Drug addicts in Shiraz have been left without vital support networks after authorities closed three drop-in centers in the city and physically assaulted one of the center’s directors.
Authorities forcibly closed down three drug addiction drop-in centers in the historical district of Sang-e Siah in Shiraz in early March, welding the doors shut to prevent access to the premises.
Aftab website reported that authorities kicked and verbally abused the director of the Rebirth center, Zahra Keshavarz, pulling off her headscarf during the incident. The news site reported that Keshavarz was “covered in bruises” and that the “bone above one of her eyes was broken.” She has reportedly filed an official complaint and the Forensic Police are now investigating the matter.
Zahra Keshavarz told the news outlet that three of the center's employees began work at around 8am on March 3. At around 10am, they heard loud bangs on the door. “I went to see what was going on and saw several men entering the center. When I asked for their official permit to enter, they started kicking me. I couldn’t believe it.”
Although one source said authorities did not identify themselves when they entered the premises, Keshavarz recognized a few of the men, saying that they had occasionally come to the center looking for condoms. “They kept swearing at me — me, who risks my life to collect dirty syringes from the district to prevent the spread of AIDS and hepatitis.”
An anonymous source, which was said to be a local official from Fars province, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that those running the support centers had been given no prior notice of the raid and subsequent closures. But the secretary for the charity that runs the Rebirth center said staff had received threats prior to the incident. Mohammad Fazelzadeh told Aftab, “Over the course of the past four years since we have been active in this district, we never faced any problems. On March 3, a message was sent to drop-in centers for both men and women, threatening their personnel and telling them to close down or face direct action. We called the Welfare Organization in Shiraz and asked about what we should do; we were told to continue our work. So our employees went to work in the morning as usual.”
According to IRNA, the centers, which were overseen by the Welfare Organization and run by the University of Medical Sciences, provided clean syringes for addicts and shelter for vulnerable addicts, particularly women. Like similar centers in other cities in Iran, they offered trauma advice and counseling for those struggling with addiction.
“The centers provided clean syringes to prevent the spread of dangerous and contagious diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis,” the anonymous source told IRNA. Addicts were also provided with a hot meal and a shower. Staff and volunteers at the premises oversaw the safe disposal of used needles.
The IRNA article said the centers were set up in 2007 to combat drug addiction in Shiraz, and to specifically address the threats addicts posed to wider society.
The official mission statement of the centers includes helping “hard drug addicts” and the homeless by: providing information about the risks of drug-taking; offering shelter, clean toilets and showers; providing meals, distilled water, condoms, and disposable syringes; providing basic medical services and sanitary products such as alcohol pads; conducting necessary laboratory tests, including test for HIV, AIDS and hepatitis; consultation and counseling with the aim of reducing the number of addicts.
IRNA reported that some local authorities had opposed the plans to set up the centers in Shiraz “because of their location in the historical district” and the fact that they “create a grotesque scene from the tourism point of view.”
Bahram Parsai, the head of the tourism committee of the Islamic City Council, agreed. “One of the biggest problems of the historical district is the presence of these centers. One of them is located just next to the historic Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, which is visited by many tourists.”
“In a session held at the City Council, the dean of the University of Medical Sciences had promised to transfer them to other places, but could not keep his promise because they couldn’t find any suitable premises,” Parsai said.
According to IRNA, Ebrahim Khodashenas, the mayor of the historical and cultural district, had previously said in an interview that the drop-in centers “serve addicts like a hotel” and that they “attracted addicts from other parts of the country.” He also complained that “Investors coming to the area gave up projects after seeing the high number of addicts in the area. I have often been threatened by drug smugglers, but this has not affected my determination to do all I can for the development of this area.”
Read the original article in Persian