As Familiar Prison Abuse Continues, Iran Steps up Prosecution of Political Detainees

As Familiar Prison Abuse Continues, Iran Steps up Prosecution of Political Detainees

According to IHRM, 30 agents of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence participated in the raid alongside 50 prison guards. Together, they confiscated or destroyed all of the legally acquired personal belongings of the section’s detainees, many of whom were injured in the incident. The latest information suggests that only three of the prisoners were transferred to the prison clinic, and only two were transferred to a hospital outside of the prison.

The unlawful and apparently politically motivated raid is only one recent example of a broader pattern of abuse in the Iranian prison system. Others were highlighted on Wednesday by the Human Rights Activist News Agency, which identified three different instances of prisoner abuse in Urmia Central Prison. One of these cases involved the beating of a political prisoner who had engaged in a verbal dispute with a prison guard, and the two others described prisoners being subjected to punitive transfers and extrajudicial sentencing because of perceived offenses against guards or against well-connected prisoners including those who had served in the regime’s militias.

Still other recent reports point to the tendency of law enforcement and prison authorities to use outright torture, either as a punitive measures or as a means of extracting confessions from political prisoners or putting pressure on others. On Wednesday, the Center for Human Rights in Iran reported, for instance, that Farhad Meysami, a civil rights activist who was detained last month, has apparently been tortured and commanded to confess despite the fact that no formal charges have yet been filed against him.

The source of this information is Meysami’s mother, who has filed a complaint with the Revolutionary Court of Evin Prison because she received phone calls from the interrogation room during some such periods of torture. Authorities have been dismissive of her complaint so far, responding with the unsubstantiated claim that what appeared to be Meysami’s voice was actually his friends pulling a prank on his family while he faces unspecified national security charges.

IRHM added that the calls have had a physical effect on the detainee’s mother, from which it took her hours to recover. Such statements underscore the potential effectiveness of the Iranian regime’s well-known strategy of using family members to exert additional pressure on political prisoners and activists. In this case, the intention may have been to add the psychological stress of knowing that his mother was listening to the physical pain of Meysami’s torture, or the calls may have been intended simply as a warning to others.

The tactic of using prisoners against their civilian family members, of vice versa, was on display in another report by IRHM on Tuesday, this one focusing on the case of Osman Falazehi. It indicates that this 60-year-old prisoner has been denied medical care for more than two months, after being arrested on charges related to a clash with security forces approximately 20 years ago. Falazehi reportedly had an alibi for the time of the incident, which leads some sources to suggest that the actual motive for his arrest was to put pressure on his influential brother – pressure that is intensified by the knowledge that the detainee is suffering from untreated health conditions.

This speaks to the fact that the prisoners who have been hospitalized or transferred to the prison clinic in incidents like the Rajai Shahr raid are not necessarily better off than their fellow victims, insofar as authorities’ intentions may only be to prevent their deaths, but not to alleviate their suffering. Accordingly, CHRI quoted Taghi Rahmani, the husband of political prisoner and prominent human rights lawyer Narges Mohammadi as saying that this is likely to be the course of action the authorities take in her case.

Mohammadi has been hospitalized repeatedly since her latest detention in May 2015. She is serving a 16-year sentence for her human rights and women’s rights advocacy and for meeting, shortly before her detention, with the European Union’s head of foreign policy. Based on her past experience and that of other Iranian political prisoners, Rahmani declared, “I’m very worried for Narges. What will probably happen is that the doctors will increase her drug dosage and then she will be returned to prison. That will be very dangerous for her health.”

Concerns regarding Mohammadi’s case are further justified by the possibility that Iranian authorities are accelerating their crackdown on dissent in the midst of mass anti-government protests. This conclusion is supported, for instance, by Wednesday’s HRANA report indicating that another imprisoned human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has had two new cases opened against her. She is already serving a five year sentence for espionage and may now be facing an unspecified extension of her prison term resulting from charges of “propaganda” and “insulting the supreme leader.”

A separate HRANA report notes that this new attack on Sotoudeh comes shortly after she wrote an open letter commenting on the sudden death of 27-year-old Homa Soltani and suggesting that her fatal heart attack would never have occurred if not for the repeated imprisonment and harsh treatment of Soltani’s father and Sotoudeh’s fellow political prisoner, Abdolfattah Soltani.

In yet another report, HRANA indicates that a similar expansion has been made to the casefile for Ejlal Ghavami, a journalist and human rights activist who is already awaiting trial on multiple charges: “propaganda against the regime”, “speaking to anti-regime media”, “disseminating lies” and “insulting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”. Ghavami was previously acquitted on all of these charges, but is set to be re-tried as a result of objections from the prosecutor. He is now facing additional charges in a separate, equally politically motivated case after a summons to Sanandaj revolutionary court.

Meanwhile, IranWire reports that the stepped-up prosecutions may be on the verge of expanding to include large numbers of journalists who are not currently in the regime’s custody. The relevant article notes that Mizan News Agency, representing the Iranian judiciary, recently published a warning to journalists for the BBC Persian service, saying that they “will get what they deserve” for unfavorable reporting about the Islamic Republic. Mizan went on to specifically declare that the judiciary is in the midst of planning a new round of persecution for these journalists.