Kurdish political prisoner arrested at Iran protests starts hunger strike

A Kurdish political prisoner whom Iranian security forces arrested during the November 2019 demonstrations has gone on hunger strike to protest being denied furlough and discrimination at an infamous detention facility where she is held, a rights watchdog reported Wednesday.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Kurdish political prisoner whom security forces arrested during Iran's November 2019 demonstrations has gone on a hunger strike to protest being denied furlough and discrimination at an infamous detention facility where she is held, a rights watchdog reported Wednesday.

Mozhgan Kavousi began her strike on Tuesday, said Hengaw, a monitor that specifically focuses on human rights issues of Iran’s Kurds. She is detained in Tehran’s Evin prison, where former prisoners have said widespread torture and executions occur.

The move by Kavousi—a writer, researcher, and a documentary filmmaker, as an Amnesty International report described her on Wednesday—came after she was denied furlough and was allegedly the victim of gender discrimination since she was not allowed to make family calls, an informed source told Hengaw.

Male prisoners are reportedly able to routinely contact relatives from the detention facility with much less difficulty.

The intelligence division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Kavousi on Nov. 18 in the city of Nowshahr, Mazandaran province, “primarily in connection with her writings on social media about the November 2019 protests,” according to Amnesty.

This came just a few days after the outbreak of mass demonstrations in response to Tehran’s abrupt announcement of a severe price hike of government-subsidized fuel. Various security forces across the country responded with an immediate and violent crackdown, killing at least 300 demonstrators in a matter of days, with Reuters reporting 1,500 fatalities, citing multiple sources.

Related Article: Iran says it has arrested leaders of ‘unrest’ in ongoing protest crackdown

Mazandaran authorities subjected Kavousi to “prolonged solitary confinement and interrogated (her) without a lawyer present” before allowing a release on bail on Dec. 19. After this, she went through “an unfair trial which took place before Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court” of Nowshahr.

According to Amnesty, she was convicted of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting people to disrupt the country’s order and security” in connection with two posts on her Instagram account about the protests.

She was also convicted of “membership of a group with the purpose of disrupting national security” in connection with the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), a Kurdish opposition party of which she was briefly a member several years ago, the report added.

The court initially sentenced Kavousi to five years and nine months in prison and, in March, an appeal court increased it to six years, four months, and 15 days, of which she will have to serve three years, the largest sentence she received for one of her convictions.

“She did not have access to a lawyer at trial,” Amnesty said. Kavousi was rearrested on May 19 and transferred to Tehran’s Evin prison to serve her sentence.

The case of Kavousi is one among many, with a crackdown on political and human rights activists increasing in recent months in the militarized Kurdish regions of Iran, amid ongoing armed clashes between the IRGC and Kurdish opposition groups such as the PDKI.

Read More: Iranian gov't militiamen killed as IRGC, Kurdish group clash near western border

Hengaw reported recently that Iranian police had arrested at least 54 Kurdish civilians for allegedly aiding, or for membership in, opposition groups or religious and social activism.

‘Confessions’ Under Torture

The focus of the Amnesty report, titled Trampling humanity: Mass arrests, disappearances and torture since Iran’s 2019 November protests, were those detained in the after crowds took to the streets.

It “documents the harrowing accounts of dozens of protesters, bystanders and others who were violently arrested, forcibly disappeared or held incommunicado, systemically denied access to their lawyers during interrogations, and repeatedly tortured to ‘confess.’”

“They are among the 7,000 men, women and children arrested by the Iranian authorities within a matter of days during their brutal repression of the protests.” Local rights organizations have documented numbers that are much higher.

Detailing another case involving a Kurdish activist, Amnesty reported that of Fatemeh Davand, who was arrested by agents from the Ministry of Intelligence one day before Kavousi “after participating peacefully in protests in the city of Bukan, West Azerbaijan province.”

Davand “was transferred, whilst blindfolded and with her hands and feet chained,” to a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in the city of Urmia, West Azerbaijan province.

The report cited credible sources that said Davand “was held there incommunicado for two weeks in solitary confinement, where she was denied food for several days and interrogated by agents of the ministry of intelligence without a lawyer present.”

“Several days after her arrest, under torture and other ill-treatment through the deprivation of food and coercive tactics such as false promises that she would be released the following day, she was forced to give a “confession” in front of a video camera.”

The forced confessions, according to Amnesty, were broadcast on state-owned IRIB TV, without her knowledge. The station also aired “a propaganda video, which depicted Fatemeh Davand and other women taking part in the protests as ‘riot leaders.’”

Davand's confessions, which, Amnesty described as \u022forced,\u022 in a broadcast on state-owned IRIB TV. (Photo: Archive)
Davand's confessions, which, Amnesty described as \u022forced,\u022 in a broadcast on state-owned IRIB TV. (Photo: Archive)

Davand was then held in the Urmia Central Prison for close to four months starting in December 2019. In a trial later that month, she was convicted of “disturbing public order” and sentenced to five months in prison and 30 lashes. She served her detention term but is yet to be flogged.

In the second and last trial, held on May 12, she was convicted of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, the Amnesty report added.

“Both of her trials were grossly unfair. Her convictions were based, in part, on forced 'confessions' obtained under torture and other ill-treatment, even though she retracted them in court and told the judges that she had been forced to give the 'confessions' by her interrogators.”

“Both courts also used the videos of her peaceful participation in the protests as evidence to convict her.”

The Urmia Central Prison summoned Davand on Aug. 5 to begin serving her prison sentence.

The Amnesty report described both Kavousi and Davand as “prisoners of conscience,” convicted solely for exercising their “rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

Editing by John J. Catherine