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Iran Columnist Serving 10 Years Protests Illegal Prison Sentence Extension

CHRI - Imprisoned newspaper columnist Afarin Chitsaz has gone on hunger strike to protest the illegal extension of her two-year prison sentence that was scheduled to end this month, the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has learned.

"In the past year, Ms. Chitsaz has been hospitalized to undergo two knee operations to repair meniscus tears in both her knees and spent some time on medical leave to recuperate," her attorney, Mohammad Moghimi, told CHRI. "By law, her sentence is over this month and she should be freed, but the authorities have added three months."

A columnist for President Hassan Rouhani's official government newspaper, Iran, Chitsaz began her protest on September 2, 2017, after learning that the three-month medical leave granted to her earlier in the year would not be counted as time served.

"She has filed a complaint and I requested a review, but, unfortunately, they have had no effect," added Moghimi. "Because of this, my client has gone on a hunger strike."

Moghimi told CHRI that according to Iranian law, the time Chitsaz served outside the prison for medical treatment should be deducted from her sentence.

According to Article 502 of Iran's Criminal Procedure Regulations: "If a prisoner is suffering from physical or mental illness and his imprisonment would make his illness worse or delay his recovery, the judge can postpone the sentence being served until the prisoner regains his health after consultation with his physician."

Article 522 states: "... The time spent in the hospital for treatment is taken into account as part of the prisoner's sentence."

Chitsaz's mother, Maryam Azadpour, has meanwhile been sentenced for informing the media about her daughter's case, the lawyer told CHRI.

"After talking to the BBC about Ms. Chitsaz, the judiciary opened a file on Ms. Azadpour and she was sentenced to four months in prison by Branch 1059 of the 2nd Tehran Criminal Court, but later it was reduced to a 1.5 million tomans ($452) fine," said Moghimi.

Chitsaz, 42, was arrested on November 2, 2015, by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Intelligence Organization as part of a crackdown on journalists who support reformist and moderate causes.

In March 2016, Chitsaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Mohammad Moghisseh for "assembly and collusion against national security" and "collaboration with enemy states." Upon appeal her sentence was reduced to two years in prison in addition to a two-year ban on practicing journalism that she must observe after her release.

"When Ms. Chitsaz called me from Evin Prison today (September 3), I could tell from her voice that she was not feeling well," Moghimi told CHRI. "I'm sure this hunger strike will have a terrible impact on her... I told her that what she's doing is dangerous for her health, but she said she has no other choice."

Former Political Prisoner Issued New Six-Year Sentence

Moghimi also told CHRI that his client, political activist and former political prisoner Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, has been sentenced to six years in prison for allegedly making critical remarks about Iranian officials on social media and to foreign media outlets.

"Mr. Tabarzadi completed his earlier prison sentence two years ago," said Moghimi. "Using the excuse that he had been active on social media and had talked to foreign media, the authorities opened a new case against him and he was sentenced to one year in prison for 'propaganda against the state' and five years in prison for 'assembly and collusion against national security.' But we will definitely file an appeal."

The secretary general of the secular Iran Democratic Front party, Tabarzadi, 58, was arrested in December 2009 for protesting the execution of five political prisoners, including Kurdish teacher Farzad Kamangar, and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released on June 30, 2015.

Tabarzadi was arrested again on May 17, 2016, and released on bail on July 13 pending his most recent trial.