Iran arrests 2 women activists; political prisoners end hunger strike

June 27, 2011

Two Iranian women’s activists were arrested in Tehran, as a group of 18 political prisoners ended a nine-day hunger strike, an opposition Web site reported Monday.

Documentary filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammadi, 34, was arrested in her house Sunday by intelligence agents, friends confirmed. Mohammadi, a women’s rights activist, was previously arrested in 2009 for protesting the deaths of opposition demonstrators. Maryam Majd, 25, a photojournalist and women’s rights campaigner, was arrested Friday and is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison, according to the Kaleme Web site.

Political prisoners started a series of hunger strikes this month following the death of women’s rights activist Haleh Sahabi, opposition media have reported. According to opposition sources, Sahabi, 54, was beaten by security forces who broke up a June 1 funeral procession for her father, a renowned dissident. Authorities said she suffered a heart attack during the melee.

Sahabi’s death prompted journalist Hoda Saber and another imprisoned activist to start a hunger strike, according to the opposition. Days later, Saber, 52, died in prison under mysterious circumstances. Other prisoners have told opposition media that Saber was beaten by prison guards, while authorities said that he, too, died of a heart attack.

The second death prompted 18 activists in two prisons to join in a second hunger strike June 18, demanding investigations into the deaths. The action seems to be well-coordinated, with opposition activists in exile orchestrating an international campaign in support of the prisoners. Several of the inmates, among them former deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh and journalist Isa Saharkhiz , have been transferred to infirmaries, opposition Web sites said.

The strike ended Sunday, the Kaleme site reported, saying a statement by the prisoners would follow. Ali Shakori-rad, a politician belonging to the group, said the prisoners started eating after prominent activists asked them to stop their strike.

The fresh arrests and the end of the hunger strike come as several Iranian leaders are reaching out to arrested politicians, journalists and activists, asking them to urge their supporters to participate in parliamentary elections set for March 2012.

Following widespread purges of reform advocates, many of whom had disputed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s June 2009 reelection, Iranian leaders hope that some of them will become candidates in the coming elections.

In another development Monday, the Associated Press reported that as Iran began 10 days of war games, the country unveiled underground silos that can carry missiles able to hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Persian Gulf.

The AP reported that state television showed deep underground silos with missiles that it said were ready to defend the country in an attack.

On Saturday, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for general elections, said members of the disbanded Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution mujaheddin party could participate without problems if they “acted lawfully.” Both parties call for widespread reforms, more personal freedoms and better relations with the international community.

Several Iranian politicians say they fear a disappointing turnout for the parliamentary elections if opposition representatives do not participate.

But the influential brother of former president Mohammad Khatami, one of the political leaders of Iran’s reformist movement, reiterated Friday that the group would participate only under certain conditions.

“The official recognition of parties, an independent press and the freeing of political prisoners are our main demands,” Mohammad Reza Khatami told the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency. “Anyone who wants lively elections must bring about these conditions,” he said.

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