With a capacity now detaining 15,000 people, the Evin Prison has built a reputation of Iran’s rampant political repression.
Standing at the foot of the Alborz Mountains in northwestern Tehran, it has held hundreds of peaceful activists, journalists, intellectuals and human rights lawyers throughout its disgraceful history.
The structure of prison wards
Evin Prison is a vast complex that consists of multiple buildings, generally up to three floors high with two sections on each floor.
Wards 209, 240 and 241 which have solitary cells called “Suites” are controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS).
Ward 209 or section 209 is the most dreadful ward of Evin Prison. Inmates are detained under torture. The ward is made up of 10 rows, each containing eight solitary cells. Due to overcrowding, up to 10 people are kept in every cell. Each solitary cell has its own individual lavatory.
The torture room is located in the ward’s basement where there are all kinds of medieval equipment for torture, including Apolo (a special bed for giving electric shocks to the prisoner while his head is covered by an iron helmet where his cries echo into his own ears), wired beds for flogging with cables, hangers from which prisoners are hanged from the ceiling by foot or by hands as they are tied behind their backs.
No one except the personnel and convicts is allowed into the Intelligence Ministry Ward 209, even the highest officials.
Ward 240 (parts of which are under the control of security and intelligence units), has several floors and each floor has a long corridor containing several cells on both sides. Each cell is about 8 square meters inside which the toilet and the shower are separated by a curtain from the cell’s area. These cells are designed for one person but they are actually holding 6-7.
Ward 2A is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards Corps Intelligence Department.
Political prisoners are blindfolded at all times when outside of their cells in this section.
IRGC’s Detention Center 66 or Section 325 is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. This section was used for interrogating those arrested during the 2009 unrest in Tehran.
Ward 350 was used for the detention of political prisoners but was partially closed down after a prison riot in 2014 and all the prisoners were transferred to Rajaie Shahr Prison in Karaj, Iran’s fourth largest city.
The Methadone Ward: There is a hall, actually a big cell, in the women’s ward that is always closed. Prisoners call it the Methadone Ward. Closed-circuit cameras are installed in this cell to monitor inmates round the clock, depriving them of minimum freedom of action within the limited space of the cell.
Prisoners are deprived of going out for break and they have to spend all hours of the day in that closed-door hall. The door opens only when food is distributed.
Women’s Ward is consisted of three halls with all windows sealed. So, there is not sufficient sun light for prisoners aggravating their illnesses. Bathrooms and the kitchen lack ventilation.
There is no emergency medical facility for prisoners. To receive her medication, a prisoner must first obtain an authorization, then wait until the visitations day on Sunday, to give the prescription to her relatives to purchase her medicine from an outside pharmacy. Then she will have to wait until the next visit, to receive her medication from her relatives.
Referring to a medical center outside the prison is tremendously difficult and may take several months to receive just an authorization.
By the time the prisoner receives a medical leave usually after 9 to 12 months, her illness has progressed. Once in the hospital, her treatment is usually interrupted midway.
Every entry and exit to and from the prison requires humiliating frisking. A prisoner must be handcuffed while she walks into the dispensary.
The Women’s Ward is constantly monitored by cameras.
Whenever prison wardens encounter a protest or some form of resistance by prisoners, they threaten to relocate them to the notorious Qarchak Prison.
Wards 7 hold mostly prisoners convicted of financial crimes. The ward has eight halls, with the capacity to hold 200 inmates each, although 700 prisoners are now held in each hall.
Sometimes political prisoners are taken to the ward 7, which violates Iran’s own regulations on the principle of separation of crimes.
Halls 1 and 12 of the Ward 7, are located in the basement floor. Many prisoners in these halls suffer from joints diseases due to humidity. Prisoners are usually deprived of warm water for showering in winters.
Common complaints include, lack of ventilation, insufficient and filthy bathroom facilities, prevalence of contagious diseases, lack of sunshine.
Ward 8 is populated mostly by those convicted of financial crimes, drug traffickers and pirates – mainly from Somalia.
In summer, ward eight of Evin prison stinks more than usual. It is hot and unbearable as there is no air conditioner and the water coolers do not work properly. The cells are filthy and infested with beetles and bugs, particularly when temperatures rise.
Reports indicate food comes in meagre portions and is barely edible. It is so little that hungry inmates are forced to collect the residue of other food trays as well as the food which was left on the ground. That small amount of the food distributed in prison is sometimes rotten and expired.
Prisoners have to buy at their own expense their needed dairy products, vegetables, fruits, and protein at rocket high prices from the prison’s stores.
Reports indicate prison officials make a profit from selling expired food to prisoners at much higher prices.
Food quality is extremely low and unsanitary. Sand and even mouse feces have been found in the food. Fruits and vegetables are non-existent.
There have been complaints to the prison authorities against malnutrition, especially by political prisoners who are aware of their rights and who have demanded food adequate to maintain health and well-being.
A source close to one of the prisoners said the prison’s management threatens prisoners of holding them in solitary confinement if they object to the lack of food or to the prison’s bad conditions.
Medical treatment withheld to punish prisoners or force them into making false confessions is a common place.
Prison authorities callously deny prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners adequate medical care, putting them at grave risk of death.
The Office of the Prosecutor, which is responsible for decisions concerning medical leave and hospital transfers often refuses to authorize hospital transfers for sick prisoners even though the care they need is not available in prison, and denies requests for medical leave for critically ill prisoners against doctors’ advice.
In some cases, prison officials had also violated prisoners’ rights to health, or were responsible for torture or other ill-treatment. In several cases, they withheld medication from political prisoners or unnecessarily used restraints such as handcuffs and leg shackles on political prisoners, interfering with their medical treatment, bruising theirs hands and feet or causing them discomfort and humiliation.
An Amnesty International report published in July 2016 revealed that in addition to deliberately delaying or refusing urgent specialised medical care for political prisoners, prison authorities in Iran have regularly downplayed or dismissed the seriousness of their medical problems, treated serious ailments with simple painkillers and withheld essential medication.
In addition to denial of adequate medical access, prisoners are usually held in overcrowded, unsanitary and poorly ventilated conditions which often exacerbates prisoners’ pre-existing medical problems or contributes to new problems, causing irreparable damage to their health.
A number of prisoners suffering from AIDS are detained in Section 7. Medical attention is barely given to prisoners in this section. Only when prisoners go on hunger strike or when media attention is given to them are they taken to hospital for treatment.
Prisoners say that the prison psychologist prescribes neurological drugs to many prisoners without any medical grounds.
Uncovered and unclear medications are given to the prisoners.
According to prisoners, Medical personnel assist with torture. A doctor named Shahriar Pourfarzam makes sure that when a person is interrogated under torture, she/he could survive so that the interrogator could continue to torture.
Unsafe and infectious medical service is available on a high expense. A significant number of prisoners particularly those their spouses are also imprisoned, cannot afford the high cost of health care.
Prison store is a part of the jail’s own perverse economic system. Prison officials make a profit from selling the essential needs of prisoners such as soap, shampoo, even food.
Prisoners’ families must provide the cash they need for day-to-day life. Those without support live in the lowest circle of misery on meagre and substandard prison supplies.
Most of the prisoners believe that the low quality and hygiene of food in prison, is deliberate to make prisoners buy from prison’s shops where All food items are sold above market prices.
The items sold in prison shop are out-of-date but the Prisoners have no choice byt to buy these goods at prices several times more expensive.
Inspections and threats
Up to 50 prison agents periodically search prisoners’ cells. All the prisoners are required to go to the prison courtyard during the search. The agents confiscate and “steal” the prisoners’ belongings during the search.
After each inspection, many of the prisoners’ equipment disappears and a large amount of their food is destroyed.
Prison authorities in various ways sell second hand phones and SIM cards at high prices to the prisoners and they confiscate the same phones and SIM cards during the inspections.
Political prisoners describe being severely beaten by dangerous prisoners incited by prison officials. They use such criminals as a cover up to harass political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
There are no criteria or standards for prisoners’ visitation rights in the notorious Evin prisons. Family visits and phone calls are used as a tool by prison authorities to exert more pressure on the prisoners.
Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are routinely harassed by the authorities have greatly limited visits.
Sometimes, visitations and telephone calls are denied to punish prisoners. Political prisoners are punished when they protest arbitrary behavior and inhuman treatment by revolutionary guards or when they convey prison conditions to their families. If a prisoner sends a letter out of prison, she is severely punished. Punishments range from denial of visitations and telephone calls, to incarceration in solitary cells, to adding new charges to the prisoner’s case, and in some cases sending the prisoner to internal exile.
Evin prison’s visiting hall has about 80 cabins specifically designated for visits. This number of cabins is sufficient for the families of political prisoners to quickly undergo their visits; however, the policy of the prison authorities is to send the visitors in groups of ten people at a time.
Prisoners can only communicate with first-degree family members for twenty minutes via a cabin meeting. A cabin meeting is a visit through a dirty and blurry window and through a headset that is controlled by prison authorities.
The Women’s Ward has no telephone facility for the political prisoners to make phone calls to their family and children.
Women political prisoners are only granted 20-minute (most often cabin) visits per week with their families.
Some of the women political prisoners have young children whom they only have contact with via telephone. Some psychologists believe that cabin visits from behind a glass wall can be destructive to the psychological health of the prisoners’ children. Therefore, many of the families try not to bring the children to visit as much as possible.