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Iran: Rights Groups Criticize Death Of Jailed Student Activist

Akbar Mohammadi (left) and his brother Manuchehr (file photo) (Fars) International human rights groups, Iranian political activists, and well-known reformers have condemned the death of Iranian student activist Akbar Mohammadi in Tehran's notorious Evin prison and called for an independent investigation to be made. Mohammadi's death has also drawn criticism from Washington. Mohammadi died in prison on July 30 after going on a hunger strike in a bid to secure his release. Prison authorities say he felt ill after showering and died while being taken to the prison clinic. Mohammadi was one of scores of students who were arrested during the 1999 student protests and imprisoned.

PRAGUE, August 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian authorities say they are investigating what may have caused the death of Akbar Mohammadi, who was 36 years old.

They added that the results of an autopsy will be made public. However, on August 1, an official at with the state coroners organization told the ILNA news agency that the results will be announced in one month.

He writes that he hopes one day "the dark shadow of dictatorship, injustice, and oppression" that has taken over Iran will be replaced by "the light of democracy and freedom."

Independent Investigation Wanted

But rights groups believe only an independent investigation will determine the truth about his death.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for an independent commission comprised of Iranian lawyers and medical experts to investigate and report publicly on the circumstances of his death.

HRW says if the responsibility for Mohammadi's death in prison lies with the prison or other state authority, the relevant individuals should be identified and prosecuted.

Amnesty International says Mohammadi's death in custody casts a pall over the entire Iranian justice system.

Amnesty and Mohammadi's family have also stressed the need for an independent investigation and autopsy by independent pathologists to determine the cause of death and conditions that led to it.

State Burial, No Family

His sister, Nasrin Mohammadi, spoke to Radio Farda on August 1 from Turkey while holding back tears.

"We are in touch with human rights organizations [and hope] there is some possible way for them to send a representative and [medical experts] to Iran to conduct another autopsy on Akbar's body," she said. "This should be done."

Some observers -- including Akbar Mohammadi's lawyers and right advocates -- have described his death in prison as "suspicious."

They say he was buried hastily under tight security measures. Mohammadi's sister says no one from the family was allowed to attend the burial.

"They didn't allow my parents to bury him, they did it themselves," she said. "Even now the Intelligence Ministry and security forces are watching his grave so that people cannot go there. They dug his grave in one of the villages around [his hometown of] Amol [in northern Iran], which they had chosen, [and] they buried him there. Only after that could my parents visit his grave; before that my family had been able to see him only at the mortuary. The regime had conducted an autopsy on him. His hands, legs, and his body were bruised; there were the markings of chains on his hands and feet."

Second Dissident Death At Evin

Mohammadi is the second known inmate to have died in the Evin prison in recent years.

In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi apparently died from a blow to the head sustained while she was in Evin. Her body showed signs of severe beatings and torture. No one has been prosecuted in connection with her death.

Abdolfatah Soltani is a prominent rights advocate who represented Kazemi's family in court along with a team of lawyers including Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Soltani is also among the people who have called on the Iranian government to allow the creation of a commission to investigate Mohammadi's death.

"In that case, if the body of the late Zahra Kazemi had not been not buried hastily, then maybe those responsible could have been identified," he said. "But there was haste and also independent observers were not present during the medical examination of the body, to prevent problems in determining the conditions that Mohammadi was subject to and the cause of his death, we are calling on the authorities to let several independent experts investigate. If they find that he died of natural causes then so much the better but if they determine that there were other causes and they determine it was a murder, then those responsible should be brought to justice."

Danger For Others?

Many people are now concerned about the safety of other political prisoners in Iran.

Amnesty International says jailed student activists Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, Ahmad Batebi, and Akbar Mohammadi's brother, Manuchehr, are facing a heightened risk. They are among a handful of student activists jailed in 1999 that are still imprisoned.

The United States has also expressed concern over the fate of those held in Iran and a government crackdown on opponents.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement that the Iranian regime's actions led to Mohammadi's death.

Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Mohammadi to death following the 1999 student protests in Tehran and several other universities in Iran. His sentence was later commuted to 15 years in jail.

His relatives and human rights groups say he was tortured in prison and suffered from health problems, including severe back pain.

Between 2004 and 2006 he was freed for medical treatment. But he was sent back to prison on June 11.

Mohammadi managed to write his prison memoirs while on medical leave. He writes, in a small part of his memoirs published on, that he hopes one day "the dark shadow of dictatorship, injustice, and oppression" that has taken over Iran will be replaced by "the light of democracy and freedom."

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

U.S. Report On Global Human Rights

Police in Moscow arrest human rights demonstrators on February 1 (courtesy photo)

THE RECORD ON RIGHTS: On March 8, the U.S. State Department issued its global report on human rights. According to the report, 15 years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, human rights are improving in many post-communist countries. But problems persist in others, it says, despite the worldwide explosion of information and Western efforts to spread democracy. (more)

For more detailed information, see:

Azerbaijan Cited For Political Harassment, Police Brutality
Child Labor, Human Trafficking Cited In U.S. Report On Afghanistan
U.S. Says China, Iran 'Most Systematic' Rights Violators
Human Rights Not A Priority In Central Asia, U.S. Report Says
U.S. Report Points To Serious Abuses In Iraq
Abuses In Chechnya, Centralized Power Cited In U.S Report On Russia
U.S. Says Serious Human Rights Violations Occurring In Iran


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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.