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Political Prisoners Denied Phone Calls, Medical Care and Books

March 14, 2016
Fereshteh Nasehi
5 min read

 

Details have emerged about a meeting between Abbas Hajilou, Tehran’s Assistant Prosecutor, and political prisoners at Rajai Shahr Prison, one of Iran’s top security facilities. 

Although Iranian media reported the meeting in January 2016, few details about the visit were available until now.  

On Saturday January 9, Abbas Hajilou, Tehran’s Assistant Prosecutor, visited Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj near Tehran, a facility well known for housing political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. During his visit, he met with 68 political prisoners and prisoners held on security-related charges. 

“We wrote down our problems and handed the list to Mr. Hajilou,” said Armin, a political prisoner at Rajai Shahr prison, which, like several other prisons in the Tehran area, has a special ward for inmates held on charges related to national security. “The assistant prosecutor even inspected the fences, the bars and the metal sheets welded on the windows. He listened to us and noted down prisoners’ complaints.” Armin said many of the political prisoners claimed they were discriminated against. Some said they had been denied daylight and even adequate levels of oxygen, which had led to respiratory problems in some cases.

Many political prisoners had argued that, because they were not being detained for common crimes, fences and bars were not necessary. But Hajilou told prisoners there was nothing he could do about this and that they would continue to be held in top-security conditions. The orders to install the fences and bars had come directly from the prosecutor himself, he said. 

Armin said that the prisoners asked the deputy prosecutor why they had been denied phone calls to their families. “The inmates repeatedly asked him to put a public phone in the ward according to the bylaws of the Prisons Organization,” Armin said, adding that the prisoners found it distressing not to be able to contact their loved ones. “But the only thing that Hajilou had to say was that ‘it is out of our hands.’ Eventually he explained that recently, the head of Rajai Shahr had sent a written request for permission to install a phone in the security ward, but he had received a sharp rejection from the prosecutor himself and he could no longer pursue the matter.”

According to the prisoners, Hajilou was accompanied by the prison’s new security chief, who echoed Hajilou’s statements and his insistence that not much could be done to improve conditions for prisoners. The prosecutor for Tehran got his orders from the head of the judiciary and the Supreme National Security Council, they said.

It is not just prisoners at Rajai Shahr who are denied rights. Prisoners at Evin Prison encounter the same obstacles. “Ward 2A, controlled by the Revolutionary Guards, Ward 209, which the Intelligence Ministry oversees, and the communal Ward 350 have the same problems as other security wards and inmates at Rajai Shahr,” said Ali, a political prisoner at Evin. “They have not been able to call their families since August 2010. Almost all card-operated phones in these wards have been removed by the orders of the prosecutor and the Supreme National Security Council. For the past few years the telephone cables inside political wards have been lying on the ground, serving no purpose.”

 

Fewer Rights than Al Qaeda and ISIS members

Armin said that political prisoners are treated worse than detainees accused of working with terrorist organizations. “Here, even members of Al Qaeda and ISIS can make calls outside the prison, even though they are considered to be security prisoners. Inmates in rooms 10 and 7, where people accused of terrorist acts for Al Qaeda and ISIS are held, and also Evin’s room 12 for convicted spies, can call outside any time. But the assistant prosecutor says that he has no authority to install phones in the ward. He says he will personally invite Tehran’s prosecutor, who does have the authority, to come to the prison, listen to the prisoners, and handle their complaints.”

Other prisoners, including a man who had been given a 20-year prison sentence on national security-related charges, told the assistant prosecutor they are routinely denied access to education and reading and writing materials. “Another prisoner who has been denied permission to register for the Prisons Organization’s Scientific-Vocational University complained that they cannot receive textbooks or educational magazines,” said Esmael, an inmate at Rajaei Shahr. “Yet another complained of the lack of exercise equipment. He said that his family had bought him sports shoes but he was not allowed to have them.”

Prisoners also talked to Hajilou about the poor quality of prison food, the absence of medical care, and outdated medical equipment. They told him it was extremely difficult to get hospital and specialist referrals. 

 

Using Families to Pressure Inmates

Normally, prisoners are allowed one 10-minute phone call once a month. But Esmael said that for the past three months, prison authorities have cancelled most phone calls. “Some prisoners hear about the death of their loved ones or other important family events weeks after they’ve happened. This can sometimes lead to divorce. It’s the Intelligence Ministry and security agencies’ goal to put pressure on political prisoners — and sometimes they do this by applying pressure on our families. Since 2009, they have denied us our basic rights and ignored our demands so consistently that some of our friends no longer even bother to ask for medical leave. The rejection letters have already been prepared. The Intelligence Ministry simply sends them out.”

Like Armin, Esmael believed the deputy prosecutor simply carried out orders and had no real power to implement improvements in prison conditions. “For a long time now, the assistant prosecutor —  the only link between the judiciary and the prison —  has been a mere messenger,” he says. “To make sure he protects his job, the head of the prison adds to pressures on inmates, increasing deprivations every day. He and the security department do not even allow us to have books printed in Iran, or a plastic ball for sport. This is putting us under a lot of psychological pressure.”

 

Read more from Fereshteh Nasehi's prison series

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