Iranwire – Prison Narratives is a collection of reports based on the testimonies of current and former prisoners. The narrators are both prisoners of conscience and people who have been detained for “ordinary,” non-political crimes. They talk about their lives in prison and guide the reader through the environment and the people they encounter. This report is from Shapur Detention Center, a facility near Tehran thought to house 12,000 prisoners mostly in connection with “moral” and drug-related crimes, where police and staff have an unusual means of humiliating detainees.
“It was Saturday or Sunday. They took me out of the cell and to the offices, to the room of the lead interrogator in the case; the plaintiff and their lawyer were also there. I told myself this had to be some kind of a confrontation [in Iranian judicial parlance, a “confrontation” is a planned meeting between the victim and the accused as part of the investigation process]. But it wasn’t. It was first thing in the morning, and they’d taken me upstairs, and then the officer said in our own language: ‘Get lost. Get under the table.’
“I bent down and got under the table. They kept me there for several hours.”
During the lengthy meeting, the assembled prison officials, lawyers and everyone linked to Ali’s case except for he himself chatted with one another for hours, eating breakfast while Ali remained on the floor, and discussing every topic except for the case itself. The bizarre situation left Ali, who was accused of financial crimes and had recently been transferred to Shapur from Greater Tehran Penitentiary, shaken and disturbed.
“The mental pressure I felt just then,” he told IranWire, “Was ten times more painful than a beating. They did it on purpose, to humiliate me. It was as if the plaintiff was the same as the judge, the same as the prosecutor, the same as the officer; no difference. What difference would it make later if my innocence was proven?”
The inherently corruptible nature of Iranian justice means influential plaintiffs can not only buy the final verdict in a case, but also make demands as to the treatment of the accused during the investigation phase. Money determines everything – up to and including the extent of torture and humiliation some detainees are made to endure.
This is not only true of those accused of day-to-day offences, but political prisoners. Moin is one of the thousands of Iranian protesters who were arrested in November 2019. In one of the cases constructed against him, the “plaintiff” was a member of the Basij who claimed Moin had beaten him up on the night of one of the protests. There was not enough evidence, but the trial concluded without Moin’s defense being heard and he was jailed for eight years. As the courtroom was clearing out, Moin said, he saw the plaintiff and the judge laughing together, with the latter saying loudly: “I too, was and am a Basiji.”
Iman was arrested in 2018 on financial charges and taken directly to Shapur Detention Center. The complaint against him came from his former boss, who had ties to the then-government. “I was put under the conference table for hours that day,” he told IranWire. “The session went on, and I was just sitting there crumpled up, without anyone noticing my presence or caring about my situation.”
Other convicts that spoke to IranWire report the same, or else being dragged under the desk and made to sit there while case officers carry out their computer work. Sometimes, the defendants say, they’ll stretch out their legs to rest them on the convict’s back. Clients come and go, different papers are placed on the table, signed and filed, without anyone noticing that a person is being subjected to a subtle form of torture right there under the table.
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Tehran under a pseudonym.