By Javad Motevali
May 11, 2019
On the morning of Thursday May 9, a violent clash broke out among inmates at Ward 5 at Greater Tehran Penitentiary, also known as Fashafuyeh Prison.
According to an informed source, the rioting inmates wielded handmade knives, machetes and glass linings from their tea flasks and randomly attacked anyone they came across, regardless of who they were. During the clash, a Gonabadi dervish named Heydar Teymouri sustained an injury to his eye from the glass lining of a flask that one prisoner had thrown at another. He was taken to the prison clinic, but was returned to the same ward following a brief examination.
Protest by Dervishes
Following the violent clash, a number of dervish inmates went to the prison officials, and reminded them that they had warned them about threats to their lives in that ward just days before. They demanded to be transferred to another ward. In response, prison officials punished one of the dervishes by sending him to solitary confinement. Six dervishes — Saeed Soltanpour, Heydar Teymouri, Sakhavat Salimi, Ali Akbar Dadashi, Ahmad Iranikhah and Saeed Doorandish — then staged a sit-in and demanded that the prison chief transfer all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners to a separate ward.
Gonabadi dervishes and other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in Fashafuyeh Prison have repeatedly protested against the failure of prison officials to separate inmates based on the crimes for which they have been detained. They have demanded to be separated from dangerous criminals, but prison officials have repeatedly ignored their demands.
History of Violence
Violent clashes break out in Iranian prisons on a routine basis, including at Fashafuyeh Prison. The recent clashes show that weapon-smugglinggangs are also active in the prison.
During the first week of May, a large fight broke out between gangs in Ward 1. It is not clear what started the fight but it was so violent that nine of the ward’s inmates were injured by handmade machetes and had to be transferred to the hospital. One informed source said that during the gang fight, inmates who did not belong to gangs did what they could to protect themselves from handmade knives and machetes and other objects that were thrown at them. Some of them hid in the bathrooms and toilets until the fight was over. It was after last week’s clash that prisoners of conscience asked officials to separate them from violent criminals, telling them their lives were in danger. But the same thing happened again on May 9.
Another informed source told IranWire that the inspections of wards in Fashafuyeh are conducted on a superficial basis, and are mostly used as a means to harass political prisoners and prisoners of conscience —while violent criminals usually get away with keeping their hidden handmade or smuggled weapons.
We spoke with an individual familiar with Fashafuyeh Prison who confirmed that prison officials harass prisoners of conscience in particular, whether through frequent inspections of their belongings or by limiting their phone calls and visits with family members. “This happens less to dangerous criminals, and when they inspect the wards they just go through the motions when it comes to these inmates, even though prison officials know very well that they are hiding lethal instruments such as knives that can pose a danger to other prisoners.”
According to him, drugs also flow freely into the prison. Not only are dangerous inmates not separated from prisoners of conscience, the source says, inmates who have contracted contagious and infectious diseases are not isolated from other inmates.
Ignoring Prison Regulations
At the moment, the highest number of prisoners of conscience in Fashafuyeh Prison are Gonabadi dervishes. They were arrested in February 2018 during violent clashes between dervishes and the police in Tehran. Other political prisoners include civil rights activists who were arrested during nationwide protests in late December 2017 and early January 2018.
Alireza Roshan, a Gonabadi dervish and a poet who moved to Turkey after spending a year in prison, points out that the bylaws of Iran’s own Prison Organization require that inmates be separated based on the type of their crimes. “Keeping prisoners of conscience and political prisoners in the same ward is a clear violation of these bylaws and is a threat to the lives of all prisoners of conscience,” he says.
Roshan, who edits the Gonabadi dervish website Majzooban Noor, confirms there is a high number of dervishes and political prisoners at Fashafuyeh, and many of them are held in the same wards as dangerous criminals and drug traffickers. He, like others we spoke to, confirmed that prison officials repeatedly and intentionally refuse to separate the prisoners.
It has been reported that there are plans to carry out sentences against 18 Fashafuyeh Prison inmates convicted of theft over the next few days by cutting off their fingers or hands [Persian link]. For Roshan, this is an additional source of concern. “After they cut off the hands of such prisoners, they are immediately returned to the wards,” he says. “Carrying out such sentences inflicts psychological damage on the cellmates of these prisoners and this can lead to fights and clashes in prison because these cellmates fell this is the end of the world and they cannot expect any leniency.”
In such a situation, says Roshan, inmates feel they have nothing to lose. The psychological shock destroys their mental balance, making it easy for them to lash out and hurt their cellmates. “This is very dangerous and life-threatening for prisoners of conscience and political prisoners — those whom the government claims are guilty of ‘activities against national security,’” he says.