Hunger Strikes Across Iran’s Prisons Protest “State Murder as a Means of Repression”

Black Tuesday Campaign by Prisoners Builds in Desperate Effort to Halt Surging Executions
Lawyers in Iran Note Growing Pressure on Prisoners Who Join Hunger Strike

April 23, 2024 – As executions in the Islamic Republic mount to numbers not seen in many years, a growing number of prisoners across Iran have resorted to hunger strikes in a desperate effort to draw attention to the use of “state murder…as a means of repression and intimidation.”

“Prisoners in Iran—including peaceful protesters—are being hanged in growing numbers without any semblance of fair trial rights in order to terrify the population and silence dissent,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“Vigorous international action is urgently needed to convey to the Iranian authorities that the continued state-sanctioned murder of prisoners will be met with growing international isolation and increasingly severe political and economic consequences,” Ghaemi said.

A source with close knowledge of Iran’s death row prisoners, told CHRI: “These silent prisoners, who are deprived of the most basic rights, have joined the nationwide hunger strike in the country’s prisons as a last resort to save themselves from execution. Despite the additional pressure they have come under in prison, every week more and more of them join the Tuesday protest.”

Since the 2022 “Women, Life, Freedom” protests that swept across Iran, executions—which are carried out in the Islamic Republic without due process—have increased dramatically. In 2023, 853 executions were recorded, a 48% increase from 2022 and a 172% increase from 2021, according to Amnesty International. In just the first months of 2024, more than 95 executions were recorded.

These executions, long carried out after sham trials, convictions based on “confessions” extracted under torture, and for crimes that international standards do not allow capital punishment—are increasingly being used against protesters as means to silence the still restive population and squash dissent.

Additionally, executions are disproportionally carried out against members of minority groups, especially those in regions that continue to peacefully protest the state’s violent repression.

Hunger Strikes Gather Momentum Across Iran’s Prisons

On January 28, 2024, on the eve of the execution on January 29 of four Kurdish political prisoners—Mohsen Mazloum, Vafa Azarbar, Mohammad Faramarzi and Pejman Fatehi—a group of prisoners in Qezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, Alborz province, declared they would go on a hunger strike every Tuesday to stop executions and demand an end to the death penalty. In a letter addressed to the “Honorable People of Iran,” they said:

“We, a group of prisoners on death row, are asking for your help. …In Ghezel Hesar, thousands of prisoners have been sentenced to death, and the cases of hundreds of us have been sent for enforcement. We may be executed in the coming days and weeks. Among us are people with all kinds of charges, drug offenders, qisas (retribution) cases, as well as political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, waiting to be executed.

“In order to be heard, every Tuesday starting this week, we will go on hunger strike. We chose Tuesday because often it is the last day our cellmates are alive before being transferred to solitary confinement for execution.

“We ask you to defend all prisoners sentenced to death, regardless of their political or non-political charges, because we have all been unfairly tried. [The authorities] want to take away our right to live. With your support, perhaps these executions could be stopped. Be our voice, and the voice of our families, in any way you can because prisoners on death row are not just male inmates in Ghezel Hesar, but others in prisons throughout the country as well who reach out for your support.

The signatories of the above statement did not publicly pen their name to the letter, stating that “if we reveal our names, our execution would be expedited.”

Following the statement, 10 political prisoners in Qezel Hesar announced they would join death-row prisoners on their Tuesday hunger strikes: Jafar Ebrahimi, Zartosht Abmadi-Ragheb, Sepehr Emam Jomeh, Loqman Aminpour, Ahmadreza Haeri, Meysam Dehbanzadeh, Reza Salmanzadeh, Hamzeh Savari, Saeid Masouri, Reza Mohammad Hosseini.

Subsequently, all the prisoners in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward in Tehran also joined the weekly hunger strike. A post on imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi’s Instagram page said: “All women in Evin Prison will join the hunger strike of the Qezel Hesar prisoners on Tuesday January 30, 2024 – the second general hunger strike in Evin’s Women’s Ward in the past week in protest against executions in Iran.”

Since then, a large number of other political and non-political prisoners in various prisons across the country, including in the cities of Mashhad, Khorramabad, Khoy, Naghdeh, Saqqez, and Orumiyeh have participated in the Tuesday hunger strikes as well.

On March 19, 2024, a group of hunger strikers Tehran’s Evin Prison, the Central Prison of Karaj, Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad and the Central Prison of Khorramabad reaffirmed their commitment to fight against the death penalty:

“As a group of prisoners, we have been on a hunger strike every Tuesday for the past seven weeks to protest executions and stop this killing machine. …Our goal in the weekly Black Tuesday Campaign of hunger strikes is to draw the public’s attention to the fact that execution constitutes state murder, an irreversible punishment, and a means of repression and intimidation by a despotic minority ruling the country.”

Lawyer: Pressure on Prisoners Joining Hunger Strike has Significantly Increased

A source with detailed knowledge about death-row prisoners in Qezel Hesar Prison told CHRI: “Unfortunately, the pressure on death-row prisoners who joined the hunger strike has significantly increased, and in some cases, prisoners who previously provided minimal information about the situation inside, have not had the opportunity to do so since the start of the [Iranian] new year [on March 21, 2024].”

Despite this pressure, the source said there are many death-row prisoners, unrecognized by the public, who have joined the campaign hoping to escape the gallows.

A lawyer in Iran, who asked for anonymity, told CHRI: “Under ongoing repression, it is very hard to expect civil society, or ordinary citizens, to be openly supportive of the weekly hunger strikes, even on social media.”

On April 10, 2024, a group of 82 Iranian and international organizations called on the UN and human rights activists around the world to take joint action to stop executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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