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Saturday
Nov242012

Iran Feature: An Activist's Imprisonment Turns a Family Against the Regime (Dehghan)

Saeed Kamali Dehghan writes for The Guardian:

When Iranian student activist Arash Sadeghi was temporarily released from Tehran's infamous Evin prison in November 2010, he anticipated a little respite from a year of harsh beatings and agony in jail.

Instead, within a few days, security officials had raided his home in middle of the night. As they broke their way into the house, Sadeghi's mother, who was alone with her daughter, suffered a heart attack.

The officials continued their search as she laid unconscious on the floor, ransacking the house and trying to find Sadeghi, who was at his grandfather's house that night. When the officials left, Farahnaz Dargahi was taken to hospital. She died within a few days.

"My father, my sister and my entire family and relatives blame me for her death," Sadeghi told the news website Rooz Online at the time. "Our house has become hell … My father tells me that you killed your mother and I don't want you at home … I prefer to go back to jail."

In no time, Sadeghi, a 26-year-old student of philosophy at Tehran's Allameh Tabatabai University, was indeed taken back to prison. Since then he has spent all but one month in jail. For the past 11 months, Sadeghi has been held in solitary confinement without any charges or access to a lawyer.

His father, Hossein Sadeghi, works for the Iranian army and lives in a house given to his family by the state. Having initially blamed his son for what happened to their family, now that he has witnessed the injustices he has suffered, Hossein is ready to risk his job and even arrest to speak out for the first time.

"I regret what I said about him in the past," he told The Guardian on the phone from Tehran. "I haven't been able to see him and tell him myself … but I'm sorry."

According to Sadeghi senior, his son went on hunger strike recently in support of a fellow inmate, Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, a 25-year-old blogger who is serving a 15-year prison term.

"Arash is deprived of his very basic rights," his father said. "He had no access to a lawyer in the past 11 months and was only allowed to meet his grandfather twice." Sadeghi's grandfather has also been previously arrested for speaking out about him.

"His health deteriorated to a point that they transferred him to hospital," he said. "One of the nurses managed to call us and tell us that his health was seriously bad … She said one of his ears was injured due to severe beatings."

Sadeghi is accused of "gathering and colluding with intent to harm national security", a vague charge used against many student activists.

Sadeghi's father said: "Every month, the intelligence services summon me and threaten me that they would kick me out of my house and fire me should I choose to speak out....But I have no fear any more....They want to silence us."

Drewery Dyke of Amnesty International said the journey of Arash Sadeghi's father was one that was happening more and more often, especially in the second term of office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

According to Dyke, the death in custody of Iranian blogger Sattar Beheshti last month, which sparked international outrage, has inspired many, like Hossein Sadeghi, to speak out.

"What it shows us, as in the case of the family of blogger Sattar Beheshti, is that more and more Iranians have reached the conclusion that no one in the country is willing or able to help them, and so, now, despite all the pressures that the authorities can bring to bear, family members themselves are speaking out," he said. "And these are not families of notable activists but normal families who simply demand want justice and for their dignity to be acknowledged."

He added: "The authorities may have repressed much of the the human rights community in Iran, but the brave acts of speaking out – exemplified by Arash Sadeghi's father and a handful of others – tells us that the authorities have not repressed the essential thirst for justice and human dignity sought be Iranians. That, they cannot quash."

Dyke said the criminal justice system of Iran was in "something of a shambles" and the plight of Arash Sadeghi was typical. "He is held on a temporary order, with cases based on vaguely worded criminal charges before him. There are scores of such cases adrift in the criminal justice system in Iran today. Why? The basic humanity that underpins effective case management appears absent, so that it takes a case of a death in custody, like Sattar Beheshti, to jolt awake judicial officials."

In his interview with Rooz Online, Sadeghi revealed a glimpse of his torment in jail. "I endured a lot of pressure during my incarceration," he said "I was beaten so severely that my shoulder was twice dislocated and my teeth were broken," he said, according to the translation of the interview published on persian2english.com.

"The beatings, slapping around and kicking were bearable, what was most difficult to endure was when they removed the hair on my body. The worst thing they did to me was to remove the hair on my face, arms and chest. For this reason, my face was scarred. They used to blindfold us and punch and kick us severely in the face. As a result of these beatings my eye was bleeding once and I couldn't see for a long time."

Last week, Sadeghi sent out a letter from inside Evin to Tehran's prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, telling him he would not apologise.

"You had said that I should write an apology … I haven't done anything wrong to apologise and request clemency," he wrote. "It's you and your friends and colleagues who should apologise to the people of Iran for the physical elimination of some of your opposition in the past 33 years."

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