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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Iranian opposition leader hospitalised after hunger strike

Mehdi Karroubi has been under house arrest for six-and-a-half years for supporting pro-democracy uprisings

Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi casting his ballot at a polling station in Tehran on June 12, 2009, when he stood for president. He has been under house arrest since 2011 and was hospitalised on August 17, 2017 after going on hunger strike to demand a trial, his family told local media. Atta Kenare / AFP
Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi casting his ballot at a polling station in Tehran on June 12, 2009, when he stood for president. He has been under house arrest since 2011 and was hospitalised on August 17, 2017 after going on hunger strike to demand a trial, his family told local media. Atta Kenare / AFP

Mehdi Karroubi, an elderly Iranian opposition leader under house arrest since 2011, was hospitalised on Thursday after starting a hunger strike to support his demand for a public trial, his official website reported.

Along with fellow opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and his wife Zahra Rahnavard, Mr Karroubi has been been confined to his home for six-and-a-half years after calling for rallies in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings which were springing up in Arab countries.

They have never been put on trial or publicly charged. Both Mr Karroubi, 80, and Mr Mousavi, 75, suffer from ailments partly associated with their age. Mr Karroubi has been hospitalised twice in recent weeks and has also undergone heart surgery.

His son, Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, confirmed the Sahamnews website report on his Twitter account: "At 1 a.m. Thursday father was sent to hospital due to the hunger strike. Pray a lot".

Sahamnews quoted the Shi'ite cleric's wife, Fatemeh Karroubi, as saying that he would refuse "to eat or drink until his demands are met".

Mr Karroubi and Mr Mousavi ran in what became a disputed 2009 election that returned hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and triggered mass protests that were ultimately crushed by the elite Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij militia.

Dozens of political activists, politicians, journalists and artists have urged pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani to fulfill his campaign promises of getting the opposition leaders freed, but he has been blocked by security and judiciary services that answer only to hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "He does not expect a fair trial but wants it to be public and would respect the verdict," Mr Karroubi's wife told Sahamnews.

Mr Karroubi, a former speaker of the parliament, has also asked for security forces to leave his house, which is under round-the-clock surveillance by the Revolutionary Guards.

"He wants the security guards to leave the premises of his house," his wife said. "Such a level of surveillance has never been seen before or after the (1979 Islamic) revolution ... He wants the authorities to announce when they will hold a public trial."

The Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on Wednesday called for the immediate release of "ailing political leaders".

"Karroubi's life is in danger and the state, which has detained him without trial, is responsible for whatever happens to him while he is in its custody," said CHRI executive director Hadi Ghaemi.