The National Council of Resistance of Iran has released its weekly report on the human rights situation in the country. Several of the stories demonstrate the persistent sensitivity of both the regime and its opponents to the April 17 raid on ward 350 of Evin Prison.
The chain of events following the violent crackdown has reached into other prisons. In an editorial published last week by The Diplomat, British Member of Parliament Lord Carlile argues that the heroic defiance of political prisoners even in the face of such violence represents “the bright spot in Iran’s latest political repression.” The NCRI report contributes to that interpretation of events by showing that that defiance is persistent.
Six political prisoners began a hunger strike on Sunday in Karaj Rajaee Shahr Prison as an expression of support for the political prisoners who were targeted in the Evin raid. They were joined by 12 fellow inmates on Monday. The hunger strike seeks to bring attention to the events surrounding the raid, and to encourage the international community to put pressure on the Iranian regime to address prisoners’ complaints, return victims of the raid from solitary confinement, and grant them access to medical care and visitations.
As it stands, the government reportedly has not made any meaningful response to these requests so far. 12 of the prisoners who were taken to solitary confinement during the Evin raid embarked on a hunger strike of their own. Prison officials have released no information about their condition, and have given no specific estimates as to when they will be released from the solitary confinement or permitted to see their families.
On April 28, the Spokesperson for the Iranian Judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, changed the regime’s story as to why the raid occurred in the first place. The Campaign for Human Rights reports that the head of Iran’s prisons originally indicated that it was prompted by the discovery of communication devices in the inmates’ possession. But now Ejei claims that the operation was organized in response to some prisoners attempting to make alcoholic beverages from fruit rations.
The changing narrative is indicative of either serious miscommunication among officials, or an attempt to manage the PR consequences of the raid. On April 26, Ebtekar newspaper was banned by the government as a result of its having essentially made the latter claim. Ebtekar reported that Gholam Hossein Ismaili, the head of the Prisons Organization, was removed from his post in response to the Evin incident. The official government story is that he was legitimately promoted.
If Iran is concerned about negative publicity from the Evin raid, the latest NCRI report suggests that that concern has not led to a change in its policies towards prisoners there or in other institutions. The report states that on April 28, in Karaj Ghezel Hessar Prison, an inmate by the name of Issa Rostami was beaten with batons and died from his injuries. Guards then put into place special control measures in anticipation of prisoner unrest.
Apparently in the interest of similarly controlling unrest outside of the prison, the regime transferred imprisoned cleric Kazemeini Borujerdi to the Special Court for Clergy and pressured him to write a statement indicating that he is in good health and has been kept in good conditions. In fact, human rights activists close to his case report that Borujerdi, who is serving an 11-year prison sentence, has suffered serious medical issues including heart problems, lung problems, and kidney stones, at least partly as a result of poor food, little sanitation, and the stresses of torture.
The condition of this and other prisoners is clearly of great significance both to the defenders and to the opponents of the Iranian regime. The conditions of specific individuals are evidently being hidden by prison officials, especially in the wake of the remarkably visible Evin Prison raid. But some general facts about the Iranian prison system remain common knowledge in Western media, including the fact of an increase in the number of executions taking place under the Rouhani presidency.