By Golnaz Esfandiari
PRAGUE, October 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Abdolfatah Soltani, a prominent human rights lawyer, was detained in a cell measuring about five square meters in section 209 of Evin prison for more than seven months.
He was not physically tortured but he told RFE/RL that during the first two months he was completely cut off from the outside world.
"One doesn't have any contact with family, a lawyer. For two months I didn't have a television, radio, newspapers, or a book -- just a Koran and maybe a [prayer book]," he said. "It is the worst form of psychological torture when one has no contact outside of the prison cell; many were ready to confess to anything just not to be forced to bear those conditions."
Section 209 is Iran's most notorious detention center for detained critics and activists.
Located inside Tehran's Evin prison, the names of the individuals held there are not recorded on the official list of Evin's prisoners and families of the detainees are sometimes left clueless about where their loved ones are being held.
Political- and security-related prisoners are sometimes held in section 209 in solitary confinement for months without being charged or put on trial.
Reports Of Abuse
Detainees are reportedly subjected to long and multiple daily interrogations. Some former detainees have said they were deprived of sleep and medical care. Others have said they were threatened by authorities with indefinite imprisonment. Some said they were beaten up.
Soltani says prisoners in section 209 do not enjoy the same rights as prisoners held in other wards of Evin prison.
"If anybody becomes sick there is a room there they call the infirmary, inside 209, and only after many demands will they take prisoners there where there is a general doctor with very limited possibilities," he said. "I had a heart problem and I asked for an appointment for two months -- then I was freed and still hadn't had an appointment."
Four Iranian human rights groups have expressed concern over the situation of scores of political prisoners, including dissidents, human rights activists, and students who are reportedly being held in section 209.
The rights groups that have sent an appeal to international human rights bodies include the newly founded UN human Rights Council, Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI), the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Northwest Iran, the Kurdish Human Rights Defense Organization, and the Ahwazi Human Rights Organization.
Secret Service Controlled
HRAI's spokesman in Europe, Sadegh Nagashkar, says section 209 is out of the control of bodies such as Iran's prison organization and Evin's prison officials.
"[Section 209] is one of the most dreadful sections of Evin's prison, and it is controlled by the Intelligence Ministry," he said. "No one else has control over this section. The interrogators in this section put pressure on detainees based on their assessment."
Last summer, when a group of Iranian legislators visited Evin prison, they were not allowed into section 209. One of the legislators, Akbar Alami, said "most regrettably" the wing was closed and added that this has contributed to "doubts" about what goes on in section 209.
In recent years there have been reports of other unofficial detention centers that are not under the control of Iran's prison authorities. Their number is not known, however, as they are officially not registered as prisons and are reportedly being run by certain security bodies.
Some have been reportedly closed, including Prison 59, which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard.
Many reformist figures and human rights activists have described such detention centers as illegal and called for their closure.
Soltani says all detention centers should be under the control of relevant authorities.
"According to the law, the Intelligence Ministry does not have the right to have a detention center," he said. "It doesn't have the right to do interrogations; it should do its investigation and give its information to the police. The police then have the right to make arrests with orders from the judiciary. But, in section 209 there is unfortunately no control over the actions of officials; anything can happen to the detainees and that's a tragedy."
Soltani says there should be tighter control by the relevant authorities of the prison situation and also monitoring should be done by independent human rights groups. He said such measures could prevent "tragedies" such as the murder of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who died from a head injury suffered during beatings while in custody in Evin.
The human rights groups who have called for an international investigation into the conditions in section 209 have published the names of some of the detainees that are believed to be held there. They include the outspoken Ayatollah Kazemeyni Borojerdi -- who was arrested after calling for the separation of religion from politics -- and student activists Keyvan Ansari and Kianoush Sanjari.
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