Wealth and good connections ensure that certain high-profile convicts, many of whom were sent down for financial crimes involving trillions of tomans’ worth of public money, can access whatever they desire: from flatscreen TVs to new kitchens, to sex workers on demand, bypassing all the prison regulations.
This report lifts the lid on the famous prisoners enjoying the high life behind bars, up to and including calling in prostitutes, while living cheek by jowl with Iran’s prisoners of conscience.
Reports of the ill-treatment of political prisoners in Iran have a habit of leaking outside the compound walls. Recently this included the awful case of Sasan Niknafs, who died after an apparent seizure in Greater Tehran Penitentiary amid allegations of criminal negligence.
But there is another side to Iran’s biggest and most notorious jails. The conditions might be terrible for prisoners of conscience, who are routinely subjected to torture, isolation and grievous human rights abuses, but for a few special cases they’re five-star hotels, offering all manner of VIP services for the duration of the stay.
Between 2018 and 2020, a political prisoner – we’ll call him Hamed – was held on Ward 4 of Evin Prison and witnessed this first-hand. The internal situation, he says, changed after the arrival of several influential Iranians who were convicted in major corruption scandals.
"From the spring of 2018,” he says, “when some of those implicated in large-scale financial corruption cases were brought onto Ward 4, the setting changed completely. These prisoners were totally different to the others – that is, those convicted of lighter financial crimes and political prisoners. They had both money and financial support. They also had relationships with individuals and institutions in the power structure of the Islamic Republic.”
Following these high-profile arrivals, Hamed says, the physical interior of Ward 4 underwent a drastic re-fit: "The stone and ceramics on the floors and walls all changed; the toilets were completely rebuilt; the rooms where these special prisoners were placed no longer looked anything like prison cells.”
Instead, he said, their rooms now boasted "high-quality carpets, large LCD and sometimes LED televisions, foreign-made refrigerators and freezers... The face of the prison had changed. Of course, all these modifications were made at the expense of the new residents of Evin, who wanted to build up facilities and communications inside, as well as outside, at exorbitant costs, so as to turn it into a holiday camp."
Four brand new kitchens were built on Ward 4 alone, paid for by none other than the Rikhtegaran brothers: two defendants in the infamous Sarmayeh Bank embezzlement case, who were respectively sentenced to seven and 17 years behind bars.
"This industrial kitchen consisted of 30 large gas stoves, four grills and 10 large ovens," says Hamed. "The brothers enjoyed these facilities while they were on Ward 4, so much so that Firouz Rikhtegaran also built a private toilet for himself.
“We also heard that Shahram Jazayeri [an Iranian entrepreneur sentenced to 14 years in 2008 for fraud and bribery corruption] had had a swimming pool built on Ward 8. This was later confirmed by inmates who had been held on that ward.”
The Sex Workers Who Came to Evin
Swimming pools and flat-screen TVs were just the beginning. One well-connected new convict on Ward 4, Hamed says, evidently had a close relationship with Evin Prison officials and after a time, spotted a new opportunity.
"A prisoner named Ali was being held in Hall 3,” he said, “convicted of several charges, one of which was pandering [recruiting prostitutes and/or, under article 242 of the Islamic Penal Code, bringing people together for ‘adultery’ or ‘sodomy’]. He continued to work as a pimp in prison."
Ali, he said, had a photo album with him that contained the pictures of several young women. “Certain prisoners could choose one of the women from the pictures,” Hamed says, “and about two weeks later, they would be dispatched by Ali to a Sharia meeting with the prisoner, carrying the legal documents for ‘marital pleasure’."
Evin Prison rules dictate that most prisoners are allowed to have conjugal visits – known as “Sharia meetings” – with their spouses once a month. The Sharia meeting building at Evin is a three-storey, very clean structure close to Wards 7 and 8. Visitation starts at about 9am and lasts until 2pm. Ali’s “famous” clients, Hamed says, would pay upwards of 3 million tomans (US$120) to spend five hours with one of his call girls.
"Famous prisoners whose names are familiar to many were among Ali's regular clients,” Hamed says. “Once, one of these influential prisoners could not choose between the pictures in Ali’s album and agreed to pay him double so that he could decide in person.
"Three women came to visit this prisoner as his ‘lawyers’, and he selected two of them during a face-to-face visitation, then had Sharia meetings with them for two weeks in a row. Alongside Ali’s business, there were also people who sold Viagra pills, delay sprays – all kinds of stuff."
Then in mid-2019, conjugal visits involving the use of temporary marriage certificates were abruptly banned at Evin. From then on, only prisoners with permanent marriage certificates, with a spouse whose name also appeared on their ID cards, were allowed to keep going to Sharia meetings.
Some of the wealthy and well-connected prisoners have since been transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary. Mohammad, another former political prisoner who arrived at the latter in mid-2019, said they continued to enjoy the VIP treatment there.
"Most of the rich and well-known prisoners of Evin, such as Hossein Hedayati and Alireza Monfared, have been transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary,” he said. “They live in Brigade 5 and special facilities have been provided for them.
“I didn’t see any of the female sex workers personally. But I heard from several different soldiers, and even one of the officials in the meeting hall, that certain ‘special’ prisoners can go to Sharia meetings with different women on a weekly basis."