PARIS: On Sunday, the website of an exiled Iranian opposition group published an article from former political prisoner Hossein Farsi, in which he appealed for international attention to his sister’s case. The article pointed out that 30 years after having supported her brother, Marzieh Farsi is now facing similar persecution, with the potential for even worse consequences.
Countless Iranian families have similar stories to tell, and it is for the sake of all of them that Western governments and human rights organizations must attend to Hossein’s appeal for action.
The retalitory arrest of Marzieh Farsi
Marzieh Farsi was arrested along with seven other people in an early morning raid on February 5. Her brother Ahmad, his wife, and their two children were later released, but only after three weeks of torturous interrogation and intimidation. Marzieh’s husband and their two children were released after another week, but Marzieh remains behind bars in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, where she is transparently being used to exert pressure on Hossein. Hossein escaped Iran sometime after completing his 12-year sentence in the early 90s.
The Islamic Republic has a long history of hostage-taking, dating back to the immediate aftermath of the Iranian revolution and the seizure of the US embassy. Various Western nationals have made international headlines in recent years for being imprisoned on vague and spurious grounds.
But they constitute a mere fraction of the total number of people who have been indefinitely detained or handed multi-year sentences as part of an effort by regime authorities to win concessions from certain governments, organizations, or individuals.
It is comparatively rare for the international media to report on these incidents when they involve Iran’s own citizens, even if those people have families living in Europe or the United States. Occasionally, those family members are able to bring some attention to those cases on their own, as Hossein Farsi is trying to do. But even then, the practical impact of the reporting is limited, to say the least.
This should have come as no surprise to anyone who read it, least of all those who have followed the conflict between the clerical regime and the Iranian opposition’s campaign against Iran’s lack of respect for its citizens’ human rights.
Many people have undergone harsh treatment by the regime because of their relatives’ activities.
The same can be said for Marzieh Farsi and many others who are at risk of even more insistent, and even more violent treatment because of their relatives’ activism.
Hossein Farsi’s association with the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran makes him and his family prime targets for the worst of Tehran’s human rights abuses. Over the years, many people have been sentenced to hang for “crimes” as insubstantial as donating money to a MEK-run satellite news network. Other members and affiliates of the leading democratic opposition group have been assassinated or left to die in prison from treatable illnesses.
The regime’s utter lack of restrain in dealing with the PMOI was best demonstrated in the summer of 1988 when members made up the vast majority of the 30,000 political prisoners who were systematically executed after failing to demonstrate newfound subservience to the theocratic dictatorship. Hossein Farsi called attention to that incident in his appeal for his sister’s release, noting that “the prisons are still the same,” with torture and neglect being as commonplace now as they were more than 30 years ago.
The neglect of inmates’ needs poses a unique threat to Marzieh Farsi, 53, who suffers from heart disease and had undergone cancer treatment prior to her arrest. Making matters worse, that arrest coincided with the start of Iran’s coronavirus outbreak, which has had a particularly severe impact on the prison population.
Officially, the Islamic Republic has lost more than 7,000 citizens to the pandemic.
But drawing on information provided by the MEK and by numerous Iranian medical professionals, the National Council of Resistance of Iran finds that the actual death toll is now over 44,000.
Meanwhile, Iranian authorities claim to have released tens of thousands of prisoners in an effort to slow the spread of the disease. But these claims have been seriously called into question by activists and political detainees. Some worry that the chaotic situation is being exploited to pass off enforced disappearances as furloughs and transfers.
Reports from the NCRI indicate that in the wake of supposed reductions to the prison population, Iranians are now being subjected to a new wave of arrests, summons, and interrogations.
The NCRI’s president, Maryam Rajavi, has responded to this trend by calling upon human rights organizations and the UN “to deploy international delegations to visit the regime’s prisons and meet with political prisoners.” And while recent events certainly add to the urgency of assessing the situation, such an investigation is long overdue. Even if the coronavirus pandemic runs its course and the current wave of arrests tapers off, there will still be people like Marzieh Farsi suffering behind bars in Iran, with precious little support from the international community, having committed no crime.
All such people deserve equivalent attention, regardless of the strength of their connections to Western governments and organizations. Sadly, many of them have no advocates outside of their homeland. The only way their stories will ever be told is if the world looks more closely at Iranian prisoners and allows them to speak for themselves.