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'Maximum Psychological' Pressure: Iranian Rights Lawyer Tortured, Drugged During Detention, Attorney Says


Iranian human rights lawyer Payam Derafshan is currently out on parole and receiving medical treatment.

Payam Derafshan was confined in a dark, windowless room inside a safe house run by the feared intelligence branch of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The human rights lawyer was then transferred to Tehran's notorious Evin prison, where he was drugged with unknown substances that triggered violent convulsions. During one seizure, Derafshan bit part of his tongue off.

Derafshan was then subjected to electric shocks after he was forcibly transferred to a psychiatric hospital.

These are the allegations made by Saeid Dehghan, an Iranian human rights lawyer who represents Derafshan, who is currently out on parole and receiving medical treatment.

Derafshan, who has represented several high-profile political prisoners, is the latest victim of Iran's crackdown on human rights lawyers, activists say. Prominent lawyers who have defended dissidents, women's rights defenders, and political activists have been subject to state harassment, imprisonment, and forced into exile in recent years, they say.

In many cases, the lawyers have faced the same charges that the authorities have brought against their clients. "The goal is to scare others and warn them not to be the voice of the voiceless," Dehghan, who is currently based in Canada, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda in a telephone interview.

Derafshan was arrested in June 2020 and sentenced weeks later to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of "propaganda against the state," "spreading falsehoods," and "unauthorized disclosure." The sentence was upheld by an appeals court in July 2020.

Earlier, in May 2020, Derafshan was sentenced to two years in prison for "insulting the supreme leader" and suspended from practicing law for a further two years. On appeal, the prison sentence was reduced to one year and two months, and then suspended.

Derafshan has denied the charges. Activists say he is being targeted for his role in highlighting human rights abuses in the Islamic republic and defending prominent political prisoners.

Derafshan represented Iranian-Canadian sociology professor Kavous Seyed Emami, who died in prison under disputed circumstances in 2018, and jailed human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, who in 2019 was sentenced to a combined 38 1/2 years in prison.

Sleep Deprivation, Electric Shocks

In a series of tweets on October 17, Dehghan accused the authorities of attempting to silence his client by subjecting him to "maximum psychological and physical pressure."

When Derafshan was arrested in Tehran in June 2020, over a dozen intelligence agents stormed his offices and confiscated his case files, Dehghan said. Following his arrest, Derafshan was held for days at a secret detention facility run by the IRGC, Dehghan said, before he was transferred to Evin prison.

At an IRGC-run ward at Evin prison, Derafshan was subjected to sleep deprivation, Dehghan said, detailing how interrogators used "bright lamps" and "loud noises from ventilators" to keep him awake for hours on end. Dehghan also said his former client was exposed to unbearable "stench" from the "dirty" toilet in the room.

When Derafshan protested, the prison guards first threatened him and then injected him with an unknown substance that they said would help him sleep, Dehghan said. Instead, he suffered violent seizures. During one seizure, he bit off "half" of his tongue, he added.

Derafshan was hospitalized at Tehran's Baghiatollah hospital, where he underwent surgery and stayed in the facility's psychiatric ward, Dehghan said. He was then forcibly taken to the Razi psychiatric hospital in handcuffs and with an ankle bracelet, Dehghan said.

During his one-month stay at the facility, Derafshan suffered electric shocks that worsened his condition, Dehghan said. He was then sent back to Evin prison.

"Derafshan was lucky to be freed from Razi psychiatric hospital and sent back to prison where, with the help of other political prisoners, he could [improve] his condition," Dehghan told Radio Farda.

Dehghan said Derafshan was released on parole after serving one-third of his prison sentence and was undergoing unspecified medical treatment.

Crackdown On Lawyers

Derafshan is not the only Iranian human rights lawyer in prison. According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran, four lawyers are currently serving prison terms in the country on what it calls bogus charges.

In August, four lawyers and two rights activists were arrested. The group had reportedly planned to lodge an official complaint against the authorities for what they said was their mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a growing trend, activists say the authorities are forcibly incarcerating political prisoners in psychiatric hospitals. Among them was Kianush Sanjari, a civil rights activist and journalist. "Their goal is to break the prisoners," Sanjari said, adding that the move could be an attempt by Iran's clerical establishment to portray political detainees as unstable.

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