Eighteen days have passed since Nasrin Sotoudeh, a jailed lawyer and human rights activist, went on hunger strike in Evin Prison. On Wednesday, August 26, her husband Reza Khandan raised the alarm about her deteriorating condition.
IranWire spoke to Reza Khandan about the current situation of his wife, who launched the strike to demand the release of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The husband of imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has not been able to visit her for more than a week. Reza Khandan said that during telephone calls to Sotoudeh in prison, he became concerned for her ailing health. More than two weeks into her hunger strike, his wife is experiencing fluctuating blood pressure and her weight has dropped to 103 lbs from 117 lbs. She is also suffering from waves of nausea so severe that she cannot even drink water.
Nasrin Sotoudeh began her wet hunger strike on August 11 to protest against the harsh conditions in prison, and to put pressure Iran’s judiciary to release prisoners of conscience. In a wet hunger strike, the participant refrains from eating any food but does consume liquid. Because of how badly ill Sotoudeh has become, she is now effectively on a dry strike.
Resolve Strengthened by Officers’ Harassment of her Daughter
Reza Khandan told IranWire that Sotoudeh is resolved to continue her hunger strike – especially since her 20-year-old daughter was arrested on August 17 and then barred from cabin visits, in an apparent attempt by the prison authorities to punish the family for Sotoudeh’s behind-bars activism.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was a political prisoner from 2010 to 2013 for representing Green Movement protestors in her role as an attorney. Then she was arrested again in 2018 for defending women protesting against mandatory veiling in Iran, and this time was sentenced to 33 years in prison and 148 lashes for “conspiracy against national security”, “spreading lies”, and “disturbing public opinion”.
This is not the first time Sotoudeh’s family have been the target of retributive harassment by the authorities. In June 2018 Reza Khandan, a vocal campaigner on behalf of his wife and other prisoners of conscience, was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison. He was eventually released on bail in December 2018. The judiciary has since turned on their young daughter.
"After Mehraveh was illegally detained,” Khandan said, “not only has she become more determined to continue her strike, but she has also abstained from cabin visits since last Sunday. We went to the visitation hall on Sunday, the appointed day, but Nasrin did not come out. Unfortunately, the only way we can communicate with her now is by calling her for three minutes, three times a week."
Following her arrest in the family home, Mehraveh Khandan was transferred to the Evin Prison Court. She was later released on bail after several hours of interrogation. According to Reza Khandan, officers showed him the arrest warrant when they raided the house to arrest his daughter, but the authorities at Evin did not ask a single question about its contents.
“The warrant mentioned insulting and beating an officer during a visit to the prison,” Khandan said. “But Mehraveh says she was just taken through different rooms in the courthouse, and there was no discussion about the subject of the warrant.
“In the last room, the interrogator asked Mehraveh what charges she had been arrested on! It’s bizarre that they didn’t know the reason for her arrest. They just detain young people and take them away.”
Lawyer Apologises to Colleagues for Not Giving Up
In a letter dated Saturday, August 22, 44 lawyers urged Nasrin Sotoudeh and her fellow prisoners to abandon their hunger strike. In response, Reza Khandan said: “The last time we talked, Nasrin said, ‘I apologize to all my friends and colleagues, but breaking my hunger strike is not possible for me after the illegal detention of my daughter.’”
Khandan himself believes that the level of protest by detainees inside Iranian prisons should intensify, not decrease. “The situation inside prisons is becoming more difficult by the day. I am convinced that were it not for these protests, the number of detainees and conditions would be worse.
“In early April, when some prisoners were granted leave for New Year leave or pardoned, the number of prisoners in this women's ward of Evin Prison was between 18 and 20 – but now there are more than 40 women on the ward.
“That is to say, despite the coronavirus outbreak and all the claims of judiciary officials that there have been fewer committals to prison to control the virus, all their efforts are still aimed at suppressing and detaining critics.
"Nasrin has demanded the release of all political prisoners. She will end her hunger strike if these political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are given leave.”
Women Penalized at Evin – and a Call to Action
Sotoudeh's lawyer, Shadi Halimi, was able to see her client on August 26 after what Khandan said had been “months” of requests. But, he added, “I still don’t know what happened at their meeting. It’s also noteworthy that Ms. Halimi's meeting with Nasrin took place in a cabin, when the accused's meeting with the lawyer is supposed to be in-person and private."
Prisoners at Evin, Khandan said, had also been dealt a further blow in March 2020, when the visitation hall was closed after the outbreak of coronavirus was announced in Iran. He added, "Prisoners in other wards of Evin are able make external calls every day of the week. But the women's ward of Evin Prison is deprived of this for unknown reasons, and women are only allowed to make calls three times a week."
On August 18, the Finnish politician and European Parliament member Heidi Hautala and Maria Arena, chair of the European Parliament's Human Rights Subcommittee, issued a joint statement expressing concern over Mehraveh Khandan’s arrest the day before.
Hautula is also vice president of democracy, human rights and the Sakharov Community, which confers the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought on worthy individuals each year: including Sotoudeh in 2012. The MEPs both praised Sotoudeh for her actions and called on the Iranian authorities to heed her call for justice.