Gonabadi dervishes are the latest to be caught up in mounting violence in a Tehran jail as authorities refuse to separate violent criminals from inmates held in connection with their religious, political or ideological views or beliefs.
Violence broke out at Fashufuyeh Prison on June 17, leading the dervishes, who follow the Gonabadi Sufi order, to demand again to be kept on separate wards from inmates held on charges of dangerous criminal activity.
But a judge responded by accusing the dervishes of being “rioters” without any real spiritual or ideological motivation.
The dervishes say they are political prisoners who have been jailed because of their religious activities. But a judge hearing the case dismissed the dervishes’ claims, telling them: “You are not political or ideological or security prisoners, you are rioters.” He added that it did not matter what they did, the situation would not change for them. “Don’t worry, you’re not going anywhere.”
The unrest came just days after Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali, another political prisoner at Fashufuyeh, was murdered, allegedly by two inmates who had been jailed for murder and drug-related crimes.
Gonabadi dervishes, who are held in Wards 1, 2 and 4 of Fashafuyeh, as well as in the prison’s secure ward, make up the majority of political prisoners or prisoners of conscience at the facility. They and their families have requested that they be transferred to a ward specifically for political prisoners, but they have repeatedly been ignored. Each time they ask they are told authorities will “review the case,” but so far nothing has been done. They remain held in wards along with murderers, rapists, thieves, and people with drug-related convictions.
Despite the recent violence in the prison, which is well known for housing violent and dangerous criminals, Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they keep political prisoners separate from other dangerous criminals, a claim they reiterated in a public statement following the murder of Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali. Activists say both he and the dervishes are clear victims of the Islamic Republic’s policy on political prisoners.
Guards Encourage Criminals to Target Dervishes
At the same time, there have been rumors that the prison management encourages prison guards to provoke jailed criminals to agitate the dervish prisoners and start fights. The guards exploit the fact that there has been ongoing friction between the dervishes and other inmates, some of whom have insulted their religious beliefs and practices. In addition, the dervishes have faced similar abuse from their interrogators, who insult the way the minority community looks and dresses and accuses them of belonging to Islamic State (ISIS).
In the June 17 incident, inmates chastised and shouted abuse at dervish inmates, accusing them of starting riots and then physically assaulting them. Dervish inmate Mostafa Abdi sustained an injury to his face, while another dervish, Reza Sigarchi, was left with a broken nose.
Following the violence, dervishes held on wards 1 and 4 of the prison went on strike to protest against prison conditions and the prison policy that leaves them so vulnerable. The inmate who assaulted Mostafa Abdi and Reza Sigarchi was returned to his ward without any reprisals. More unrest followed, with some prisoners harassing and abusing a dervish named Saleh Moradi.
Human rights activists said that some of the inmates targeting the dervishes made makeshift knives out of metal fencing around the prison. They highlight the fact that inmates are able to either make or access weapons, despite the fact that some of them are supposed to be in solitary confinement cells on the ward. The murder of Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali is proof of this. They argue, too, that no one — not the prison organization, any government institution, or any official in charge of prison operations — has taken responsibility for the violence, and no one appears to be accountable. There do not appear to be any policies in place to monitor violent inmates either.
Since the recent violence, several political prisoners have said they fear for their lives, and that they believe prison authorities are driving a deliberate campaign of violence against them rather than trying to protect them and ensure they carry out their sentences in accordance with the law.