May 31, 2024

Endurance Behind Bars: The Ongoing Struggle of Zia Nabavi in Prison

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Zia Nabavi, a seasoned political activist and former student leader, finds himself once again within the confines of Evin Prison, facing relentless accusations and prolonged imprisonment. Born in 1982 in Ghaemshahr, Nabavi’s journey of activism began at Babol Noshirvani University of Technology, where he was elected to the union of Islamic students association from 2002 to 2006.

His active participation in student movements led to his arrest during a nighttime raid by security forces in 2006 after a hunger strike protest with 15 other students. Despite scoring highly on the national university entrance exam in 2007, Nabavi and several peers were barred from further education due to their political activities. In response, they established the Council for the Defense of the Right to Education, heightening their advocacy around the contentious 2009 presidential elections. The Council advocated for students’ educational rights through negotiations with officials and public awareness efforts. This became a prominent issue around the 2009 elections, including when then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied their existence in a debate, leading them to protest by placing stars on their clothes outside the state broadcaster’s headquarters.

After the disputed 2009 election, Zia came to Tehran to participate in a public demonstration. He was arrested on the night of June 15 along with some friends and relatives and taken to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. Initially, he did not anticipate harsh treatment, but the interrogations intensified over time and focused on family members who previously collaborated with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). However, he steadfastly refused to accept accusations of his own involvement with the MEK, and no evidence was presented during his questioning.

Throughout the 120 days of preliminary investigations, the physical and psychological pressures he faced were repeatedly condemned by human rights activists. At Nabavi’s trial before Judge Pirabbasi on December 19, 2009, the charges were dismissed as unfounded. However, he was ultimately sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in exile, which was later reduced to 10 years at an appeals court. Uninformed of his transfer, he was moved to Karoon Prison in Ahvaz in October 2010 and later to Semnan Prison in May 2014.

During his imprisonment, Zia repeatedly rejected the accusations against him and protested the judicial process. Along with 46 fellow inmates, he testified that the charges had no basis in his beliefs or activities. He also wrote a letter from prison to the head of the judiciary, stating he had always been cautious to avoid even the slightest unintended contact with the MEK, given his family’s sensitive situation.

Following multiple requests for retrial, the 36th branch of the Appeals Court eventually revisited his case, dismissing the charges related to “Moharebeh through association with the Mujahedin-e Khalq.” However, he was still convicted of “assembly and collusion, propaganda against the state, and disrupting public order” and sentenced to seven years in prison. Having already spent nearly nine years behind bars, he was released in 2018.

His post-release life continued to be challenging. He was arrested again in 2019 during student protests and sentenced to one year in prison. In the winter of 2023, amid a series of attacks involving mysterious gasses at schools throughout Iran, Nabavi and Hasti Amiri, then students from Allameh Tabataba’i University, were summoned to the Revolutionary Court for protesting these poisonings and were sentenced to one year in prison. More than thirty students were barred from the university, facing new disciplinary actions.

In a recent letter, Nabavi highlighted the dehumanizing conditions within the prisons, including an outbreak of scabies in Ward 8 of Evin Prison, causing significant physical and psychological distress among the inmates. He questioned whether enduring scabies was considered part of their sentences. Despite the judiciary’s denial of the existence of scabies in the prisons, his vivid description of the conditions provide significant detail on the plights afflicting Iranian political prisoners.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) strongly condemns Nabavi’s repeated imprisonments for engaging in political protests and calls upon the Iranian government to release Nabavi along with all other political prisoners. NIAC emphasizes the urgent need for reforms within the Iranian judicial and prison systems to better protect the health and well-being of those subjected to imprisonment. Moreover, NIAC urges the management of Evin Prison to acknowledge and address the presence of scabies, criticizing the current conditions as unfit and inhumane. Instead of punishing prisoners and denying the existence of health issues, authorities have an obligation to maintain a clean, disease-free environment that upholds the dignity and health of all inmates.

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