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Reza Hoda Saber, Political Prisoner, Dies after 9-Day Hunger Strike

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

13 Jun 2011 00:28Comments
HodaSaber.jpgJailed journalist denied medical treatment for six hours as he reportedly screamed from chest pain.

[ dispatch ] Nationalist-religious journalist, translator, and political activist Reza Hoda Saber passed away in Tehran's Modarres Hospital on Friday as a result of a heart attack that doctors attribute to the hunger strike he had been on for nine days. His family was not informed of his death until Sunday. A member of the hospital's staff leaked the news to journalist and documentary filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad, who was recently released from prison. Nourizad posted the news on his Facebook page and informed the family.

Saber, who was imprisoned in Ward 350 of Evin Prison, was brought to the hospital for surgery to open up his clogged arteries, but due to the damage to his heart as a result of his hunger strike he passed away. Reports indicate that Saber began complaining about chest pain on Friday, around 4:30 a.m. He was taken to the hospital only six hours later. The doctors have said that if he had been brought to the hospital in a timely fashion, he would not have died.

Beginning June 2, Hoda Saber and another nationalist-religious figure, Amir Khosrow Dalirsani, went on hunger strike to protest the conditions that led to the death of Haleh Sahabi during the funeral procession for her father, Ezatollah Sahabi. Many opposition figures called on them to end their strike, but they refused, declaring the hope that their action might prevent the perpetration of injustices on other defenseless people.

Saber was born on March 19, 1959. He played a leading role in the weekly Iran-e Farda that was published from 1992 to 2000 by Ezatollah Sahabi. Iran-e Farda's editor was Reza Alijani, Saber's close comrade who, together with Taghi Rahmani, another nationalist-religious journalist and activist, was imprisoned by the Islamic Republic numerous times. Saber was first arrested on January 28, 2000, and released a month and a half later after posting bail of approximately $250,000.

On April 12, 2003, Saber was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment and a ten-year ban on any "social activity." Alijani and Rahmani were also sentenced to long jail terms at the same time. They appealed their sentences and were released pending their appeals, which were never taken up by the court. They were arrested again that June, again without any legal basis, and spent three months in solitary confinement. On October 14, 2003, Gholam Hossein Elham, then the judiciary spokesman, announced that the three had begun serving their sentences. On May 2, 2004, Alijani was informed that he had been given a sentence of five and a half years in prison.

Saber wrote a letter to then judiciary chief Ayatollah Seyyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi recounting how he had been arrested: "On Tuesday, June 14, 2003, near my home and amid the astonished neighbors, I was surrounded by five security agents and arrested. Two days later, I was asked to sign a form which stated that I was present at a demonstration in a university and had been arrested there." Saber also said that he was in jail for 150 days without ever being interrogated or shown the judiciary's case against him.

On December 24, 2005, a group of nationalist-religious activists staged a sit-in near the office of the judiciary chief to protest the treatment of Saber, Alijani, and Rahmani. The sit-in ended when the judiciary promised that the three would be released. They were put on trial again that same month. Then in August 2006, an appeals court sentenced Rahmani and Saber to eight months in jail for "helping to found an illegal NGO," though the organization in question had been registered with the Ministry of Interior. The still-outstanding appeals of their older jail terms were not mentioned in the new verdicts.

Saber was arrested yet again on July 23, 2010. The judiciary told his family that he had been picked up to serve that old jail sentence of ten years, despite the fact that his appeal had never been taken up and so much time had passed since the original verdict that, according to the law, the case should have been closed.

Reports indicate that Saber's family and friends, as well as political activists, have gathered around Modarres Hospital. Farideh Jamshidi, Saber's wife, has been loudly demanding that the hospital turn the body of her husband over to her. His corpse has reportedly been taken to the morgue for an autopsy. Eyewitnesses have said that during the six hours between the time he first complained of chest pain early Friday morning and when he was finally taken for medical treatment, Saber was screaming loudly in agony, but prison staff paid no attention to him. According to Melli Mazhabi, the website of the Nationalist-Religious Coalition, Saber's cellmates announced their readiness to testify in any court as to how his condition and cries were ignored.

Former President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami has sent a message of condolence to Saber's sister, Firouzeh Saber, as has Ahmad Montazeri, eldest son of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri. Reporters without Borders issued a statement of condolence. Grand Ayatollah Asdollah Bayat Zanjani, who has been supportive of the Green Movement, called Firouzeh Saber to convey his condolences. Reports indicate that she repeatedly asked him, "Is this Islam?"

Saber's family has already asked a judge to investigate the Evin Prison warden for responsibility in his death and will file a lawsuit against him and other prison officials. Saber's funeral, if allowed by the government, will take place on Monday.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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