Atefeh Rangriz, a 30-year-old female political labor prisoner has gone on a hunger strike in prison to protest the Iranian Judiciary’s treatment of her case and the violations of her rights in prison.
Rangriz, who was arrested on 1 May 2019 in a protest in front of the Iranian parliament, started her hunger strike on 17 Oct 2019 in Gharchak women’s prison. She is objecting to lack of fairness in her trial including the right to have a legal representative of choice, treatment of her bail conditions and her lack of safety in prison.
In a letter she has leaked out of prison she objects to the conditions of her bail. Her bail was set first around 2500 USD, but every time her family provided the court with the due amount, a new increased amount was set to keep her in prison. Her bail ultimately after five times increase, reached 6000 USD – an impossible amount for her family that was again provided to the courts. This time the courts canceled the bail all together handing Rangriz an 11.5-year sentence including 74 lashes.
In the past five months and 12 days that she has been imprisoned, she was physically attacked by violent crime prisoners. The physical prison altercation and attack sent her to the hospital with an asthma attack.
It is a common practice of prison authorities in Iran is to trigger violent crime prisoners to physically attacks political prisoners to pressure them. This common practice has resulted in the death of at least one political prisoner while in custody. On 10 June 2019, Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, a 21-year-old arrested for activism on the internet was killed in custody at Fashafoyeh Prison when two violent crime prisoners stabbed him 30 times with a broken tile.
Rangriz, in her letter from prison, demands her right as Prisoner of conscience to be kept separate from other categories of prisoners including violent crime prisoners citing United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners:
“I have repeatedly objected to the illegal processes of my case, including refusal to accept the set bail, failure to enforce the principle of separation of different categories of detainees, and the unfair sentencing.”
She continues to explain that as her bail has been illegally increased five times and as she sees no fairness in the judicial process of her case she was left with no choice but to use her body as a weapon to object to these conditions:
“I am using my body as a weapon against all the injustices that we have been subject to and we continue to be subject to. I am on a hunger strike to object to the illegal refusal of my bail five times… I am also objecting to the unfair sentencing and my illegal imprisonment in Gharchak prison.”
Rangriz who is a sociologist and social justice researcher has been active in underprivileged communities working with women, minorities and migrant workers. For her research work, activism and for her presence in the 2019 May Day protests in front of the Iranian parliament, she was slapped with 11.5 years of prison and 74 lashes. The judge who sentences her was Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Branch 28 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court who has been issuing similar harsh punishments to other labor prisoners.
Rangriz is awaiting an appeals court decision on her case but similar cases of other women and labor rights defenders have been upheld in appeals reviews, raising concerns for fair trials for women labor prisoners who are receiving unprecedented harsh punishments involving corporal punishments like flogging.
Most labor prisoners are receiving sentences for bogus national security charges. Rangriz’s sentence is for “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” as well as “disrupting public order” by taking part in labor protests.
The protest she was arrested at was a peaceful sit-in in front of the Iranian Parliament to object to the treatment of workers all across the country in nonpayment of wages and benefits. It was organized by Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, the Retirees’ Union Coordination Committee, working and retired teacher, among other groups. The gathering was attacked by security forces that arrested Rangriz among other workers and labor rights activists. Most detainees of the May Day protest have been released on bail however Atefeh Rangriz, Neda Naji, and Marzieh Amiri are among those still in prison.
Rangriz, who was attacked in Gharchak prison herself, has written on prison conditions in Iran. The information she has sent out of prison has been instrumental in the documentation of prisoners’ rights violations but it has also angered the authorities.
Gharchak women’s prison where Rangriz is being held at is notorious and known for being one of the worse prisons in Iran. Women inmates do not have access to clean water, sewage system malfunctions are frequent and prisoners have to purchase drinking water – for poorer prisoners, this means limited access to clean drinking water. Aside from concerns for health and sanitation, prisoners who are ill do not have access to proper medical care and prison authorities do not allow families to provide medications prescribed to the prisoners.
Sepideh Gholian is another labor prisoner being held in Gharchak prison who has also been attacked both by guards and by violent crime prisoners. She has also written a letter about prison conditions and a lack of separation of detainees based on the category of crime.
The same judge and the same branch of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran that has sentenced Atefeh Rangriz, has sentenced Sepideh Gholian (Qoliyan), a student and citizen journalist who was covering the protests of Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Complex, to 18 years in prison. Neda Naji, another political prisoner who was arrested on May Day 2019 was also being held in Gharchak prison and she was also attacked in prison. Naji has since been transferred to Evin Prison.
Shargh Daily’s, Marziyeh Amiri who was arrested with Naji and Rangriz on May Day for covering the protest as a journalist is now in Evin prison. Amiri has received a sentenced of 10.5 years in prison and 147 lashes – one of the harshest sentences ever issued for a journalist in Iran.
Iran has witnessed an increase in the number of workers’ protests and strikes in the past four years, mostly due to unpaid wages and benefits. In response to the intensifying of the labor protests in 2018-2019, Iranian police have made an excessive use of force against demonstrators, arresting hundreds of workers and labor rights activists. Authorities have used intimidation strategies to deter people from joining the labor movement including the broadcasting offorced confessions obtained under torture and the sentencing of labor activists under national security charges, involving sometimes corporal punishments like flogging. Of those arrested, women labor rights prisoners are facing some of the harshest treatments.