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IRAN: Rights Group Seeks Release of Mistreated and Ill Detainee

Katie Mattern

WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2009 (IPS) - Iranian authorities should release a prominent reformist detained during recent post-election unrest to a medical facility because he has suffered harsh interrogations and inadequate medical care that could have life-threatening consequences, said a prominent human rights group Wednesday.

Saeed Hajjarian, a prominent reformist journalist and politician, was arrested on Jun. 15 without charge, said Human Rights Watch (HRW). The arrest was made despite the fact that Hajjarian is severely disabled and requires constant medical attention.

Hajjarian, 55, has been severely disabled and ill since an assassination attempt against him in 2000. HRW called for Iranian authorities to release Hajjarian to either a medical facility – so that he will receive the necessary specialised care – or to his family so that they could care for him.

“It’s bad enough that the authorities would detain a man as ill as Saeed Hajjarian in their crackdown in the protests,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director, in a release. “But the conditions, harsh treatment, and intense pressure to make a false confession are putting his life at risk.”

Hajjarian was one of hundreds or even more than a thousand, by some estimates, of prominent reformists arrested by authorities for “orchestrating” the post-election violence in Tehran after the disputed victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Jun. 12.

The election results touched off massive, nonviolent demonstrations in Iran’s cities. Many of the reformers and others arrested were detained before the protests even swelled to their largest numbers, raising the spectre that authorities were rounding up prominent members of the opposition to foil mobilisation over the disputed poll.

Hajjarian’s arrest came three days after Ahmadinejad’s victory and as opponent and Hajjarian’s ally, Mir Hussein Moussavi, accused the government of election fraud.

His wife, physician Vajiheh Marsoussi, told HRW that Hajjarian’s condition was seriously deteriorating after her recent visit.

Hajjarian was a senior intelligence official in the 1980s before he became a leading strategist in the reformist movement. In 1997, Hajjarian was a political adviser to President Mohammed Khatami (1997-2005) and was a member of Tehran’s city council in 1999.

His newspaper, Sobh-e Emrooz (This Morning), played a major part in exposing Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence’s involvement in a series of killings and disappearances that took place in the late 1990s.

The investigation by Hajjarian’s newspaper suspected the involvement of Mostafa Pour Mohammad and Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhei. Mohammad was formerly the interior minister under Ahmadinejad and is now serving as the director of the General Inspection Organisation. Ezhei is the current intelligence minister.

“Hajjarian played a critical role in exposing official involvement in a series of murders of intellectuals in the 1990s,” said Whitson. “The fact that two of the major figures linked by his newspaper to the killings remain in senior positions raises serious concerns for his safety in custody.”

The assassination attempt on Hajjarian took place on Mar. 12, 2000 in front of Tehran’s city council building when he was shot in the face by a gunman on a motorcycle. A Basiji militia member, Saeed Asgar, was arrested for the attempt but was released shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Hajjarian sustained severe brain and spinal cord injuries after the attack and has remained largely wheelchair-bound. The HRW report states that “he requires constant medical care to monitor his condition, nursing assistance, and multiple medications,” but has continued to be an outspoken advocate of reform.

His relatives, including his wife, were permitted to visit him on Jun. 26 following rumors that he had died in prison.

“Currently due to the stressful prison conditions, his blood pressure is up to a critical level. In addition his situation has been exasperated by the poor diet in prison and this may cause him to have a heart attack,” his wife told HRW after the visit.

She also said that he was “constantly crying when we saw him”.

Hajjarian has been undergoing severe interrogations by authorities at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where he is being held, according to Marsoussi. She also said that authorities are putting him under extreme pressure to sign various documents, including a false confession of his and other reformists’ involvement in instigating an “illegal” plot against the Iranian government.

HRW also talked to one of Hajjarian’s former doctors, Taghi Asadi, who said that this detention was putting his life in danger. Asadi currently resides in the U.S.

“The Iranian government is using Hajjarian’s medical condition and disability to augment coercive and abusive interrogation – in order, it appears, to force a false confession,” said Whitson. “That is a very serious violation of his rights, and they need to ensure he has adequate medical care immediately, starting by removing him from Evin.”

Under the U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Hajjarian should be allowed to be transferred to a medical facility for treatment because of his disabilities requiring permanent specialised attention.

“Failing to provide adequate medical care for a seriously ill detainee has been considered inhuman or degrading treatment by international courts, a very serious human rights violation,” the release said.

By current estimates, over 1,000 people were detained in the post-election violence, including nine Iranian employees of the British embassy, of whom one remains in custody. The Tehran police chief has stated that most of the detainees have been released. At least 20 protestors were killed, according to some tallies.

The violence marks Iran’s most vigorous internal unrest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the largest challenge to the regime and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei in three decades.

Leading experts across the Western world have also been lending their support by signing a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for action against the Iranian government, which includes pushing for the release of all those detained during the protests. It also asks that Ban refuse to recognise Ahmadinejad’s illegitimate government and any form of cooperation with it.

Iran’s Guardian Council, the top electoral body in the country, confirmed Ahmadinejad’s victory after a partial recount on Jun. 29.

On Wednesday, Moussavi, along with Khatami and reformist presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi, questioned the legitimacy of the new Iranian government and called for a continuation of protests.

Moussavi also called for a release of all jailed reformists.

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