The hunger-striking Iranian trade unionist we featured over Christmas, Reza Shahabi, was released for five days on Monday evening to get medical treatment. A prisoner of conscience according to Amnesty International, Reza started his hunger strike on 17 December in protest at – among other things – the authorities’ denial of his repeated requests for medical leave.
He had been transferred to a hospital outside prison on 15 December for medical examinations including an MRI scan. However, he has said the guard who went with him took him back to the prison before the examinations were carried out, threatening to beat him if he resisted. In protest at the authorities’ treatment, Reza Shahabi stopped taking his medication that day and started a hunger strike two days later.
Reza Shahabi is treasurer of ITF affiliate the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. The ITF has welcomed the provisional five day release. ITF general secretary David Cockroft said:
“We are delighted that Reza Shahabi can finally get the treatment doctors recommend. Charges against him have not been dropped however – so ITF unions globally remain watchful.”
ITF president Paddy Crumlin added:
“This is good news for human rights and will be welcomed everywhere – the next step would be for Shahabi together with other trade union prisoners in Iran, to be cleared of wrongdoing”
Reza Shahabi underwent an operation on his spine on 23 May 2012 at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Hospital. Despite his doctor’s recommendation that he needed at least three months rest, he was returned to Evin Prison shortly after the operation and has not been granted any medical leave since then. According to one of his family, Reza Shahabi is suffering from fluctuating blood pressure, frequent nosebleeds, and numbness in his right fingers and toes. His family have expressed concern that he might be at risk of paralysis if he is not provided with the specialized medical care he requires.
Amnesty International launched an Urgent Action campaign among its members just hours before Reza’s release, calling on the authorities to release Reza Shahabi immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience held solely for his peaceful trade union activities and urging them to ensure that Reza Shahabi is given full access to the specialized medical treatment required for his condition outside prison. The appeal is still worth taking, because it is unlikely Reza will receive the medical treatment he needs in the five days he is at home, welcome though that respite is.