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Iran: Growing Concern Over Fate Of Political Prisoner

(RFE/RL) There is growing concern over the fate of Iranian political prisoner Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, who went on a hunger strike to protest his prison conditions. Prison officials say Mahdavi, who is a sympathizer of Iran's main armed opposition group, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK), was  transferred to a hospital following a suicide attempt.

PRAGUE, September 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi, who is in his late 20s, had been on a hunger strike for nine days when on September 2 he reportedly felt ill.

Detainees from Gohardasht prison in Karaj, near Tehran, where Mahdavi is being held, have said that he was transferred to the prison's clinic in a very critical condition.

Human Rights Watch had called on Iranian authorities to either release him or retry him in a fair and public trial with access to legal counsel.

Varying Accounts

Activist Amir Saran, who has been temporarily released from Gohardasht, told Radio Farda that Mahdavi was unconscious.

"He felt sick at 8 at night [and] friends called [prison authorities] so that they would take him to the clinic," he said. "Detainee Karami Kheyrabadi, who was in the same prison block, went to see him. He told me that he was [almost] dead; he said 'I checked his eyes and took his pulse;' he was 98 percent dead."

Detainees at Gohardasht have also said that a prison worker told them that Mahdavi is brain dead; therefore he has been transferred to a hospital outside the prison.

Their claims could not be independently corroborated and officials are offering a different version of events.

Sohrab Soleimani, the head of the prison organization in Tehran, today told the semi-official Fars news agency that Mahdavi tried to commit suicide by hanging himself on September 3.

He added that he was revived at the prison clinic and then sent to Shariati hospital for further treatment. The official rejected reports that Mahdavi had gone on a hunger strike.

No Access

Mahdavi's lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, told RFE/RL that he has not been able to meet his client.

Dadkhah tells RFE/RL that prison authorities should provide information about the health and medical condition of a detainee.

"With regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Principles that have been accepted in Iran's Constitution, they should inform about these cases," he said. "Refraining from providing information has [violated] an undisputable right. It has deprived people from having information and being kept abreast of the situation."

Concerns about Mahdavi's fate were heightened following last month's death in custody of jailed student activist Manuchehr Mohammadi.

The circumstances of Mohammadi's death -- which occurred following a week-long hunger strike -- are not yet clear. Many have termed his death in custody as "suspicious" and called for an independent investigation.

Mohammadi's death led to growing concern over the fate of other political prisoners in Iran.

Last Resort

Many of them choose to hunger strike as a way to protest their situation and hopefully bring some attention to their plight.

Mahdavi had gone on a hunger strike to get access to his lawyers and to be transferred to Tehran's Evin prison, where other political prisoners are held.

In Gohardasht, prisoners of conscience are detained along with common criminals. Dadkhah says Mahdavi wanted to be closer to his relatives.

"It is his legal right to demand that his prison be changed," he said. "We have made several appeals to the judiciary but unfortunately they refused to [move him]. I think the prison management should accept this logical demand that someone wants to be closer to his family so that they can visit him with greater ease."

Mahdavi was arrested in 2001 and charged with armed resistance against the state. Iranian officials have said that he was involved in a bombing.

The MEK is based in Iraq and has made armed attacks against Iran. The United States considers it a terrorist organization.

Threatened With Execution

Mahdavi was later sentenced to death during a trial that human rights groups said did not meet international standards for a fair trial.

In March 2006, authorities reportedly told him that he will be executed after the Persian New Year (March 21).

But in June his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The judiciary made the ruling following an appeal by Mahdavi's lawyers.

There had also been appeals from several human rights organizations to Iranian authorities asking them not to execute Mahdavi.

Human Rights Watch had called on Iranian authorities to either release him or retry him in a fair and public trial with access to legal counsel.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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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.