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Rights Activists Call Iran Prison Visit A Crude Propaganda Stunt

A guard stands in front of the infamous "Evin House of Detention."

Human rights groups and Iranian activists say a visit to the Evin prison that was organized for diplomats was a PR stunt aimed at covering up “the dark truth” about a feared facility that has become a symbol of state repression.

The July 7 prison visit was organized by Iran’s hard-line conservative judiciary and was attended by representatives of 45 diplomatic missions from countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa, state-controlled media reported.

Photos posted by state media showed the diplomats receiving the red-carpet treatment and attending an open-air meeting in which they were briefed by authorities on the situation in the prison in northwestern Tehran.

Kazem Gharib Abadi, the deputy head of the judiciary’s Human Rights Council, was quoted by state media as saying the tour was aimed at showing foreign ambassadors that “the image portrayed of the Iranian prisons by certain countries and media is a false and untrue one.”

More than 40 "ambassadors" from various countries meeting on July 6 during their visit to Iran to see Evin prison.
More than 40 "ambassadors" from various countries meeting on July 6 during their visit to Iran to see Evin prison.

“The Human Rights Council and the Prisons Organization decided to organize this visit so that you can see for yourself the services, activities, and the treatment the prisoners are receiving and make a correct judgment,” Gharib Abadi told the diplomats.

However, Amnesty International and some of those jailed in Evin said the diplomats were allowed only a limited view of the prison where accounts by prisoners suggest many have been tortured, subjected to harsh interrogations, and held in solitary confinement for weeks.

Amnesty International Iran researcher Raha Bahreini said that many areas of the prison remained off limits to the foreign diplomats.

She said the visit offered the diplomats “a limited, distorted view of conditions” in the prison, adding that “it should be very clear to them now that they are being used by Iranian authorities to validate their crude propaganda.”

“They were only granted access to a handful of sections in buildings 4 and 7, mostly housing wealthier prisoners convicted of financial crimes. In these areas, prisoners have used their own funds to boost conditions, buying carpets, curtains, televisions, air conditioning units, kitchenware, and other furnishings,” Bahreini wrote in a report posted on Amnesty’s website on July 13.

Blogger Sattar Beheshti, who died in custody in 2012, was beaten to death by his interrogators at Evin prison, according to opposition websites that cited fellow inmates.

Dozens of prisoners jailed in Evin in the past several years have conducted hunger strikes to protest what they have described as poor conditions and mistreatment or abuse by guards.

Blogger and activist Sattar Beheshti
Blogger and activist Sattar Beheshti

Leading human rights defender Narges Mohammadiis is believed to be in the prison now, as are several dual nationals who have been jailed in recent years.

Two civil rights activists jailed in Evin, Atena Daemi and Golrokh Iraee, criticized the diplomats' visit in an open letter, parts of which was published by the New York-based Center for Human Rights In Iran.

“Did they show you the solitary cells without windows, ventilation, or toilets? What about the cells known as the ‘graves?'” the two prisoners asked in their letter dated July 8.

“Did they introduce you to a physician with the alias ‘Shahriari?” they added.

“He’s the one who finds out what’s wrong with sick prisoners just by looking at them. He’s the one who never dares to sign his name because he’s afraid one day he will be exposed for his malpractice,” the letter said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher Tara Sepehri Far said that if Iranian authorities “want to signal more than a public relations ploy,” they should grant unrestricted access not just to foreign diplomats, but also to United Nations rights agencies and human rights experts.

“Authorities have closed Evin prison to independent international and national human rights investigators for more than a decade,” she said in a report on the New York-based HRW’s website.

HRW said the last international experts to visit the prison -- in 2003 -- were members of a UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and a special rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.