Political prisoner ‘unfit’ for jail dies in Iranian prison, activists say

Groups say they hold head of judiciary Ebrahim Raisi responsible for Sasan Niknafs’ death, the cause of which is not specified; Raisi widely expected to win presidential election

Illustrative: Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. (CC BY-SA 2.0 Ehsan Iran/Wikipedia)
Illustrative: Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran. (CC BY-SA 2.0 Ehsan Iran/Wikipedia)

PARIS — A man serving a five-year jail sentence on political charges in Iran has died in custody, activists said, accusing the authorities of contributing to his death by neglecting his medical conditions.

Sasan Niknafs had since July 2020 been serving a sentence on charges including disseminating “propaganda” against the state and Iran’s leadership, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) and Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in separate statements late Monday.

Both said that they held the head of the Iranian judiciary Ebrahim Raisi responsible for his death, the cause of which was not specified.

Raisi is widely expected to win this month’s presidential election.

Niknafs was imprisoned “despite displaying multiple physical and mental health issues,” including a history of attempted suicide, the CHRI said.

He was “unfit to serve his sentence due to multiple illnesses but judicial authorities had refused his release despite numerous requests,” said the IHR.

It said Niknafs had been suffering from diabetes, epilepsy and depression.

In a statement carried by the judiciary’s news agency Mizan Online, the Tehran prisons service said Niknafs had been serving a five-year sentence without giving details on his charges.

It said that Niknafs had previously informed the prisons service of his suicidal tendencies and had been receiving medical treatment under the supervision of the prisons service.

According to the prison service, Niknafs said he had taken pills given by another prisoner and subsequently fell ill. He was transferred on Saturday to hospital in Tehran where he died.

His death comes after Behnam Mahjoubi, a member of the Sufi Gonabadi order and described as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, in February also died in custody. Activists expressed fear Mahjoubi died after authorities failed to take into account medical conditions.

There has also been alarm over the health of dissident filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad who activists say is seriously ill in prison after torture which allegedly included multiple injections of an unknown substance into his genitals.

Ebrahim Raisi, head of Iran’s Judiciary, during a ceremony on the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) general Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

“This mounting death toll of political prisoners is the result of a decades-long policy of treating critics of the state as less than human, and the judiciary chief’s (Raisi’s) refusal to protect prisoners,” said CHRI chief Hadi Ghaemi.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, added: “Ebrahim Raisi and (Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei are responsible for the arrest, torture and ill-treatment and death of political prisoners in custody.”

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