Tricked Into Ending Hunger Strike, Imprisoned Music Distributors Resume Quest for Justice
Imprisoned music distributors Mehdi Rajabian and Hossein Rajabian resumed their hunger strike in Evin Prison in Tehran on October 28, 2016 to protest the authorities’ continued refusal to provide them proper medical treatment, and the decision to move them to separate wards. The men have also been denied their right to meet with their lawyer.
In an open letter sent from the prison on October 26, a copy of which was sent to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the Rajabian brothers wrote: “After an intervention by the prosecutor’s special envoy, we ended our last hunger strike [after receiving] promises [that they would] put us back together in the same ward and take care of our medical needs. But nearly two months have passed and conditions have actually gotten worse.”
“It seems that the high-ranking official tricked us so that the hunger strike would end and he would get the result he wanted. What is even more astonishing is that we have been denied our right to meet with our lawyer.”
“We call on all musicians around the world to condemn these abuses with a worthy response,” wrote the Rajabians. “Do not forget us in these suffocating times… There’s no greater suffering than to be forgotten.”
Hossein Rajabian is suffering from a lung infection and Mehdi has been diagnosed with symptoms of multiple sclerosis. In September 2016 Mehdi Rajabian was separated from his brother in Ward 7 and moved to Ward 8 as punishment for protesting the conditions inside the prison.
Political prisoners in Iran routinely receive discriminatory treatment, including denial of necessary medical treatment.
The Rajabian brothers and Yousef Emadi were managing partners of Barg Music, a popular online music distribution service launched in 2009, when the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization arrested them on October 5, 2013. They were held for more than two months in solitary confinement at Ward 2-A of Evin Prison before they were released on two billion rials (about $66,650 USD) bail each.
Judge Mohammad Moghisseh sentenced the three men in May 2015 to six years in prison and fined them 200 million rials (approximately $6,600 USD) each for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” for distributing music without a permit and working with female singers (who are prohibited from singing solo) and “anti-revolutionary” musicians abroad. In February 2016 the Appeals Court upheld the fine, but reduced the prison sentence to three years in prison with an additional suspended three-year prison sentence.
The three were summoned to Evin Prison to begin their sentence on May 26, 2016, but the date was postponed until June 4 because Mehdi Rajabian was undergoing medical treatment.
“Mehdi’s medical problems have been caused by the interrogations he went through at the time of his detention,” a source close to the brothers told the Campaign on May 30, 2016. “He became sick under neurological stresses and pressures and now his doctor suspects him of having multiple sclerosis. He has to get an MRI (anatomical X-ray) every month and take regular shots. His family is very worried about what’s going to happen to his health and treatments once he goes to prison.”
The Rajabian brothers initially went on hunger strike on September 8, 2016. After nine days, Hossein Rajabian developed an infection in his lungs and was hospitalized for a week before being returned to prison.
The year of 2015 saw an alarming number of artists harassed and punished in Iran, with heavy prison sentences issued for creating and publishing work deemed offensive by the authorities.
Since 2013, when President Hassan Rouhani was voted into office while promising a more open society, numerous state-approved musicians, including popular musical artists Alireza Ghorbani and Sirvan Khosravi, have also seen their concerts canceled at the last moment.