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The Women's Ward for Prisoners of Conscience in Mashhad, Iran

By Kyan Sabeti (translated from the original in Persian), Radio Zamaneh

Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad was thrust into the spotlight when news emerged that secret mass executions were carried out there over the past two years. However, in this same institution a number of prisoners of conscience are serving sentences whose names have never appeared in the media.

Vakilabad Prison in Mashhad (View Larger Map)

The Vakilabad Prison has two wards for prisoners of conscience, the men's and women's. In the men's ward, there may be a few of students and supporters of the Green Movement, Mujahedin-e Kalq supporters, Baha'is, dervishes, Sunnis and sometimes a Christian convert. In the women's ward, there are currently nine Baha'i prisoners. 

The women's ward in Vakilabad Prison is a small room with an iron window half-a-metre in length that lets in very little sunlight. The room was used as storage until two and a half years ago; as the number of Baha'i prisoners rose, and after the Mashhad Intelligence Office issued orders to restrict contact between Baha'i prisoners and the rest of the inmates, this room, which is at the far end of the women's hall, was turned into a cell for prisoners of conscience, and the Baha'i inmates were transferred there.

Prohibition of contact between Baha'i prisoners and other inmates

The room in question contains three triple-bunk beds, and the small and inadequate space makes it impossible for the prisoners to pace their cell, which is what most prisoners usually do to pass the time. The small space only allows for five or six of the inmates to sit on the floor at any one time, so the others have to be sitting on their beds or lying down. In the meantime, since the room used to be a storage room and it is at the end of the Women's Ward, it contains a ventilation unit used to clean the air in the hall. The unit is in constant operation, and its continuous racket prevents the prisoners from resting in peace and quiet.

A secret order from the Mashhad Intelligence Office restricts contact between Baha'i female prisoners and the others, which has led to further pressure on these prisoners of conscience. For instance, the door to their cell is always kept closed, and a toilet and bathroom facility has been installed inside so that there's little reason for the prisoners to leave the cell.

The installation of the sanitary service inside a small room, which is already over capacity with the number of prisoners, has led to further problems for these inmates. They can only go for fresh air or make telephone calls at times when other prisoners are not there. Similar considerations have to be made for the use of sports facilities and even the library. The prison authorities are so committed to keeping the Baha'i prisoners away from the others that last Norooz (Iranian New Year), when some of the Baha'i prisoners had sent over fruit and goodies for some of the children who were spending time with their jailed mothers, the mothers were reprimanded and forced to dispose of the food in trash cans.

Rising pressure for unspecified reasons

Recently, for unspecified reasons, female Baha'i prisoners have been denied their in-person monthly visits, and visits from behind glass walls, which had been held every week, have now been reduced to once every two weeks.These prisoners have also been barred from sending or receiving letters. The prisoners' families have followed up on these matters, and prison authorities have simply responded that the orders are coming from higher authorities and their hands, therefore, are tied.

The nine Baha'i citizens who are serving their sentences in this manner at Vakilabad Prison are as follows:

1- Rosita Vaseghi, who was arrested in March of 2010 and has been in jail ever since. During her interrogation, she was under severe pressure to sign a legal document swearing she would refrain from promoting the Baha'i faith. She wrote to her family about these pressures, saying her interrogators should be held responsible if her health were to become compromised in any way. Rosita Vaseghi spent six months in solitary and was then transferred to Vakilabad Prison. She has been sentenced to five years in prison. Although she has served more than two and a half years of her sentence, she has not been allowed any furloughs, as is customary for political prisoners who have served half of their term.

2- Nahid Ghadiri was arrested in March of 2010 and was then transferred to Vakilabad Prison. Ghadiri, a mother of three, is serving out a five-year sentence.

3- Sima Eshraghi (Aghdaszadeh) was summoned by Mashhad Revolutionary court in November of 2010 and transferred to Vakilabad Prison. She was sentenced to five years in prison. She has two children. One of her children, Sina Aghdaszadeh, was recently released on bail by the Mashhad Intelligence Office after two months in custody and is currently awaiting trial.

4- Noura Nabilzadeh was summoned and arrested this August and transferred to Vakilabad Prison. She has also been sentenced to five years in jail. Her father and uncle, Davar Nabilzadeh and Jalayer Vahdat, are also serving five-year sentences in the men's ward of Vakilabad Prison and have been there for over two years.

5- Sonia Ahmadi (Taami) was summoned and arrested together with Noura Nabilzadeh. She is also serving a five-year sentence. She served out a two-and-a-half-year sentence in Vakilabad Prison about 13 years ago for her religious beliefs. She has one child.

6- Sanaz Tafazoli (Rouhi) was summoned and arrested in November and sent to Vakilabad Prison to serve out her sentence. She has been sentenced to six months in jail. Her husband, Babak Rouhi, has been sentenced to five years in jail. Two of Babak Rouhi's brothers have also been recently detained and were only released on bail. One of them, named Shayan Tafazoli, has been sentenced to six months in jail, which is now in the appeals level. Sanaz Tafazoli has two minor children.

7- Dori Amri (Esmailpour) was arrested when she arrived at Mashhad Revolutionary Court offices to inquire about the results of her appeal and was transferred to Vakilabad Prison. She is sentenced to six months in jail. She was also arrested last year and held for three months in jail. Dori Amri has two children.

8- Nika and Nava Kholosi, aged 28 and 22 respectively, are sisters who were arrested by Mashhad Intelligence officials last August and transferred to the Vakilabad women's ward after two months of interrogations. They are currently in an undetermined judicial state.

Nasrin Ghadiri and Sima Rajabian are another two female Baha'i prisoners of Vakilabad Prison who were released in the past month after each had served a two-year jail term.

About the author: Kyan Sabeti is a journalist who recently left Iran. Prior to this he used to write for Zamaneh under the pseudonym, Lava Motahedeh.

Images: Prison Memories, Soudabeh Ardavan, Stockholm

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