For the third time in a a matter of weeks, doctors from Qom’s Iranian Legal Medicine Organization have determined that the dissident cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Nekoonam should not continue serving his five-year sentence because it is detrimental to his health. Authorities continue to ignore their advice. Prior to this, doctors in Tehran authorized to advise on inmates’ health had come to the same conclusion twice.
According to a report by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (link in Persian), since February 24, Ayatollah Nekoonam has been taken back to Qom’s Saheli Prison three times after spending time in hospital.
The 68-year-old ayatollah was hospitalized on January 31 due to poor physical health as a result of a stroke he suffered in 2016 while in solitary confinement, compounded by a 35-day hunger strike. But on February 16, he was returned to prison against the advice of doctors who have warned that he is in danger of having another stroke and of going into a coma.
In September 2014, in a question-and-answer session with students at Tehran University, Ayatollah Nekoonam defended high-speed internet. He told students that the debate over internet speed was no different to the discussion and promotion of other technologies, drawing comparisons with the invention of the loudspeaker and the fact that some clerics initially forbade them. He said the same controversies had emerged over the introduction of radio, television, video, and satellites.
“A Muslim is someone who is civilized, not someone who is an idiot”, he said. “Sell your carpet if necessary and buy a laptop, a tablet or a computer. Set up a blog and have dialogue with society and the people.”
These comments met with harsh criticism from some hardliner clerics, who filed a complained against Nekoonam. He was arrested on January 1, 2015 and the Special Court for the Clergy sentenced him to five years in prison.
On January 23, Amnesty International called for urgent action on Nekoonam’s case, urging Islamic Republic authorities to release him “immediately and unconditionally as he has been targeted solely for exercising his right to freedom of belief, expression and association.” The campaign group further called on officials to “ensure that, pending his release, he is granted access to the adequate specialized medical care he needs outside prison and is protected from torture and other ill-treatment, which the denial of medical care can amount to.”