Statistics regarding the number of citizens imprisoned for their political beliefs were not available. ICHRI, the U.S.-based human rights NGO United for Iran, and the UN special rapporteur each estimated there were approximately 500 political prisoners in the country, including those arbitrarily detained for peaceful activities or the exercise of free expression. Other human rights activists estimated there could be more than 1,000 prisoners of conscience, including those jailed for their religious beliefs.
On January 10, the CHRR published a list of 159 political detainees in ward 350 of Evin Prison. The international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported there were at least 48 media professionals in prison as of March 1, while student activist groups estimated there were more than 50 students in prison as of July 1. On October 10, FIDH published a list of 69 human rights defenders in prison during the year, including lawyers, women’s rights defenders, trade unionists, and activists working to protect ethnic and religious minorities.
On March 11, Mohammad Tavassoli, head of the political bureau of the Freedom Movement party and Tehran’s first mayor following the fall of the Shah, returned to prison after a brief medical furlough. On April 5, ICHRI reported that his health was deteriorating and that authorities refused to release him despite his having posted bail. On October 13, a court sentenced him to 11 years in prison and ordered a five-year ban on political activity on charges of “disrupting national security” and conducting “propaganda” against the Islamic Republic. He remained in prison at year’s end.
On June 23, the head of the country’s prison system, Gholam Hossein Esmaili, claimed, “We have no political prisoners.” In a July 8 interview with the semi-official Iran Student News Agency (ISNA), Mohammad Javad Larijani stated, “A political prisoner is someone who has been politically active within the framework of the laws but has been unjustly imprisoned because the rulers and state authorities did not like what he was doing. According to this definition, there are no political prisoners inside the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
On October 30, authorities arrested dissident blogger and physician Mehdi Khazali, the son of a prominent conservative politician, during a meeting of writers in Tehran. According to the opposition Web site Kaleme, authorities had released Khazali on March 19 on 220 million tomans ($180,000) bail after a February 6 court ruling that sentenced him to 14 years in prison and 10 years in exile for “conspiracy to commit a crime.” He remained in prison at year’s end.
During the year the government arrested students, journalists, lawyers, political activists, women’s activists, artists, and members of religious minorities (see sections 1.a. through 1.e., 6, and 7.a.) and charged many with crimes, such as “propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the regime,” treating such cases as national security trials. According to opposition press reports, the government also arrested, convicted, and executed persons on criminal charges, such as drug trafficking, when their actual offenses were reportedly political. The government reportedly held some persons in prison for years on baseless charges of sympathizing with alleged terrorist groups. Authorities often held political prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods, denying them due process and access to legal representation. Political prisoners were also at greater risk of torture and abuse in detention. The government often placed political prisoners in prisons far from their homes and families (see section 1.e.). The government did not permit international humanitarian organizations or UN representatives access to political prisoners.
Authorities occasionally gave political prisoners suspended sentences or released them for short or extended furloughs prior to completion of their sentences, but could order them to return to prison at any time. Suspended sentences often were used to silence individuals. The government also controlled political activists by temporarily suspending baseless court proceedings against them and allowing authorities to rearrest them. Furthermore, the government attempted to intimidate activists by calling them in repeatedly for questioning. The government issued travel bans on former political prisoners (see section 2.d.) and imposed forced internal exile on others.
On January 14, authorities summoned student activist Peyman Aref to Evin Prison, but soon released him. According to activist reports, he was rearrested March 14 at his home and began a hunger strike March 19 to protest his detention. He was released April 3, but summoned to court on July 17 on charges of “publishing lies with the intention to disturb public opinion” through an interview with opposition media. On July 18, opposition media reported he had been banned from further university studies. He was reportedly free on bail at year’s end.
In September authorities imprisoned human rights activists and journalists Zhila Bani-Yaghoub and Shiva Nazar Ahari in connection with their arrests during postelection protests in 2009. On September 2, Bani-Yaghoub began serving a one-year sentence in Evin Prison for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic” and “insulting the president.” Ahari, a founding member of the CHRR, began serving a four-year sentence on September 8 for “enmity against God.”
On September 24, authorities arrested Mehdi Hashemi, former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani’s son and campaign manager, a day after his return from a three-year self-imposed exile in London. In October Hashemi’s lawyer said that he had been barred from visiting him in prison and that authorities had not filed any charges against his client. According to the IRGC-linked Fars news service, on November 7, authorities filed four charges, including espionage, against Hashemi. On December 9, his lawyer reported that Hashemi’s detention, which he said was based on financial charges in relation to one of Hashemi’s previous jobs and security charges related to the 2009 presidential election, was extended by two months.
There were developments in cases from previous years. On January 26, HRANA reported that journalist Masoud Bastani had been hospitalized after suffering severe headaches and losing feeling in his limbs. On September 4, according to Kaleme, prison officials forcibly moved Bastani to a solitary cell. He was arrested by security forces in 2009 and sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda” against the government, creating unrest, and disturbing public order.
On January 26, according to numerous NGO reports, blogger Hossein Ronaghi Maleki was transferred to a hospital in critical condition following a hunger strike to protest officials’ refusal to grant him medical leave after returning to prison two days after a kidney operation in mid-January. Maleki was released on bail July 2 but rearrested on August 22 while participating in earthquake relief efforts in East Azerbaijan Province and charged with “distributing contaminated food.” In September prison officials transferred him from Tabriz Prison to Evin Prison in Tehran. He remained in prison at year’s end after reportedly beginning another hunger strike.
On March 6, HRHI reported that plainclothes officials attacked journalist Issa Saharkhiz, who was serving a three-year prison sentence for “insulting the leader and the regime,” while he was receiving treatment at a hospital for a heart condition. In mid-June Saharkhiz’s son Mehdi wrote on his Facebook page that authorities refused to release his father despite his sentence being completed and had added another 18 months to his imprisonment for unknown reasons. In addition, a medical official had determined that Saharkhiz was unable to endure further incarceration. ICHRI reported Saharkhiz began a hunger strike on September 4 after being transferred to Evin Prison from Rajai Shahr Prison on August 28. He remained in prison at year’s end.
On March 9, according to HRDAI, dissident cleric and regime critic Ayatollah Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi was in critical condition after he allegedly had been poisoned by unnamed fellow prisoners. On October 14, religious activist NGOs published a letter written by Boroujerdi from Evin Prison, in which he claimed, “I am slowly dying a horrific death here and have been banned from having medication, treatment, or access to a lawyer…. Physical and psychological tortures of my family are being done in order to annihilate me.” Boroujerdi, a cleric who advocated the separation of religion and government, was arrested in 2006.
On March 18, according to AI, an appellate court suspended Parvin Mokhtare’s 23-month sentence and authorities released her from Kerman Prison. In mid-March, the General Court in Kerman tried her on charges of “insulting the supreme leader” and “insulting the martyrs.” She was acquitted of the first charge, but was fined after conviction on the second charge. She was released after paying the 5.4 million toman ($4,400) fine. Mokhtare was detained in August 2011 after authorities entered her home without a warrant; in December 2011 a court sentenced her to 23 months in prison on charges of “propaganda activities and assembly and collusion against the regime” for protesting the imprisonment of her son, journalist Kouhyar Goudarzi.
On April 3, according to HRANA, a court sentenced activist Mansoureh Behkish to four-and-a-half years in prison for her role in creating the Mourning Mothers organization, which protests the execution of prisoners, and for “propaganda activities against the state.” On July 5, an appeals court shortened Behkish’s total sentence to four years and suspended three-and-a-half years. She had not begun her remaining six month sentence and was not in prison at year’s end.
On April 16, according to domestic media, authorities summoned EbrahimYazdi, secretary general of the banned opposition party Freedom Movement of Iran, to begin his eight-year prison term. Neither Yazdi nor his lawyer reportedly had any input in the appeals or sentencing process. The 81-year-old Yazdi remained in prison at year’s end convicted of “collusion against national security” and “propaganda against the regime.”
On May 21 Prosecutor General Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei announced, “Based on the latest coroner’s report on the death of (reform activist and women’s rights campaigner Haleh Sahabi), no one was found at fault.” There were no further investigations during the year into Sahabi’s June 2011 death from cardiac arrest after plainclothes police reportedly beat her while she was attending her father’s funeral. Sahabi had been serving a two-year sentence after being arrested in 2009 during demonstrations following President Ahmadinejad’s inauguration.
On August 15, authorities released Tehran University professor and former parliamentarian Ghassem Sholeh Saadi as part of a Ramadan clemency. Saadi was serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence on charges of “insulting the authorities,” “acting against national security,” and “spreading propaganda to agitate public opinion,” based on a 2002 letter criticizing supreme leader Khamenei’s policies. He remained out of prison at year’s end.
Prominent human rights attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose 11-year prison sentence issued in 2011 was shortened to six years on appeal, remained in prison in declining health throughout the year. On December 4, Sotoudeh ended a 49-day hunger strike that she began to protest prison conditions and government harassment of her family after officials lifted a travel ban on her daughter. Prison authorities routinely denied Sotoudeh family visits, placed her in solitary confinement, and denied her adequate medical care.
There were no developments in the case of Mourning Mothers member Zhila Karamzadeh-Makvandi, who was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2011 for writing a poem for the organization.