LONDON: A new report by Amnesty International has revealed the gruesome reality of torture in Iranian jails, but survivors of the country’s prison system have told Arab News that this is not a new phenomenon — the authorities have been abusing inmates for decades.
After anti-regime protests swept Iran in November 2019, the resulting crackdown saw “more than 7,000 men, women and children as young as 10 years old” arrested “within a matter of days,” Amnesty said. Those detained, the report said, were subject to an array of torture techniques.
They were beaten with various weapons, sexually abused, subject to mock executions, waterboarded, forced to drink chemical substances and given repeated powerful electric shocks. The findings amount to “a catalogue of shocking human rights violations,” Amnesty said.
Kobra Jokar, who fled Iran in the 1980s, told Arab News that she has come to expect this behavior from the regime.
She was detained for sympathizing with the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian political group that played a pivotal role in the 1979 revolution, but that was later outlawed.
“I found what Amnesty International has written eerily similar to the kind of torture I experienced,” she said.
Jokar, who was pregnant at the time, was violently abducted by Tehran’s security forces in the middle of the night.
Held in the notorious Evin prison, she said officers brutally and repeatedly flogged her and her husband with cable wires.
Her husband was later executed alongside 75 other prisoners. “The guard said, ‘We executed him so that he’d never see his child’,” Jokar explained.
Another MEK supporter, Homa Jaberi, told Arab News that she welcomes Amnesty’s report, but that it only scratches the surface of the abuse that is rife in Iran’s prison system.
A torture survivor herself, Jaberi said she was arrested at the age of 18 after attending a pro-MEK rally in Tehran. She languished in jail for nearly six years, two of those in solitary confinement.
For most of that time, she was held in a tiny cell alongside nearly 30 other female prisoners. Rape and violence were commonplace.
“A cellmate of mine was a physician. The guards raped her repeatedly,” Jaberi said. “Torturers beat us viciously … They kept us standing for three full days without allowing us to sit down.”
Amnesty’s report highlighted the prevalence of “mental health issues (and) self-harm among prisoners.”
This is a situation that Jaberi can attest to only too well. When one of her cellmates cut her own wrists, “prison guards did nothing to save her and waited until she bled to death.”
Iran’s judiciary, which Jaberi describes as “a mockery of justice,” was singled out in Amnesty’s report for the pivotal role it plays in meting out harsh punishments to defendants who receive little or no due process.
“By bringing national security charges against hundreds of people solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, while judges doled out guilty verdicts on the basis of torture-tainted ‘confessions,’ (the judiciary are) complicit in the campaign of repression,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty called on UN human rights bodies to conduct a UN-led enquiry into the human rights situation in Iranian prisons, and urged “accountability” for those responsible for violations.
Jokar said Iran’s leadership “must be held accountable and punished for crimes against humanity.”
She urged the international community, and in particular the EU, to “break their silence” on Tehran’s atrocities.