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U.N. calls on Iran to resolve prisoner hunger strike

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. human rights investigator called on Iran on Thursday to resolve a prolonged hunger strike by prisoners protesting against their conditions of detention and abrupt transfer to a high-security section.

U.N. special rapporteur Asma Jahangir voiced concern about 53 prisoners, including 15 followers of the Baha’i faith, who have been transferred to a high-security section of Rajai-Shahr prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, over the past few weeks.

The Bahai faith was founded in Iran in the 19th century and activists say more than 300,000 adherents live in Iran today. Iran’s Shi’ite government considers the faith a heretical offshoot of Islam.

“I am deeply alarmed by reports about the deteriorating medical conditions of the prisoners on hunger strike, and that their torture and ill-treatment have continued since their transfer,” Jahangir said in a statement. At least 18 of the 53 were known to be on the hunger strike, her office said.

Iranian Foreign ministry declined to comment.

Exiled Bahai leaders say hundreds of followers have been jailed and executed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Iranian government denies it has detained or executed people for their religion.

Jahangir said the prisoners were not allowed to take their belongings, including medicines, amid reports that they have also been deprived of adequate clothing, medical care and food.

“Depriving prisoners of having family contact, lawyers and adequate medical care is contrary to international law,” she added.

“I urge the government of Iran to look for a prompt solution to the extreme situation created by the hunger strike through good faith dialogue about the grievances and underlying human rights violations, ensuring full respect for their dignity and autonomy,” Jahangir said.

The Baha’i International Community, in a statement on Aug. 16, denounced the transfer as a “harsh move”.

“Not only are these Baha’is unjustly imprisoned because of their beliefs, they are now also subjected to added pressures and ill treatment without any justification but also in contradiction with Iran’s own laws,” said Diane Ala’i, the group’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

About 95 Baha’is are imprisoned in Iran, all of whom it said had been “arrested solely because of their religious beliefs”.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams