The following Editorial is contributed by Kaveh Taheri, an Iranian dissident and refugee in Turkey, who reports on areas of high concern in the Iranian government and the Middle East.
November 26, Tehran: Atena Daemi was violently arrested at her home this morning by IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) agents who reportedly threatened her with death and did not present an arrest warrant. Relatives of the 29-year-old human rights defender say she was taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. According to the human rights news agency, HRANA, Atena has been transferred to the women’s ward of this prison.
In response to her arrest, Amnesty International released a statement today from Philip Luther, the NGO’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa: “This is an extremely distressing turn of events and we fear that Atena may be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment. She is being targeted by the Iranian authorities simply for her peaceful activism, in particular speaking out against the use of the death penalty and supporting women’s rights. She should be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Atena Daemi was first arrested on October 21, 2014 and taken to Evin Prison where she was detained in the IRGC-controlled solitary confinement ward for a total of 86 days. She was then transferred to the women’s ward of this prison and detained there until she was temporarily released on February 15, 2016 on bail amounting to approximately $180,000 USD. According to a report by Amnesty International, for the first 28 days of her detention, Atena was held in a cell that was “infested with insects and had no toilet facilities”. During this time, she was reportedly interrogated while blindfolded every day for a period of about a month and a half, and she had no access to a lawyer. Atena’s mental and physical health severely deteriorated during this time, but Iranian authorities denied her medical care for her growing health complications.
In spring 2015, Iranian authorities sentenced Atena to 14 years in prison under four charges: “Propaganda against the regime”, “Assembly and collusion against national security”, “Blasphemy and insulting the Supreme Leader”, and “Concealing evidence”. In September 2016, her sentence was reduced to seven years in prison by an Iranian appeals court.
Atena’s family has talked to several human rights groups about the details of the charges against her. She was reportedly accused of blasphemy and insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, because of jokes and song lyrics found on her mobile phone. The assembly and collusion charge was reportedly issued to her for attending a peaceful gathering in front of the United Nations office in Tehran in support of the children of Kobane, Syria. Iranian authorities reportedly charged her with propaganda against the regime for her public Facebook posts in opposition to the death penalty and Iran’s mandatory hijab law. She was charged with concealing evidence for not being able to provide her interrogators with the password to the Facebook page of one of her friends.
Iranian human rights activists and friends of Atena are urging the international community to raise public awareness about her unlawful arrest and imprisonment. Concerned individuals can utilize social media to spread the word about Atena’s plight and also contact their local government officials to encourage them to call for her immediate and unconditional release.
I implore anyone reading this article to support political prisoners in Iran like Atena, who are largely ignored by world authorities and the Western media for the sake of economic deals and investment with the Iranian regime.
Time and again it has been proven that the Iranian authorities do indeed respond to international pressure. By raising global awareness about Atena, we will be helping her receive a layer of protection, making it more costly for the Iranian authorities to continue abusing her. Please share this article to expidite Atena’s release.
Follow Kaveh Taheri on Twitter: @TaheriKaveh