The health of Soheil Arabi, a prisoner of conscience who has been on been on a hunger strike for more than a month, is quickly deteriorating, his mother says.
According to Farangis Mazloum, the Supreme Leader has pardoned her son, but he remains in jail for posts he shared on Facebook. Arabi has been on a hunger strike in Evin Prison’s Ward 350 for more than a month in protest against the Revolutionary Guards’ persecution of his family. On September 23, he began a dry hunger strike, and has not had any water or other fluids.
“Our phones are tapped, accounts are hacked, relatives are threatened and [my wife] Nastaran is interrogated and persecuted. Stop torturing and harassing my love. It is all my fault. Yes, I am to blame,” Arabi told the authorities in a letter from prison on August 24.
Revolutionary Guards arrested Arabi in November 2013 after he shared posts on Facebook that criticized the Islamic republic and senior officials of the regime. Authorities sentenced him to death, saying the comments — which Arabi said were not his own and that he simply shared — were “insulting to the prophet.”
An appeals trial reduced his setentence to seven and a half years in prison, two years of religious studies to prove his repentance, and a two-year ban from traveling abroad.
Since his incarceration, Arabi has gone on hunger strike several times. He ended his previous hunger strike on after six days on August 7, when his wife, Nastaran Naeimi, was released from the Revolutionary Guards’ detention after being forced to answer accusations regarding her contact with foreign media.
Despite threats and harassment, Arabi’s family has felt it has no option but to go to the media, especially considering the deterioration of his health. In a phone interview with IranWire, Soheil Arabi’s mother Farangis Mazloum said she planned to go to the Iranian parliament on Monday, October 2 to ask the why the Supreme Leader’s pardon of her imprisoned son has been held up and what authority is responsible for the delay.
“Soheil’s only crime was to express his opinion,” she says, adding that the posts appeared on his personal Facebook page. “They said that he had insulted the Supreme Leader. Put aside the fact that, according to the constitution, nobody can be punished for his opinions. But the Supreme Leader himself has forgiven and pardoned him. During this time I have had three heart attacks and heart surgery. My wish is the freedom of my only son.”
On Saturday, September 30, Mazloum spoke to her son on the phone and begged him to break his hunger strike. “He is not feeling well,” she said, “but because of my heart disease he pretends that he is doing well.” She says, however, that she can tell from his voice that this is not the case.
Soheil Arabi has been suffering from bleeding in his stomach and has extremely low blood sugar and blood pressure. His family fear for his life.
Promises and the Pardon
Farangis Mazloum said that, despite her repeated enquiries to the authorities, she has not received an answer as to why her son has not been released. “They don’t give us an answer,” she said. “Every time they say that, God willing, things will work out.”
She points out that her son has not committed murder and is not guilty of embezzlement. His only crime was to express an opinion, she repeats. “He should not be in this situation. Even if he [is guilty of] insults or has written a contrary opinion, he has served his sentence. Why don’t they set him free?”
The only thing that the prison and judiciary officials have said is that Soheil Arabi must end his hunger strike.
Arabi’s family are allowed to visit him once every two weeks. “I wish I were blind and could not see him,” says his mother. “Before prison he was a sturdy and stout boy, but the last time I did not recognize him. I could only shed tears. He has lost a lot of weight and speaks with difficulty.”
Farangis Mazloum is also extremely worried about Rojana, Soheil Arabi’s 10-year-old daughter. “This year Rojana started the third grade,” she says. When the school year started on September 23, she says, “She was hoping with all her heart that she could go to school with her father.” She says authorities had “promised” he would be released by then.
After serving four years of his sentence, Arabi was due for release after a pardon from the Supreme Leader. In a letter published in August, Arabi explained what had happened. He said the verdict was finalized on April 22, 2017. “With the Supreme Leader’s pardon, [the sentence] was cut in half. Now they have retracted my pardon. About a week ago, the interrogators informed me that the pardon had been withdrawn. They even wrote that any leave of absence and going for [outside] treatment would not be allowed.” Under Iranian law, prisoners can apply for temporary leave from prison after serving a sixth of their sentence. They can also be temporarily released on medical grounds.
According to Arabi’s mother, none of the judiciary officials involved in his case have anything against releasing him — but for some reason they continue to stall. “On Thursday [September 28], I went to the court and met with the prosecutor’s representative,” she says. “They all agree that he should be released. Anybody who has any connection whatsoever with the case agrees, but nothing happens.”
The Wrath of the Revolutionary Guards
According to a source who talked to the Center for Human rights in Iran, “The Revolutionary Guards are holding a grudge against [Arabi] because he and his wife filed a complaint against two IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] websites for publishing slander and lies. Since then, they have been constantly summoning Nastaran for questioning. Sometimes they make pledges to free Soheil and at other times they threaten to put her in prison as well. Their latest threat is that if any information leaks out about this case, she will be held responsible and her crime will be heavier.”
Farangis Mazloum has begged the authorities to take action to before it is too late. “They must act on the promise for his release and his pardon that they themselves have made. If my son loses his life, will the judiciary accept responsibility?” she asked.
On September 28, Soheil Arabi recorded what he referred to as “his will” and bid his wife and daughter goodbye. “I am one step away from death,” he said. “Sugar: 50; blood pressure: 5 over 6; weight 66; bleeding of the stomach… You ignored my lawful demands so at least satisfy my last wish after my death: Bury me in Room 1 of Ward 350. Soon it will become a museum and Rojana will remember us proudly. Those who love me shouldn’t cry for me. They should listen to Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’ to remember me. Never let them torture someone else for his beliefs.”
On Friday, September 29, a group of human rights activists launched the hashtag #call4soheil on Twitter to support Soheil Arabi. Some tweeted that they would accompany the prisoner of conscience's mother to the Iranian parliament. Although there is little hope this will make a difference to the family’s ordeal, they are doing what they can.