CHRI – A political prisoner held in Evin Prison since 2009 has harshly criticized a state-organized “dolled-up” tour of the facility by a group of foreign diplomats in July 2017 that was used by state officials and media to gloss over the prison’s well–documented history of ongoing human rights violations.
“When I saw your photos in the newspaper sitting under the trees [in the Evin Prison lawn], I wished those tall green trees that you sat and chatted under their shade for hours could speak and tell you what they witnessed when they were just a sapling: The blood of so many innocent human beings spilling on the ground,” wrote Maryam Akbari-Monfared in a letter addressing the diplomats on August 7, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
An estimated 4,500-5,000 political prisoners who had already been tried and sentenced—mostly members of political opposition groups—were suddenly executed in prisons throughout Iran including Evin during the summer of 1988 without being provided access to due process.
Guarded by state minders and preceded by a red carpet welcome, the visit by the diplomats on July 5, 2017 excluded the Women’s Ward and other areas of the facility where political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are held. Envoys from participating countries including Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Denmark were, however, treated to a reception on the prison’s lawn.
In response to the Portuguese and South Korean ambassadors, who told state media how impressed they were with the prison, Akbari-Monfared wrote, “The honorable ambassadors should realize that what so amazed them was the dolled-up version of the ruling Islamic state’s prison system.”
Akbari-Mofared, 48, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for the charge of “waging war against God” for allegedly being connected to the banned Mojahedin-e Khalgh organization (MEK, also known as MKO and PMOI), a charge she has consistently denied and the authorities have failed to prove. Three of her brothers and one sister were executed in Evin Prison in the 1980s for allegedly being members of the MEK.
In her letter, Akbari-Monfared, who has demanded a public inquiry into the execution of her siblings, also responded to comments made by prison officials following the visit.
The head of the Tehran Province Prisons Organization, Mostafa Mohebi, was not lying when he boasted about the vocational training classes provided by Evin Prison, wrote Akbari-Monfared, “but what’s the use of learning how to cut hair or make art when prisoners’ most basic rights are denied?”
“Every day I am witnessing the physical health of my cellmates getting worse, especially Ms. Mahvash Shahriari, who is nearing the tenth year of her imprisonment,” she added.
Akbari-Monfared also mentioned the names of former cellmates Kobra Banazadeh, Nahid Malek Mohammadi and Motahareh Bahrami, all of whom became seriously ill during their incarceration.
Political prisoners in Iran, including elderly inmates, are singled out for harsh treatment, which often includes denial of medical care. The threat of withheld medical care has also been used as an intimidation tool against prisoners who have challenged the authorities or filed complaints.
In 2016, political prisoner Omid Kokabee was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer after years of repeatedly being denied treatment for his symptoms.
In her letter, Akbari-Monfared also noted that if Evin Prison is as impressive as Iranian officials claim, they should allow independent observers to inspect it.
“If conditions inside your prisons are as excellent as you say, then why haven’t you ever allowed UN human rights investigators Ahmed Shaheed and Asma Jahangir to even enter Iran, let alone visit her prisons?” she wrote.
Since 2005, no United Nations or other international monitoring body has been allowed to visit Evin Prison.
The deputy secretary general of the judiciary’s Islamic human rights division, Kazem Gharibabadi, described the visit by the ambassadors as an opportunity “to show that we consider prisons to be like universities.”
“Some Western countries and media have made unfounded and false accusations regarding human rights because they are particularly biased against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said on July 6. “Part of those accusations have regarded conditions in our prisons.”
Responding to Gharibabadi, Akbari-Monfared noted the deaths of political prisoners in Evin, including those who died from insufficient medical care, Mohsen Dokmehchi and Hoda Saber.
“These are the prisoners I have seen in this corner of earth,” she wrote. “How strange you could not see them.”
Activists and Political Prisoners Speak Out
The visit by the diplomats also prompted Nobel Peace Prize laureate and lawyer Shirin Ebadi to send a letter to the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir, describing how the wards were “pre-cleansed” to hide selected prisoners.
“Strangely enough, the esteemed ambassadors did not even visit the political wing of the Women’s Ward, where 24 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are being held, including Narges Mohammadi, Nazanin Zaghari [Ratcliffe], Atena Daemi and Azita Rafizadeh, who I’m sure had a lot to share with the ambassadors,” wrote Ebadi, a co-founder of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, on July 7.
Political prisoners Atena Daemi and Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, civil rights activists held in Evin who were hidden from the ambassadors, also criticized the diplomats’ “staged” visit in a joint letter on July 8.
“We are in prison because we wanted an improvement in prison conditions and in the situation of prisoners,” wrote Daemi and Iraee. “But with your participation in this staged game, you, esteemed ambassadors, have delayed our aspirations.”