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Human Rights Activist Denied Temporary Release and Threatened with Death

April 19, 2020
Niloufar Rostami
7 min read
Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, currently in Zanjan Prison, has been threatened with death by a fellow inmate
Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, currently in Zanjan Prison, has been threatened with death by a fellow inmate
On May 5, 2015, security forces raided Mohammadi’s home, arrested her in front of her two children and took her to Evin Prison
On May 5, 2015, security forces raided Mohammadi’s home, arrested her in front of her two children and took her to Evin Prison

Jailed human rights activist Narges Mohammadi has been threatened with death by a fellow inmate, IranWire has learned.

Narges Mohammadi's lawyer Mahmoud Behzadi Rad told IranWire: "One of Narges’s [fellow] inmates, who has been sentenced to death, has threatened to kill Narges several times. In her latest threat a few days ago, [the inmate said] that if she killed someone her death sentence would be postponed because it would mean a new case would be opened.”

Behzadi Rad said all recent legal requests put forth on Mohammadi’s case — including conditional release, temporary leave and transfer back to Evin Prison — had been rejected, part of a process he dubbed as “illegal” and “arbitrary.” The decisions taken by judicial and prison authorities were not based on Iranian law.

The lawyer says Mohammadi’s life is in danger because she is being held in a ward alongside dangerous criminals after being illegally transferred from Evin Prison to Zanjan Prison, where prisoners are not separated according to the crimes they have committed, on December 25, 2019. Despite the fact that she is a political prisoner, she has been held on a ward with dangerous criminals since her transfer. 

Mahmoud Behzadi Rad said he had been able to speak to Mohammadi, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence, on the phone about her ordeal. "Narges said that a few nights ago, the woman went to Narges' bed and threatened to kill her. Fourteen prisoners in the room who witnessed the incident wrote a letter to the Zanjan Prosecutor's Office the next morning requesting help for her. A few days later, the inmate was summoned to the prosecutor's office, but after she returned, the woman shouted at Narges and threatened to kill her again."

IranWire asked Behzadi Rad why the authorities had not transferred Mohammadi back to Evin Prison. "I have written many letters to the Zanjan prosecutor and Mr. Najafi, the deputy prosecutor of Tehran, and explained that my client has been threatened with death and that her life is in danger and her medical condition is not very good. I warned them, and said they should prevent the killing of another prisoner of conscience, but I have not received a reply. Unfortunately, the Zanjan prosecutor does not accept me as Narges's lawyer and does not even allow us to meet with her."

Emphasizing that the transfer of his client from Evin Prison to Zanjan Prison was "illegal and based on a personal decision," Mahmoud Behzadi Rad said: "Ms. Mohammadi was not a resident in Zanjan, nor was her crime [allegedly] committed in this city. Her family does not live in Zanjan either. It is unknown why she was taken to this city. She suffered a pulmonary embolism in this same prison a few years ago and was taken to hospital. Based on what logic and law was she was transferred to this prison again?"

He added that Mohammadi and her family have repeatedly written to the judiciary to appeal for help since death threats against her began.

The press published a letter from Mohammadi’s mother Ozra Bazargan to the head of the judiciary in March 2020. She wrote that her daughter had been "sexually and physically threatened" by another prisoner. In her letter, Ms. Bazargan stressed that the judiciary is responsible for everything that happens to her daughter, but two months after writing it, the judicial authorities have taken no action — and now Mohammadi has received further death threats. 


Unanswered Questions

Although some prisoners held on non-violent charges, including political prisoners, have been released to stem the spread of coronavirus in prisons, Mohammadi has not been given a furlough. The conditions in Zanjan Prison are, like many prisons, reported to be unsanitary. "We have repeatedly written to the judicial authorities requesting a leave for her in during the coronavirus pandemic, and requested that her leave be granted in accordance with Islamic law; but this has not been agreed," Behzadi Rad said.

"In August 2019, when Ms. Mohammadi was still in Evin Prison, I wrote a letter to the Tehran prosecutor regarding her conditional release," the lawyer said, noting that according to judicial officials, his client was due to be released in September last year. "Some time later, the prison superintendent told me that she would be on leave in early September, a long-term leave from which she might not even have to return to prison. But unfortunately that did not happen."

Behzadi Rad added: "According to Article 58 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, any prisoner who has served one-third of his or her sentence can apply for release under this law, but unfortunately, despite our request, this was not implemented for Ms. Mohammadi. When conditional leave is enshrined in law and Narges has completed a third of her sentence, why shouldn't she be entitled to this?  Why, when she is ill, has she not been granted leave? And why was she sent back to Zanjan prison, where she fell ill a few years ago, and where it has been proven that the medical facilities are not good enough to treat her? These are all unanswered questions.”

Mohammadi, the co-founder and vice president of Iran’s Defenders of Human Rights Center, is serving a 16-year prison sentence on charges of “collusion against national security” and propaganda against the regime.” Her appeal was upheld at Branch 54 of the Court of Appeals. She suffers from muscular paralysis, a condition that has only been made worse by the conditions in prison and the pressures she continues to face. Her condition further deteriorated after her transfer from Evin to Zanjan Prison. 

Mohammadi was briefly released from prison after being  taken to the hospital in July 2012 and after it was ruled that she was “exempt from punishment due to illness” and she paid a bail amount of 600 million tomans [US$40,000].

But a year later, she faced harsh criticism from hardliners and the media affiliated with the regime after she met with the European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton in March 2014. She was repeatedly summoned for questioning by the Ministry of Intelligence, and on May 6, 2015, security officers raided Mohammadi’s home and arrested her in front of her two children and taken to Evin Prison.

Authorities said she had been arrested and jailed at Evin Prison to serve a prior sentence, but they then opened another case against her. She was charged with new counts of "conspiracy and collusion against national security." A further prison sentence was added to her previous six-year sentence, which was handed down in 2012 on the charge of “propaganda against the regime" and because of her work with the Center for Defenders of Human Rights.

She was then sentenced to a total of 16 years in prison by a Revolutionary Court, and an appeals court upheld the sentence. According to the Islamic Penal Code, at least 10 years of this sentence is enforceable.

After her verdict was confirmed in the Court of Appeals in October 2016, Narges Mohammadi, who had been in prison before, wrote a letter for public release, stating that she would have to endure imprisonment "but  that not even for a day did she consider it legal, humane or moral.”

"I am a 44-year-old woman who has been sentenced to 22 years in prison by the Islamic Republic of Iran over the past five years, and I know this is not the end of the story,” she wrote. “I am sure that those who carried out such sentences in the courts, and those who took the pen in their hands and blackened the white page and my proud nation all know that I have not committed a sin that deserves such heavy sentences.” She further stated that she stood behind all her actions and that she was committed to protecting human rights. “I do not regret it,” she said.

Three years after she wrote this letter her harassment continues. Narges Mohammadi's prediction was correct: her prison sentence is not the end of the story.