16 Sep 2006
Coming just a month and a half after the death of Akbar Mohammadi in Evin prison, the death of Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi in Evin, has once again brought attention to the abhorring conditions of Iranian prisoners.
There is no doubt that the responsibility of the lives of all prisoners in the country rests with prison officials. According to law, prison authorities are responsible to create such conditions that a prisoner goes through his sentenced prison term in good physical and psychological health, after which he returns to society in a normal fashion.
But by attributing the recent deaths in Iranian prisons to ‘hunger strikes’ or ‘suicides’, judiciary authorities in Iran have tried to shunned from their responsibilities. But their legal responsibilities can never be reduced by any standards or on any excuse. If during his prison term, a prisoner feels to be under such pressure that he has no choice other than to either gradually or immediately end his life in order to make his voice or protest heard, the responsibility for creating such conditions rests with judiciary officials who by ignoring their duties have creating such deplorable conditions in prisons and penitentiaries.
According to express provisions of the law, judiciary and prison officials are responsible to provide a just legal process, access to defense attorneys, acceptable living conditions in prison cells, medical and health services, etc, among other tasks. In addition, prison officials must group and separate prisoners on the basis of type of crime they have committed. All of these are the basics in this regard and their violations and negations lead to protests by prisoners themselves, many at the expense of their lives and health. The repeated and continuous reports of hunger strikes among Iranian prisoners are evidence to the unacceptable conditions in our prisons.
The tragedy of Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi’s death in Gohar-Dasht prison, is a shocking example that reminds the public of the deplorable conditions in Iranian prisons. Different accounts and reports have appeared regarding this recent death. But still only a few probably know what the demands of this prisoner were for which he had subjected himself to such a lengthy hunger strike. Mahdavi who had been sentenced to death and who believed he would be executed sooner or later, was calling on officials to be transferred to Evin prison from Gohar-Dasht. In other words, the horrible conditions in Gohar-Dasht prison – which is where prisoners who have committed such crimes as murder, rape, gang activities etc are kept – were so harsh and unbearable that his dream was to be transferred to transferred to Evin prison, which itself is notorious for being a harsh prison. His dream was so important to him that he had decided to go on a hunger strike for it.
The families of those who are subjected to such cruelty in Iranian prisons have the legal right, according to Iranian law, to sue prison officials and even Iranian laws leave no doubt about their punishment in such violations.
We know that the necessary conditions for the implementation of these legal provisions are nothing but the rule of law: even the law as written by Iranian officials. Unfortunately, the role of law among Iranian rulers is so insignificant that even after the death of a prisoner when the victim’s defense attorney files suit in a court of law, officials file suit against him!
And this is exactly what happened this week in Tehran to Khalil Bahramian, defense attorney for Akbar Mohammadi who died in prison a few weeks ago apparently because of his hunger strike.
Shirin Ebadi is the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work in human rights and women’s rights. She lives in Iran and is a regular contributor to Rooz Online.