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Iranian Student Dies In Prison

The United States is calling for an investigation into the death of Ebrahim Lotfallahi, a law student from Kordestan province in Iran who died in government custody.

In a written statement, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “The United States is deeply concerned about the tragic death under suspicious circumstances of Ebrahim Lotfallahi, an Iranian student of Kurdish descent detained by the Ministry of Intelligence on January 6th. We call on Iranian authorities to conduct a full investigation.”

Mr. Lotfallahi's brother visited him in prison and said he was in good spirits. His family does not know what, if any, charges were brought against him. On January 15th, Iranian officials informed his family that he was dead and had been buried in a local cemetery. They claimed Mr. Lotfallahi had committed suicide in his cell. His family has not been allowed to see his body and is calling for an autopsy.

The case bears similarities to the death in October of a young female medical student, Zahra Bani Yaghoub, who was arrested by security forces in the western city of Hamedan while walking in a park with her fiancé. She was held in prison overnight; the next day her lifeless body was given back to her parents. Iranian officials claimed she had committed suicide. Her family says she was assaulted and murdered in prison.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that basic democratic rights are universal:

“That men and women have the right to choose those who will govern them, to speak their minds, to worship freely and to find protections from the arbitrary power of the state.”

The deaths of Ebrahim Lotfallahi and Zahra Bani Yaghoub show the consequences of the use of arbitrary state power in Iran. As U.S. State Department spokesman McCormack points out, “The Iranian regime continues to deprive its citizens of a future free of fear, abuse, and arbitrary arrest.” Mr. McCormack says the United States is calling on the regime in Iran “to release all individuals held without due process and a fair trial, including the three young Baha’i teachers being held in a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Shiraz and the three Amir Kabir University students that prison authorities refuse to free despite an order issued by an Iranian judge in late December.”