Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Concern over Death of Prisoners

A Conversation with Shirin Ebadi -


Rooz: What is the status of the Center’s work today?

Shirin Ebadi (Ebadi): The offices of the Center were sealed shut by government authorities last year but we have repeatedly announced that the work of the Center continues as usual. Two weeks after the closure, we published our regular report on human rights violations in Iran. The Center’s annual human rights report for the year 1387 (2008) too will be published in the next ten days. Through the latter, we list the violations of human rights in Iran to the Iranian people. And like our other reports, this one too is open and will be provided to all the media.
In addition to the report, the Committee to Oversee Free, Fair and Open Elections which is an initiative of the Center, continues its work as well and its reports attest to its outstanding work. The other activities of the Center such as human rights education, and the pro bono defense of political-ideological suspects continue as well. Among the legal suits that the Center was privileged to represent is that of Omidreza Mirsayafi, who unfortunately died because of unknown circumstances a few days after he was sent to prison. The family members of the deceased have protested this issue and the Center represents them in the case.

Rooz: Conflicting reports have been published about Mirsayafi’s health. Did he have any particular illness?

Ebadi: Mirsayafi family members state that they spoke with the prisoner in the morning of March 18th - the say day that he was announced dead - and his health and morale seemed perfectly fine. Since he had no record of any physical or mental illness, it is really not clear what happened between the morning hours and about 3 or 4pm when he was said to have died. We are investigating this case and shall inform the public of our findings. His relatives who went to pick up Omidreza’s body say that they found blood in his ear.

Rooz: What does that mean?

Ebadi: This is something for a physician to conclude. I shall be able to make a definitive statement after concluding our legal investigation. But normally when someone dies of overdose, he does not get blood in his ear. It is claimed that Omidreza took an overdose of some medication which caused his death. But this sounds very strange considering the blood that was observed in his ear by his family members.

Rooz: What is your next step in this case?

Ebadi: Attorneys of the Center who are in charge of the case await the medical report from the coroner’s office. But on a larger point, the suspicious death of Omidreza Mirsayafi has caused deep concern in Iran’s human rights community because the number of such deaths has been on a gradual rise.

Rooz: In your opinion, are these deaths normal?

Ebadi: It has been established that some of these deaths are homicide, not normal. One example is the death of (Iranian-Canadian photo-journalist) Zahra Kazemi which has been established to have been criminal even though the judiciary announced at the last minute that it could not identify the murderer. There are other suspicious cases under investigation such as the death of Dr Zahra Bani Yaghoob which despite repeated visits by me and other attorneys have not produced any results as well. In addition, the judge under whose jurisdiction the case resides refrains from even handing over the victims’ clothes to her family members. The normal practice is that when the body of a person is handed over to the coroner’s office, his clothes and other belongings are surrendered as well. In this particular case the judge claims that there are no clothes to be handed over. In another case involving a Kurdish student named Lotfollahi who also died in prison under suspicious circumstances soon after his arrest, his body was buried without any notice to anybody, including his family members. Only after burial did the authorities inform the members of his family that their son had been buried in a specific cemetery. Such cases require greater investigation. In addition, there are unlawful actions that take place in prisons which must be prevented while the lives of prisoners must be protected according to the law. But these are not taking place. No matter what the circumstances are, such cases must be fully investigated and the responsibility lies with the heads of the judiciary branch of government. One should note that the head of a prison facility is responsible for the life of all prisoners under his jurisdiction. So while a prisoner must leave the prison intact, we see deaths taking place in prisons indicating irresponsibility on behalf of the authorities.

Rooz: What is the legal status of the Center today? Has your complaint against those who have seal-shut it produced any results?

Ebadi: The offices of the Center were sealed-shut on December 20, 2008 by law enforcement agents who claimed to have received such instructions from Tehran’s prosecutor by phone. No such order has been provided to us. We approached the investigator of the case and he too did not produce any such warrant. This shows that those who ordered the closure know that they have abused their authority and committed an unlawful act which is why they are refraining from providing the documents to others, including the managers of the Center. They are in fact violators according to law and we have filed a suit against the official who has ordered the closure, the security deputy of the Revolutionary court under whom the investigator works, and the Tehran prosecutor. We hope that by fairly investigating this case and implementing justice, the judiciary will show that it is truly independent and is after justice.

Rooz: None of the candidates for the presidential election of June 2009 have expressed a concern in the freedom of associations and the improvement of human rights. What is your take on this?

Ebadi: If the candidates have not publicly expressed their views on human rights, then this is very disappointing. But there is still a long way till the actual elections and so their programs may not be finalized yet. But in any case, any person who aspires to get into the Majlis or become the next President in Iran must realize that he will get more votes if he honestly shows his commitment to fulfill the wishes of the people which includes a better life and respect for his dignity, which have been outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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