Harrowing Accounts from Iran’s Prisoners

Jun 2, 20170 comments

The Iran Prison Atlas (IPA) has carried an extensive inquiry on the conditions of Iranian prisons. Behind Bars in Iran is based on interviews with two dozen current and former political prisoners and open letters written by political prisoners. Since the report has not yet been translated to English, we thought we’d share some of the findings:

Extreme Overcrowding

According to Asqar Jahangir, the head of Iran’s State Prison Organization, Iran currently holds a population of 220,000 individuals behind bars, which is 3 times the capacity of the country’s prisons and detention centers.

According to one former political prisoner who talked to Iran Prison Atlas on a condition of anonymity at Karaj Central Prison, the detention center where he had been imprisoned, “between 40 to 50 prisoners were kept in cells that were 20 square meters (about 200 square feet). At nights people laid down wherever they could find space; in the prayer room, in the hallways, any corner they could find. Prisoners fought over a place to sleep.”

Another former prisoner who talked to Iran Prison Atlas on condition of anonymity said, “When I was at Mahabad Prison, close to 500 people were held there. But, there were only 4 bathrooms and showers. If I wanted to take a shower I needed to put my name on the list 4 days before.”

“He squeezed my breast so hard that I passed out from the pain.”    

Issues with Hygiene and Medical Care

Iranian officials have admitted that the country’s prisons have a serious hygiene problem and prisoners don’t have access to proper medical care. Iran’s Minister of Justice has attributed these issues to overcrowding and the fact that prisoners are not covered by health insurance.

One former political prisoner‌‌ ‌who was held at Karaj Correctional Facility‌‌‌‌, and who did not want to reveal his name, told Iran Prison Atlas: “Lice, scabies, bedbugs and other insects were some of the prison’s permanent residents and everyone took for granted that they were there to stay.”

In a recent case, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi who suffers from a number of serious illnesses, including muscular paralysis, had to undergo an emergency surgery. According to Taqi Rahmani, Mohammadi’s husband, her medical condition has significantly deteriorated in prison and they are concerned about her life.


Mistreatment and Torture

Physical, psychological, and emotional mistreatments are widespread in Iranian prisons and Iran Prison Atlas has documented the personal accounts of hundreds of individuals.

One of the most harrowing public accounts of torture that is available is of Raheleh Zokayi who was released in March of 2014.

“They had beaten me up so badly that I walked like a child with diapers on. I was blindfolded, this is after I had been beaten like an animal; Mr. Monfarad grabbed me as I was blindfolded, handcuffed and shackled. He squeezed my breast so hard that I passed out from the pain. All of these pains are stored in my head and unless you go through it yourself you won’t understand the horrors that I’ve been through.”

Zokayi died in February from uterine cancer.

“Close to 500 people were held there. But, we only had 4 bathrooms and showers. If I wanted to take a shower I needed to put my name on the list 4 days before.”

Wide Availability of Narcotics

A number of sources told Iran Prison Atlas that the availability of narcotics in prison was to such a high degree that they believe prison guards played an active and systematic role in smuggling narcotics in the prison.

A former political prisoner who was held at Adelabad Prison in Shiraz told IPA, “Prison was a lawless city. The guards were the biggest violators; they broke every law. The prison guards were behind smuggling every contraband, from drugs to sharp knives. They would bring them and sell it to prisoners.”

Another former prisoner who was held at Sanandaj Prison told Iran Prison Atlas, “Prison employees treated prisoners very poorly. They would bring in drugs and give them to distributors inside the cells.”

A former prisoner who was held at Tabriz Prison told IPA, “There were drugs everywhere in prison.”

Action and Recommendations

Behind Bars in Iran includes recommendations on how to transition out of the current urgent conditions to a humane, sustainable, and practical model. Physical copies of the report will be sent to Iran’s head of State Prisons Organization, judges, prosecutors, judiciary and executive officials, and activists.