By Aida Ghajar
October 29, 2020
On the night of Tuesday, October 27 an audio file was provided to IranWire in which Behnam Mahjoubi, a prisoner of conscience in Iran, speaks of the horrors he endured on being forcibly admitted to Aminabad Psychiatric Hospital.
Struggling to form the words around a swollen tongue, Mahjoubi describes a litany of wretched episodes that, in sum, have now prompted him to go on hunger strike in a bid to end his own life on his own terms. He is dizzy and nauseous, and reports that his legs have turned black. He has gaps in his memory. His body can no longer tolerate what has happened.
The Gonabadi dervish was sentenced last August to two years in prison for “colluding against national security”. He suffers from a panic disorder and was denied his usual medication when he started to serve his sentence in July 2020. Instead, the prison doctor gave him 14 to 17 sleeping pills a day.
The sudden change in medication brought on seizures. On September 26, Mahjoubi fainted in prison and one side of his body went numb. But instead of giving him his prescribed medication, and despite the protests of his wife Saleheh Hosseini, the authorities sent Behnam Mahjoubi to a psychiatric hospital.
What Happened at Aminabad?
Before his abrupt transfer to the psychiatric ward, Behnam Mahjoubi says he was told he would be seeing a “local doctor” near the railway station in Tehran. “As a child of the provinces,” he says in the recording, “I did not know where the railway station was. They put me in a car, beat me up [in front of the hospital] and gave me an injection. I had no idea where I was at the time.
“Suddenly I was in a trance. I felt nothing until the morning. I was tied to the bed. They gave me injections and tablets. They did – things that were wrong, I can’t say it. The least of these was that they deliberately didn’t control their urine and splashed it on us. There was another thing too, but I can’t say it.”
There were four rooms on his hospital ward, he says, but patients were brought into his room, which stopped him sleeping at night. At this point in the recording Mahjoubi stops to catch his breath, while a recorded voice on the call confirms: “The person you are talking to is a prisoner.”
Continuing, Mahjoubi says that in the hospital bathrooms “they stripped everyone naked. I said this is inhuman, against our nature. But they stripped everyone naked and made fun of them. I saw the decline of humanity [in Aminabad].”
According to Mahjoubi, patients were being made to carry out menial tasks before staff would let them eat. “The staff sit and relax, and make the patients clean the floors before they give them the food. My prison guard handcuffed me and tied me up and then went off to smoke cigarettes and take drugs. When I had to go to the toilet, where were they?
“My breath…” Again, Behnam Mahjoubi’s voice falters for a few seconds as he inhales. “I become breathless,” he explains. “This is because of the drugs and the pills they gave me there… I have lost my memory. I have written down my wife’s number to call her on. It was because of the pressure on me; night and day.”
When he protested against the hospital admission, asking the doctors why he was being kept in these conditions, the medical staff reportedly told him that they had “a letter from the judge”. Here Mahjoubi takes another breath and demands to know: “So where have your doctor’s ethics gone?”.
Solidarity of Fellow Political Prisoners
Behnam Mahjoubi first presented himself at Evin Prison on June 20, 2020. Despite a doctor’s written testimony that he would not be able to cope in prison because of his neurological illness, he remained there and was blocked from accessing his usual medication until he went on hunger strike. From August 4 his physical condition began to deteriorate, with his arms and legs aching, but instead of investigating the complaint prison officers viciously beat him.
In mid-August, Mahjoubi and a number of other political detainees at Evin Prison went on hunger strike in solidarity with the imprisoned human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. The lack of food made him sicker and eventually led to a fall, after which Mahjoubi was hospitalized for several days with his hands and legs cuffed.
Then on September 2, Mahjoubi issued an audio file from Evin Prison in which he said he feared he had contracted Covid-19 and was coughing constantly. In addition, he said, his former cellmate Behnam Mousivand had been moved to the infamous Rajaei Shahr Prison after being told he was being taken to a medical facility.
Behnam Mahjoubi is not the first political prisoner to have been sent to a psychiatric facility as a punitive measure. Earlier this month, fellow activist Mosayeb Raeisi-Yeganeh sent an audio file to IranWire in which he revealed that he, too, had been transferred to Aminabad after standing up for inmates’ rights on the wards. “I did not allow them to inject me,” he said in the recording. “But I heard about what happened to Mr. Behnam Mahjoubi from the staff, and that worried me. There is no longer any guarantee that we political prisoners will be released or even return home alive.”
Now Mahjoubi has announced his second hunger strike, which he frames more like a declaration of suicidal intent. At the same time his fellow prisoners in Evin have signed a collective statement in support of the Gonabadi dervish. “Behnam Mahjoubi was subjected to brutal, inhuman and immoral behavior at Aminabad Psychiatric Hospital and suffered mental, psychological, and physical damage,” they testified. “Several days after Behnam’s return to prison, his condition has worsened.”
Based on what happened to him in Aminabad, Behnam Mahjoubi says in the recording that he feels the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran wish to kill him. “I will not allow this to happen,” he adds. It is for this reason that this political prisoner has now gone back on hunger strike: so as not to cede control over his own death to the Islamic Republic.