Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience at Section 350 of Iran’s Evin prison were subjected to assault, beatings and other ill-treatment, with some of those injured denied access to adequate medical care, according to a new briefing published by Amnesty International about the events of 17 April, which has become known as “Black Thursday” by local activists.
The briefing, “Justice is an Alien Word”: Ill-treatment of political prisoners in Evin prison, tells how dozens of prisoners were met with unwarranted use of force by security officials after they demanded to be present during a monthly search of their cells. Prisoners were blindfolded and handcuffed before being shoved through a ‘tunnel’ formed of security officials carrying batons, who repeatedly struck them on their backs, heads and faces.
“Security officials responded with an appalling level of brutality to the protest at Evin prison, beating prisoners, dragging them along the floor and verbally insulting them. Subjecting prisoners to such ill-treatment is a gross abuse of a prison official’s power,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
No independent investigation into the incident is known to have been carried out so far. A week afterwards, following a public outcry, Golamhossein Esma’ili, the head of Iran’s Prisons Organization, was removed from his position. However, he was given another senior position in the country’s Judiciary which was described by a spokesperson for the body as a promotion. In a statement days after the incident, the Head of the Judiciary dismissed claims that any violations had occurred during the 17 April search at Evin Prison. He issued a warning to those “spreading lies”.
Initial claims that the government had formed a team to investigate the incident were later denied by Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the Minister of Justice.
“So far the authorities have largely tried to sweep the events of “Black Thursday” under the carpet. The unwillingness demonstrated by the authorities to investigate and hold anyone to account is unacceptable. Impunity is a longstanding problem in Iran. The authorities must break their past habits and launch an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the incidents immediately,” said Said Boumedouha.
The violence began when prison officials and plain-clothes men, some covering their faces with masks and sunglasses, reportedly conducted a search of prison cells, sparking a protest by prisoners who demanded to be present when the search was being conducted. The prisoners’ protest was met with brutal force. According to information obtained by Amnesty International, prisoners were kicked, punched and beaten with batons by officials. Some guards dragged prisoners along the floor ripping their clothes and beating them.
At least 32 prisoners were taken to solitary confinement in Section 240 of Evin prison shortly after the incident. Some were forced to strip naked before being locked in cells. Many began a hunger strike in protest.
The wife of prisoner of conscience Mohammad Sadiq Kabudvand, a Kurdish journalist serving an 11-year prison term, told Amnesty International that her husband was kicked and punched by guards so badly that he lost consciousness. When he awoke in the prison clinic he was unable to speak and was lying near a machine which was apparently a defibrillator, suggesting he may have suffered cardiac arrest.
Some family members who were allowed to visit their relatives in prison on 21 April described what they witnessed as “shocking” and “painful”. They reported seeing prisoners badly bruised and beaten. One father said his son was wearing a cervical collar and had an open gash on his head which needed stitches; he had reportedly also lost the hearing in his right ear possibly because of a blow to the head.
Up to five prisoners were reported to have been taken to hospitals, but later were returned to the prison without receiving adequate medical care.
“The authorities have displayed a chilling and inhumane attitude to those injured due to beatings. Many were denied proper medical attention in a blatant violation of international law. Any prisoner who is sick or has been injured must be provided with the medical treatment they need,” said Said Boumedouha.
Family members who asked about their loved ones after news of the incident emerged, told Amnesty International that prison officials told them very little about the prisoners’ condition. Some have been harassed and intimidated by the authorities for speaking out about their injured relatives. Many received text messages from an unknown number warning that they would “face consequences” if they attended a planned gathering outside Tehran’s Office of the Prosecutor. At least two people, Kaveh Darolshafa and Ahmad Reza Haeri, who were campaigning on behalf of their relatives in prison were arrested, apparently in order to stop them speaking out.
“Instead of harassing these families, the authorities must prove that they are taking these allegations seriously by launching a robust investigation and bringing to justice any officials found responsible,” said Said Boumedouha.
Amnesty International is also calling for all prisoners, to be granted regular access to lawyers and their family.