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Shocking Account Of Leily Pourbaba’s 100 Days In Tabriz Prison

February 27, 2023
Roghayeh Rezaei
5 min read
After being pardoned for crimes she did not committed, prison officials wanted to administer Leily Pourbaba the 44 lashes she had been sentenced to.
After being pardoned for crimes she did not committed, prison officials wanted to administer Leily Pourbaba the 44 lashes she had been sentenced to.
Leily Pourbaba was sentenced to 23 months in prison and 44 lashes, plus a five-year suspended term.
Leily Pourbaba was sentenced to 23 months in prison and 44 lashes, plus a five-year suspended term.

Leily Pourbaba is a 31-year-old Iranian software engineer, webpage designer and women’s rights activist who lives in Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan province. She has posted online the picture of a security agent in the neighborhood of Shahnaz and information about him. For doing this, she was arrested by Cyber Police and spent three months in Tabriz Central Prison during which she was repeatedly threatened and harassed.

Pourbaba was sentenced to 23 months in prison, 44 lashes and a five-year suspended term.

Her guilt was to demand equality for women.


 Eight Hours of Non-Stop Interrogation

After the outbreak of nationwide protests following the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police, Pourbaba wrote about women’s condition in Iran on her Instagram page. As a result, on October 10, Cyber Police summoned her on the phone, but she refused to hand herself over, a source told IranWire.

The day after, security agents raided the family home, searched it, and confiscated electronic devices belonging to Pourbaba and her parents. They left without taking her father under the condition she would turn herself in.

On October 11, she presented herself at the Cyber Police headquarters in Tabriz, where she was immediately arrested and transferred to Tabriz Central Prison after eight hours of non-stop interrogation.

The interrogators deceived her by promising she would be released if she confessed to having committed “minor” crimes. She read in front of a camera a text given to her saying she had been deceived by the Persian-language Iran International news network and that she is “deeply repentant and apologizes” to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But Pourbaba was not released. Her jailers took her to a judge who said, “for your own safety I’m going to issue a temporary detention order because if you go out, they might hurt you.”

It was the start of 100 days of imprisonment.

The Worst Kind of Torture: False Promises of Release

Pourbaba was taken to the quarantine section of Tabriz Central Prison’s women’s ward and was told that she would be released the next day.

These false promises continued throughout her detention.

“Some of the guards really hated the inmates,” IranWire’s source says. “One of the detainees suffered from epilepsy but they wouldn’t lift a finger to help her. One day this inmate had a seizure, fell and her head hit the pavement, but they wouldn’t even let her take her prescribed medication. Sometimes these women begged for hours to be allowed to go to the prison yard for a few minutes to breath some fresh air, but the guards wouldn’t let them.”

“The Hygiene in the Chapel was Abominable”

The source says that hygiene was non-existent in the women’s ward: “The quarantine section of the ward was a small room with 11 beds. When the number of detainees increased, they installed blankets on the floor of the chapel and took Leily and others to the chapel. But protests in Tabriz continued and even the chapel had no room for the detainees, so they packed some of them in the small quarantine cell and the rest in the chapel.”

“The hygiene in the chapel was abominable, really. The blanket and the carpeting were so dirty and smelly that some inmates were willing to forgo the night’s sleep and not put their heads on the blanket.”

IranWire’s source told us about other methods used to psychologically torture detainees: “When they allowed them to use the phone, somebody stood guard over them and if they said something he didn’t like, he would quickly stop the conversation and tell them that they wouldn’t be allowed to use the phone anymore. Leily’s family was not allowed to visit her for a month and the phone was her only means of communication with her family. They didn’t beat women, but they could hear screams coming from the men’s ward that showed they were being tortured. Leily suffered so much in prison that even now she is terrified whenever she thinks about it.”

Torture methods included feeding inmates with low-quality food in small quantities.

The source says: “The quality of food was extremely bad, and the portions were so low that they practically amounted to nothing. They had created such an atmosphere in the quarantine section that everybody suspected everybody else, and the detainees wished to be sent to solitary confinement so that they could stop thinking which one of their cellmates might stab them in the back. There were university students among the detainees who had been told that an informant was among them. They sow divisions among the detainees, leading to quarrels among them, and this made the prison even more intolerable.”

Khamenei’s Mass “Amnesty”

In early February, Khamenei agreed to pardon "tens of thousands" of prisoners, but the amnesty was conditional. The arrested protesters must pledge in writing that they regret what they have done.

Pourbaba was to be released on February 9 after signing the pledge, but she was remanded in prison and subjected to more psychological torture.

According to documents received by IranWire, Tabriz Criminal Court sentenced Pourbaba to 44 lashes and a suspended prison term of five years for “disturbing the peace.” She was also handed a 15-month sentence for “insulting the supreme leader” and an eight-month term for “propaganda against the regime.”

Instead of releasing Pourbaba immediately, prison officials decided she should be administered the 44 lashes first. But the officials could not find a whip inside the prison and Tabriz Criminal Court ruled she could be freed.

Pourbaba, a software engineer and webpage designer, is now out of prison but she has lost her job and must live with her traumatic experience in an Islamic Republic prison.


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