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Mohammad Nazari, the “Loneliest Prisoner in Town”

October 20, 2017
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
8 min read
Mohammad Nazari, the “Loneliest Prisoner in Town”

“I am the loneliest prisoner in town,” says Mohammad Nazari, a Kurdish political prisoner at Rajaei Shahr Prison. 

Nazari, who has been on a hunger strike for 81 days, has lost hope. He knows Iran’s judiciary will do nothing for him, and so now he has appealed to the people of Iran. “I have been behind prison bars for 24 years, from Mahabad to Orumiyeh to Rajaei Shahr and day by day I have become lonelier,” he writes in his public letter. “My father, mother and brother are in Bukan cemetery and I have nobody left but you, the people.”

Nazari is a native of Shahin Dezh, a town located in the Iranian province of West Azerbaijan. One of his brothers was killed in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. Two of his other brothers are members of the Revolutionary Guards.

As a young man, he confesses in his letter, he joined the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), an illegal organization formed in 1945 under the Soviet occupation of Iranian Kurdistan. The party declared the formation of a Kurdish Republic, which did not last long after the Soviet troops withdrew. Successive Iranian governments, whether under the monarchy or since the creation of the Islamic Republic, have considered PDKI members to be terrorists and outlaws. But Nazari denies involvement in any terrorist activity.

He was arrested on May 29, 1994 at the home of his sister in Bukan in West Azerbaijan, and charged with being a member of the PDKI. He was 23.

After three months at the Bukan Intelligence Ministry’s detention center, he was transferred to Mahabad Prison, where he was put on trial at Branch One of Mahabad Revolutionary Court. Six months later, authorities forwarded his case to Branch One of Orumiyeh Revolutionary Court presided over by Judge Jalilizadeh, who sentenced him to death. The appeals court upheld his sentence. In 1999, it was reduced to a life sentence after Nazari’s name appeared on a list of prisoners the Supreme Leader considered for pardons. After serving about 13 and a half years at the Orumiyeh Central Prison, he and several other political prisoners were transferred to Rajaei Shahr Prison in November 2009.

Nazari has asked that his case be reopened, citing the new Islamic Penal Code, which went into effect in 2013, as the reason. According to this code, Nazari’s life sentence should have been reduced to 15 years in prison, but no action has been taken on his case, even though he has written dozens of letters to the authorities. As of now, he has not been informed as to whether his request has been accepted or rejected. 

Not Even a Lunatic Could Accept the Excuses

In January 2017, Nazari told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that, despite the fact that his prison warden sent a letter on his behalf, the judiciary denied his urgent request for a medical leave of absence, claiming they had “lost” his case files. “Am I doomed to die here like the others?” he asked. “What am I supposed to do?...Where is my file? Is it lost? How can that be? Not even a lunatic could accept this situation.”

Journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouee, who spent five years in jail after the disputed 2009 presidential election and shared a cell with Nazari at Rajaei Shahr Prison, wrote about Nazari in his memoir Prison Life: “He was 22 when he was arrested and now has been in prison for 20 years, but he looks 60...sometimes I told myself that maybe his name is not even on the Iranian judiciary’s registry of prisoners.”

Nazari’s cellmates at Rajaei Shahr say he is a calm and peaceable person, and not at all quarrelsome — and also that sometimes he goes for years without visitors.

“My mother used to visit me, but she passed away in 2011,” he told IranWire in 2014. “Regrettably, I learned about her death only a year later. The last time she visited me she complained of high blood pressure. Because of her age and physical condition I was very worried about her and eventually she died of complications. My sister and my brother used to visit me as well but a few months after I went on hunger strike, prison officials turned against them and no longer permitted them to visit me.”

Behrouz Javid-Tehrani, a former student activist and journalist who spent close to 10 years in prison, agrees with Nazari’s cellmates about his demeanor and character. “Mohammad Nazari was one of the quietest guys in the ward,” he said when he heard Nazari was on a hunger strike. “Unless we went to his cell to have a cup of tea we never had a chance to engage him in a conversation. He tolerated the prison conditions regardless of whatever it was and never protested. But it was not because 24 years of incarceration had robbed him of his motivation to protest. It was just because he is such a calm spirit. This convinces me that he must have had it by now for him to have gone on a hunger strike.”

Lost Prisoners

According to another former cellmate, Nazari was part of a group of Kurdish prisoners saved from execution when Jalal Jalalizadeh, a former member of the parliament, pleaded with the judiciary on their behalf. The group of nine were transferred to Rajaei Shahr in 2007. Two of them, Zaher Mostafavi and Mohammad Mehdi Zalieh, died in prison due to poor health and lack of medical attention. Four have been released and three others, including Nazari, are still in prison. Masoud Bastani, human rights activist, journalist and a former cellmate who was in prison for six years, refers to Nazari and the others still in jail as “lost prisoners”.

In 2012, Bastani published a report about Kurdish prisoners [Persian link], and about Nazari, who had begun his first hunger strike. “Nazari went on a hunger strike because he has been in limbo for 19 years,” he wrote. “He wants a decision to be made about him. [The prisoners] say that after so many years they have no clear image of the[ir] families. Mohammad Nazari says that he wishes they had finished him off the very first day.”

Before her death in 2011, Nazari’s mother had tried to secure his release. The answer she got when she appealed to the office of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was: “Go and thank God that he was not executed and is alive.” Later, Nazari said that he believes that this reply caused his mother to lose hope that her son would ever be free and led her to have a stroke and then die.

“The first time Nazari went on hunger strike was in 2012,” Reza Sharif Bukani, a former political prisoner who was close to Nazari while in jail, told IranWire. “He said ‘freedom or death’ and his hunger strike lasted for 40 days, but the authorities made him end his strike by giving him false promises.”

Bukani emphasized how young Nazari was when he joined the banned Kurdish party. “He grew up in a Shia family,” he says. “One of his brothers was martyred and two brothers served with the Revolutionary Guards. One of them was a field commander in West Azerbaijan’s Shahi Dezh. Mohammad joined the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan when he was very young. But he was active in the party for only four months. On his first party mission to Bukan he was arrested by the agents of the Intelligence Ministry.”

“One of Us” but a Traitor

In prison, Nazari told Bukani that Judge Jalilizadeh, who oversaw his case, had told his mother that he deserved death because he was “one of us” but joined the PDKI. “He told Nazari’s mother that ‘if I were you I would put the noose around his neck myself,’” said Bukani.

A group of Nazari’s former cellmates has been trying to find a way to save Nazari. However, the group shies away from the media and social networking sites and do not want their names to be made public.

The first thing they discovered was that, although the judiciary had ordered his transfer from Orumiyeh, the capital of West Azerbaijan, to Rajaei Shahr Prison, the justice departments in Tehran and the Alborz Province where Rajaei Shahr is located do not have his case file. Any judicial officials they try to approach refuse to answer questions about Nazari. Instead, officials refer all inquiries to a court in Orumiyeh.

Now the group has decided to hire a lawyer to go to Orumiyeh and study Nazari’s old case file. After this is done, they are determined to go directly to judiciary officials and press them to set the situation straight.

A current inmate at Ward 4 at Rajaei Shahr Prison who had been Nazari’s cellmate for six months says that, according to Nazari, it is the Intelligence Bureau of Orumiyeh that is preventing his release for personal reasons.

“His sister was pursuing his case and a few years ago they [authorities] agreed to pardon him,” says the former cellmate. “They even sent a confirmation of his good behavior to judiciary officials, but Orumiyeh’s Intelligence Bureau prevented his release. Nazari then asked to be transferred to Orumiyeh’s prison so at least he could get a visit from his sister once in a while but he received a letter telling him that they would agree neither to his release nor to his transfer.”

When IranWire asked Nazari what his biggest wish was, he answered: “I always wished to find a chance to serve people and this was my only reason for joining the PDKI. Now, my only wish is to have a government in Iran that respects all people, whether Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian or Baha’i – a government that will recognize their rights and would make Iran and Iranians proud.”

For the moment, Nazari’s wish is a distant prospect. It’s far more likely that he will continue to be a “lost prisoner.”



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