Since Thursday, February 7, women inmates at Gharchak Prison in Varamin, located in a desert on the outskirts of Tehran, have been living under siege. On Thursday night, guards attacked wards 1 and 2 of the women’s prison with teargas and pepper spray and have beaten inmates.
“On Thursday night an inmate at ward 1 fell sick,” a source who spoke to one of the inmates by phone told IranWire. “Other inmates called the guards and asked them to tend to her, but they ignored them. The inmates became angry and started banging on their cell doors. Then inmates at ward 2 joined them. Instead of tending to the inmates and answering the protests, the guards started firing teargas and pepper spray.”
To dissipate the gas the inmates set their blankets and mattresses on fire. “The inmate that secretly called me on Friday says that the fire department came and put out the fires,” says IranWire’s source. “Prison guards then beat many inmates and injured many. The situation in prison is still not settled. They have not even fed the prisoners. Gas and electricity have been cut off and the inmates are stuck in the cold. They have also cut off their phones. Before the cutoff they beat anybody whom they saw was telling the outside world about what was happening.”
“Teargas Is Suffocating Us”
In a tweet [Persian link], the sister of one of the inmates confirmed the reports. “My sister was crying her heart out on the phone,” she writes. “She said that the guards had broken the hands, the legs and the heads of many of her cellmates. She was saying that ‘the teargas is suffocating us’ when the connection was cut off. A couple of hours later her friend inside the prison called and said that my sister had been taken away while they were beating her. Now we have no news. My mother has gone to the prison gates but nobody answers her.”
Many other family members with relatives inside Gharchak Prison have also gone to the prison gates after they heard about the unrest – but IranWire’s source said that prison officials have refused to give any information. “Some noticed that smoke was rising from prison buildings and they could hear ambulance sirens,” the source added. On Friday, pictures of Gharchak Prison were posted on social networks showing a cloud of black smoke rising from the prison.
“It goes without saying that smoke and teargas and pepper spray in a closed environment can choke and poison the inmates,” says IranWire’s source. “And then add the beatings.”
The woman’s ward at Gharchak Prison lacks the most basic standards of hygiene. Prisoners’ families have repeatedly reported [Persian link] that the inmates have no access to warm water, decent food, proper sleeping facilities and other basic needs. But a number of social network users believe that the lack of basic necessities is not the only reason behind the protests. They say that some of the inmates are unhappy because their names do not appear on a list of pardons to be issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In the past several days pro-regime media has reported that a vast number of prisoners will receive pardons for the 40th anniversary of the Revolution on February 11. Jila Baniyaghoob, a journalist and women’s rights activist who has reported the protests at Gharchak Prison through her tweets, mentions this motive as well.
“There is an uprising at Gharchak Prison,” she tweeted [Persian link] on February 8. “One reason behind this uprising is that the names of many prisoners are missing from the February 11th pardons list. The inmates expressed their protests by banging on doors. Anti-riot guards attacked all wards, beat the women and fired teargas at prisoners.”
From Hope to Utter Despair
“I cannot forget the happy voice of my sister when she told me ‘did you hear Ayatollah Larijani [head of the Iranian Judiciary] has said that 50,000 prisoners will be released?’” tweeted [Persian link] the sister of one Gharchak’s inmates. But “neither can I forget her crying today when she said ‘you have no idea what they are doing to us.’ Happy 40th anniversary for your revolution!” the tweet continued. “Spare us the pardons. Just do not beat the prisoners on the anniversary of your victory.”
This is not the first time that inmates have been beaten by the guards at Gharchak Prison. Last June, families of Gonabadi Sufi women inmates reported [Persian link] that the guards had beaten their loved ones. But according to IranWire’s source, the events on Thursday night were much worse and, perhaps, resembled those of the so-called “Black Thursday”.
This was the grim morning of Thursday April 17, 2014, when a group of agents from the Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence, together with more than a hundred anti-riot police, stormed a cell block in Tehran’s Evin Prison housing political detainees. The prisoners resisted an order to evacuate their block and a violent clash ensued, in which more than 30 prisoners were injured. Some of them were sent to solitary confinement after passing through a tunnel of baton-wielding guards.
There are also reports that phone connections to Greater Tehran Central Penitentiary, known as Fashafuyeh Prison, have also been cut. According to the Gonabadi Dervishes’ website Majzooban Noor, the families of Sufi inmates have not received any calls from Fashafuyeh and are worried that what happened at Gharchak Prison is happening at Fashafuyeh as well.
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