A frame grab taken from video shows a guard beating a prisoner at Evin prison in Tehran, Iran. (AP)

By Track Persia

August 28, 2021

The exposure of the mistreatment of the prisoners by surveillance cameras at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran in the past few days is hotly debated. Though there is no sound in the videos, the leak recordings speak to the grim world faced by prisoners at the facility. In one part of the footage, a man smashes a bathroom mirror to try to cut open his arm. Guards also fight among themselves, as do the prisoners and inmates sleeping in single rooms with bunk beds stacked three high against the walls, wrapping themselves in blankets to stay warm. One sequence shows what appears to be an emaciated man dumped from a car in the parking lot, then dragged through the prison. Guards in another video are seen beating a man in a prisoner’s uniform. One guard sucker punches a prisoner in a holding cell. Many are crammed into single-room cells. No one wears a facemask.

The camera recordings of the leaked abuses are reported to have been leaked by a group calling itself Edalat e-Ali. The group has published dozens of explicit videos showing prison guards and their seniors abusing prisoners. The group alleged that the videos were obtained through the hacking of the prison camera systems. In a statement issued on 23 August, the group wrote that the “oppression” of “freedom-seekers” held in Evin prison is what led Khamenei to reward then judiciary chief Raisi by “appointing” him as president.

Critics have described Ebrahim Raisi’s election as an appointment, given that all of his main rivals were barred from running. Voter turnout on June 18 was the lowest recorded in an Iranian presidential election.

Several embarrassing hacking incidents have struck Iran recently amid ongoing tensions over its accelerated nuclear program and as talks with the West over reviving the atomic accord between Tehran and world powers remain on hold.

The installation of the closed-circuit cameras at Evin came after Iran cracked down on protesters following the disputed 2009 re-election of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many of the arrested protesters ended up in Evin. Lawmakers later pushed for reforms at Evin, following reports of abuses at the prison.

Surprisingly both hardliners and Reformists have mostly reacted negatively to the recently leaked videos of abuses of prisoners at Evin prison. For example, Mohammad Mahdi Haj Mohammadi, the head of Iran’s Prisons’ Organization, tweeted on 24 August that he holds himself responsible for the “unacceptable behaviour” seen in the clips, vowing to punish the offenders.

Haj Mohammadi also apologized to Khamenei and the public. However, he did not apologize to the prisoners or their families though. Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, Raisi’s successor as chief justice, has ordered Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri to immediately investigate the “behaviour of the [prison] officers towards the prisoners” and provide him with the results. While, Abdollah Ganji, the chief editor of Javan daily, close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), described some of the contents of the videos on 34 August as “neither defensible nor forgivable”, calling for a prompt probe into the abuse. Ganji also speculated that the videos could have been “managed” as part of a “scenario” hatched in Europe and that it is thus “necessary to announce the final results” of the investigation.

Evin prison has specialized units for political prisoners and those with Western ties, run by the paramilitary IRGC which answers only to Khamenei. There is also another category of detainees held at this prison including homosexual and transgender individuals.

Most LGBT prisoners are held in Evin Prison in Tehran are detained for alleged crimes from “nudity” or “feminine behaviour” to recognized criminal acts such as robbery and fraud. The conditions in which they are held are just as bad as those for people convicted of other crimes. There are also long periods of solitary confinement and deprivation of prisoners’ rights.

Before serving as president, Raisi boasted of how he cared about human rights being respected in the Iranian prisons asking all countries to send delegates to visit Iranian detention centres. However, Raisi himself is accused of crimes human rights violations and abuses.

Before September 1988 and becoming one of the most powerful clerics in Iran, Raisi was part of the “Death Panel” held in the same year when secret executions took place against opposition groups to the Shiite Islamic Republic founded by  Grand ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Iranian officials involved in these mass executions, including Raisi, are guilty of genocide because of the officially stated religious motive behind the second wave of killings. They are also demonstrably guilty of torture, which includes the ongoing deprivation of families’ access to their loved ones’ remains, infringing their rights enshrined in Article 32 of the First Geneva Convention. Not revealing the locations of the mass graves to victims’ families means the Iranian regime, including Raisi, are still committing crimes.

one of the notorious ex-Iranian prison officials is Hamid Nouri who is currently on trial in Sweden for war crimes and murder over his alleged part in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners on orders of Ayatollah Khomeini in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. He was arrested in November 2019.

Amnesty International has recently confirmed that it has compiled evidence of the involvement of Ebrahim Raisi in past and ongoing crimes against humanity related to the prison massacres of 1988. The ‘death commission’ which Raisi was involved in carried out enforced disappearance and secret executions of several thousand political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran between late July and early September 1988, and oversaw secret burials of their bodies in unmarked and mostly mass graves. Amnesty called for Raisi to face criminal proceedings in accordance with international standards.

After his involvement in the 1988 massacres, Raisi held key decision-making roles in the Iranian judiciary which is also accused of human rights violations and crimes under international law, given, all prisons and detentions are under the Iranian judiciary. Being a senior judicial official, Raisi is bearing criminal responsibilities for the crimes committed at Iranian prisons.

Despite the wide-scale of condemnations from Iranian officials over the recently leaked abuses at Evin prison, pressure on the new President Ebrahim Raisi has increased because these abuses took place back in 2020, a year after Raisi was appointed as judiciary chief by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The bottom line, the abuse and mistreatment of the prisoners is not new in Iran. However, the new leaked abuses are different because the Iranian judiciary has steered clear of its usual categorical dismissals and instead admitted there were violations taking place. The public apology issued by top Iranian officials seems to have been prompted by the large volume and the explicit nature of the leaks, forcing the Iranian authorities to acknowledge these abuses.

About Track Persia

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.