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Imprisoned Civil Rights Activist Released After 65-Day Hunger Strike—With a Catch

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untitled-11-1-1Iranhumanrights.org - Azeri rights advocate Morteza Moradpour has been hospitalized in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan Province, while he recovers from the 65-day hunger strike that led to his conditional release from prison. However, his legal battle is far from over because his release order requires him to report back to prison every night.

"The decision by the Tabriz judicial officials to release Morteza under Article 7 occurred because they wanted to show that they had not surrendered to his legitimate demands and didn't care about his hunger strike," his brother, Fardin Moradpour, told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Morteza Moradpour was conditionally released on December 29, 2016 under Article 7 of Iran's Prison Organization's Procedural Regulations, which is normally applied to prisoners who have been authorized to work outside of prison in the day as long as they return to prison every night.

Morteza Moradpour ended his hunger strike on December 28—one day after his mother begged him on YouTube not to further endanger his life. The judicial authorities in Tabriz granted him conditional release the next day.

He was initially arrested at a rally in Tabriz on May 22, 2009 for peacefully advocating Azeri ethnic and environmental demands, including protecting Urmia (Oroumiyeh) Lake and maintaining the right to speak the Azeri mother tongue. He was sentenced to one year in prison for "propaganda against the state" and two years for "assembly and collusion against national security."

Iranian Azerbaijanis, also known as Azeris and Turks, are Iranians of Azerbaijani ethnicity originating from East Azerbaijan Province.

Morteza Moradpour began his hunger strike on October 25, 2016 to demand early release according to Article 134 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code. The Appeals Court's decision to deny the application of Article 134 to his case was "unlawful and arbitrary," said Morteza's lawyer, Jafar Afsharnia, via Facebook on December 24, 2016.

On December 23, a group of prominent political and civil rights advocates expressed deep concern for Moradpour's deteriorating health and called for his immediate release.

"Mr. Morteza Moradpour has been jailed for more than two years for seeking his legal rights," they said in a joint letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Campaign. "Now he is asking for the Islamic Penal Code to be applied to his case."

The letter was signed by well-known figures including Ahmad Montazeri, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Taghi Rahmani, Mehdi Aminzadeh, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Mohammad Heydari, Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari, Yasser Mirdamadi, Noushabeh Amiri, Morteza Kazemina, Reza Alijani, Abdolali Bazargan, Mohammad Maleki, and Ammar Maleki.

The signees also pointed out that Moradpour's peaceful demands were not illegal.

The lives of at least four political prisoners on extended hunger strikes in Iran to demand reviews of their unjust sentences are currently in serious danger. Civil rights activist Arash Sadeghi ended his 71-day hunger strike on Jan. 3, 2017 after learning that his imprisoned wife and fellow rights activist has been conditionally released.