Evin Prison is the most important and the most famous prison in Iran. Although there are many other large prisons in this land and even in Tehran, but none of them are as famous and as important as Evin. In Shah's regime, Evin owed its fame to the political prisoners. Even now, not only Evin has maintained its previous fame, but gradually and particularly in recent years, it turned to the only prison where political prisoners are kept.
The main texture of Evin is the same one organized during the previous regime, tall walls, tortuous roads, suffocating cells and in one word a graveyard for the livings. The guards that started their career here after the revolution have usually two jobs. They usually don't like their job and most of them do not even tell their family where they work. Despite that and all the strict controls, the guards are like the rest of people with the same inclinations and tastes. The breeze of 2nd Khordad has touched Evin too. Discipline is partly maintained by the conscript soldiers. Their parades carried out twice a day, breaks down the bitter silence ruling over the prison. Because of their youth, these conscript soldiers are more inclined to reformation and people than the rest of the guards. Although in a sense both the guards and soldiers are prisoner.
The most difficult time in Evin is when the verdict is not yet passed, in other words, the time of temporary arrest when the prisoner is unfortunately exposed to the cruelest type of treatment too. At this stage, the prisoner is still unfamiliar with the prison and his/her rights and the bewilderment experienced before the judgement is passed is an additional disturbing factor. The prisoner of the temporary prison would be spending his time either in the solitary cell or in the closed collective ward (closed in the sense that he is not allowed to go outdoors). It is not that odd to find people in Evin that had been there for a whole year still waiting for the final verdict. The time that a prisoner is allowed to spend outdoors can change from an hour a week to an hour a day. After the verdict is passed the prisoner is usually transferred to semi-closed wards, that means he is allowed to go outdoors during the day.
After going through two long sessions of interrogation in the special court assigned to the ecclesiastic, I was transferred to Evin at 6 o'clock in the evening of the eighth day of the last month of winter 1998. This was the second time that I was experiencing prison. Twenty years ago, in the last year of Shah's Reign I spent a short period in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz. The computer of the prison organization reported me as one with past records, accused of disrupting national order and security. At that time my father managed to bail me out. While this time 'the justice of gentlemen' would not accept any kind of bail. Therefore I experienced Evin two months before the final verdict was passed and sixteen months after it.
In the first prison, before finger printing and photography, they shaved my hair. But there was no shaving in Evin. In my experience in Adel Abad Prison, they put me among other political prisoners although there were no ward specifically reserved for political prisoners. According to these Gentlemen there is no difference between political prisoners and criminals, frauds, drug dealers and those accused of prostitution, therefore whether during the temporary arrest or after the verdict is passed, I was among 'apolitical' prisoners. Their only accepted distinguishing criterion was the clergy/non-clergy distinction that had no legal or religious basis. Thus whether in the ward 209 or 325 the prisoners are mainly those accused of financial fraud, drug dealing and other types of moral penalties. The worst psychological torture for a political prisoner is his/her presence among these sorts of people. It is a very melancholic feeling when there is no one to talk to and share with, although listening to the complaints of these people who usually have great respect for political prisoners is itself an unforgettable experience.
During these 18 months they brought only two other political prisoners to the ward 325, one of them was the pupil of Ayatolah Montazeri condemned to propaganda for Ayatolah Montazeri, and the other one was Hojatoleslam Abdolah Nouri the ex-minister of Ministry of State. In the absence of an equal, the first half of my term in Evin passed much more slowly than the seond half. Although there were people like Mr. Karbaschi and later Mr. Shamsolvaezin, Safari, Baghi and Sahabi in other parts of the ward, but we were absolutely forbidden to communicate.
One of the rights of prisoners is access to books, newspapers and radio, but the prison organization only recognize the two newspapers, Keyhan and Etela-at as newspaper. The newspaper Jomhouri Eslami is acceptable too. But during the first half of my term they did not allow me to use any other newspapers except those mentioned above. In the first nine months, I couldn't have access to any of the books that I wanted and it was after the third month that I was allowed to use a radio with only one wave. I was not allowed to use the telephone during the first two months. From the third month, like other prisoners I could use the phone every other day for five minutes and after the seventh month I could use it everyday for five minutes.
Although the guards were very sensitive to books and newspapers and for every book or newspaper brought for us held sessions in several places and took finger printing (signature had no meaning in prison), but access to opium and other drugs was quite easy and at nights one could often find people smoking opium. Comparing books to opium in Evin points at a cultural reality: lack of freedom and propagation of 'narcotism'.
After the verdict is known Evin can be a good opportunity for reading, writing and reflection. Reflecting upon questions such as why freedom and democracy has such a fate in this country? Why is the root of despotism remaining so robust and firm, decorating itself in each era according to the necessities of time.
I read in Masoudi's Moravej-ol-zahab that they asked Ali-Ibn-Jahm, the talented poet put into jail during the rule of Motevakel Abbasi 'how did you find prison?' The translation of his reply is 'They asked me, were you imprisoned? I said is there any sharp sword that is not delivered to the prison of sheath? Don't you see that lion withdraws to a corner out of extreme majesty and aloofness, while lower beasts roam everywhere? There is a fire hidden in the heart of stone that doesn't show up unless hit by iron. As long as imprisonment is not due to offense and crime, the prison is a good place.'
Evin has seen, sees and will see many political prisoners. Evin is the mirror of the political face of contemporary Iran. In a message I wrote there I mentioned, 'the extent of freedom in Iran is as vast as my cell in Evin.'
My cell in the Ward 325 covered an area of three meters by two and half meters. I have chosen this eloquent phrase of the head of the juridical power that 'there is no political prisoner in Iran' as 'plumb line of justice'. I was imprisoned for conducting a speech and an interview. The sweetest moments of my term were when I reviewed the content of that speech and interview. I still believe that 'terror is religiously unlawful' and regarding the case of 'report card of Islamic Republic in relation to freedom' I still hold the same beliefs. If that is 'dissemination of lies' and this 'propaganda against the ruling system', then my presence in Evin is the practical proof of my political views. I was the first person jailed for protesting against the terror of those thinking differently. The justifiers of the killings are still free and there is not little discord in the official announcements in this regard. A few months after the termination of my imprisonment in Evin, the court of the case of the last four assassinations was held not even publicly. According to the order of the Judge of Judges, any kind of speculation about the assassinations is considered as a crime.
I found Evin as the laboratory testing the truth of my political views. The fruit of my imprisonment was that it showed the extent of freedom in Iran. It also helped to show who would lose if it is proved that terror is religiously unlawful. Six months after the termination of my prison term, I still believe in what I said that was considered as crime and my experience in Evin totally convinced me that I am right in holding such views. I believe that the long way of reformation in Iran passes through Evin. It is written on the wall of Evin in large letters 'Evin is a university'. That is true, but a kind of university that 'teaches politeness' in the same manner that Loghman Hakim preached. Sadii writes in his Rose Garden:
I heard by a good poor man
A great king was offended
Because of the righteous words he had uttered
Was enraged by his unruliness
One of his fellows told him in private
It wasn't wise to say such words, he replied
Devotion is to say the truth
I am not afraid of prison as it lasts an hour.
And seriously these 18 months were not an hour but a minute compared to the long life of this brave nation. Evin should not be feared. It should be welcomed. It seems that there is no other way for reformation, freedom, democracy and demanding our rights than going through Evin. One day, they promised the day when every Iranian would have a 'Peykan' (the brand of the first car produced in Iran). We can speak of a day when every Iranian would have a 'legal case' and would spend a term in Evin. But we should hope that one day the national will would turn Evin into a public recreational place or a playground for children. And that day is not very far away.
Let us not forget that one of the criteria for measuring the health of a political system is the quality of its prison and political prisoners. Surely Evin and its travelers are live proof of such evaluation.
-- Translated for payvand.com by Roya Monajem, firstname.lastname@example.org
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