The Iranian lawyer and human rights defender Nasrin Sotudeh, awarded the Sakharov Prize in 2012, began a hunger strike in Evin prison where she is held on August 11. A few days later, intelligence agents detained his daughter, Mehraveh Khandan, 20, for several hours to pressure her to end the strike. It is not the first time that the Iranian authorities have harassed relatives of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience with the aim of extracting confessions from them or silencing their complaints. However, that practice has intensified this year as the regime is feeling cornered by economic and political problems.
"It is about intimidating public opinion by spreading the idea that the consequences of criticizing the Islamic Republic and its principles will not only fall on the opponents, but that their relatives will also suffer reprisals," explains an Iranian analyst who calls for the anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject. The interlocutor recalls that “this method, baptized in Nazi Germany as sippenhaft, it is also practiced in countries that are allies of Iran such as China and neighboring Turkey ”.
The last known case has been that of Zahra Rahimi, director of the Imam Ali Student Association. Rahimi received a summons and when he appeared in court on September 5, he was told that he had to post bail to remain free. She was detained for two days until she was able to collect the required amount. Sources familiar with the case believe that it is a judicial setup to force a confession on her husband, Sharmin Meymandineyad, founder of the association, who has been detained in solitary confinement since June 21.
"The regime has always used this method against its opponents, but persecution and harassment have intensified in the last six months due to the pressure it is under both politically and economically," says the aforementioned analyst. In his opinion, beyond the financial burden of the US sanctions, "the setbacks began with the protests of November 2019 and continued with the assassination of [General Qasem] Soleimani, the downing of the Ukrainian plane and the spread of the coronavirus." "The regime is cornered and cowed, hence it does not tolerate even the slightest gesture of protest," he interprets.
This has been verified by Faranguis Mazluom, the mother of prisoner of conscience Soheil Arabi, who was arrested on July 21 and sentenced to six years in prison for “conspiracy against national security” and “propaganda against the system”. Your crime? Having denounced the mistreatment his son received in prison and disseminating videos about it on social networks. Arabi, initially sentenced to death for “offending the Prophet [Muhammad]”, is serving a sentence of seven and a half years and another two years forced to study and summarize a dozen books on Islamic theology.
“The regime is especially harsh with the mothers of the prisoners because it is afraid that their complaints will incite other relatives of the detainees and especially their mothers. Those responsible are trying to prevent the formation of movements or associations, such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, which claim the basic rights of the prisoners, ”says the interlocutor.
Another issue that has put women in the crosshairs of the Iranian authorities is the campaign against the mandatory headscarf promoted by activist Masih Alinejad. From the beginning, the judges have acted with enormous harshness against those who have dared to show themselves without a headscarf in public and the lawyers who, like Sotudeh, have defended them. Now they also go after their relatives. Raheleh Ahmadi, mother of Saba Kordafshari, a young woman sentenced to 24 years in prison for participating in these protests, has been detained on several occasions and since last February is serving a 31-month prison sentence for "conspiracy against national security collaborating with foreign opposition media ”.
Ali Alineyad, Masih's brother, was sentenced to eight years in prison in June. According to Masih, an activist in exile, since she was arrested a year ago, Ali has refused to repudiate her on television or try to convince her to visit him in Turkey to allow Iranian agents to capture her. It is not clear whether they intended to seek her extradition or simply kidnap her as they did with Ruhollah Zam, an opponent who had taken refuge in France but who was apparently tricked into moving to a country bordering Iran, possibly Iraq.
Iranian activists are not safe on Turkish soil either. The Ankara government has stepped up security and intelligence collaboration with Tehran, especially after the 2016 coup attempt, and often extradites opponents or ignores their kidnapping by Islamic Republic operatives.
At the moment, the pressure of the regime does not seem to have affected Sotudeh or his family. "The arrest of [her daughter] Mehraveh is one of the reasons why Nasrin has decided to extend her hunger strike," said her husband, Reza Khandan, through social networks. The Sakharov Prize, who last year was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for his work, stopped eating to ask for the release of all political prisoners due to the risk of contracting covid-19. "We have not asked her to give up, we prefer that she be the one to decide," she added despite the fact that the family has also suffered the freezing of their bank account. International human rights organizations and Western governments have expressed concern for the activist's health.