Lucy Popescu

Narges Mohammadi & Mohammad Soleimani Nia

According to Amnesty International’s most recent report on Iran, published in February 2012:

The net of repression is widening in Iran. The authorities are arresting filmmakers, bloggers, human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, lawyers, students, journalists, political activists, religious and ethnic minorities – simply for speaking out against the government or expressing views with which the authorities do not agree.

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi co-founded the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) in an attempt to protect the rights of women, political prisoners and minorities in Iran. Since being refused official registration, its members have been continually harassed and persecuted by the authorities for their work. Office staff have been threatened and forced to resign. A prominent member, lawyer and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh, is currently serving a six-year prison sentence.

One of the most recent victims of this ongoing repression is Narges Mohammadi, who was sentenced on 26 September 2011 to eleven years in prison for ‘acting against the national security’, ‘membership of the DHRC’, and ‘propaganda against the regime’ for her reports on human rights violations, her cooperation with Ebadi, and her visits to political prisoners. She was granted bail, due to ill health, but on 4 March 2012 an appeals court confirmed the conviction, reducing the sentence to six years.

A spokeswoman for Ebadi and the DHRC, Mohammadi is an award-winning activist and journalist. She was first arrested on 10 June 2010, only to be released on bail that July due to a marked deterioration in her health. After her release she had to spend a month in hospital. She suffers from a form of muscular paralysis that worsens under stress.

Mohammadi is the mother of six-year-old twins, and the wife of prominent journalist and activist Taghi Rahmani, who spent a total of seventeen years in prison. Rahmani reportedly fled the country in May 2011, following pressure from the authorities, but Mohammadi stayed in Iran with her children.

On 21 April 2012, Mohammadi was arrested at her home in the northern city of Zanjan after being summoned to serve out the six-year prison term. PEN and other human rights organisations are extremely concerned for her wellbeing and are calling for her release, as she is believed to have been transferred to the women’s ward of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. Former detainees have complained of human rights abuses such as solitary confinement and torture. Ebadi has said that it ‘occupies perhaps the darkest corner of the Iranian imagination’. In these pages in May 2009, I wrote about Omidreza Mirsayafi, a 29-year-old blogger, who died in suspicious circumstances while held there.

Meanwhile, a literary translator and poet, Mohammad Soleimani Nia, has been held without charge in Evin prison since January, and is said to be in a fragile condition. On 2 April 2012, he began a hunger strike in protest at his detention. Soleimani Nia, who is thirty-nine years old, translated into Farsi the book Funny in Farsi by Iranian-American writer Firoozeh Dumas. The book is a collection of humorous vignettes about her family; it is not politically contentious. According to Dumas, writing earlier this year, Soleimani Nia’s translation of Funny in Farsi:

became an enormous bestseller in Iran. If a book sells 2,000 copies in Iran, it has done well. The translation of Funny in Farsi (called Atre Sombol, Atre Koj) went on to sell over 100,000 copies before it was banned for further censorship about a year ago … Mohammad gained much deserved fame as a result of his translation, fame that may have worked against him.
Soleimani Nia was detained after responding to a summons to report to the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. He was then accompanied by security guards to his home in Karaj, outside Tehran, which he shares with his parents. The house was searched and his guards seized computer equipment and documents. He is believed to have been detained for developing the professional social networking website U24, which he launched in April 2007. Similar to LinkedIn, the site helps Iranian professionals to find work and to build connections with one another. He was previously targeted in November 2011, when he was questioned by intelligence officers, who banned him from leaving Iran.

The arrests of Mohammadi and Soleimani Nia were part of a renewed crackdown on independent and dissenting voices ahead of the parliamentary elections held in March 2012. According to Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa:

In Iran today you put yourself at risk if you do anything that might fall outside the increasingly narrow confines of what the authorities deem socially or politically acceptable … Anything from setting up a social group on the Internet, forming or joining an NGO, or expressing your opposition to the status quo can land you in prison.
Readers might like to send appeals protesting the detention of Narges Mohammadi and Mohammad Soleimani Nia, both of whom are seriously ill; calling for their immediate and unconditional release in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory, and on humanitarian grounds; seeking assurances of their wellbeing in detention, and urging that they be granted full access to family visits, legal representation and all necessary medical care while detained.

Appeals to be addressed to:

His Excellency Rasoul Movahedian Attar
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1PT
Fax: 020 7589 4440 / Email: info@iran-embassy.org.uk

Copies to: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Fax (via Ministry of Foreign Affairs): 009821 6674 3149
(mark: ‘Please forward to HE President Ahmadinejad’)

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