Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Either my corpse will come out of Evin prison, or I'll be freed': Hengameh Shahidi goes on hunger strike

A jailed adviser of opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi has gone on a hunger strike to obtain her release and protest the abusive conditions of her detention, according to Iranian media reports.

Hengameh Shahidi, a prominent journalist and women's rights activist, went on a hunger strike on Sunday evening, a day before being transferred from wing 209, the security and intelligence section of Evin prison, to the general ward. The authorities had informed her family that she would be freed on 100 million toumans bail (about $100,000) a month ago, but have gone back on their word, according to Mowjeh Sabzeh Azadi.

Shahidi was arrested on June 30. As a senior member of the Etemad Melli Party, she advised Karroubi on women's affairs during the presidential campaign.

Prison authorities have threatened to take Shahidi before Evin's disciplinary committee if she continues her hunger strike, but the Norouz news site reports that the outraged political activist told her family, 'Were the individuals who beat me in the basements of Evin prison brought before the disciplinary committee?'

Displaying the kind of psychological torture they have employed since her arrest, intelligence agents told Shahidi that she would be released on Monday. 'Two nights ago, resorting to ruses and giving promises of my release, they took me to the gates of Evin, but after I had endured severe mental pressure, the Intelligence Ministry handed me over to the normal prison authorities instead of releasing me,' Shahidi said.

Shahidi has also refused any medication since Sunday. She must take 28 pills a day to treat her heart condition and chronic depression, and her family and lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, are extremely concerned by this development. But according to the Committee of Human Rights Reporters, Shahidi said to relatives, 'This is the only way I can protest the situation I am in. Either my corpse will come out of Evin prison, or I'll be freed.'

Shahidi went on her first hunger strike in late August after having spent 50 days in solitary confinement. She was moved to a cell which she shared with another political prisoner, journalist Fariba Pajouh, in wing 209 on September 6. She was only allowed to walk in an outdoor yard three times a week for 20 minutes, wrote Iran Human Rights Voice.

Fellow prisoners who have since been released have said that Shahidi was subjected to intense mental and physical abuse to get her to confess to illegitimate relations. Wing 209's interrogators appear to have an abnormal prurient interest in sexual matters. Pajouh, Shahidi's cellmate, has reportedly also suffered at the hands of guards eager to get her to confess to sexual misdeeds.

Shahidi was repeatedly threatened with execution and, at least on one occasion, a noose was placed around her neck and she was told to prepare for death.

After visiting her daughter in late August, Shahidi’s mother stated, 'When I saw her, she was not fully conscious. When I pulled her into my arms and stroked her head and her back, she cried out in pain. I told her to resist and to not confess against herself. She said: "They give us pills that drain your consciousness and incapacitate your thought processes. Every day, they come into my cell repeatedly and say, We want to take you to be executed."'

Shahidi's lawyer Mohammad Mostafaie was prevented from meeting her to get her signature on an attorney-client agreement. He complained to the prosecutor in early October and was finally granted a visit. Mostafaie said on Saturday, 'Criminal charges are being brought against Ms. Shahidi and her case has been transfered to the courts.'

Azadeh Shahidi, her sister, told Norouz today that her family had been unable to have any physical contact with Hengameh for two weeks. 'Yesterday, we finally managed to talk to her through a glass screen,' she said.

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