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The Murderous Neglect of a Sick Political Prisoner

September 20, 2018
Shima Shahrabi
6 min read

A political prisoner gravely ill with cancer is the latest victim of medical neglect in Iranian prisons. 

A 16-second video shows political prisoner Arash Sadeghi on an operating table in a hospital gown, one of his arms bandaged from the shoulder down. In the video, he is almost unconscious — and that is how authorities returned him to Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj after his short time in the hospital. 

Sadeghi, 38, a human rights activist, was first arrested after the disputed 2009 presidential election.  In 2015, a Revolutionary Court sentenced him to 19 years in prison on charges of “conspiracy against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” “spreading lies in cyberspace" and “insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic.” Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Branch 15 of the court initially sentenced him to 15 years in prison but then also added a four-year suspended sentence from a previous arrest. Sadeghi started serving his sentence in June 2016. His wife Golrokh Ebrahimi, a writer and human rights activist, was also sentenced to six years in prison. 

In recent months, Sadeghi had complained of a constant pain in his shoulder and arms. Doctors had prescribed painkillers, and he had repeatedly been sent to the prison clinic, but the pain continued. In June 2018, clinic doctors took an X-ray and a few days later sent Sadeghi to an external hospital for specialist tests. The hospital doctors found a tumor in his shoulder bone and recommended that he be sent to the Cancer Institute of Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran as soon as possible in order to determine whether the tumor was malignant or not. But prison officials refused to allow it.

At last, on September 11, Sadeghi was transferred to the hospital and the specialists confirmed the existence of the tumor. They operated on him for seven hours to remove the tumor and to send samples to the laboratory to decide whether it was cancerous. But on September 15, he was transferred back to prison despite the fact that he needed medical care after the surgery, as well as further tests.

More Treatment Needed

“Surgery and removal of the tumor is only the start of treatment for patients with cancer,” an oncologist I spoke to said. “If, after taking samples, it is decided that the tumor is cancerous then a complete bone scan and CT scan is necessary to make sure that cancerous cells have not spread to other parts of the body. It must be diagnosed whether the tumor has been removed completely or whether the patient needs chemotherapy. To find answers to these questions the patient needs to be hospitalized for at least a week to 10 days for tests.”

Sadeghi will also need post-surgery care. “It is obvious that after any surgery the body is prone to infection,” the oncologist said, “and transferring the patient to a dirty environment increases the risk of infection.”

The official name of the cancer Arash Sadeghi is suffering from is sarcoma. According to the oncologist, the most conspicuous symptoms of this kind of cancer are intense pain and, sometimes, inflammation. “The bone becomes so fragile that it a mild impact can break it,” the oncologist said.

An informed source who knows Sadeghi spoke to IranWire and confirmed that he has been suffering from arm and bone cancer. “In the surgery,” he told me, “besides taking samples, they also grafted bone from his pelvis to his arm. He must have another examination next week but, even so, he was returned to prison. It is not clear whether they will allow him to be transferred back to the hospital or not.”

Sadeghi’s father told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that his son was transferred from hospital to prison in shackles and while he was suffering from severe pain [Persian link].

Intelligence Ministry agents arrested Arash Sadeghi and a number of other students on July 9, 2009 outside Tehran’s Allameh Tabatabi University, where they had gathered to protest against the election results. He was released on bail after 90 days in detention. He was arrested again in the spring of 2014 and was released, again on bail, until 2016, when he started serving his sentence.

In 2009, when Intelligence Ministry agents raided Sadeghi’s home, his mother Farahnaz Dargahi had a heart attack and died four days later.

Hunger Strike and Medical Neglect

On October 24, 2016, Sadeghi went on a hunger strike to protest against the arrest of his wife Golrokh Ebrahimi. Revolutionary Guards searched and ransacked their home in 2014, and confiscated the couple’s computers, CDs, and notes. Among the confiscated papers was a report by Ebrahimi about the punishment under Islamic law of death by stoning. According to a report from Amnesty International, “the story describes the emotional reaction of a young woman who watches the film The Stoning of Soraya M, which tells the true story of a young woman stoned to death for adultery and becomes so enraged that she burns a copy of the Koran.” Ebrahimi was sentenced to prison for writing the story, which had not been published.

After 70 days, the authorities agreed to allow his wife a short leave of absence and Sadeghi ended his hunger strike. But by that time he was suffering from various consequences of a long hunger strike that included kidney, liver and stomach problems and he was sent to an external hospital. After examining him, the doctors decided that he must remain in the hospital — but prison officials ignored this and returned him to prison the same night.

And it is happening again now. Images of Sadeghi published on social media show the activist in a critical condition. In a petition addressed to Tehran’s Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, Amnesty International asks him to “provide Arash with the specialized medical care he needs outside prison, including cancer screening and treatment, while ensuring his rights to informed consent, confidentiality, privacy and full access to his medical file.”

Denial of medical care to political prisoners in Iran, a blatant violation of their human rights, has been an ongoing tragedy. For example, in August 2017, the imprisoned journalist Alireza Rajaei lost an eye and part of his face to a sinus cancer that was left untreated. In October 2017, labor activist Mohammad Jarrahi died from thyroid cancer that went untreated while he was held as a political prisoner in Tabriz Prison. Another labor activist, Shahrokh Zamani, had also died of a heart attack in September 2015 after being denied medical care in Rajaei Shahr Prison. And the list goes on.

 

More on the medical neglect of prisoners of conscience in Iran:

Iran’s Judiciary is Slowly Murdering Prisoners of Conscience, November 10, 2017

Labor Activist Dies Because of Medical Neglect in Prison, October 9, 2017

Jailed Lawyer Suffering from Medical Neglect, September 27, 2017

Alireza Rajaei: A Life Destroyed by Injustice, September 11, 2017

Doctors Say Stress in Prison Made Rajaei’s Condition Worse, September 11, 2017

Journalist Alireza Rajaei: Victim of Medical Neglect in Prison, September 8, 2017

Doctors Call for Release of Ayatollah Nekoonam — Again, March 3, 2017

Wave of Hunger Strikes Among Iranian Political Prisoners, December 31, 2016

Kurdish-Iranian Journalist Returns to Evin Prison Despite Critical Health, June 22, 2016

Political Prisoners Denied Phone Calls, Medical Care and Books, March 14, 2016

Critically Ill Blogger Refused Hospitalization, March 7, 2016

Whatever you do, don’t get sick in prison, March 2, 2016

Critically Ill Blogger Deprived of Medical Care in Prison, February 19, 2016

 

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