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Iran Says Imprisoned Dervish Activist Dead After Hospitalization


Behnam Mahjubi

Authorities in Iran say an imprisoned activist from the Sufi Gonabadi dervish religious minority died days after being hospitalized for what they say was poisoning caused by the consumption of medication.

Behnam Mahjubi, 33, had been jailed after taking part in a demonstration along with other members of the Gonabadi order in 2018 and started serving a two-year prison sentence in June.

Mahjubi’s mother, Batool Hosseini, said in a video message posted online by activists that she will not allow her son to be buried until the cause of his death is determined by a full autopsy.

His death, announced late on February 21, comes amid accusations of neglect by Iranian authorities.

Mahjubi was reportedly taken from the notorious Evin Prison and admitted to a local hospital on February 16.

The Gonabadi order strongly opposes the use of drugs.

Mahjubi's wife, Saleh Hosseini, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda last week after being allowed to see her husband in the intensive care unit of Loghman hospital in Tehran that he had been denied timely medical care and that contributed to his falling into a coma.

Mahjubi's mother said last week that her son was breathing with the aid of a ventilator while handcuffed to a hospital bed in the hospital's intensive care unit.

Amnesty International said last year that Mahjubi’s psychiatrist, as well as doctors from the Legal Medical Organization, had made the assessment that he was not fit for imprisonment. The rights group said that Mahjubi suffered from a “serious panic disorder.”

The Gonabadi dervishes have spent years clashing intermittently with Iranian authorities, with critics saying Iran's leadership regards them as a threat to its monopoly on religion.

Denial Of Proper Medical Care

Some conservative clerics have called the Sufis a danger to Islam.

"Special medical care was administered after he was hospitalized, but despite the medical team's efforts, the prisoner unfortunately passed away," Iran's judiciary said on an official website on February 21.

Iran’s prisons' organization said that Mahjubi's cellmates claimed he had "willingly, and with no medical consultation, consumed several of his own and other prisoners' drugs.”

Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-Based Center for Human Rights In Iran, accused Iranian authorities of having denied Mahjubi proper medical care.

“The reported death of Behnam Mahjoubi is a tragedy that occurred following denial of proper medical care -- an inhuman state policy that is used to further intimidate and punish prisoners in #Iran,” Ghaemi said on Twitter.

"There are serious allegations of authorities neglecting Mahjubi's medical condition for a long time," Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

"Those allegations should be investigated, including for any criminal liability," she added.

Security troops have destroyed Gonabadi houses of worship and detained members en masse on a number of occasions.

Amnesty International says the persecution of dervishes in Iran increased after an October 2010 speech by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who denounced "newly created circles of false mysticism."

With reporting by AFP