Imprisoned civil rights activist Atena Daemi’s health has deteriorated, according to her mother, Masoumeh Nemati. Daemi, an inmate at Women’s Ward of Evin Prison, began her 40th day of hunger strike on May 17.
Atena Daemi is serving a seven-year prison sentence for her human rights work, and went on hunger strike on April 8 to protest against the verdict brought against her two sisters, Aniseh and Hanieh. In March, Branch 1163 of the Qods Criminal Court in Tehran issued a suspended 91-day sentence to Aniseh and Hanieh Daemi following a complaint from the Revolutionary Guards, who accused them of “resisting agents carrying out their duty” and “insulting agents while on duty.” The alleged crimes took place on November 26, 2016 when the masked agents working for the Guards raided the family’s home to arrest the activist.
The agents arrived without notice and forcefully transported Daemi to Evin Prison. “When they contacted us and told us that her furlough was over and she had to start serving her sentence, we contacted her lawyer,” says Daemi’s mother. “He said that we had at least five days after being informed. Her father and I went on a trip, but two days before she was to start her sentence, Revolutionary Guards agents came to our home. They forced their way in without showing a warrant or any ID. They had covered their faces as well. In such a situation it is only logical for family members to intervene. Atena’s sisters called 110 [the police]. Words were exchanged and a clash followed; one agent used pepper spray.”
Insisting that the verdict is unjust, Daemi wrote an open letter to judicial authorities on April 8. She said she would continue her hunger strike until her sisters are acquitted of the charges. “I will not let the security agencies trample their own laws and abuse our families as a means of psychological torture to create a climate of fear,” she wrote.
Daemi, a defender of the rights of working children, was first arrested on October 21, 2014. The Revolutionary Guards held her in “temporary detention” for several months, and in solitary confinement at Evin Prison in Tehran. On March 7, 2016, Daemi stood trial on charges of “conspiracy against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” “insulting the supreme leader and the sacred,” and “concealing evidence of a crime.”
“Yesterday they transferred Atena to the hospital,” said Atena Daemi's mother Masoumeh Nemati. Prior to this, she says, the prison ignored appeals for Daemi to be hospitalized. “The doctor at Taleghani hospital reviewed the test results and prescribed that Atena must be hospitalized, but the female guard and the agent accompanying her said that they were not authorized to allow this; they required authorization from the prosecuting attorney. We took the hospital doctor’s letter to the prosecuting attorney but he said that it must be confirmed by the official medical examiner." She said at that time she did not know when the medical examiner would visit the prison to review Daemi's case.
As a result of her hunger strike, Atena Daemi has been vomiting a yellow liquid substance for the past few days. Then, on the night of May 15, there was blood in her vomit. According to her mother, tests indicate that her liver might stop working. Her gallbladder and thyroid gland are not working properly, she suffers from severe blood pressure fluctuations and nausea, and infection has made its way into her bloodstream. Nevertheless, the doctor at Evin’s clinic has described all these symptoms as “normal.”
In a short phone call to her family on May 16, Daemi told them that she could not move her legs. She had difficulty speaking and complained about lack of attention from the clinic’s doctor.
On May 15, when Daemi was taken to the hospital, her mother was allowed to visit her there. “They have told Atena that as of today she is not allowed to drink water,” Nemati told IranWire. “But my daughter lives on water. I visited her at the hospital yesterday. Her hands are all pockmarked and black and blue. Earlier, at Sina Hospital, they had done tests on her but they did not follow up the tests. I don’t understand why they are doing this injustice to us.”
Daemi’s conditions have made life difficult for her family as well. Prison and judiciary officials have repeatedly warned her mother against talking to the media. Her father has a hairdressing shop, for which he must pay a monthly rent of around $310, but since Daemi went on hunger strike, he has closed the shop, meaning that he has no income from his business but must still pay the rent. One sister is a university student and is currently studying for exams but she cannot concentrate on her studies. “Our lives have fallen apart,” says Nemati.
On May 16, following the advice of Atena Daemi’s lawyer, her parents visited the judge of the appeals court. The judge promised that he would review the case but did not give them a timeframe. “Your case is not important,” he told the parents. “We have more important cases. Go and tell your daughter to break her hunger strike.”
According to Daemi’s mother, her daughter’s health condition has triggered a wave of unrest at the Women’s Ward. “The ward is in chaos,” she says. “The cellmates constantly object and write letters but nobody answers. Do they really want my daughter to die?”
Nemati says that she has recently become aware that family members of many other inmates have been given suspended sentences as well. “This is what Atena protests against,” says Nemati. “Why do you take prisoners’ families hostage and threaten them?”
According to her mother, Daemi was a staunch opponent of hunger strikes but, as she told the appeals court judge, “Atena constantly protested and wrote but nobody paid any attention. Hunger strike was her last weapon.”
According to a source quoted by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, all charges against Daemi were based on her Facebook posts, information stored on her phone, and her participation in gatherings to oppose the death penalty and to support the children of Kobane in Syria.