Iran News ...


Evin, Prisons and Men

By: Naser Ghalambar Dezfouli
Source: Payam Emrooz, Monthly Review

Like many other prisoners of my ward, I was sent to Evin by the order of Revolution Court after 205 days of temporary detainment and solitary confinement in the special detention center 36 and after undergoing a partial cardiac infarction and an unsuccessful attempt of suicide. I remember that during the last months of the year 78 when a group known as Mojahedins (militia) of Islamic Revolution ran Evin and other revolutionary institutes, I was introduced to the prison authorities by one of the commanders of a guerrilla group, Mansouron, in order to go through a short military training. The commander who introduced me was Abu Vafa, a Palestinian commander. At that time, Broujerdi, one of the commanders of Tehran's line was the head of Evin. At that time, I could never even dream that I would once again see Evin 20 years after the victory of revolution. However, once in the hands of the department of the affairs of the accused, I was taken to Evin wearing a dark blue suit that compared to prison uniform with the scale of justice printed all over it, implied that I was a new prisoner.

The vehicle carrying the prisoners was a minibus with 18 seats, but they had removed the seats to make room for 36 people instead. This area occupied the posterior two thirds of the bus with the remaining anterior one third, being reserved for women. The latter was separated from the rest of the bus by an iron door with a small window. The interesting point was that instead of having ordinary locks and keys, this iron door was closed by a screw and when I mentioned how dangerous that is in case of a car or fire accident that could bring about the death of all the prisoners and burn them to ashes, Shahgholam the driver told me that it is now a long time that we are taking the prisoners around in this way without facing any accidents.

Once we put behind the steep curve of the road to Evin that is known as 'the curve of repentance,' one of the prisoners announced that we have reached Evin. Despite the physical and mental tension of the past 7 months, I could not hide my joy for being transferred to Evin as if I was transferred from the seventh floor of Hell to some higher floors.

In the department of entrance (where they write down the names of the prisoners and file the records) after going through the process of finger printing and posing for the famous photograph with a number hung around the neck, the ward that the prisoner will be sent to is determined. It is where you are introduced to Evin codes for the first time. Ward 269 also called academy and the closed prison, ward 240 reserved for agents of the intelligent service, of course with better food and clothing, Ward 325 or the open prison reserved for the clergy and state employees (that is after the verdict is issued), ward 350 or semi-open prison, the ward reserved for the youth, the ward reserved for women and... Although at the first glance everything seems inflexible, spiteful and disciplinary, but after a few days you would see that like many other parts of the country, nearly everything is dependent on the taste of the authorities and if you manage to get close to them, you can make everything reversed in your favor!

Once inside this office I saw Mr. Karbaschi and his lawyer Mr. Keshavarz. I knew Karbaschi since the war and had a special respect for him, as he was the only governor who visited the Fronts without any pretence and like a kind mother looked after the troops from Esfahan. He took care of not only the cities, but also the war and Basij (militia). He was a perfect example of a disciplined manager in the front and back lines of the war. When he saw me, he incredibly asked, 'what are you doing here? What is the story?' Hurriedly I explained everything to him. He was surprised that the news of such an important matter had not been reflected in the newspapers or other media. But when I told them that the story of Town House and particularly his case endowed them with sufficient experience to act now according to the necessities of time and conditions, he was calmed down a little bit. He asked me to go to ward 325, but when I explained to him that prisoners whose verdict is not yet known would be automatically sent to ward 269 or the closed prison after spending a few days in quarantine, he said, 'it can be solved, but it is up to you to decide.' However, a few days after settling in Ward one that is reserved for political prisoners and getting used to my new friends, I was happy that I didn't try to be transferred to Ward 325.

I spent two days in quarantine that is a department separated from the second building of Ward 269 (academy) near the wards 7-10 of the closed prison. This department consists of tens solitary cells and one or two large rooms or ward and it has been the host of many high rank personalities of the country. I was extremely happy that I was now able to see my surrounding and the guards without a blindfold. I was even happier to have access to pen and paper that one could buy from the prison shop. Immediately, like a thirsty person who has not seen any water for months, I bought two notebooks and as I didn't know what might happen in the future, I started to write down everything, despite the high risk of such an act, so that my story would be recorded somewhere. One of the interesting points about the quarantine was the fact that 35 prisoners with very different dispositions were all placed in a single room about 20 meters in area, and as it could be expected there were a lot of problems. When a man after spending 7 months of solitary confinement cannot endure certain prisoners even for 48 hours, it is in itself a hint at why they put certain political prisoners next to professional criminals and evil people and drug addicts for a few months. Fortunately, a very nice prisoner saved me in the very first few hours and by transferring me and two other prisoners to a neighboring solitary cell, at least rescued us from the suffocating cigarette smoke.

Two days later, in the office of the academy (closed prison 269) I found out that I was transferred to Ward one and there I came across people with highest specializations and a clear revolutionary past.

I saw an engineer who was one of the central cades of Cherik Fadaii (an old communist guerrilla group) and perhaps the only member of this organization still in prison and his judge had taken his 6 years of prison term during Shah's regime into consideration?! and he had thus condemned him to 8 years of imprisonment. The man was taking the situation quite patiently without any protest. Although I didn't share their ideology, but his resistance truly shook me. I should also point to the fact that the collapse of communism has left no trace of this ideology in the leftists anymore.

Amir Entezam, the minister of Bazargan's cabinet with his 20 years of imprisonment is a unique example in the contemporary history. Even the famous prisoners of Shah's regime, except a couple of individuals who had been in jail 25-30 years, had not spent such a long time in prison.

The next interesting group of prisoners was the wave of men who were sent to prison in relation to the fabricated events and crises. The arrival of students and non-students arrested in connection to the students' protest of summer 99 reminded me of the similar event that took place some 47 years ago in autumn 52. I like to name a few of them:

Farokh Shafii, studying for his master degree in the field of engineering had placed the proclamation inviting the students to join the meeting that was going to be held in protest against the ban on Salam newspaper on the notice board of Amirabad campus was condemned to a few years of imprisonment.

Ahmad Batebi accused of holding a bloody shirt in his hand. A girl in complete Islamic covering had taken his photograph and the foreign press caused him grave problems and nearly led him to the gallows by publishing this photo on the cover of their press. This photo looked like the picture of Ernesto Chegvara (?), the idol of the world's revolutionaries. When I saw the verdict of the judge written with a green pen that he is a 'combatant' (mohareb), I told him not to worry as I could guess that the verdict had been issued just to scare him, as it was against the Islamic law of punishment. Where in the world is the act of displaying a bloody shirt considered as 'fighting' (moharebeh)? In regard to the problems that his lawyers particularly Foroughi Jedari were facing, we prepared a bill and sent it to the Revolution Court and we rejoiced for attaining self-sufficiency in relation to juridical matters.

One of the interesting things about the prison was my encounter with Helmut Hoffer, the German merchant who had been condemned to execution twice on the basis of having an illegitimate relation with a Moslem girl. Both times the verdict was rejected by the Supreme Court that in-itself showed the existing contradictions and conflicts over his case. There were rumors in the prison that the story of Hoffer has a strategic aspect for the purpose of disrupting the two country's relations (and Khatmi started to ameliorate the relationship with Europe exactly from there) and it was organized and conducted by the band...and apparently one of....had extorted 10 million toumans from Nezamedin Ghahari, Hoffer's lawyer and...The truth is only in the hands of God.

One of the interesting prisoners was Heshmat Tabarzadi who was arrested because of his involvement with the pressure group in Laleh Park and also the publication of an article in his new journal. Despite the anger and hatred of certain individuals accused of financial corruption, rooted in Tabarzadi's unreasonable statements against these people, they forgave him on the account of being a political prisoner.

Another interesting case was the transfer of the leaders of Melat Party, Seif, Mokhber and another member who were accused of provoking people in the commemoration ceremony of Forouhars. After being seriously persecuted in Touhid center and ward 209, they were transferred to our ward one by one and were subsequently condemned to heavy sentences, 14 and 15 years, but the Supreme Court then undermined the verdict and they were released. The first time I saw them I remembered the onset of the revolutionary uprisings of 77-78 and the story of Forouhar's speech in Karvansara Sangi (in Karaj road) where the participants were attacked and beaten by the pressure groups, the guards and the special force of the last regime with the latter wearing civilian clothes and holding long similar sticks. Together they had made a human tunnel for harassing the participants. It was said that Shapour Bakhtiar was also present in that meeting. I suppose he couldn't even dream at that time that by the following year the regime would be in such a grave state to choose him as the prime minister.

The other interesting point related to the present discussion is the fact that even the group Paniranists has not been exempted from persecution and a couple of their leaders were also in Evin prison.

One of the prisoners, a Baluch, was the victim of the intrigues carried out in the eastern part of the country. He was indeed a very sincere and honest person. He was so pious that he could be considered as a true disciple of Hazrat Yusef (Joseph). He was teaching Koran and religious principles in Ward one and the prison 269. When he found me constantly asking him to translate Koran, he said, 'exempt me from this job as I am not allowed to write any commentary' and I said, Farsi translation of the verses has nothing to do with commentary. He implicitly told me that we know the difference between translation and commentary, but they don't, for if they could make such a distinction we wouldn't have been condemned to six years of imprisonment.

Other cases such as the arrest of the students who published the student journal Moj, the arrest of Kazem Shokri and Nikahang Kosar and...each has a long story and their narration would take hours. However, in order to finish the present discussion I would just like to recount a true joke.

One of the famous prisoners was the manager of the sport club of the academy. His name was Shahandeh and he was from a family that was a true advocate of monarchy for generations and had always a member in the parliament of the last regime. One day Karbaschi who knew nothing about the past history of Shahandeh started a debate with him. Shahendeh who is a great orator and debater defeated Karbaschi badly. Ultimately, the ex-governor of Tehran asked Shahendeh caustiously, 'excuse me Mr. Shahandeh, are you an advocate of Khordad 2nd?' 'No sir. I am an advocate of Mordad 28th (the day of Shah's coup d'etat)!

Another group of the prisoners accused of financial fraud were the victims of an economic circle. Although Mr. Khatami and the ministers of the Ministry of Information had limited the activities of the aforementioned group by dissolution of economic institutes dependent on the ministry in question, but their victims were still in prison.

One of the interesting aspects of Evin is the room of 'dispatching the accused.' It is situated near the entrance door with two iron bars stuck into the opposing walls and six iron rings for holding the rope of the scaffold. The whole thing is a horrendous sight at first, but soon one gets used to it.

The system of transportation to the Revolution Court is not any better. One of the vehicles allocated to this task, a benz truck known as the 'meat machine,' would take 35 to 50 people in cases when there is a considerable number of prisoners waiting for trial. In one of the trips to the Court, I noticed four political generations sitting next to each other. Turning to Amir Entezam, I automatically said, 'what a small strange world! You belong to the political struggles of the sixth decade, Mir Saiidi to the seventh and we belong to the revolutionary generation of the eighth decade and finally Mehdi Fakhrzadeh (one of the leaders of students' movement that has recently been transferred from the ward reserved for youth to the ward reserved for the political prisoners and it was Ahmad Batebi who introduced him to me) belongs to the second generation of the revolution, we are all going to the court to determine our fate.

The system of inspection is another subject that takes place every now and then in a very offensive way. The authorities say that the aim of these inspections is to discover drugs, escape plots and... and in the light of such an excuse they suddenly dash into the wards with about thirty to forty soldiers and search all the personal belongings of the prisoners in the most ghastly way and each time they leave with something, such as the electrical element used in the kitchen, being missed. One of the guards known as Hossein Elementi regards the electrical element as the root of all the problems. It is the only accessible and convenient instrument to make tea in prison and its price there is at least three times higher than that sold outside. However, some of the prisoners have attained self-sufficiency in this regard by connecting a piece of electrical wire to a spoon or a fork that would then act as the anode and cathode of an electrical circuit.

The other subject that I like to mention is the state of information flow in the prison that despite the emphasis of the law on the accessibility of the prisoners to books, newspapers etc, there is an intense censure going on and except the two evening newspapers and their other productions, there is no other opportunity in this respect. Access to pro-Khordad press is absolutely forbidden and if any such stuff is discovered during the aforementioned inspections, the prisoner will be seriously punished and the newspaper will be confiscated. However as need is the mother of all inventions and innovations, the problem has been solved and there is not a day when at least two of pro-Khordad press would not be secretly circulated among the prisoners. Sometime the number of newspapers circulated in this way reaches six to seven and at the end of the night before the lights are turned off, a newspaper reading station similar to that initiated by the Town House is set up and the sweetest discussions of these forums are those related to the news of the reformist movement.

Another fascinating subject was the relationship of the political prisoners who had not received their final verdict with outside. Although the permission to make telephone calls twice or three times a week seemed quite sufficient to solve some of their personal and familial problems, but the constant need to talk to their lawyers or other people who pursued their cases in practice, made the situation extremely difficult for them. Unfortunately, despite the fact that there could be no limitation in this respect, the matter was completely dependant on the personal view and taste of the relevant director manager of the prison or the academy. In regard to sending letters or the bill of defense, the situation was even worse. Letters had to be sent on a specific day to the lawyer of the ward who would then deliver them to the corresponding director and authority. They were then read (censured if necessary) and signed and stamped. It was only then that they were actually delivered. It is obvious that in case of any protest against the illegal acts performed by the prison authorities, the letters were returned to the prisoners be amended. Therefore, this system of censured delivery made it difficult to write the truth and the prisoners invented their own personal ways to solve the problem. One of the reasons for the anger of the judges is the leakage of the information such as that observed in the case of Ganji's letters to the authorities that are simultaneously published in the newspapers. What makes the judge really bewildered is the use of these ingenious methods by the prisoners and the inability and the failure of the prison authorities to discover them.

One of the prisoners of Shah's regime used to say that there were 35 prisoners for every one hundred thousand members of the population during the last regime and now there are 300 for the same number of population (although these statistics should be checked). That means two decades after the victory of the revolution the number of the prisoners is now 12 times higher than before. There can be two reasons for such a remarkable increase, either the inclination of the people toward evil doing has intensified, or the definition of crime has changed according to the laws and the judges.

In relation to medical care, I should say that despite the presence of relevant health programs, there are grave problems due to the old structure of the buildings and the system of different installations from water to swage. Added to that is the many folded increase in the number of prisoners. Equipping Evin with beds, a task that is carried out under the supervision of United Nations in recent years has decreased the number of prisoners sleeping on the floors except when there is a crisis such as the students' unrest of the summer 99. The parade of the beetles and their extermination is the prevalent health program. In relation to medical care, I should say that in the light of the hard work of Dr. Sheikh-ol-eslamzadeh, Shah's minister of health, carried out during his ten years of imprisonment, the sickbay of Ward 269 is now well-equipped. Instead of employing young doctors not having better job opportunities, they should really use more experienced specialists with higher salaries. Prison is the place of all sorts of people and the chance of dissemination of microorganisms among the prisoners is quite high. For example, in the dentistry department the dentist should be able to use disposable gloves for each patient and it is not enough to wash his hands with soap and water, as dentistry is one of the best places for the transfer of AIDS virus.

Another point worth mentioning is the lack of the necessary vitamins in food that is served. As the result, the prisoners are more susceptible to specific diseases caused by malnutrition. Prisoners are a part of the community and therefore, nobody has the right to deprive them of their legal rights such as the right of having a healthy physical body. By depriving the prisoners of their physical and mental health, the present and the future of the whole family would be endangered.

One of the beautiful aspects of the life in prison was the prisoners' interest in determining their political fate. It seemed that the life-giving breeze of Khordad 2nd has touched the prison too. A good example is the prisoners' participation in the last parliamentary election (I wish we had the relevant statistics of the prisoners' participation in different elections). As in outside, everybody tried to prepare a list of candidates for himself. Some of the students made hand written copies of their list of candidates and distributed them among the prisoners and in this way they created an interesting political air. As usual, some of these copies were discovered and destroyed, but the students kept their high spirit and prepared new copies. Amir Entezam used to say, 'in the past 20 years of my imprisonment this was the first time I participated in an election.' In this way he expressed his hope for the future of the county. Another friend, appreciating the students' work would say, it is the natural right of any generation to select its leaders and in this way he was implicitly expressing his political resignation while certain revolutionary authorities with their 20 years of experience in the most critical ruling positions not only are not ready to accept the realities, but accuse people of ignorance and compare them to the people of Kufeh.

The story of visitors is another important discussion. There are four kinds of communication, the official meetings (with lawyers), phone calls, personal and legal meetings. There is a lot of disorder and favoritism in all of the above forms.

Another problem is that of official services and social aids. A person imprisoned for an insignificant reason knows nothing about juridical matters and even about his rights acknowledged in the constitutional law. The juridical system has no programs for the prisoners in this respect. This makes innocent people to stay in prison for years and sometimes the time taken to investigate a case takes much longer than the corresponding term of imprisonment. For example, you see Gholam Fouladvand who killed a person in a car accident and was in prison for twelve years as he was unable to pay the required money to the family of the dead person. Then with the help of another prisoner and his further investigation he realized that the family had obtained the required money from the car insurance office without saying a word and the judge too had not paid any attention to this fact. Ardeshir Iremlou, a bank clerk condemned to financial fraud was in prison since 13 years ago as he was unable to pay the sum of the money that the bank had claimed, while the money spent on him during this rather long period was a few times more than that the bank (another state institute) had claimed.

Or the case of Baradaran Leilabadi, an Austrian resident; although the court had exonerated him, but he was not yet released after going through four years of imprisonment.

Physical protection of Evin, the prison that was once famous as the most unshakable fortress is quite vulnerable now and every now and then there is the news of the escape of certain prisoners. It would have been very interesting if the authorities would publish the relevant statistics. As an example, we can point to the last year's escape of three prisoners from ward 269 or the closed prison; they passed through the main door of the prison quite easily by hiding in a truck.

-- Translated for by Roya Monajem,

... Payvand News - 3/3/01 ... --

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