On the morning of Tuesday, May 5, security forces raided the home of well-known activist Narges Mohammadi and arrested her.
Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, confirmed the news that his wife, the deputy director and spokesperson for the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, had been detained at the women’s ward at Evin Prison. On Wednesday, May 6, human rights activists gathered outside the prison to voice their opposition to Mohammadi’s incarceration.
Fellow human rights activist Mohammad Nourizad, who arrived at Mohammadi’s house an hour after the raid began, said Mohammadi was meeting with Gohar Eshghi, the mother of Sattar Beheshti, the blogger who died in prison in 2012, at the time of her arrest. About 10 security agents carried out the raid, he said.
Mohammadi was originally due to face trial on May 3, two days before her arrest, though this was postponed until May 10. The postponement followed complaints from Mohammadi’s lawyers that they had not been informed about the details of the hearing, or been given access to their client’s files. The charges against her include “gathering and plotting against national security, membership to Legam (the Campaign for incremental abolition of the death penalty in Iran) and propaganda against the regime.” The trial has been postponed again, but authorities have been unclear about the new trial date.
Mohammadi is one of Iran’s most celebrated human rights defenders, and the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, which was founded by Shirin Ebadi in 2001, is one of Iran’s most important human rights organizations, offering pro-bono legal services to political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, supporting their families and reporting regularly on the human rights situation in Iran.
“I was trying to enter the house but agents did not let me,” Nourizad said of the raid, adding that they threatened to break down the door if they were not allowed access to the premises.
“There was a quarrel. In the end, Narges and Gohar, who was a guest at the house, came out. Gohar wanted to get in the car but she was prevented from doing so. The car rushed away. Gohar Eshghi shouted: ‘take me with her!’”
At the time of the arrest, said Taghi Rahmani, the couple’s children were at school.
According to Rahmani, Mohammadi had been allowed to speak to her children via telephone. “Her Sunday court hearing was postponed,” he said, “and there was no outstanding rulings to be carried out. It should be clear which institution arrested her and on what charges.”
While people gathered to protest outside the prison, Mohammad Nourizad and Gohar Eshghi arrived to talk to intelligence agents. Mohammad Nourizad said he talked to authorities at Evin Prison and was concerned to hear that Mohammadi might be transferred to Zanjan Prison. Mohammadi previously served time at Zanjan, where she was placed in solitary confinement and her health suffered. Therefore, there are concerns that if she is sent there again, a similar situation will arise. Conditions are known to be extremely harsh at Zanjan, and, if Mohammadi is taken there, she will be far away from her family and supporters. Furthermore, Mohammadi’s childen go to school in Tehran.
”We told them we will not be going anywhere until we get an update on Ms Mohammadi’s situation,” Nourizad said. “Because we are all collaborators in any crime she is charged with. They promised to make things clear today. Narges’ brother and her lawyer will go to the tribunal and Evin Prison today.”
Transfer to Zanjan would be Dangerous and Unjust
“An intelligence officer had told Narges’ brother that she will be in Zanjan Prison for three months and that’s it. We told him that if she were transferred to Zanjan Prison, three or four of us would go to Zanjan and carry out a sit-in. We will not let this one go.”
Mohammadi was previously imprisoned on April 22, 2012, when she began a six-year prison sentence at Evin. She was put into solitary confinement at Ward 209 at Evin Prison, and later, on June 11, 2012, transferred to Zanjan Prison. She had previously suffered a nervous breakdown and muscle paralysis during interrogations in 2010, which were made worse by the transfer to Zanjan and her time in solitary confinement. She is currently taking medication and doctors have said her condition will be aggravated if she is placed in solitary confinement again.
“If she is taken to a closed space her muscle paralysis will return, especially if she is transferred to Zanjan Prison,” said Taghi Rahmani. “This prison’s environment is very dangerous for her and could make her completely paralyzed.” He said the authorities are well aware of the health risks Mohammadi faces.
“Narges told me that if she was taken to a solitary cell she would start a dry hunger strike and kill herself,” said Nourizad. He said there was no justification for keeping her in such poor conditions.
Unwavering Commitment to Civil Society
Nourizad said, “According to authorities the duration of Narges’ leave from prison would be counted as part of her prison sentence, but they [the court] discarded this.”
Mohammadi was originally sentenced to 11 years of compulsory prison on charges of “gathering and plotting against national security, membership to the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights, and propaganda against the regime.” This verdict was changed to six years in prison by branch 54 of the appeal court. She was bailed after five months in prison due to the deterioration of her condition in prison.
Mohammadi has said that she will ask the judge for the hearing to be made public. In the past, she has drawn the court’s attention to her meeting with Catherine Ashton, the former EU foreign policy chief who visited Mohammadi and Gohar Eshghi last year, and to the “popular request for the freedom of political prisoners and the release of [Green Movement] leaders under house arrest.” She has previously said that, after going through her charges with her, they had objected to the fact that she “insists on the implementation of civil society.” She is also charged with “taking part in protests against acid attacks on women” and organizing a gathering against air pollution.
Mohammadi also spoke out against the wiretapping of her private telephone calls.
Mohammadi’s lawyers had requested court files on nine different occasions, but were denied access. They were to be informed about the court date postponement on May 5. But before the trial could go ahead, Narges Mohammadi was arrested.