Prisoners Launched Protest After Being Falsely Led to Believe They Would be Released
Twenty prisoners in Iran’s Gharchak Prison for women, including five Sufi political prisoners, were placed in solitary confinement or transferred to Evin Prison after prison guards violently attacked them on February 8, 2019.
The prisoners were denied food for the first two days after the transfer and continue to be denied access to gas and electricity required for heating their cells, as well as fresh air breaks, a source with knowledge about the event told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 11.
A person going by the name of Yaasan on Twitter whose sister is inside Gharchak Prison tweeted February 8: “My sister was crying over the phone and saying the guards broke the limbs of a lot of prisoners and that the smell of tear gas was unbearable. Then she got cut off. A couple of hours later her friend called me from prison and said my sister was beaten and dragged away. We don’t have any news. My mother is in front of the prison but no one is answering.”
A protest broke out in the prison, located south of Tehran, on February 8 after the prisoners were falsely led to believe that their release was imminent. Prison guards responded by assaulting the inmates, five of whom are followers of the persecuted Sufi Gonabadi faith.
“They fired tear gas and used pepper spray in a closed space,” Alireza Roshan, the editor of the order’s Telegram app channel Majzooban Noor, told CHRI on February 9. “To save themselves [from the tear gas], the prisoners set their blankets and clothes on fire.
“A special guard unit brought fire engines and splashed water on the prisoners and all their belongings,” he added. “Then they turned the gas and power off.”
He continued: “The spreading smell of gas and smoke led to protests in other wards and the warden ordered male guards to attack the female prisoners and severely beat them. I heard some of the guards were dragging women on the floor by the hair. Many prisoners had to go to the clinic for severe injuries.”
“Whatever crime a prisoner may have committed, her life should be protected,” Roshan said. “But in Gharchak Prison they contaminated their belongings with tear gas and then beat them.”
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The protest followed an announcement by prison officials that 700 inmates at the facility would be freed in a national pardon to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution on February 11.
“The prison officials said everybody would be freed except convicted murderers and accomplices to murder,” another source with knowledge of the cases told CHRI.
The source, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, added: “The prisoners were so happy, it was as if they were in the clouds. Many of them donated their belongings to inmates who were not going to be freed. A lot of them packed their bags and their families were happily waiting for them.”
“Then, yesterday, [February 8], the Gharchak Prison authorities said they had made a mistake,” said the source. “That made the prisoners boil over and protest because they were already under a lot of psychological pressure.”
Roshan told CHRI that the prisoners were also protesting because the authorities had been refusing to provide medical care to a sick inmate.
Gharchak Prison currently holds at least five female Sufis serving sentences ranging from one to two years based on charges related to a protest by hundreds of members of the faith in Tehran in February 2018.
The inmates are Shekoufeh Yadollahi, Sima Entesari, Elham Ahmadi, Shima Entesari and Sepideh Moradi.
On February 4, Judiciary Chief Sadegh Larijani announced 50,000 prisoners in Iran would be pardoned by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
But the amnesty excluded political prisoners convicted on the basis of “national security” charges.
“The reports from Gharchak Prison are worrying,” tweeted reformist Member of Parliament Mahmoud Sadeghi on the day of the disturbances. “I have called the relevant authorities but no one is answering.”
People shared a photo on social media claiming it showed smoke caused by the fire rising from one of the prison wards in Gharchak on the morning of February 8.
A former political prisoner told CHRI that it’s extremely distressing for a prisoner when they’re falsely led to believed that their freedom is within reach: “I was in prison during a period that coincided with the anniversary of the revolution, the New Year and other important occasions when officials announce general amnesties and free a lot of prisoners.”
He continued: “The announcements would impact all the inmates, even those who didn’t have a chance of being freed. They all felt freedom was a step away. A lot of times the guards would try to inflate this mood and give the impression that freedom was within reach.”
“Then the promised day would arrive and everybody couldn’t wait but nothing would happen,” he added. “Announcements were delayed and when they finally came, they didn’t include all the prisoners as promised and only a few people got freed; a few people who only had a short period of time left on their sentence.
“Oh, the disappointment in the wards was unbearable,” he said. “Some pretended they didn’t care but they would get depressed. They couldn’t eat. Tensions would rise. Everyone was angry and would get upset over little things.”
“I remember the children of one of the prisoners got really sick when their father was not freed as expected,” added the former political prisoner. “And one of the wives was hospitalized for a long time after the prosecutor did not free her husband as he had promised.”
Reacting to the news from Gharchak Prison, journalist and former political prisoner Jila Baniyaghoob tweeted: “A number of prisoners who were supposed to be freed for the 40th anniversary of the revolution were severely beaten today and many of them have been abandoned without medical attention. They didn’t feed the prisoners today….”
Journalist Mahtab Gholizadeh commented: “Do you have to unleash the guards and use tear gas in a closed space and endanger the prisoners’ lives over a little protest in Gharchak Prison? The prison authorities are displaying their new management skills in this modern age. Can we export their expertise and import meat with it? Where does this merciless bestial behavior come from?”
Another former political prisoner and journalist, Mehdi Mahmoudian, wrote: “The judiciary has a responsibility to protect prisoners’ lives even if they do something wrong. Gharchak Prison authorities should be aware that even if they do not believe in an afterlife, in this life they are accountable to families and friends. Following orders is not a convincing answer.”