"I’ve always said and I’ll say again, we justice-seekers and freedom-seekers shouldn’t make imprisonment a red line, and mustn’t be afraid of the detention of others. We shouldn’t make it a rule to protect workers’ rights only up until the point where we are not harmed. Do we wait for benefits without spending spending money? Whoever wants a peacock accepts the toll of a trip to India."
So writes Keyvan Samimi, a veteran journalist and newspaper editor, and one of Iran’s most well-known political prisoners. One of his relatives has told IranWire that the 73-year-old is now set to be transferred from Evin to Rajaei Shahr Prison, despite his failing health and a doctor’s recommendation that he be released to recuperate.
Samimi has dedicated much of his career to defending the right to freedom of expression, and the rights of Iranian laborers to mobilize to improve their lot. He was first imprisoned at the age of 17 and has spent long periods of his life behind bars since then. One of his brothers was executed by the Pahlavi regime, another by the Islamic Republic.
Best known for editing the now-banned monthly digest Nameh, Samimi also formerly sat at the helm of Iran-e Farda while being a member of the Iranian National Council for Peace, the Society for Defending Press Freedom, the Committee for the Protection of Citizens’ Righgts, the Committee for Defending the Right to Education, and the editorial board of the blacklisted news website Kharabat.
Even after being barred from accessing a phone in Evin Prison, he has continued to spread the word about his and others’ conditions behind bars via Telegram. Earlier this week, he posted a tribute to the poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin, who died in hospital of Covid-19 after he became seriously ill in prison. "With all our voices,” he wrote, “let us attack the security forces who oppressed us and committed crimes against Baktash Abtin: a middle-aged man with an underlying illness who had Covid-19 but was sent back to prison. This was illegal, quasi- or even fully intentional.”
There are now fears that Keyvan Samimi is also being subjected to medical neglect in prison on purpose. He suffers from heart and lung problems and doctors have pronounced him unfit to stay in prison. By not releasing him, the Center for Human Rights in Iran has warned, Iranian authorities could be “leading him to his death”.
A close relative of Samimi told IranWire that last month he was transferred from Ward Eight to Ward Four of the prison to separate him from his friends and colleagues. Now, they said, “We’re afraid for his life. If he, like other prisoners, catches Covid-19, it will be really dangerous for him given his age and underlying conditions. The judiciary and the Ministry of Intelligence are directly responsible for his life. But instead of releasing him to protect it, we hear they intend to transfer him to Rajaei Shahr in Karaj as a kind of punishment.
“We know that in Rajaei Shahr they don’t observe the law on separation of convicts [those convicted of different types of crime being placed on different wards], and the situation is much worse than Evin. In the past officers had planned to transfer him to Rajaei Shahr, but they backed down because of his protests and a sit-in in the prison director’s office. But this time they seem determined to do so.
“Keyvan hasn’t been given any leave and the laws on medically unfit prisoners are not being observed. In the last few months he’s been denied access to the telephone and other inmates were told if they give him their phone cards, they’ll be banned as well. For this reason, despite their insistence, Keyvan is refusing to borrow their phone cards. He can only call his family once every two weeks, for about two minutes.
“The situation is completely inhumane. It isn’t right. I don’t know why they so badly want to take revenge on an old man.”
Samimi was jailed for six years from 2009 to 2015 for joining protests against the disputed outcome of the 2009 presidential election. He was arrested again at a Labor Day rally in Tehran in 2019 and sentenced to three years in prison for “assembly and collusion against the state”. He was summoned to begin serving his sentence in December 2020.
Also in Evin Prison, the writer Reza Khandan Mahabadi, who was jailed alongside Baktash Abtin, is reportedly still seriously ill in prison after contracting Covid-19. Both the judge in his case and security officials have opposed a lawyer’s request for his release.