On Tuesday, April 14, 2020, in a webinar held by the Association of Accredited Correspondents at the United Nations (ACANU), the condition of Iran’s prisons and especially the political prisoners were discussed.
Mr. Shahin Gobadi, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), along with a former political prisoner who recently left Iran were the speakers of the webinar. The speakers elaborated on how Iranian authorities have covered up the real scope of the spread of coronavirus inside the prisons.
“So critical is the situation in prisons that based on reliable and eyewitness reports, there were rebellions in at least eight prisons in protest against the virus spread and lack of minimum hygienic needs as well as the refusal to release the prisoners,” said Mr. Gobadi adding:
“The case of Danial Zeinolabdin is quite illustrative of the crisis. Just 17 years old, when was arrested, he took part in the riots in Mahabad prison and was transferred to Miando’ab, where he was tortured to death. Based on similar reports, the guards opened fire on prisoners in at least six prisons, including in Tabriz, Sepidar, Shiban (Ahvaz), Aligoudarz, Adel-Abad (in Shiraz), and in Saqqez. The IRGC and shock troops have attacked and brutalized the prisoners. Dozens of prisoners have been killed, hundreds wounded and many disappeared.”
A former political prisoner who has recently left Iran elaborated about his experience in Iran’s prisons and said: “In the general ward, the number of inmates was several times the capacity of the ward. There was no hygiene. The smallest disease spread rapidly among prisoners… These days, when I hear about the coronavirus death toll and infection and death of prisoners every day, My only concern is my imprisoned friends, who are now forced to fight both Coronavirus and their torturers to survive in prisons, with minimal health facilities they have to fight for survival. Some of these prisoners are as old as 80 years.”
According to the reports published by the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK), the coronavirus has so far claimed the lives of over 28,200 people across Iran.
Remarks of Shahin Gobadi, Member of Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran
Ladies and gentlemen,
As the world is grappling with the Coronavirus Pandemic, what adds to the concern over the horrific number of those infected and dead in Iran, is the situation of prisons, and prisoners, particularly political prisoners.
I would like to focus on this topic today.
According to reports received from different prisons in Iran through eyewitnesses, prisoners’ relatives, and the regime’s internal reports obtained by the network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI / MEK), an alarming number of prisoners have contracted the virus in Evin, the Greater Tehran Penitentiary (Fashafuyeh), Ghezel Hasar, Tabriz, Kermanshah and Urmia prisons among others. Despite the authorities’ obstructions, some have been hospitalized and others have died. The regime is doing its utmost to prevent the news from going public, which is cause for concern.
At the same time, hygienic provisions and equipment, such as gloves, masks, and disinfectants are not available to the prisoners and the virus is spreading. None of the infected prisoners have been quarantined or isolated.
The MEK network has obtained a series of documents from within the regime, including three documents dated March 14 to April 9, 2020, from the National Emergency Organization, which make it clear that both prisoners and prison guards have been infected in two major Tehran prisons, namely Evin and Fashafuyeh and are hospitalized. These documents and their translations are available for those interested.
Based on official figures, until a few weeks ago, there were at least 240,000 prisoners in Iran. Experts and lawyers say that the number is seven to eight times the capacity of the prisons in Iran. This shows the density of prisons in Iran, which demonstrates the plight that awaits the prisoners with the spread of the virus to prisons.
The regime’s Judiciary has claimed that it intended to give temporary leave to up to 100,000 prisoners. In reality, this is just a public relations stunt and is not true whatsoever.
To grant temporary leave, the officials are demanding exorbitant bail despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the prisoners lack the funds. The regime has also stressed that leave will not be granted to those with more than five years’ imprisonment.
It has also said the temporary leaves do not include security-related prisoners, who are in reality, political prisoners. The regime has released only a handful of political prisoners.
During the November 2019 uprising, more than 12,000 were arrested. At no time has the regime provided any figures on the number of detainees. Their fate is unknown and extremely disconcerting given the current circumstances with the virus spreading in prisons. A number of prisoners have told their families that the regime has a plan to liquidate them under the guise that they have died of coronavirus.
So critical is the situation in prisons that based on reliable and eyewitness reports, there were rebellions in at least eight prisons in protest against the virus spread and lack of minimum hygienic needs as well as the refusal to release the prisoners. The case of Danial Zeinolabdin is quite illustrative of the crisis. Just 17 years old, when was arrested, he took part in the riots in Mahabad prison and was transferred to Miando’ab, where he was tortured to death.
Based on similar reports, the guards opened fire on prisoners in at least six prisons, including in Tabriz, Sepidar, Shiban (Ahvaz), Aligoudarz, Adel-Abad (in Shiraz), and in Saqqez. The IRGC and shock troops have attacked and brutalized the prisoners. Dozens of prisoners have been killed, hundreds wounded and many disappeared.
Prisoners in Saqqez, in Iranian Kurdistan, staged a rebellion on March 27. The state-run news agency, Fars, reported that around 80 prisoners had escaped. One of them, a Kurdish political prisoner named Mostafa Salimi, had been arrested in 2003 and sentenced to 15 years and execution. He was rearrested several days later and was hanged on April 11, in Saqqez Prison.
According to reports from within the IRGC, its forces have been stationed in Fashafuyeh Prison since March 30. Heavily armed guards have been stationed around the prison’s perimeter. Between 11:00 pm and midnight, they sound the sirens in the prison and roam around with the motorbikes to terrify the prisoners. They also have orders to shoot anyone seen in the prison yard.
The Iranian Resistance has obtained a confidential State Security Force document, dated April 4. It is a directive issued by the Central Monitoring and Command of the State Security to police stations and bases warning them to be vigilant about potential riots and rebellions in prisons.
It states, “With respect, according to the Directorate of Operations for the State Security Force (SSF), simultaneous to the Coronavirus outbreak in the country, many factors have resulted in riots and clashes in some of the country’s prisons; The most important among them are:
The calls by hostile and counter-revolutionary currents on the families of prisoners to stage protests, the widespread dissemination of the news of the Coronavirus outbreak, the news about the shortage of medical equipment, the rumors about the state using the opportunity to physically eliminate those convicted of political and security offenses, and inciting prisoners to protest against the hygiene situation, etc. By implementing measures like providing medical facilities, sending (inmates) on temporary leave, requesting amnesty, or reducing the sentences for some, the Judiciary has tried to reduce the chance of a Coronavirus infection inside prisons. Despite these actions, a number of the more dangerous prisoners, who did not receive amnesty or leave, rioted and caused destruction. Please order that in addition to taking note of the following points, any relevant news is immediately sent to the Command and Control Center so that it could be relayed to the SSF:
- According to instructions, it is emphasized that in order to control the situation and manage the said locations on in the field, Special Units stationed in the provinces should be under the operational control of the provincial SSF command without any restrictions.
- In view of the issued instructions and directives, review the pre-emptive action plans, eliminate the headcount defects, use capabilities of provinces, the provincial security councils, and the Prisons Protection Unit and undertake the necessary coordination with the Prisons Organization.
- To prevent any surprises, constantly monitor the news and information on social media and otherwise to acquire intelligence awareness and take the necessary and precautionary measures to prevent any disorder and disruptive security issues in prisons.
In other words, instead of working to prevent the spread of coronavirus to prisons which may cause the death of thousands of prisoners, the regime has decided to severely suppress the prisoners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The situation in Iran and the approach adopted by the Iranian regime in dealing with this crisis cannot be compared with any other country. The mullahs have no regard for the lives and safety of Iranians in general and prisoners in particular.
The situation of prisoners, in particular, political prisoners in Iran during the Corona crisis is a human time bomb.
As Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has repeatedly underscored, the dispatch of an International Fact-finding Commission to Iran in order to visit the regime’s prisons, to investigate the situation of prisoners, especially the missing, the injured, and the sick is imperative.
To prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Iranian prisons, we are calling on the UN Security Council, and member states of the European Union to take urgent action to compel the Iranian regime to release the prisoners, particularly political prisoners, who are on the one hand facing the risk of coronavirus infection and being tortured and executed by the regime on the other.
Remarks of a political prisoner who has recently left Iran:
Good afternoon to all, it is very interesting to me that this interview is being conducted in a situation where we are all in quarantine due to the global crisis of covid-19.
I’m 31 years old. I graduated in MA in tourism from the University of Tehran. I was an activist of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran also known as the MEK network inside Iran. In the summer of 2018, while we were with some friends, installing a banner of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, on a large bridge in Tehran, we were arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence and immediately taken to solitary confinement in Ward 209 of Evin Prison.
Among the tortures that used to break the prisoner’s resistance included food deprivation, forced insomnia, humiliation, insults, threats of rape, and forced exile.
They had no limits for that.
The interrogator told me that this is the end of the road and you will no longer see the light of the sun. Also, I was not allowed to contact my family because I didn’t cooperate with them. However, the interrogator told me that your mother was crying and begging us, and then I realized that it was basically a lie. One time they also confronted me with my family and wanted to force them to pressure me to give them what they demanded, but my family refused, so their plan failed.
I spent months in a 6-meter solitary confinement cell that lacked the least sanitation. First days, whenever I was taken for a long interrogation out of a 6-meter cell with a dirty carpet and a water tap that was always dripping, I didn’t know what fate awaited me. We could not see guards and corridors because wearing blindfold was a strict law.
No cleaning material was available. The filthiness of the bathroom and toilet was devastating. I was deprived of the least open air of the yard during my detention.
After three months of continuous torture, I was taken to the general ward while the prosecutor requested the most severe punishment for us and the case was referred to court. In the general ward, the number of inmates was several times the capacity of the ward. There was no hygiene. The smallest disease spread rapidly among prisoners. Eventually, I was released on bail, and I was able to miraculously flee the country in a very limited time with the help of the MEK network inside Iran. During this time, in an absentee verdict, the court sentenced me and the other detainees to about 20 years imprisonment and forced exile.
These days, when I hear about the coronavirus death toll and infection and death of prisoners every day, My only concern is my imprisoned friends, who are now forced to fight both Coronavirus and their torturers to survive in prisons, with minimal health facilities they have to fight for survival. Some of these prisoners are as old as 80 years.
I have received many news and reports from Evin Prison, some of which I will mention below:
- One of the classifications of prisoners is where they sleep and varies based on their background and type of sentence. For example, a sleeping place on the floor or in the hallway or even in the bathroom.
- Prisoners are not taken to a health center deliberately and are falsely told that their corona test result is negative, while all corona symptoms such as high fever and dry cough and dizziness are obvious in certain prisoners.
- There is no Corona detection kit or mask and gloves and no detergents at all. Evin prison officials are currently refusing to deliver a simple drug, even at the patient’s own expense, and there is absolutely no evidence of alcohol or other disinfectants.
- Some political prisoners have been taken to places where their fate is unknown under the pretext that they have Corona, and no one knows their fate.
- Even two guard officers in one of Evin’s wards had corona who had gone on leave and quarantined.
- The regime has promised freedom to some prisoners for fear of rebellion in prison, but when it comes to the case this does not apply to political prisoners, especially supporters of MEK. This promise is mostly for the mercenary prisoners of the Ministry of Intelligence who have the most cooperation.
Prisoner patients with positive covid-19 are deliberately transferred to rooms where political prisoners are being held, both to instill fear and to keep the silent massacre policy going.
In the past few days, when I heard about the revolt and escapes in prisons, I was not surprised at all. Because the prisoners had the choice between silent death at the hands of the clerical regime under the pretext of Corona, and revolt and freedom, and whoever in their situation, would take the risks of the second option in the hope of finding a way to freedom.
I received a statement from Evin Prison on March 18, which I would like to read parts of due to lack of time:
Statement of several prisoners arrested during November 2019 anti-regime protests from Evin prison:
While expressing our condolences to the Iranian people who have once again fallen victim to the anti-human and anti-humanitarian policies of the Corona tragedy, we commemorate a number of prisoners of conscience in Evin. In a situation where people are at their worst in the face of the coronavirus and are deprived of the minimum international standards, government repression and secrecy have turned the virus into a national catastrophe.
In this tragedy, the prisoners are no exception and are in critical condition. Despite the shortage of masks, disinfectants and drugs in prisons, in recent days, despite the prevalence of seasonal illnesses in prisons and the incidence of a number of prisoners with coronavirus, we see deliberate refusal by medical doctors to examine prisoners with corona symptoms. Long-term remittances are eventually returned to the ward under various pretexts without examination or prescription. Prison officials are not even allowed to receive medicine through the families of prisoners.
We call on the World Health Organization and the International Human Rights Defenders to visit the prisons to take action to save the lives and health of the prisoners in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
Prisoners are now at high risk of contracting coronavirus and collective death. My request is that the international community, and in particular the United Nations, send international investigative bodies to the regime’s prisons as soon as possible to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Iran and a silent massacre and to inform about the situation of prisoners, the missing and the sick. Put pressure on the religious fascism to free all protestors especially political prisoners.
Negligence and ignoring the prisoners’ calls for help is helping the executioners to keep the silent massacre going.