November 4, 2021
A self-described hacking group calling itself Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice) has leaked confidential documents to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that appear to reveal the plight of prisoners at Evin prison, Iran’s most notorious facility.
According to the prison documents, hunger strikes by prisoners and the publication of open letters by inmates is considered “criminal” behavior.
In one document, a former official at Evin prison called for the punishment of inmates who refused to eat or released letters, statements, and audio files from prison.
“In such cases, prisoners [accused] of violations should be held in isolation, their welfare [including private and public meetings] should be limited, and we should look into their demands,” the document says.
The document says Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman held in Iran for five years, was punished in 2019 after she went on hunger strike to protest her imprisonment. Rights groups have described her detention as hostage-taking aimed at winning concessions from foreign powers.
Prison authorities denied Zaghari-Ratcliffe personal visits, a measure that led her to “break her hunger strike,” the document said, adding that the method should be used with other inmates.
RFE/RL could not independently verify the authenticity of the documents leaked by Edalat-e Ali.
Some political prisoners in Iran have in recent years gone on hunger strike to protest their prison conditions. Inmates have also released open letters and statements from prison in a bid to highlight their mistreatment and voice their opinions on political events.
Earlier this year, Edalat-e Ali hacked into Evin prison’s CCTV cameras and leaked videos that appeared to show the systematic mistreatment of inmates at the prison, including beatings.
The unprecedented hacked footage was a major embarrassment for Iranian authorities, who had claimed in the past that Evin’s inmates are treated with “kindness and Islamic mercy.” The videos prompted a rare apology from the head of Iranian Prisons Organization.
The newly released documents by Edalat-e Ali say prison authorities blocked the mobile phone of dissident filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad after he went on hunger strike and released statements from prison.
The confidential documents accused Nourizad, who since 2019 has been serving a 17-year prison term for allegedly insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of “spreading lies.”
Prison authorities later unblocked Nourizad’s phone after he promised not to give interviews to reporters or release statements from prison.
The prison documents leaked to Radio Farda also confirm earlier reports that authorities had attempted to prevent prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh from meeting her family by setting conditions such as wearing a chador, the full-length covering that leaves only the hands, face, and feet exposed.
Sotoudeh was banned from meeting her family for three weeks for refusing the demand, according to her husband, Reza Khandan. In 2019, Sotoudeh was sentenced to a combined 38 1/2 years in prison.
Another prison document branded Iran’s Gonabadi dervish religious minority as a “terrorist group” and claimed the community was aligned with the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
The document also warned security officers to be “vigilant” about possible actions by the group.
The Gonabadi dervishes have clashed intermittently with Iranian authorities in recent years, with critics saying Iran’s leadership regards them as a threat to its monopoly on religion.
Separately, Edalat-e Ali leaked a tranche of confidential documents to the BBC that are connected to the deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters in November 2019.
The rallies were prompted by a sudden rise in the price of gasoline. The protests quickly spread to more than 100 towns and cities across the country.
Iran responded to the protests with lethal force, killing at least 304 protesters, according to Amnesty International. Hundreds were detained and the government also imposed a near total Internet shutdown to limit the free flow of information.
A document dated November 19, 2019, calls on authorities to take “protective measures” to defend public property.
Iranian officials said hundreds of banks and government buildings were torched during the protests.
“Due to illegal gatherings and street riots in the cities of different provinces under the pretext of protesting against the increase of fuel prices, there is a possibility of sabotage acts in the streets and attacks on government buildings, including the judiciary,” the document marked “confidential-urgent” said.
Another document dated December 25, 2019, suggested that some riot police “units” lacked clarity on how “to control and manage the recent riots and [when to] use firearms.” The document said that the use of lethal force was sometimes “inevitable.”
“Even though issued instructions have always called for restraint and the use of other measures to control crowds, the use of weapons will be inevitable in some cases,” the document said.
The BBC said it could not independently verify the authenticity of the documents.
Iranian authorities have not publicly commented on the prison documents sent to Radio Farda and the BBC by Edalat-e Ali.