Hassan Zarif Nazarian may not be disturbed as much as other detainees by the scenes of violence practiced in the video footage leaked from the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. Being held in the Mullah’s prisons subjected him to higher levels of brutality in the treatment of detainees.
The Iranian regime has been practicing systematic repression and violating human rights for more than 40 years.
Nazarian said the leaked videos awakened some harsh memories he chose to bury from his near-death experience in Evin prison. “In a night in 1981, a patrol including four cars carrying security forces and dozens of gunmen stormed my house and arrested my sister, fiancée and me without having an arrest warrant,” he told Majalla, adding that they seized many of his personal items, including photo albums, books, a camera and other things, such as mountaineering equipment.
Security forces used various methods of abuse during the twelve years that followed the night of arrest, Nazarian said, recalling some of what he had experienced. “I was tied on a torture board and flogged during the interrogation, while my fiancée was tortured in the next room to give information about me,” he added, stressing that flogging prisoners was part of the interrogation process. “Some people were hung on the walls and a prisoner, Jaafar Semsarzadeh, was severely beaten until the flesh peeled off his bones and needed to be transplanted from his thigh.”
Nazarian also recalled seeing a young couple in the interrogation center, where the wife was tied to her husband and beaten every time he refused to give a statement. There are many examples I heard about later while in prison, he said, noting that means of torture to which he had been subjected and seen during his years in prison exceeded 170. “We prepared a list of these methods to submit to the Special Rapporteur of the Commission of Human Rights on Iran, Reynaldo Galindo Pohl, whom we could not meet in prison. But the Iranian resistance sent the list to him later.”
Commenting on his trial, Nazarian said it only took three minutes and he wasn’t aware he was in a court. “I thought they transferred me again to an interrogation center, since the same detective was present, but he then played the role of the public prosecutor,” he explained.
Asked about the prison conditions, Nazarian said they are similar to a “slaughterhouse.” The Mullah’s regime also set up an area divided into about 18 wards and then allegedly presented it as the Evin prison for foreign delegations. In this fake prison, living conditions seemed to be good for inmates. However, the conditions were very dire, unsafe, crowded and scary in other sections, he affirmed.
End of the World
Evin prison means the “end of the world for every inmate due to the lack of the humanitarian community laws. Prison guards, detectives and judges believe prisoners deserve the worst means of torture and maximum pressure, especially if they belonged to or supported the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (MEK/PMOI),” Nazarian elaborated.
Prisoners lack their basic rights, such as ventilation, food, treatment, education, adequate lighting, visits and even the appointment of a lawyer, he stressed.
“In my opinion and that of the ex-detainees in Iranian prisons, especially in Evin, the videos leaked on social media on the regime’s crimes were only part and parcel of the torture inmates are subjected to in torture cells. Prison guards considered these crimes normal.”
Nazarian further stated that when he was in Evin prison in 1988, and upon Khomeini’s orders, the “Death Commission,” which included figures like current President Ebrahim Raisi, Hossein Ali Nayyeri, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi, Mohammad Esmail Shushtari, the prison chief and representative of the Ministry of Intelligence, carried out a massacre in which almost 5,000 political prisoners were executed.
“I was in a ward with 175 other inmates, of whom only 15 survived the massacre,” he told Majalla. Those who had traces of torture on their bodies were taken for execution, he said, noting that international public opinion has not addressed this issue over the past 33 years.
For this reason, he stressed, the perpetrators of this crime still hold their posts in Iran. “Raisi signed at least 4,000 execution verdicts in Evin and Gohardasht prisons,” he confirmed, urging his trial along with the other commission members before an international court.
A hacking group in Iran calling itself Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice) released videos and pictures on social media from the prison's surveillance cameras and showed guards carrying out abusive acts against the detainees.
They also managed to hack the prison’s control room and sent a message to the current Iranian president reading: “Evin Prison is a stain of shame on Raisi's black turban and white beard. General protests across the country until the freedom of political prisoners.”
After hackers shed light on the violations carried out inside the prison, Mohammad Mehdi Hajmohammadi, head of Iran's prisons wrote a tweet in which he held himself accountable for the “unacceptable behavior” and pledged to try to prevent the reoccurrence of such bitter acts.
A few days after releasing some ordinary footage from sections of the Evin prison, including its cells, yard, and other areas, the hackers released other painful footage revealing the abuse against prisoners who were subjected to violence and beating. One video showed a prisoner attempting to commit suicide and others passing out and being dragged across hallways. Other footage showed several incidents of inmate assaults against other inmates and prisoners self-harming, as well as a fist fight between a guard and a policeman. Some further scenes showed a large room with modern equipment said to belong to Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of former President Hassan Rouhani, who is serving a sentence on corruption charges.
In light of the leaked videos, four people were arrested and handed over to a military court and orders were issued to summon two others. In addition, Iranian officials affirmed that some of the abusers have already received their punishment. This was the only action taken by authorities before holding another probe into the violations.
Will decades of violations be redressed by arresting four people? Will their arrest improve the prison’s bad reputation and pardon it for thousands of executions and killings under torture and mass graves? Will it change its black history?
Evin Prison: Black History
The Evin prison (Zendân-e-Evin in Persian) is located in Saadat Abad area at the foot of the Alborz Mountains in northern Tehran. It was built in 1972 under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It contains an execution yard, a courtroom, and separate sections for regular criminals and female prisoners.
It was operated by the Shah’s infamous security and intelligence service (SAVAK) and was initially designed to house 320 inmates (20 in solitary cells and 300 in two large communal blocks). It was expanded in 1977 to accommodate more than 1,500 prisoners, including 100 solitary cells for political prisoners.
The political crimes committed in the prison since Pahlavi’s rule led to its bad reputation, and it became more well-known following the 1979 revolution when the Mullah took over the reins of power. Under the Islamic Republic, the prison population was again expanded to 15,000 inmates.
Theoretically, the prison was supposed to be a jail for criminals awaiting their trials, after which the convicts would be transferred to a prison such as Ghezel Hesar or Gohardasht. However, it has become a concentration camp for many inmates who have been waiting years for their trials, and prominent figures often spend their entire sentence in this prison.
It was run by many extremist leaders, most notably Mohammad Kachouyi who carried out a series of executions against senior military officers and officials during the Shah’s era. One of the most prominent of the executed figures was then Prime Minister Abbas Kachouyi. Mohammad was assassinated in 1981 and a prison was named after him in Karaj city in the northwest of Tehran.
Assadollah Ladjevardi also ran the prison and his name was associated with the 1988 massacre ordered by Khomeini following the Iran-Iraq war. Thousands were executed, most of which were PMOI supporters, and Ladjevardi himself was later assassinated.
Due to the number of intellectuals imprisoned within its walls, the prison has been nicknamed “Evin University.”
According to Amnesty International reports, it includes a group of interrogation rooms underground. Inmates there are routinely abused to be forced to sign confessions that eventually often lead to their execution.
Evin Prison Today
There are 15,000 inmates in the 12-ward overcrowded prison, which was built to house nearly 3,000 prisoners. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) use various tools to torture political detainees, and executions are carried out under verdicts issued by the so-called revolutionary courts without any accountability. Additionally, thousands of Iranians are forcibly hidden there.
The most brutal Evin cells belong to the IRGC and the intelligence services, such as ward 29. Ward 350, the largest in the prison, was run by the judiciary, aka the third division, before the Revolutionary Guards decided to run some of its sections. This, of course, violates Article 1 of the disregarded Iranian Prisons Law.
Prisoners are subjected to sexual and physical abuse, electric shocks and other brutal torture methods, while those awaiting execution are put into wards 1, 2, 3, and 4.
IRGC forces run the prison, which falls under the direct auspices of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei despite the theoretical authority of the Ministry of Justice for the prison’s administration.
Inmates include opponents of the current regime, those who protest the living conditions, and dual nationals. It has recently been identified as a torture scene being kept away from the eyes of the world and the Iranians. Following the unprecedented protests in 2009, the prison became overcrowded and the detainees were subjected to various means of torture. Nevertheless, survivors were able to reveal what goes on in the prison’s corridors.
Daily violations also take place in the women’s section in this prison. According to the 2020 Amnesty International reports, female inmates are ill-treated, tortured, and have no access to hospitals for treatment.
Executions are carried out after quick trials and inmates are hung in a courtyard inside the prison. This adds to the black record of executions in Iran, which is ranked the second highest in the world in terms of the rate of executions.
Western human rights groups have long criticized the prison, and the US added it to its blacklist in 2018 for “grave human rights violations.”
Like the other Mullah’s prisons, Evin is known for torturing its inmates mentally using the “white torture” method. This method includes brutality by sensory deprivation. This type of torture relies on subjecting inmates to long periods of isolation, leading to their loss of personal identity and the decrease of their energy level.
This method is basically practiced on political prisoners in Iran, mainly journalists. Evin prison does not need direct permission from the Iranian government to punish inmates who are placed in Section 209.
Not Only Evin
Many ex-detainees believe the Iranian regime has expanded its crime scenes against detainees to cover the whole country. The further away from Tehran, the more horrific these crimes become, especially since these areas are monitored by neither international delegations and organizations nor local civil activists.
Ahvazi Arab journalist and writer Yousef Azizi Bani-Torof affirmed hundreds of torture cases in secret prisons, some that lead to death. However, the authorities will announce that the inmate had either committed suicide or suffered a heart attack, he noted. In case the prison is secret and the prisoner is not a known figure, he will be killed without discovery, as happened to many Ahvazis including Ahmed Haidari and Ali Beit Sayah, who were killed under torture in Shaiban prison of Ahvaz. Azizi noted that these two inmates are among a list of Arabs who die in Ahvaz prisons, especially the secret (death prison) in the Zeitoun neighborhood, where “I spent 65 days in one of its cells.”
He told Majalla about the physical and mental torture he was underwent in his cell in a prison far from Evin and the cameras. Although he spent a night in Evin prison, he was transferred to his hometown in Ahvaz to a prison specially prepared for the Ahvazis. “Each nation has its share of systematic torture crimes,” he said.
“In 2005, our region as well as Iran witnessed massive protests. I lived in Tehran where I spoke to Arab, Persian and foreign media and reported the bloody suppression practiced by authorities against peaceful demonstrators,” he explained, adding that 50 protesters were killed and dozens were arrested in Ahvaz.
“Unfortunately, I went through two bitter experiences during the current regime’s rule, and before that I had an experience under the Shah, which was also harsh.”
Azizi said he was arrested in Ahvaz where he worked as a teacher in its high schools. In September 1981, he was jailed in the IRGC headquarters in Jarshir Square. “My family did not know where I was arrested and thought I was executed along with dozens of others,” he added.
“We could hear the sound of bullets that claimed the lives of about 30 prisoners every night,” he affirmed, noting that they included Arab nationalist activists, some of who belonged to the PMOI and others to the radical left-wing. Meanwhile, Iraqi artillery were pounding the city from a distance of about 40 kilometers,” Azizi explained.
“The second time was in April 2005 when I was arrested after returning from the Defenders of Human Rights Center. I spent one night in the Intelligence Ministry's division in Evin Prison in Tehran. Then they transferred me to a terrible secret prison in Ahvaz.”
Azizi pointed out that his name was not registered in the Ministry of Justice prisoner’s list and he was placed in a very tight cell with cockroaches and lizards during the city's very hot summer. He was forced to move and eat within this small area.
“I used to walk five to six hours a day in less than a three-meter long cell like a crazy man. Sometimes there were power cuts and Ahvaz is a hot area where the temperature reaches 55 degrees in summer. They didn’t open the cell door or any other opening for air to enter, forcing me to take off all my clothes so I wouldn’t die from the heat,” he said.
Azizi said he was lucky he was from this region or else he would have died, noting that if a prisoner were from the cold Iranian regions, he would have died or fallen ill in these circumstances.
“I was subjected to unbearable mental torture, including the threats of execution as well as bringing my wife and daughter to the same prison,” he told Majalla.
The writer said he suffered a murder attempt when he was left alone in the prison courtyard (breathing yard) surrounded by high cement walls under the burning Ahvaz sun for hours without water, and feeling exhausted, thirsty, and hungry.
“I repeatedly hit the iron door and their justification was that the guard who had the keys went to the market. They also threatened to put me in a tighter cell if I refused to kiss then-President Mohammad Khatami’s hand.”
“We used to hear about terrible acts, such as raping virgin girls before executing them,” he added.
Azizi pointed to the dire conditions in the prisons located in non-Persian cities. Even the food served to prisoners in marginalized provinces is twice as bad as that served in Tehran’s prisons, including Evin, he stressed. These areas are inhabited by minorities in Sanandaj and in Zahedan in Tabriz, i.e., the Kurdish, Arab, Baluch and Azeri regions.
Prisoners in Tehran fare better because it is the capital and there are opposition figures within the regime itself, he explained.
Shooting inmates in Sepidar prison in Ahvaz and killing 25 prisoners last year in the protests held in prisons across the country during the coronavirus outbreak proves that “our prisons are the worst.”
Finally, Azizi revealed that there are major prisons registered in the Ministry of Justice and other secret prisons, but he considers that thousands of Iranians, including Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and Azeris have died in the country’s prisons during four decades and under multiple means of torture.
The Main Prisons in Iran
The public central prisons are distributed throughout Iranian provinces. According to the PMOI, authorities have transformed many of these prisons into forced labor camps to obtain profits. Jailers get more creative in torturing prisoners in numerous ways by using electric shocks, severe beatings, and keeping them blindfolded in the cold for hours in solitary confinement. Another method adopted in prisons is the distribution and sale of drugs, where the jailers systematically distribute methadone to control prisoners and prevent them from protesting. There are 568 political prisoners in the prisons, distributed according to their nationalities, and subjected to various types of physical and mental torture. Within the national distribution, there is also a religious sectarian distribution with the following composition: 231 Shiites, 150 Sunnis, 108 of unknown sects, 35 Bahais, and 19 Christians, all told comprising 493 men and 76 women.
Iranian prisons are managed by the Organization of Prisons and Security Measures under the presidency of the judiciary, which was led by the President during past years and was commissioned by Khamenei to initiate reforms that were implemented in prisons across the country.
Despite all this, not all prisons are publically known. There are dozens of illegal detention centers, as acknowledged by the Iranian prison website. The most notable is the one assigned by the authorities to the persecuted Arabs in 2016 and is located in Sheiban in Al-Ahvaz, with a capacity of 4,500 prisoners.
Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, is one of the oldest and most overcrowded prisons. It was built in 1964 and can accommodate 5,000 prisoners. However, it is crammed with more than 30,000 prisoners distributed between two buildings in Ghezel Hesar, southward, and Karaj Central Prison, northward.
There is also Rajai Shahr (aka Gohardasht) in Karaj, which is renowned for the incident with the Death Committee and the Council for the 1988 massacres, i.e., the same prison in which Hamid Nouri is currently on trial for his crimes.
The prison in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan in the northwest of Iran, has a capacity of 1,800 prisoners, but there are actually 7,000 inmate, most of whom are Azerbaijani Turks.
The prison in Ardabil, northwestern Iran, is considered a detention center for Azeri activists and a gulag for the Arab Baluch, with the number of prisoners exceeding 2,000.
Zahedan Central Prison is in the southeastern capital of Baluchistan, where human rights reports discuss turning it into a torture center in which nearly 3,000 prisoners are held.
Dizleabad prison is in Kermanshah, the Kurdish province in western Iran, where the majority of prisoners are Kurds.
Kurdistan... at the top of the list of executions
There is, however, a hell in secret prisons that are out of sight, or rather in the margins of cities which are usually the non-Persian provinces, unlike official and well-known prisons. Jahangir Abdullahi, head of the Kurdistan Human Rights Association, declared that cameras are usually located in large and central Iranian prisons and are controlled by those responsible for those prisons.
“The situation of detainees in prisons in Kurdistan, Ahvaz, and Baluchistan is dreadful,” Abdullahi told Majalla.
Authorities are keen to appoint Persian directors and jailers in non-Persian regions, and they usually choose people who harbor grudges against other nationalities, he added.
“For example, they appoint a prison director in Kurdistan whose relative was killed in one of the battles between the Kurdish movement and the Basij. The reason behind all this is to remove mercy and humanity from the hearts of these people and to sow hatred and envy for the other.”
But whatever the case, this hacker group that decided to penetrate the Evin prison camera network system will not find it difficult to hack prison cameras in Kurdistan or Ahvaz and the rest of the prisons in other cities if it decides to do so, Abdullahi stressed.
“What we and other international organizations get to know about prison conditions in Kurdistan is only through the families of the detainees,” he added.
In this regard, I remember when Sharara Sadeki, the wife of Kurdish detainee Haidar Qurbani, published a video a few days ago in which she confirmed that her husband was being subjected to the most severe forms of physical and psychological torture. Sadeki demanded international assistance to halt the death penalty issued against him, stressing that she and her children are living in the most precarious conditions. She pointed out that the Supreme Court of Sinanja State (Sanandaj) reconsidered the case of political prisoner Haidar Qurbani and approved the sentence issued against him (death by hanging). The Kurdish detainee was then transferred to the Kamyaran Court to undergo the death sentence,” she further noted. “Qurbani is not a member of any armed organization, and although this was proven by conclusive evidence before the IRGC courts, judicial authorities insisted on implementing the death sentence against him under the pretext of armed rebellion (against the regime).”
Amnesty International states that the verdict was based on confessions extracted from him under torture and, that from the time of his arrest, Qurbani had been subjected to intense pressure in prison to confess. He also said that he was repeatedly tortured to confess, and a film of these confessions was prepared and published by the Press TV network, Abdullahi stated.
Abdullahi asserts that “Qurbani is one of dozens of examples that reflect the reality of the situation in Iranian prisons in Kurdistan, and that what was seen in the leaked video is nothing compared to what is actually happening on the ground. Families of the arrested political activists always fail to know their whereabouts. “He is being tortured without a specific charge, and this torture continues throughout his detention or until the death sentence is carried out,” he warned.
He also revealed that although the death sentences executed against the Kurds in Iran are at the top of the list, the number of detainees and prison inmates is unknown and not officially announced. The reason behind the inaccuracy of this figure is a result of the random arrests carried out by the security services and the executions that Iran no longer proclaims in front of its opponents, so people often do not know whether the detainee is alive or dead.
He also said four Kurdish detainees were killed under torture in Iranian prisons last year, and so far this year two detainees have been killed under torture. “This is what we were able to uncover.”
“In Iran, the oppressed are sentenced to death, but the real culprits are acquitted,” Abdullahi said.
As for the case of Qurbani, who was sentenced to death, there is an acquittal ruling against the investigative judge Saeed Mortazavi.
The judge is accused of issuing sentences of torturing to death, violation of dignity, and physical and sexual assaults against young people who were arrested in the 2009 demonstrations. Back then, the detainees were gathered in the newly built Kahrizak prison on the southern outskirts of Tehran and cramped under the scorching sun in iron containers stacked on top of each other, which led to the suffocation of many of them.
“Years before that, specifically in April 2000, Mortazavi led a campaign of arrests to silence the growing opposition in Iran and issued an order to close 100 newspapers and periodicals. He was working as a judge in General Court Branch No. 1410. In June 2003, the Canadian-Iranian journalist, Zahra Kazemi, died while being held in the custody of some security officers and judiciary officials that were led by Mortazavi. Kazemi’s family advocate stated that her body bore signs of torture, including punches to the head and that Mortazavi himself participated in the interrogation process,” Abdullahi explained.
In 2004, Mortazavi arbitrarily arrested more than 20 bloggers and journalists and held them in secret prisons. Human Rights Watch's research confirmed that Mortazavi was involved in committing violations against these detainees, including holding them in solitary confinement for long periods and forcing them to sign false confessions. The process of signing false confessions was further repeated in front of television cameras.
The senior official finally revealed what is happening in the IRGC-established secret prisons across Iran which have intensive security presence. He affirmed that they apply the most horrific forms of torture and are also found in Kurdistan and other provinces.
The most notable, according to media sources:
1- Prison 59: It is one of the IRGC’s oldest prisons. It is located in Badjan Ashrat Abad camp, in the Vali-e-Asr district in Tehran. It consists of four walls in the middle of a large courtyard, in which there are wards, rooms, and tools for the psychological and sexual torture of men and women. Prison 59 differs from the rest of the Iranian prisons due to the lack of lighting that reaches pitch darkness in some of its halls, where you cannot but hear the screams of tortured prisoners and activists.
2- The “Zoo” prison: It consists of three sections: the first for wards, the second for chemical laboratories, and the third for microbial laboratories. It also contains three basements and corridors and has three entrances and exits through three different ways. The people kidnapped by the Revolutionary Guards are imprisoned here. The first person to supervise this prison was Ali Khamenei and his mission was to arrest students with nationalist and sectarian orientations in Iran.
3- Amaken Detention Center: It is exclusively for issues affecting Iranian national security, such as espionage against the state or the IRGC, and attempted coup d’état. Most of the inmates are prisoners of conscience and political prisoners who oppose the Iranian regime.
4- Efsiriya or Firouzeh Palace: It is one of the military detention centers in the secret military garrison of Kaladuz, east of Tehran, and a part of the famous Firouzeh Palace. It is supervised by members of the IRGC Supreme Command, which is assigned to imprison and torture reformists and oppositionists during the presidential elections. A group of reformist websites and anti-regime press and media sources mention that the oppositionists, Saeed Hajjarian and Tajzadeh, were arrested and tortured in this prison after objecting to the procedures for the 10th presidential elections in Iran.
5- Shapur Detention Center: It is related to crimes involving morals and drug use, and its cells contain a significant number of women who are detained by the Mobilization Forces (the Basij morality and values police), or the new undercover police in Iran. According to the statistics of Iranian human rights organizations, the number of prisoners is estimated to be more than 12,000.
6- Prison 64 in the Military Intelligence Directorate: This is a series of secret detention centers in Tehran and a group of other Iranian provinces, such as Shiraz and Isfahan. It is located inside the (G) military garrison between a group of residential neighborhoods. It is run by the Intelligence Department of the Iranian Ministry of Defense and is one of the most dangerous detention centers in the country, where there are about 70 detainees whose identities and the offenses for which they were arrested are unidentified. They suffer from a lack of ventilation, food sources, treatment, and medication.
7- The Department of Tracking in the Ministry of Information: The Iranian Ministry of Information, in cooperation with the Central Intelligence Directorate, owns a group of distinguished buildings in Tehran, containing a group of secret rooms and temporary prisons that are used by the intelligence to interrogate detainees and those suspected of being involved in acts that affect national security. These offices are located in various places, the most famous of which are in the streets of Khawaja Abdullah, Suhrawardi, and Hemmat.
8- Dhaban Detention Center: It is located in the secret Dhaban military base, 100 meters away from the Sahfa secret detention center as well. It accommodates more than 350 Iranian military personnel who are accused of security crimes that affect the regime or national security. They undergo torment and torture until they are transferred to Hashemiyah prison without any legal procedures.
9- Army Security Information Preservation Camp: This prison has two branches, one in Tehran and the other in Shiraz. It hosts prominent opposition military figures from the General Mobilization Forces and the IRGC. The history of this prison dates back to the Iran-Iraq war, as it was the site for Iraqi prisoners during the war.
10- Military Information Detention Center: This secret detention center belongs to the intelligence service and is located in Tehran. It specializes in espionage crimes and foreigners’ crimes that threaten the existence of the Iranian regime and is directly supervised by the Commander in Chief of Iranian Military Intelligence. It accommodates from 200 to 450 detainees, according to information from detainees' rights and anti-torture organizations in Iran.
11- Section 209 Detention Center: It is under the administration of the Ministry of Information, where it became remarkably active after closing the “Tawhid” detention center and transforming it into a museum. The identity of the prisoners there is unknown, but their number ranges between 250 and 300, most of whom are oppositionists and communists.
This detention center was founded by Kazem Kazemi, a senior official of the Iranian Ministry of Information. Among the most important detainees in this prison are Reza Shehabi and Abdolreza Tajik.
In addition to these above-mentioned secret detention centers, there is another group of prisons and detention centers with varying importance to the Iranian regime, given that they are located in other provinces, and not in the capital Tehran. These include:
The detention centers of Ashrat Abad, Al-Ray, Shahriar, Kahrizak, Urumiyeh, Police 160, Ramin, Court 7, the Revolutionary Court, the secret facility of the detention center of the Ministry of the Interior, Johar Dasht, Dawlat To, Qezel Hesar, Qezel Qalaa, Zindan Qasr, Qamar, Soleh, Nabout, and the Saul prison, aka Abu Ghraib Iran.
Iranian prisons contain not only Iranians, but also foreigners, who also get their share of abuse and torture.
We were just hostages
The leaked videos have not only activated the memory of former Iranian detainees but also the non-Iranians who tasted Evin's bitterness and woes. These include Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese resident in the United States, who visited Iran on September 15, 2015, after receiving an official invitation from the former Iranian president's assistant for Women and Family Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, to participate in an international conference on the role of women in sustainable development. On his way back to the airport three days later, he was surprised by a civilian car that stopped him and kidnapped him. Zakka was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage for Washington, but was later released in 2019.
The head of the Hostage Aid Worldwide organization, Nizar Zakka, told Majalla that “the published pictures from Evin prison evoked bitter memories from the time of my imprisonment there. I was in Evin for three years, eight months, and 25 days.”
“I was harshly tortured during the IRGC interrogation and was placed in solitary confinement, where systematic acts of torture take place,” he said.
“Since the first days of my arrest, I have been subjected to various forms of torture, in addition to long hours of interrogation and attempts to force me to give false statements,” he affirmed.
“About a year later, the verdict was issued. There were other types of torture where I was detained, they deprived us of food and put me in a solitary cell underground where I did not know the day from night. They even blindfolded me on the way between my detention and interrogation cells.”
Zakka was not the only foreigner in the notorious Evin prison, as he sarcastically said the detention center resembles the United Nations (UN),
There were detainees from various European, African, Asian, and Arab nationalities. "We were all hostages to obtain political or regional gains," he stressed.
“An international newspaper contacted me and sent me a video that was published later. It also sent me some footage from Evin Prison. I was asked to confirm whether this is the same prison or not. By looking at the footage, I was sure it's Evin Prison, but not the IRGC division A2, the political division 7, or the division 12,” Zakka explained.
“Evin Prison is divided into three sections, one belonging to the IRGC, the second is affiliated with the Intelligence, and the third is linked to the Ministry of Justice.”
What appears in the video is the section affiliated with the justice ministry, he affirmed, noting that its network of cameras is not connected to those of the IRGC and Intelligence.
“What we saw in the video can be considered only as abuse compared to the torture that takes place in the other sections of the prison.”
On the repercussions of the leaked video and the Iranian officials’ admission of negligence, Zakka was surprised by the statements issued by officials in the Iranian regime, who said they were shocked and apologized for those scenes.
“This is utter lie and slander,” Zakka said, affirming that Iranian officials are aware of everything that is happening in the prison cellars.
“When we complained about ill-treatment, the judge told us: ‘You deserve torture because you are torturing the jailers,’” he said.
He also stressed that all officials are aware of the systematic torture and ill-treatment. In every investigation room in the prison, there is a wall behind which no camera can monitor what is going on. It's called the dark spot.
So, when you don't succumb to what they want you to do, you are taken behind that wall and the most horrific methods of torture are practiced against you. All this happens in the presence of the investigative judge of the judicial authority and the translator.
It happened once during my trial, as I knew the judge who was interrogating me from his voice even though the investigation carried on with us while we were blindfolded, Zakka affirmed.
The Ministry is aware of everything, especially the judiciary, whose head was the current Iranian president. They are belittling the minds of the entire world, he warned.
“Foreigners are tortured, but the guards are careful not to leave traces of torture on their bodies. They rely on white and psychological torture, but the traces of brutal torture were deep in their bodies, starting with nail extraction and ending with the most horrific practices.”
He pointed out that “the Iranian regime mastered games, as ambassadors of countries in Tehran and international organizations were invited to check out the conditions of Evin prison and accompanied by Secretary General of the Human Rights Committee Jawad Larijani, who is the brother of Ali Larijani. They sat without meeting any prisoner and later hailed the prison conditions.
“In the meantime, we were subjected to the most horrific methods of torture underground,” he stressed.
The other farcical matter was when Federica Mogherini, the European Union envoy, came to the Iranian parliament during the inauguration ceremony of the former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This lasted for several hours in the capital and the regime’s representatives took pictures with her.
“Today, when any European official goes to Iran and takes pictures, he must realize that his citizens are at the same time subjected to torture in Iranian prisons. They have to remember the leaked videos and that they will never be able to close their eyes to the truth again,” Zakka noted.
He believes that “Iran has linked its foreign policy to hostage-taking, and this has become its adopted policy in negotiations with the West, or with any other world country.”
Since 1989, when the American hostage crisis took place in Tehran, and until today, the Iranian foreign policy has been fundamentally linked to hostage-taking after it made gains from its policy, especially since it was not punished at the time.
“As an organization, we will seek to amend the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages also known as the Hostage Convention. It is a UN treaty in which members agreed to prohibit and punish the taking of hostages, but it does not include sanctions. We will introduce a new definition of hostages, or a definition of the term hostage ...provided that it includes dual nationalities.”
It is noteworthy that this matter is very significant for Iranians with dual nationality, given that a person who is taken for political advantage is considered a hostage, Zakka explained.
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