Imprisoned Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki is in poor health nearly seven years after his arrest. He has now gone on a hunger strike to protest prison authorities’ refusal to send him to hospital, making his friends and family fear for his life.
First arrested in December 2009 following Iran’s disputed presidential election, Ronaghi-Maleki was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges including “spreading propaganda against the regime” and “insulting the supreme leader” in connection with articles he had posted on his blog.
Last year, he secured a seven-month medical leave, but he was forced to return to Tehran’s Evin Prison in January. His condition has since worsened due to medical negligence.
Prison authorities have reportedly denied him medication and repeatedly refused to hospitalize him. On March 5, he was transferred to an outside clinic, but was returned to prison after just two hours.
Speaking to Journalism Is Not A Crime, Laleh R, a close friend of the blogger who speaks to him almost every day, says he began a hunger strike on March 26, 2016.
“He started a hunger strike because his medication has been withheld from him since his return to prison. And he is protesting his imprisonment because his sentencing is illegal according to revised laws,” Laleh says.
“I told him he would die, as his body can’t handle it,” she says. “His response was that the status quo is a slow death sentence anyway. A hunger strike will speed things up, he said, but at least he wouldn’t go without a fight.”
Ronaghi-Maleki was given a medical furlough in June 2015, but the prosecutor’s office ordered him back to Evin Prison on January 20, 2016, against doctors’ recommendations. According to his doctors, he needs constant monitoring and access to specialized medical care, neither of which he can get in prison.
“He sounds weaker every time we talk,” Laleh says. “He is in constant pain. His bladder doesn’t work well; he often has to abruptly get off the phone to go to the bathroom. He has bloating, which is painful. His kidneys are a mess. His blood pressure hikes up then shoots down. He gets severe chest pains.” Now, she says, he has started to suffer from back and spinal pains.
On March 27, Ronaghi-Maleki’s parents traveled to Tehran to follow up on his case, but the prosecutor’s office refused to take action. His father, Ahmad Ronaghi-Maleki, has announced that he will go on hunger strike too if his son is not taken to hospital.
“The doctor has prescribed MRI [Magnetic Resonance Imaging] for him but authorities have taken no action,” Hossein’s mother, Zoleikha Moussavi, said in an interview with Kaleme. “The tests have shown that Hossein has infected and swollen kidneys and that his spine has been damaged. Evin’s doctor says the prison clinic lacks the necessary facilities, and that he must be treated outside the prison, but there has been no response. Even the Legal Medical Examiner has written a letter saying that Hossein must be treated in hospital, but they say the Revolutionary Guards are preventing Hossein’s transfer to an outside medical facility.”
She says that prison authorities even refuse to give Ronaghi-Maleki the medication the family brings for him.
“As a mother I ask my son to be released,” Moussavi said. “He is in a very bad condition. We will return him to the prison when he recovers. Keeping someone in prison, when the doctors have warned about his health, is against the law.”
According to Laleh, prison officials have now promised he will be taken to hospital today, March 30, the 4th day of his hunger strike.
“They said they will take him to the hospital,” Laleh says. “We still have to see if they do. So far, each time they have done so, they have brought him back to prison without treating him.”