Adel Abad is one of the most secure prisons in Iran. Fifty years have passed since this dreadful and labyrinthine prison was built. (Supplied)

By Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour

April 24, 2020

Last week, a spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary claimed on live television that a number of Shiraz prison inmates, coordinating with friends outside, were planning to use a drone to smuggle mobile phones into the prison. Their plan was exposed and the suspects were arrested.

Adel Abad is one of the most secure prisons in Iran. Fifty years have passed since this dreadful and labyrinthine prison was built, and many prisoners have spent their lives in this dark dungeon with minimal sanitation.

Little is known about the current internal structure of the prison. But in recent days it has been in the news because of several prison revolts across Iran.

Prisoners at Adel Abad Prison told IranWire that the allegations, made by spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili, were untrue and ridiculous. The prisoners also spoke about the broader health and security situation inside the facility.

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A prisoner named Amir, who is in the “Neshat” ward, said: “It seems that Mr. Esmaili has never been able to visit Adel Abad to know that, with all the watchtowers and equipment and CCTV cameras, it’s unrealistic” to use drones to smuggle in mobile phones.

But Amir emphasized that there are mobile phones throughout Adel Abad because they are sold by prison staff to prisoners at exorbitant prices. “So why do we need drones?” Amir said.

A second prisoner also said that cell phones had been smuggled by a cleric into the prison ward used for political prisoners, over years, and that the phones were sometimes sold to other inmates by other members of the prison staff.

According to this prisoner, Adel Abad’s only infiltration point was a small hatch on the east side of the open space overlooking Ward 10; it was previously covered with a net, and prisoners with strong hands could stand at the bottom of the east side and throw devices out, which would sometimes fall on the net. The hatch was later blocked by the prison authorities.

Adel Abad Prison initially consisted of four wards, each of three floors and 20 rooms. But over time, the main wards have been divided into smaller wards and units.

Each of the original wards were designed for 500 prisoners – in later years they have been packed about five times beyond the intended capacity.

The main corridor, starting from the entrance gate and leading to the green ward, is now home to the prison director’s offices as well as the supervising judge’s office, the health department, and other wards.

The green ward, with capacity for 400 people, which prisoners call a “luxury ward” or a showcase for domestic or foreign official visitors, is where wealthy prisoners who can pay a  monthly fee are held. Another “affluent” section of the prison is the Quran Counseling Center, which is smaller than the green ward and has a population of about a hundred people. This ward also belongs to more fortunate prisoners who are sometimes sent on leave or to religious meetings and have good facilities and services.

Amir, who lives in one of the worst wards, remembered occasions when officials visited one of the so-called affluent wards. “The red carpet is rolled out and visitors are led to the adults’ green ward. Before the visitors arrive, a band plays music with tar, setar and santour, and tables, chairs, dishes, and utensils that are not usually used are also arranged. Smoking is strictly forbidden in these wards and there is no drug use.”

Amir adds that residents of the green ward and the Quran Counseling Center pay an entrance fee and spend large sums of money to repair the prison. “For example, one person pays to replace all of the paving stones, or to change the halogen lights, or to replace the curtains. Their rooms are fundamentally different from ours. The floor carpets are usually new, and some rooms even have modern TVs, PlayStations, and refrigerators. They usually order their food from outside the prison.”

But the worst parts of Adel Abad are Wards 10 and 11; the same wards that were said to be where the Adel Abad prison uprising began in April 2020. These two wards are where the prisoners sentenced to death or life imprisonment are kept.

Prisoners say that Ward 11, or the “Neshat” ward, is also known as “Cannibal Island,” and is where about a thousand prisoners are kept in overcrowded 12-square-meter rooms. The prisoners in this ward largely face long sentences or are on death row.

One prisoner says, laughing: “The names of these wards change every day. One day they paint a few rooms in green and suddenly it’s the green ward.”

Then, as if answering a verbal test from a schoolteacher, the prisoner mentions the names of the wards and explains each of them.

“The Adults’ Counseling Center, training wards one and two. The green youth ward, or Saadat Ward, is a place where young criminals, 18 to 25, are kept. The assistant ward is home to prisoners who committed white collar crimes such as financial crimes. The health ward is a ward for prisoners with methadone or other drug addictions, and the quarantine ward is for prisoners’ first few days of entry into the prison. The women’s ward is reserved for female prisoners. The training ward is located on the third floor of Ward 11, where training, vocational, and technical classes are held. The workshop building, which was previously used for work but later became part of the residential facilities due to the increased needs of the prison, has now become an office building. And the security ward, which is part of the adults’ green ward, has been separated by doors and walls and is completely isolated.”

According to the inmates, connections between each ward are blocked, and although three floors of each building were connected in the past, connections between the prison floors have been blocked for several years.

Each floor of the prison has only eight restrooms with 20 individual toilets, serving hundreds of people, with nine to 12 triple bunk-beds in each room.

The prison also has several judicial suites or wards, consisting of the Ershad [guidance] ward, in the basement, and the Ebrat [educational] ward. According to Adel Abad prisoners, the Ershad ward is effectively a punishment ward for prisoners. The prisoners are transferred there for one or two weeks, where their hair is cut off, and where even in the summer the rooms are damp and cold; prisoners are forced to sleep without blankets. The prisoners try to wrap themselves in a carpet when they sleep. Mice and other vermin are abundant. Prisoners who are sentenced to death are usually taken to the basement or the Ebrat ward two days before their executions are carried out.

The Ebrat ward is only 35 meters long and is a recent construction – calling it a “ward” is in fact misleading. The room was a prison for Gonabadi dervishes; in August 2013, when they were beaten and the jailed dervish Kasra Nouri went on hunger strike to protest against the shaving of his and his co-religionists’ moustaches, and the beatings they experienced, news about this ward was published in the media. The ward is just one room with a single restroom.

In the 1980s, the security prisoners ward was located in the Adel Abad basement. Many prisoners from those years remember the torture that could be heard coming from the security ward. But in the 1990s and 2000s, political prisoners had no specific ward; they were scattered in various wards, either in the Nezam Prison, another prison in Shiraz, or in the Number 100 Detention Center elsewhere in the city.

From 2016, all political and security prisoners of the Nezam Prison and other prisons around Shiraz were transferred to Adel Abad. A unit in the green ward, which was the first entrance unit of the ward and had four rooms, a prayer hall, and a corridor, was also separated by a door and renamed Security Ward 14, became the residence of political prisoners who had been moved there from across Shiraz.

In the first months after the transfers, political prisoners shared a corridor in the adults’ green ward and, although their accommodation was separate, they met each other during communal exercise sessions. But later, prison officials installed a green iron door to separate Security Ward 14 from the rest of the prison. Political prisoners were left isolated and their access to other parts of the prison – i.e. communal corridors and shops – was blocked.

This separation also brought other restrictions to prisoners in Security Ward 14. Their exercise time was reduced from daily to two days a week and other prisoners were not allowed to speak with them. The policy of excluding them from communal prison life was so intense that, if a political prisoner was transfered to the health center, he was accompanied by a guard. Political prisoners were only allowed in the health centre one person at a time.

National protests in January 2018 also saw the prison population increase significantly – at the same time prisoners also made fresh demands. Exercise sessions for political prisoners then increased from twice a week to 20 minutes a day. Phone call access and communal corridor access also increased. But once the coronavirus outbreak hit Adel Abad, isolation returned, and exercise sessions have been canceled until further notice.

Today despite an amnesty issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader because of the coronavirus crisis, and the judiciary’s decision to release prisoners with sentences less than five years, there are still about 20 prisoners (including members of the Restart group, former Mujahedin-e-Khalq members, and royalist group members, as well as those who have been accused or espionage or other security crimes) who remain in Adel Abad Prison.

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.