On the morning of April 17, more than 100 prison guards and intelligence agents carried out a brutal raid at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Many political prisoners were severely injured and some were sent to solitary confinement. Eyewitnesses later said a bus carrying the wounded prisoners was "drenched in blood."
Predictably, the regime responded to both foreign and domestic condemnation of the violent raid by denying that it ever even took place. This is while at least four prisoners were reported to be hospitalized while one suffered a heart attack.
Twenty-six prisoners are known to have sustained serious injuries. It is unclear how many of them were among the thirty-two prisoners who were transferred to solitary confinement following the raid.
Four days after the raid, officials of Evin Prison denied family members’ requests to visit their loved ones. The prisoners have been cut off from the outside world, and international observers have no way of knowing why and where they have been transferred to, what the extent of their injuries are, or indeed, whether they are dead or alive.
The day after the raid, some of the prisoners in Ward 350 began staging a hunger strike to bring attention to the inexcusable attack. Amnesty International released a statement condemning the raid, saying that it is unclear what caused it. However, contrary to the spin doctors of the Iranian regime, it is undeniable that there was excessive violence directed against the prisoners.
The watchdog group also pointed out that the Ministry of Intelligence and prison staff have admitted that the raid began as a routine search; amazingly a search carried out by over 100 personnel dressed in full riot gear. Such an elaborate deployment strongly indicates premeditation.
The bloody attack also took place in the ward where numerous political prisoners, including labor and minority rights activists, lawyers, and supporters of the main opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) are being held. MEK supporters were deliberately attacked and beaten, which puts this particular attack into the general context of the Iranian regime's barbaric violence against its political opponents.
The regime's repressive and ruthless measures against political prisoners, who have no way of defending themselves, are not new. In November 2013, a number of Evin prisoners staged a hunger strike in protest to the lack of medical care. The action was initiated in part by Abdolfattah Soltani, co-founder of the Center for Human Rights Defenders and a recipient of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Award, who is serving a thirteen-year sentence for bogus charges such as “spreading propaganda against the system.”
Soltani is among the thirty-two who were rounded up and sent to solitary confinement after the raid. His story and the wider raid against defenseless political prisoners show the appalling and inhumane conditions that exist in Iranian prisons today.
Under the weight of international outrage, the regime “sacked” the prison chief, by promoting him to become the head of an appellate court and of the Tehran municipal judiciary.
The Iranian regime and its proxy agents in neighboring Iraq carry out the same type of brutality against defenseless Iranian dissidents currently residing in prison-like conditions in Camp Liberty, Iraq. While Rouhani presides over a regime that executed over 600 people in a matter of months, the regime's agents continue to harass Camp Liberty residents because they demand a free and non-nuclear Iran. Many of them are western-educated young intellectuals, and are all committed to a free, democratic, and secular Iran, something that the clerical regime despises. That is why the regime is doing all that it can to prevent their safe relocation to the United States and Europe.
All this is because the regime is isolated internationally and crippled by economic sanctions. It is frightened of the prospect of uprisings by a disenchanted population on the verge of explosion. So, it has put a smile on its ugly face internationally to be able to suppress domestic protests. The number of executions have risen dramatically since Rouhani's rise to power. And now political prisoners are being beaten into silence.
The regime's barbaric attack against defenseless political prisoners shows the extent of its trepidation and fear of popular dissent. The West should take note instead of turning a blind eye to the Iranian regime's human rights abuses.
The White House should condemn the rights violations and call for investigation by the international community, if it wants to curb Tehran’s nuclear program while curtailing its terrorism. Human rights monitors must be granted access to Iranian prisoners, including the ones being held in Evin. If Rouhani treats confined and helpless prisoners this way, imagine how he is treating young Iranian men and women yearning for freedom.
*Samsami is Representative in the U.S. for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which acts as the parliament-in-exile and seeks a democratic, secular and non-nuclear republic in Iran
The article first published in TheHill.com
Interview with former Iranian political prisoner Mostafa Naderi