Zeynab Jalalian, Iran’s longest-serving and only female political prisoner serving a life sentence in Yazd prison, marked her seventeenth year in prison yesterday. Throughout her imprisonment, Jalalian has been denied the right to furlough and has been illegally transferred several times to different prisons across the country.

Born in 1982 in the border village of Dim Qeshlaq in Maku, West Azerbaijan Province, Jalalian moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 1999 and initially joined the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In 2003, following the formation of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), she became a member of its women’s branch.

Her return to Iran in 2005 and 2006 for promotional activities in Kermanshah and Kurdistan provinces led to her arrest on 26 February 2008.

Jalalian secretly returned to Iran in 2005 and 2006 for promotional activities in the provinces of Kermanshah and Kurdistan. On 26 February 2008, while travelling on an intercity minibus from Kamyaran to Kermanshah, she was arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence at the entrance to the city in front of dozens of passengers.

During the first months of her detention and subsequent imprisonment, Jalalian was subjected to severe physical and psychological torture.

In a trial held on 3 December 2008, nine months after her arrest, she was sentenced to death by Branch One of the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Kermanshah, presided over by Judge Ali Moradi.

The charges against her included “enmity against God” (moharebeh) through “armed action against the Islamic Republic, membership of PJAK, possession and maintenance of military weapons and equipment, and propaganda activities in favour of anti-state groups”.

This is despite the fact that, according to the verdict of the same court, she was not armed at the time of her arrest and no military equipment was found in her possession. According to the verdict, the Intelligence Ministry officials also failed to provide any evidence of her participation in an armed operation. However, the court issued the death sentence on the assumption of her possible involvement in armed operations.

According to Jalalian’s lawyers, at all stages of her interrogation she consistently denied any involvement in armed confrontation against the Islamic Republic, stating that her activities were political and in line with the programmes of the women’s branch of PJAK.

In October 2011, coinciding with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s visit to Kermanshah, Jalalian’s sentence was commuted from execution to life imprisonment through the “Leader’s Amnesty”, based on the recommendation of the Amnesty and Clemency Commission of the provincial judiciary.

Jalalian’s defence lawyer, Amir Salar Davoudi, had previously emphasised in an interview that the request for clemency for Jalalian was not initiated by her or her legal representatives, but was directly proposed by the Amnesty and Clemency Commission of Kermanshah Province. Explaining the cancellation of Jalalian’s death sentence as a result of this clemency, he said: “The reason for this proposal by the Kermanshah Amnesty and Clemency Commission was that the provincial office of the Ministry of Intelligence withdrew its initial report about Zeynab Jalalian being armed and using weapons and admitted its mistake. This report is in the case file and has a reference number. But the question is why the Ministry of Intelligence’s report, which was previously the basis for the conviction, is now only the basis for clemency from the death penalty. In fact, the public prosecutor could have asked for a retrial in light of this report.”

Davoudi had also previously pointed out that under the new Islamic Penal Code passed in 2013, Jalalian’s sentence could not exceed 15 years, and that continuing her imprisonment beyond that period would be against the law. The revised law removes the charge of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) for political accusations and instead considers equivalent charges.

He said: “The Islamic Penal Code was amended in 2013 regarding charges related to armed confrontation against the Islamic Republic or membership of armed groups. Essentially, the charge of ‘enmity against God’ for which Zeynab had been sentenced was removed in relation to political accusations and an equivalent charge was considered. According to this law, if an individual is arrested without a weapon and detained until the central command of the group is intact, they will be sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. This law applies not only to Zeynab, but also to many other convicted individuals. If it had been applied, Zeynab’s sentence would have been reduced to third-degree punitive imprisonment and she would have been released by now.

The lawyer, who is himself currently in prison for his human rights activities, had previously said that with the new law in place, the prosecution could have asked for the case to be reviewed. Also, the Supreme Court has not responded to the formal request by Jalalian’s lawyers to review the case.

Jalalian also suffers from several illnesses including pterygium, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), impaired vision, asthma, kidney and digestive problems, and has been denied medical treatment due to opposition from the Ministry of Intelligence.

The Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), through an informed source, has inquired about the latest state of Jalalian’s health. According to the source: “After several years of repeated requests by Zeynab Jalalian, a doctor recently examined her in Yazd prison. However, due to the lack of medical facilities in the prison to carry out the necessary tests, the doctor said that only medication could be prescribed. After a few weeks of taking the medication, Zeynab began to experience side effects and, in addition to the recurrence of her breathing difficulties, she developed skin problems. As a result, she had to stop taking the medication.”

The source expressed concern for Jalalian’s physical health as a result of her continued detention and denial of access to medical treatment outside prison, mentioning problems with her eyesight: “Last week, after years of suffering from an eye condition, she was transferred to an outside medical centre under strict security measures. After undergoing tests and receiving a prescription for glasses, she was returned to prison. For the past year, Zeynab Jalalian has been unable to read due to the lack of glasses and the persistence of her eye condition”.

The source concluded: “On 25 January this year, coinciding with Zeynab Jalalian’s announcement of a hunger strike in solidarity with female political prisoners in Evin Prison and in protest against executions in Iran, prison officials, particularly the head of the Prison Security Office, pressured and threatened her to abandon the hunger strike. However, she did not give in to the pressure and continued the hunger strike that day”.

In June 2023, the KHRN had reported that on 6 June, following a celebration by some women prisoners in Yazd Central Prison for Jalalian’s 41st birthday, the prison security authorities summoned a group of these prisoners and threatened them with legal action.


Since her arrest in Kermanshah on 26 February 2008, Jalalian has been forcibly transferred between prisons across the country without legal justification.

Similarly, on 9 November 2020, she was transferred from Khoy Prison, the closest prison to her family residing in Maku, to Yazd Central Prison without any legal justification.

About six months before her transfer, on 29 April 2020, security forces transferred her to Qarchak prison in Varamin, northern Iran.

Two months later, she was transferred to Kerman Prison and held in solitary confinement for a period of time while she was infected with COVID-19 and was on a hunger strike, demanding her return to Khoy Prison.

On 22 September 2022, security forces moved the political prisoner from Kerman Prison to Kermanshah Prison.

The authorities at Kermanshah Women’s Prison had initially refused to admit her to the prison because of the injuries she had sustained to her wrists and feet after being dragged to the ground in handcuffs and shackles by security forces.

Later, in Yazd prison, Jalalian was infected with COVID-19 for the second time. Despite her deteriorating physical condition, she was held in a room for addicted prisoners, with very poor hygienic conditions and no access to proper medical care.

After suffering from COVID-19 twice, she developed pulmonary problems and asthma due to a lack of proper medical care.

These illnesses, which have been confirmed by the prison doctor, are in addition to her previous illnesses, such as kidney and digestive problems, pterygium, foot-and-mouth disease, visual impairment, dental infections, etc., which she developed during her imprisonment and which were caused by the numerous tortures and harsh prison conditions, and have led to a further deterioration in Jalalian’s physical condition and health.

Not only has Jalalian been unable to receive family visits for the several years due to her movement between prisons, the distance between Yazd and her family’s home town of Maku, and restrictions imposed by the security services, but her right to telephone calls has also been limited to once a week and only with her parents.

Agents of the Ministry of Intelligence in Yazd Prison warned the political prisoner that if any information about her condition was leaked to the media by her and her family, it would increase the pressure on her and lead to her transfer to another prison.

In March 2022, security forces arrested Jalalian’s parents and three brothers in Maku after a video was released of her mother, Gozal Hajizadeh, talking about her daughter’s condition in prison.

Although the family members were released 24 hours later after Hajizadeh fell unconscious in custody, the Intelligence Ministry warned them not to disseminate information or speak to human rights organisations or the media about Jalalian’s condition.

The security forces also asked the family to speak out in a video interview against the activities of the political prisoner and Kurdish opposition parties, which they strongly refused to do.

Jalalian, born on 6 June 1982 in the village of Dim Qeshlaq in Maku, was arrested in Kermanshah on 26 February 2008.

After months of solitary confinement and severe physical and psychological torture at the hands of the Ministry of Intelligence in Kermanshah, she was sentenced to death by the Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) for her membership of the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK).

Although the sentence was later upheld by the Supreme Court, it was commuted to life imprisonment in 2011.

In 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention formally requested that the Islamic Republic of Iran immediately release Jalalian and take all necessary measures to compensate her for the harm she has suffered, in accordance with international law.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention described Jalalian’s continued deprivation of liberty as arbitrary and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adding that Iran has an obligation to hold accountable those officials responsible for violating the political activist’s rights.