A series of extraordinary leaks from Tehran’s Evin Prison have brought home the extreme cruelty that prisoners of all stripes are subjected to in Iran’s second-biggest jail. From August 22, a hacker group calling itself Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) began to share footage from the sprawling prison’s CCTV system with international Persian-language media. The content has been described by Amnesty International as clear examples of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading punishment: an international crime and one baked into the way the Iranian judiciary operates.
Senior Iranian officials have confirmed the footage is genuine. Of the 16 video clips known to have been released so far, Amnesty counted seven showing prison guards beating or otherwise ill-treating prisoners; three showing overcrowded prison rooms; three showing incidents of assault against inmates by other inmates; two showing incidents of self-harm; and one depicting a cell for solitary confinement, itself a form of torture.
In one video dated March 31, 2021, a prison official was seen hitting and punching a prisoner in his face in front of other detainees, apparently causing the victim’s nose to bleed. In another dated December 21, 2020, two prison officials were seen pushing, shoving, hitting and kicking a handcuffed prisoner on his head and back, then dragging him on the ground.
Four of the clips depict an incident on April 26, 2021 in which an emaciated prisoner fainted in the Evin Prison courtyard. Guards hauled him semi-conscious along the ground, dragged him through corridors and then pushed him up a staircase while multiple staff members looked on, seemingly disinterested. At one point a man in clerical garb steps straight over the man’s wasted form on the floor.
Some of the leaked footage goes back more than half a decade, with one clip dated December 9, 2015 showing a prisoner being strip-searched. Three videos dated June 11, 2016, January 15, 2020, and February 4, 2021 showed massively overcrowded prison rooms even after the outbreak of coronavirus. Another, undated clip showed a tiny solitary confinement cell with no bed and a squat toilet in the corner.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa regional director, said: “This disturbing footage offers a rare glimpse of the cruelty regularly meted out to prisoners in Iran. It is shocking to see what goes on inside the walls of Evin prison, but sadly the abuse depicted in these leaked video clips is just the tip of the iceberg of Iran’s torture epidemic.”
The head of the Iranian Prisons Organization, Mohammad Mehdi Haj Mohammadi, said in a tweet on August 24 that he accepts responsibility for the “unacceptable behaviours” shown in the footage and committed to “trying not to repeat such tragic events and dealing seriously with wrongdoers”.
In an even rarer acknowledgement, new Chief Justice of Iran Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei also issued a written instruction to Iran’s chief prosecutor on the same daya, asking that “the treatment of prisoners by prison officials and/or other prisoners [in Evin prison] are promptly and carefully examined”.
Morayef added: “Brief apologies and general promises of accountability are far from enough to address Iran’s crisis of systemic impunity. If the Iranian authorities want their promises to not ring hollow, they must immediately allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent inspections of Evin and other prisons.”