Features

Political Prisoner Murdered While Awaiting Appeal

June 12, 2019
Niloufar Rostami
6 min read
Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, sentenced to eight years in prison, was awaiting his trial at the appeals court when he was murdered.
Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, sentenced to eight years in prison, was awaiting his trial at the appeals court when he was murdered.

A 21-year-old political prisoner has been stabbed to death by two inmates at Fashafuyeh Prison while awaiting his appeal hearing.

Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali was killed on June 10 by two criminals convicted of murder and drugs-related charges, according to his lawyer.

Mohammad Hadi Erfanian-Kaseb says his client’s death was a result of the prison’s failure to separate prisoners of conscious from dangerous criminals.

Shir Mohammad Ali and Barzan Mohammadi, another political prisoner, went on hunger strike from March 14 to April 16 to demand the separation of different categories of prisoners.

Mixing prisoners is not permitted under the bylaws of Iran’s Prison Organization, but officials of Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh Prison, have consistently refused to obey these rules.

Shir Mohammad Ali, a worker from Tehran’s Naziabad area who was an only child and the sole support for his elderly mother, was detained during the summer protests in July 2018.

He was jailed for eight years by the Revolutionary Court for charges including “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the regime.” He appealed his sentence and the court was scheduled to review his case on July 7.

Confirming the murder of his client, Erfanian-Kaseb told IranWire: “We had requested that Alireza be transferred to the ward for political prisoners, and we had received promises.

“The Greater Tehran Penitentiary is not a good place, especially for political prisoners. And now they are keeping [Gonabadi] Dervishes there as well.”

According to Erfanian-Kaseb, Shir Mohammad Ali had no lawyer during his first trial. It was only for the appeal that he was allowed an attorney.

“I succeeded in meeting Alireza in prison only once,” he says. “As far as I could tell, he was into discussions and arguments, not into quarrels and fighting.”

Erfanian-Kaseb believes his client was sentenced because of his social media communications. “Alireza had a Telegram channel, and he was indicted on those three charges because of what he wrote on this channel.”

 

Not the First Time

Incidents like this are not uncommon in Iranian prisons.

On October 13, 2018, human rights activist and constitutional monarchist Vahid Sayadi Nasiri went on hunger strike at Qom Prison to protest, among other things, the failure of officials to separate different types of prisoner.

After 60 days, his condition deteriorated to the point that officials transferred him to Shahid Beheshti Hospital in Qom. But it was too late and he died seven days later.

Judiciary officials ignored his demands for 60 days and made no comment following his death. The fate of this young political activist was buried in the silence of Iran’s judicial system.

It was a convicted murderer named Hamid Reza Shojaei, known in prison as “the Rooster,” who killed Shir Mohammad Ali, an unnamed source inside the Greater Tehran Penitentiary has told IranWire. The other alleged assailant remains unknown.

Shojaei was recently transferred from Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj to Fashafuyeh Prison, according to the source. He and his accomplice allegedly “attacked Alireza and stabbed him so many times that he died before the guard officer could get there.”

 

“Inhuman Conditions”

Penitentiary 11 in Ward 1 of Fashafuyeh Prison, known among inmates as the “Suite”, is reportedly where Gonabadi Dervishes arrested in February 2018 were interrogated.

In May this year, a number of dervishes were injured by dangerous criminals wielding handmade knives and machetes.

Many reports have been published about the dangerous conditions inside Fashafuyeh Prison, where illicit weapons, drugs, AIDS, hepatitis, and skin diseases are widespread.

The prison holds three times as many inmates as its capacity allows and lacks hygienic facilities.

Before his murder, Shir Mohammad Ali penned a letter with Mohammadi explaining their reasons for going on hunger strike.

“We have been on a hunger strike from March 14, 2018, until today, April 1, because this prison is not where we should be,” they wrote.

“Of course, no prisoner belongs to this prison because they are deprived of their basic rights, including health, medical, and hygiene facilities.

“On many occasions, prisoners have lost their lives because of the lack of these basic facilities. We are here by force and against our will.”

They added: “We are on a hunger strike to protest against our presence here, the lack of these facilities, and the danger to our lives in the Suite. But our lives have no importance whatsoever to the prison personnel or their bosses.

“Even yesterday, Reza Haghvardi, the officer on duty, told us frankly that our hunger strike would end with our death certificates. He also swore at our families, but we cannot not repeat this for reasons of civility.”

Iranian judiciary officials are yet to comment on Shir Mohammad Ali's murder.

Nader Fatourehchi, a journalist who has spent one night at Fashafuyeh Prison, wrote after his release: “Nobody in Iran is more vulnerable and helpless than the inmates there.

“They are literally living under inhuman conditions and are ostracized twofold. It is impossible for a human being to endure it even for one day.”

 

An Unjust Death Sentence

The murder of Shir Mohammad Ali led to widespread anger on social media. Some posted portions of his letter and criticized the insensitivity and inaction of officials regarding prison conditions.

“The responsibility for the life of the prisoner lies with prison officials,” tweeted a user by the name of Fahim.

“[It makes no difference] whether the prisoner is Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, who died because of a hunger strike, or Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, who was killed by other inmates. A political prisoner is not somebody who has been sentenced to death.”

“How many other political prisoners are in Fashafuyeh, Gharchak and [other prisons]?” asked another tweet. “Aren’t unjust arrests and imprisonments enough that exile and threats to life must be added to them?”

Many political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have lost their lives inside Iranian prisons and hospitals, but officials have remained silent and failed to investigate their deaths.

Some of the cases reported in the news include:

 

- Zahra Kazemi, photojournalist, Evin Prison, 2003

- Akbar Mohammadi, student and political activist, Evin Prison, 2006

- Valiollah Feiz Mahdavi, political prisoner, 2006

- Zahra Bani Yaghoub, medical doctor, 2007

- Ebrahim Lotfallahi, student activist, 2008

- Amir Hossein Heshmat Saran, political prisoner, 2009

 - Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani, Mohsen Rouholamini and Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani, all arrested during the protests following the 2009 presidential election

- Mohsen Dokmechi, prisoner of conscience, 2011

- Hoda Rezazadeh Saber, economic scholar, journalist, and social-political activist, 2011

- Kavous Seyed-Emami, environmentalist, 2018

- Mohammad Raji, imprisoned Gonabadi Dervish, 2018

- Vahid Heydari, arrested during nationwide protests in late 2017 and early 2018

 

Related Coverage:

 

Riots Endanger Lives of Political Prisoners, May 10, 2019

Sketches from Inside an Iranian Prison, March 20, 2019

Khamenei Slams France on Yellow Vest Violence — While Ignoring Brutality at Home, February 18, 2019

200 Dervishes Remain in Prison, February 14, 2019

Gharchak Prison: Pardons Are Preceded by Teargas, Pepper Spray and Clubs, February 19, 2019

A Young Iranian’s Memory of Torture, Humiliation and Urine, January 29, 2019

Prison Life and the Big Business of Smuggled Knives, December 14, 2018

Expired and Counterfeit Medicine for Prisoners, November 23, 2018

Gonabadi Sufi Dies in Prison, March 5, 2018

The “Suicide” Project: A Warning to Activists, February 12, 2018

Suicide and Despair Plague Iran’s Prisons, January 11, 2018

My Cellmate the Drug Kingpin, July 29, 2016

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

 

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