staged a sit-in next to the prison guards’ office for four days and three nights. She announced that she would go on a hunger strike if she did not receive a response to her demand. “We repeatedly went to Evin and talked to Assistant Prosecutor Mr. Haji Moradi,” says Masoumeh Nemati. “‘Please tell Atena not to go on hunger strike,’ I told him. ‘Convince her that you will review her demand.’ He promised to pursue the matter but he did not go himself. He sent the deputy prison head to see Atena and he told her that what she was doing was illegal and she could be sentenced for the sit-in. ‘You should have left Iran when you were out on bail,’ he told her. ‘People like you are hypocrites and turncoats.’”
Atena Daemi's family members have appealed to judiciary officials, members of parliament, government officials and other authorities in an effort to bring an end to her hunger strike. But she continues her protest, and cannot be persuaded otherwise. “The only thing that they had to say,” says Atena’s mother Masoumeh Nemati, was that “the plaintiff in your daughters’ case is not the Revolutionary Guard [Corps] itself but their agents,’ meaning that the plaintiffs are private individuals. I really don’t know what the Guards have against my daughter. Isn’t it the Guards’ duty to guard the country? Then what do they have against the people?”
According to Nemati, the Daemi family has filed a complaint against the Revolutionary Guards’ agents but to no avail. “Atena has complained against them and so has her father after the clash, but they have completely disregarded the complaints.”
On April 21, Masoumeh Nemati wrote an open letter to Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, explaining her daughter’s situation and describing her condition. She appealed to Jahangir to help save her daughter.
“Atena called on Tuesday,” she says. “She told her sister, ‘I cannot stand. I feel faint, my heart is beating too fast and my blood pressure is low.’ She suffers from infection in her digestive system and kidneys. We are worried sick. Not only can we not eat anything, we can’t breathe either.”
“May god save any mother from going through this,” Nemati says, her voice broken.