On the morning of Thursday April 17 a group of agents from the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence, together with more than a 100 anti-riot police, stormed a cell block in Tehran’s Evin Prison that houses political detainees.
The prisoners resisted the order to evacuate the block and a violent clash ensued in which more than 30 prisoners were injured. Some of the prisoners were sent to solitary confinement in Cell Block 240 after passing through a tunnel of baton-wielding guards.
The latest reports indicate that Omid Behroozi, a lawyer, and Esmail Barzgari, a musician, were hospitalized after suffering ruptured veins and broken ribs but were moved to solitary confinement during the night and tied to their beds.
“I heard that since my son was in a bad physical shape he was transferred back to the clinic with four guards watching him,” Omid Behroozi’s father told IranWire. “We have no way to contact him. I have called all the hospitals but could not find out anything. I cannot contact God and the official give no answers. ‘Do you know what happened to my son in the prison?’ is the question that I want to ask the Supreme Leader himself.”
Mondays are the regular visiting days at Evin Prison but Behroozi said he was not sure whether he could see his son on this coming Monday because “the last time they approved a personal visit after waiting six months I did not get to see him. They said that permission to visit did not include the father.” After traveling a long way, he said, “I went to judiciary but they said that the Evin Prison was not any of their business. I waited three years hoping that the situation would change but now they have beaten my son. Some of the prisoners are dying there. Whom should I ask about my son?”
Only Doctors Trusted By Jailers
According to reports prison officials have prevented doctors from the Health Ministry to treat the injured prisoners until doctors trusted by security and intelligence agencies arrive.
“After the anti-riot police arrived,” Ma’edeh Soltani, the daughter of the imprisoned human-rights lawyer Abdolfattah Soltani, told IranWire, “the prisoners told them that ‘the last time, you took away our belongings and did damage. This time we want to remain in the cell block.’ But their response was to beat them.” Esmail Barzgari suffered three broken ribs and Akbar Amini, an imprisoned protester, had his skull fractured, she said.
She calls the conduct of prison officials a “show of force”. “An inspection is appropriate, but they came to beat the prisoners and did not find anything. I am sure they wanted to teach a lesson to the prisoners in Cell Block 350 who had not submitted to their illegal conduct in the past.”
The families of other who agreed to talk to IranWire stated that they had no specific knowledge about the events and must wait for their regular Monday visit to get any news.
Among the injured who suffered a broken arm was Emad Bahavar, head of the Youth Branch of Iran Freedom Movement. “We had expected something very different,” her mother told IranWire. “We expected that the inmates would be granted furlough for the holidays, but the phones are not picked up and no furlough request is approved. It happened during the weekend when the government offices are closed. I was told that Emad is alright but I have no reliable news. They have suffered the conditions at the prison for five years. They cannot take the extra pressure.”
“We only know that some prisoners have been beaten and some have been hospitalized,” Atefeh Khalafi, the wife of the human-rights activist Hassan Asadi Zeidabadi, told IranWire. “I have no news about the whereabouts of my husband. His name is not on the list of the injured or hospitalized prisoners, nor on the list of those who have been sent to solitary confinement. For me and other families this is like torture. The officials never give us information although at a minimum it is their duty to inform us by a two-minute telephone call.”
The wife of the imprisoned academic Mohammad-Sadegh Rabani-Amleshi was travelling when she heard the news of Cell Block 350 beatings. She was expecting a furlough but “now I have no news of him,” she told IranWire. “I contacted friends and people I know and they said that he is on the list. The officials have not given me a straightforward answer and have not agreed to a furlough either. They had said that he would be home for the (Iranian) new year holidays and our son came back from abroad to see his father but they just allowed us one visit in the prison. My husband is advanced in age. We cannot do anything until Monday.”
A few hours after the news broke Gholam-Hossein Esmaili, head of the Prisons Bureau, denied the report and called the event a “monthly inspection”. He refused to explain further. “We are under no obligation,” he said, “to respond to hostile sites that spread lies about the system.”
“The judiciary and the ministers of justice and intelligence must be held responsible,” said Ali Motahari, the MP from Tehran. “The president must defend the rights of the citizens. The parliament will pursue the question and will demand that the justice minister provide answers. Those who deny the event must allow the prisoners to meet their families so that the truth would come out.”
It is reported that Colonel Amanian, in charge of the Prisons Protection Bureau in Tehran and a Ghobadi, his subordinate in charge of the Evin prison, were present at Cell Block 350 when the prisoners were assaulted.
Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning the attack on political prisoners. “According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the operation was prepared and organized by senior officials in the justice system, information department, Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Ministry, and the presence of representatives from all of these departments during the raid was no coincidence.”
Show Them Nothing Has Changed
Hardliners are seeking to create political strife and troubles for Rouhani, according to Taghi Karroubi, son of Mehdi Karroubi, the opposition figure who is under house arrest. “They believe that a crisis can only help them,” he told IranWire, “because the status quo provides them with good material conditions and they can justify their existence.”
Karroubi believes that “lack of harmony” in the words and the deeds of the Rouhani administration and its aversion to confrontation have emboldened the radicals. “There are those who want to tell political and human rights activists and everybody else that nothing has changed and the instruments of power are still in their hands. Unfortunately, the government reacts passively.”
He likens the tension to a tug-of-war match with supporters of change pulling one end of the rope and the hardliners the other end. “Hardliners are small in number but have a lot of power” and they have become more aggressive day by day because the government does not stand its ground.
Karroubi cited the attack of the paramilitary Basij against people who had gathered around the tomb of Professor Arthur Pope, the renowned American expert on Iranian art who is buried in Isfahan. “Just this year many strange events have taken place. A small group whose puppet masters are well-known to security institutions allow themselves to brutally and thuggishly play with the identity, the history and culture of a whole nation. One day they ruin a tomb; the other day they beat prisoners and perhaps in a few days they would not allow you to participate in a simple gathering at the university.”
Samieh Adeli, the wife of Amin Chalaki who was Mir Hossein Moussavi’s chief of staff, wrote a letter of complaint to President Rouhani and the Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari. “Mr. President, my husband was beaten in prison under your watch,” the letter reads. “How come your intelligence apparatus and your ministry of justice have remained silent and give us no explanations. Was this what you promised during the election?”
“Your doors have been closed to us for years now,” she wrote addressing the prosecutor. “At least explain to people whose justice are you enforcing these days. Political prisoners are the people of this land who tried to save the country from the incompetent hands of the Ahmadinejad government, the same government which ruined the country and all of you concede as much. Go and visit Cell Block 350 sometime so that you might have an answer to God for all the blood that was shed there.”