Vahid Bagheri was one of the countless ordinary Iranian civilians arrested in the November 2019 protests. He was charged with “gathering and collusion against national security” and was sentenced to six years in prison. He has been on a dry hunger strike for 40 days and his friends and family report that he is now in a serious physical condition.
On Monday, June 13, Vahid’s friend and family gathered in front of the Iranian parliament building to protest against the prison’s neglect of his health. The small demonstration ended with the arrest of Vahid’s brother Rasoul. IranWire spoke to Reza Ramezanzadeh, Vahid’s friend and former cellmate, about his situation now.
An elderly, frail mother, her face filled with pain, is sitting directly in front of the camera holding a placard that reads: “Hello Commander. It is me, a helpless woman whose family earner has been in prison for three years.”
Around her are a few young people and two children, who are also holding placards: “Hello Commander. It is me, a child of less than 12 whose father is left in prison.”
The placards are an echo of Hello Commander, a sinister pop song encouraging children to lay down their lives for the Islamic Republic written on the orders of Ayatollah Khamenei that has dominated the airwaves in Iran for weeks now. By contrast, Vahid Bagheri’s family stood in front of the parliament building on Monday begging for one young man’s life to be spared.
Vahid is serving the third year of his six-year prison sentence at Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh. At that time, his ex-cellmate Reza Ramezanzadeh told IranWire, he would have been on hunger strike for 36 consecutive days.
“His physical condition is not good,” Reza said. “Every day when they call us from the prison they say he has grown weaker and now he can’t even stand up.
“The charges against him are false and he denied them all in interrogations. According to Iranian law, he has served two thirds of his sentence and so he qualifies for probation. But the judiciary and security establishment are denying Vahid this right.”
Two Households Left Alone
Many Iranian families are now struggling to put food on the table due to spiralling costs of basic commodities. Vahid’s family, Reza said, is no exception: “Vahid is a kid from southern Tehran [the more underprivileged part of the city]. He grew up in Yaft Abad neighborhood and used to be a day laborer. He’s the breadwinner for two families: for his own children, and for his old, sick mother. In Vahid’s absence they are living a very difficult life. Vahid wanted to get probation so he could save them. But they mercilessly deprived him of it, and won’t even give him a leave of absence.”
Vahid was born in 1987 and is married with two children. After his arrest during the November 2019 protests, security agents tried to force him to confess to being one of the ringleaders. Eventually, he was charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “gathering and collusion with the intent to act against national security”. He never accepted the charges but, after a short and grossly unfair trial, the notorious Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Branch 28 Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced him to six years in prison in May 2020. The Islamic Penal Code states that he must serve at least five.
Denial of Probation
Vahid, his friend and ex-cellmate said, “is like thousands of other protesters who took to the streets in November 2019 because of escalating economic pressures. But since almost everybody in the neighborhood where he lives knew him, they brought bogus charges against him.”
In fact, he may not even have participated “Several witnesses testified that at the time of the protests Vahid was not in Tehran. But even after all the interrogations were over, and the verdict against him was issued, security agents still put him under pressure in prison to confess that he was the protest leader. Vahid told them he had said what he had to say and signed it. His resistance to these demands is why he is being denied his legal and human rights.”
In the three years Vahid has been in prison, he has lost a brother and a nephew. “When we got the news his brother had died, we, his cellmates, didn’t know how to break it to him,” Reza said. “I didn’t have the heart to do it. At last a few us went to Vahid and told him. It was so sad, I can’t describe it. After a lot of pleading, they relented and granted him leave to go to the funeral, but brought him back very soon after.”
A Promise From the Chief Justice Broken
In a letter penned on April 19, shortly before he was made to return to prison, Vahid Bagheri wrote: “I have served 19 months. That’s two thirds of my sentence. I grieved for two of my loved ones in prison without furlough. Now, thanks to somebody’s kindness, they gave me a few days’ leave. Right now, I am by my children and my old, sick mother. But they have summoned me back.”
Vahid Bagheri’s application for probation was rejected for a second time in May this year. It came even after his family had gone to meet Chief Justice Gholam Hoseein Mohseni Ejei and been assured by him that it would be done. So on May 8, Vahid went on a dry hunger strike. On Tuesday this week, he announced he would go on a dry hunger strike – refusing water as well as food – if they continued to ignore his request.
On the second day of his hunger strike, Reza says, Vahid had announced: “I’ve given up. Either I get out of prison or my body does.”