Behnam Mahjoubi, a prisoner of conscience, was buried at noon on Monday, February 22, 2021 at the Sultan's tomb in the village of Hojjatabad, Kerman province.
On Saturday, February 13, the Gonabadi dervish had been taken from Evin Prison to Loghman Hospital in Tehran after going into a coma. Three days later the doctors gave up hope of his survival and pronounced him dead.
But according to reports received by IranWire, security forces did not immediately allow the hospital to unhook him from the machines. It was only on Friday, February 21 that the General Directorate of Prisons formally announced that Behnam Mahjoubi had died. His body was flown to Kerman the same day and was buried on Monday in the presence of a group of dervishes and his friends.
According to human rights lawyers, Behnam Mahjoubi's death amounts to “quasi-premeditated murder” and his family could in principle take legal action.
Medical provision for political and ideological prisoners in Iran is far more complex than that of ordinary prisoners. If a prisoner charged with a “normal” crime has a medical issue, the prison clinic can send him or her directly to the hospital and only needs to inform the superintendent in charge of the prison.
But the situation is different for prisoners of conscience. Even if a forensic pathologist confirms that their condition is serious enough that he or she cannot tolerate imprisonment, and demands care rather than further incarceration, the assistant prosecutor in charge of political prisoners is the one that decides his or her fate. That person is Amin Vaziri.
On Vaziri’s instruction, there are currently several political and ideological prisoners in Iran who, despite doctors having borne witness to the severity of their condition, are still behind bars – in turn exacerbating their physical and mental health problems. Among these are Keyvan Samimi and Arjang Davoudi, and dual nationals such as Ahmad Reza Jalali.
It is also what happened to Behnam Mahjoubi, who first reported to Evin Prison on June 19, 2020 to serve his sentence of two years in prison. He suffered from a panic disorder and a neurological condition. A medical certificate by his registered physician had been submitted to the judicial authorities on June 15, but was not accepted, and Mahjoubi’s condition dramatically worsened several times during his confinement.
His wife, Saleheh Hosseini, had penned frantic open letters to the authorities warning that her husband's medicine was not being given to him. According to the dervish’s family and to his own recorded testimonies, prison officials withheld his prescribed medication several times.
In September 2020, another certificate was issued by Behnam's doctor. At the same time as re-prescribing his medication, they also confirmed that he was not fit to be in prison. They had also repeatedly told him and his family that the use of any other drug could cause a bad reaction due to drug incompatibility, and even to poisoning. But instead of taking these warnings seriously, officials from the judiciary and the prisons organization sent Behnam Mahjoubi to Aminabad Psychiatric Hospital in October. After being released from the hospital, he released an audio file in which he testified that he had been subjected to “double torture” there and been injected with unknown substances.
Finally on January 31, 2021, the judiciary ordered the postponement of his imprisonment with a bail of 200 million tomans. But despite having been an excellent student of Kerman University in 2009, he had lost his job after the events of Golestan-7 Street on February 19, 2018, in which he and a group of other Gonabadi dervishes had been brutally beaten and arrested. His fellow dervish, Mohammad Raji, was killed under torture in the aftermath and Mohammad Salas was executed. Some of the dervishes left Iran after the incident, and others are still in prison.
Following a judicial process related to Behnam Mahjoubi he was informed that he would be "pardoned" and released on February 11. But this did not happen and the dervish was sent to Loghman Hospital on February 13 in a comatose state.
When the news about Mahjoubi broke, conflicting information about his situation was published on social networks in what many activists described as "news management" by the security forces. The news of his death came, followed almost immediately by “news” of his “recovery”.
IranWire understands that Behnam Mahjoubi was pronounced dead by hospital staff at 2pm on February 17. But the security services did not allow them to disconnect the device being used to help him breathe. In the days that followed, a group of prisoners published a declaration entitled "Hear our voice of justice” in which they called on human rights organizations to pay attention to the case of Behnam Mahjoubi and to change the "anti-human laws" governing the prisons of the Islamic Republic. Thereafter, some 142 civil activists issued a statement addressed to the chief of the Islamic Republic Medical Council, asking the authorities to assign any further treatment to his family. This did not happen.
Finally, on February 21, the official institutions announced the death of Behnam Mahjoubi and his body was transferred to Kerman overnight. That same day, five imprisoned dervishes published an open letter calling Behnam Mahjoubi a "martyr”. He was finally buried on February 22.
Lawyers are in Accord: Behnam Mahjoubi’s Family can Seek Legal Recourse
According to several human rights lawyers, it is still possible for Behnam Mahjoubi's family to continue pursuing justice. Babak Paknia, a lawyer, tweeted at the family advising them to take legal action: "The available evidence shows that, based on the rules of intercession, it is definitely possible to sue."
Saeed Dehghan, lawyer, said in an interview that the perpetrators of this crime could be prosecuted while the attorney Amir Raeisian wrote on Twitter: "Those of us who worry about dozens of prisoners with different diseases have the responsibility for monitoring the prisons and prison guards. But what are our monitoring capabilities? Nothing!"
Hassan Younesi, another lawyer, believes that the death of Behnam Mahojubi was directly caused by the fault and negligence of prison officials, the judiciary and officers. He says: "They opposed his release and his treatment and watched his illness and impending death."
A human rights lawyer inside Iran spoke to IranWire on the condition of anonymity. They also agreed that Behnam Mahjoubi's family could take legal action against the perpetrators, and said that according to the welter of available evidence in the case, what happened to Behnam Mahjoubi could prove to be a "quasi-premeditated murder."
State-Sanctioned Killing of Activists Continues Under New Deputy Prosecutor
Behnam Mahjoubi is far from being the first and only political prisoner whose medical affairs have gone ignored: not sending the political prisoners to hospital, injections with spurious substances and prescription drugs without informed consent, sending people to psychiatric hospitals, and an overall lack of medical care have placed the health of countless others in jeopardy. Other prisoners who suffered the effects of this maltreatment include Narges Mohammadi, Emadeddin Baghi, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Alireza Rajaei and Kianoosh Sanjari, some of whom have also been made to undergo shock therapy and experienced what can only be subscribed as a slow, state-sanctioned death. Taghi Rahmani, a political activist and husband of Narges Mohammadi, had previously described this as a project of disabling activists.
Although the lives (and deaths) of political prisoners have many responsible authorities, including the judiciary and the Prisons Organization, the decision-making is left to the security agencies. This includes a young man named Amin Vaziri who has to take up a pen and paper and sign a form determining whether or not they can be released, potentially saving their lives: something he did not do for Behnam Mahjoubi.
Many activists have called Behnam's death a “murder under torture” spanning eight months, and one in which this official played a pivotal role. Reza Khandan, the husband of imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, has also previously stated in an interview with IranWire that Amin Vaziri had “personally objected” to releasing civil rights activist Rezvaneh Khanbegi, who suffers from epilepsy and had even secured the assent of the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Department to her release on bail. Other activists have also named Vaziri in the context of keeping political prisoners behind bars or summoning them to begin their sentences in the context of the coronavirus outbreak.