(Photo: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl)
An Iranian Christian prisoner has decided to go on a hunger strike despite suffering from intense physical pain in order to protest the rejection of his conditional release.
"Vahid [Hakkani] has suffered intense physical mistreatment and has been in dire need of medical treatment throughout his detention, and he was transferred to a hospital to receive some necessary treatment," Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern's regional manager for the Middle East, told The Christian Post in an email Thursday. "He and his family have pressured the government to grant him a conditional release so that he can receive the treatment he needs, but the officials have repeatedly denied this request."
Hakkani, who is a Christian convert from the city of Shiraz, was arrested along with three other men in February 2012 and later sentenced to three years and eight months in prison by Iran's Revolutionary Court for attending house church gatherings and contacting foreign Christian ministers, which is forbidden in Iran.
Morning Star News reported on Wednesday that Hakkani began his hunger strike on March 20 after he was denied a conditional release that allows inmates to be freed after completing half their prison terms.
The Iranian Christian, who has been suffering from a number of serious health problems, was allowed two months' leave in November 2013 for surgical treatment of intestinal hemorrhoids, which was causing him to lose close to one-third of a liter of blood a day.
Daniels told CP that when a prisoner decides to stage a hunger strike, it is often with the intention to protest the unjust treatment they are receiving.
"It is one of the few means they have to draw attention to their plight. Iran has been cited in the past by the United Nations for its abuse of prisoners; this is often the case for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience," he explained.
According to a March 22 report by Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Iran, there are at least 895 "prisoners of conscience" or "political prisoners" in the Islamic country, and nearly 300 of those are imprisoned because of their religious beliefs.
According to the report, former detainees are often subjected to torture, or "inhumane or degrading treatment and prolonged solitary confinement," and many are held without access to a lawyer.
"Some prosecutions reportedly failed to meet international standards, marked by limited access to case files and the right to present a defense. Under the law, religious minorities, including recognized Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, also face discrimination in the judicial system, such as harsher punishments than Muslims for certain crimes, and are barred from serving as judges," Shaheed's research states.
The ICC regional manager for the Middle East said that the church around the world should "speak loudly and clearly about human rights abuses" and press the Iranian government on its violations of basic rights.
"Holding nearly 50 Christians – most of whom were simply meeting to pray together with other believers – on charges of 'threatening national security' is unacceptable," Daniels said. "The church should speak out clearly in support of the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Iranians."