The head of the Iranian Prison Organizations, Mohammad Mehdi Haj Mohammadi, said on March 5 that prisoners were “cheap labour” and could be used by the private sector, according to a report by the state-run ISNA News Agency.

During a visit with the East Azerbaijan Governor, Haj Mohammadi, who was appointed to his post in June 2020, said this would be a “win-win” situation for prisoners and businesses, but is this true? Let’s look at the facts.

Official statistics state that over 200,000 prisoners are currently held in Iranian prisons, but this doesn’t include those awaiting trial or sentencing. It’s also lower than normal because some prisoners were given house arrest from March last year because of the pandemic.

The prisoners in Iran’s lockups are often subjects to horrendous conditions, from dirty cells to rotten food, denial of medical care to torture, so it should come as no surprise that over 50% of them are forced into doing work for a pittance.

An Isfahan report said: “They have ruined the lives of the prisoners. They take youth from them and destroy them. They create a catastrophe every day. They use prisoners like slaves. From Isfahan prisons alone, 3,000 prisoners are brought out of prison for forced labour, working in the heat and cold. They use prisoners with the promise of leave and release.”

The report cited a specific “job” where prisoners, in groups of 30 at a time, were tasked with painting street curbs. This involved having to bend for eight hours, which should be against health and safety and no doubt caused pain for the prisoners. Then, prisoners were given inedible food.

The source who provided this information said: “In addition, they distribute methadone to prisoners every morning to work harder.”

How can this be beneficial to prisoners? They’re earning hardly anything, being given rotten food after eight hours hard labour, being forced to do work with no respect for their health, and even being fed drugs to make them work harder.

This is not isolated. Last August, numerous reports showed that prison guards forced inmates to do labour in the workshops of Evin Prison, Qarchak Prison, Gilan Prison, Central Karaj Prison, and the Greater Tehran Penitentiary for little or no pay.

Prisoners in Section 7 of Evin were forced to work eight hours a day in the sewing workshop for just 20,000 tomans (80 cents) a week. They were forced into doing this because it was a condition of moving them from the Greater Tehran Penitentiary to Evin, which is closer to their families.