December 1, 2016
An Iranian musician who is serving a three-year prison sentence for distribution of underground music has been taken to hospital after one month on hunger strike.
Mehdi Rajabian was released on furlough from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison at the end of last week but has since been taken to Buali hospital in the province of Mazandaran, where he is originally from. The Guardian understands that the judicial authorities have asked for him to return to Evin by Sunday despite his deteriorating condition.
He was jailed in June alongside his brother, Hossein Rajabian, a 31-year-old film-maker, who has also been given a three-year jail sentence. A three-minute trial in 2015 found the brothers and their musician friend, Yousef Emadi, 35, guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities”, “spreading propaganda against the system” and “illegal audio-visual activities”.
It is not clear if Emadi has also been summoned to prison to serve his jail term. The three men worked in the same office in Sari before their initial arrest in October 2013.
The two brothers embarked on a hunger strike more than a month ago and have refrained from eating any food, although they have been forced to drink water from time to time. Hossein Rajabian remains in Evin prison, where the condition of his health is unknown.
Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme, has criticised their imprisonment.
“Expressing yourself through art is not a crime and it is outrageous that the Iranian authorities have resorted to locking up artists and musicians simply for their artistic work,” he said. “Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian are prisoners of conscience who shouldn’t be forced to spend a single minute behind bars. The Iranian authorities must order their immediate and unconditional release.”
The three artists were first sentenced to six years in jail but the appeals court subsequently commuted the sentences to three years in jail with a further three years suspended, conditional on their “good behaviour”. They have also each been ordered to pay a fine of 200m rials (£4,500).
“Their imprisonment is yet another nail in the coffin for freedom of expression in Iran,” Luther said. “The human right to liberty is sadly so undervalued by the Iranian authorities that they are prepared to condemn individuals to years in jail just to silence artistic voices that they deem as ‘anti-Islamic’ and ‘anti-revolutionary’.”
The Rajabian brothers’ arrest is part of the hardline judiciary’s clampdown on those who defy the permitted norms. Last week, the authorities locked up a 29-year-old human rights activist and campaigner, Atena Daemi, to serve her seven-year sentence.
“Daemi is a prominent activist in the field of children’s rights as well as a vocal opponent of the death penalty,” according to the New York-based international campaign for human rights in Iran (ICHRI). “She was arrested on 21 October 2014 by the [elite Revolutionary Guards’] intelligence organisation and accused of meeting families of political prisoners, criticising the Islamic Republic on Facebook and condemning the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners.”
The artistic freedom news website artsfreedom.org published a letter by the Rajabians sent from prison last month in which they pleaded for solidarity from world artists. The brothers said the authorities separated them in prison, which led to them starting their hunger strike.
“This separation and keeping us apart caused us great mental, physical and financial distress,” they wrote. “This went so far that we eventually went on a hunger strike, which led to both of our pre-existing illnesses to worsen.”
Mehdi Rajabian suffers from muscular dystrophy, which he has allegedly developed after facing rigorous interrogations.
They also wrote: “The most peculiar thing of all is that through all of this we have been denied our legal rights to see an attorney.”
The brothers did not have access to lawyers while being interrogated, nor during the course of their trial.