Murderers, robbers, kidnappers, or even the occasional white-collar embezzler come to mind when most people think of the type of people in jail. But behind the walls of a perpetually dismal-looking compound in northwestern Tehran, journalists, activists, and academics are detained in what is known as Evin prison, specifically Section 209, 240, and 235 (Saunders, 2007). In fact, it’s housed so many of them that the facility often takes the nickname “Evin University.”
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Evin has been used by the clerics to hold “political prisoners,” most of whom have never been charged with anything but are usually accused of being spies with an agenda to undermine and act against the theocratic regime (Saunders, 2007). It is obvious however, given the high concentration of intellectuals who are arrested, that espionage is the pseudo-accusation that officials fall back on in order to capture anyone who may potentially speak out against the corruption of the government. Esha Momeni, for example, was a student arrested in 2008 for “acting against national security” (Dahl, 2008). What did she do, exactly? Momeni was conducting research and interviews as part of her research into the women’s rights movement under the Islamic Republic (Dahl, 2008). Authorities later searched her home and confiscated the films that were supposed to be part of her project (Dahl, 2008). Marzieh Rasouli, a journalist and blogger, is another example (McCann, 2014). Her many works for reformist publications on topics of arts and culture prompted the accusations of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “disturbing public order” (McCann, 2014). She was detained in 2014 (McCann, 2014. There are countless others; bloggers, journalists, student activists, film makers, and artists who have been condemned to Evin for nothing other than their dissenting voices.
Deprivation of free speech in Iran is a human rights violation in itself, but the conditions and actions that activists are subjected to in the gloomy cells of Evin are beyond brutal. Amnesty’s own documentations describe multiple methods of torture, ranging from mock executions and floggings, to sexual violence and denial of medical care (Amnesty International, 2021). One of the most notorious torture methods is known as white torture, which is entirely psychological (Human Rights Watch, 2004). It is a form of prolonged solitary confinement that is used with the intention of breaking spirit in order to elicit confessions to false accusations (Human Rights Watch, 2004).
One prisoner said:
“Since I left Evin, I have not been able to sleep without sleeping pills. It is terrible. The loneliness never leaves you, long after you are “free.” Every door that is closed on you, it affects you. This is why we call it “white torture.” They get what they want without having to hit you. They know enough about you to control the information that you get: they can make you believe that the president has resigned, that they have your wife, that someone you trust has told them lies about you. You begin to break. And once you break, they have control. And then you begin to confess.” (Nabavi, 2004)
Another source asserts to multiple daily interrogations that last up to six hours (Human Rights Watch, 2004). Many former prisoners have said that the interrogations don’t consist of relevant questions and instead make invasive inquiries into their personal lives (e.g sexual endeavours) (Human Rights Watch, 2004). They’ve also said that at each interrogation they were given a sheet of blank paper upon which they were told to confess (Human Rights Watch, 2004). Additionally, interrogators threaten indefinite imprisonment and torture of family members in order to coerce innocent people into recording or signing a confession to their alleged crimes (Human Rights Watch, 2004).
Stories of Evin prison have circulated for years, whether in public media or within circles of Iranians. The threat of torture and possible execution behind the bars of Evin hang over the heads of any Iranian with a regime-contradicting voice. The abhorrent practices of Evin and prisons that have since used its structure as a foundation, are in violation of human rights. As people, regardless of nationality, it is our moral responsibility to speak up for those who cannot in order to spread awareness. Though it sounds futile, one of the biggest contributions you can make is staying informed and actively sharing these peoples’ stories. Knowledge is power; the more people talk about these violations, the harder it becomes to ignore them, the closer we get to change.
Amnesty International. (2021, August 26). Iran: Leaked video footage from Evin Prison offers rare glimpse of cruelty against prisoners. Amnesty International. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/08/iran-leaked-video-footage-from-evin-prison-offers-rare-glimpse-of-cruelty-against-prisoners/.
Dahl, F. (2008, November 4). Iran holds student living in U.S. on security charges. Iran focus. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://web.archive.org/web/20090416194547/http://www.iranfocus.com/en/women/iran-holds-student-living-in-u.s.-on-security-charges-16619.html.
Human Rights Watch. (June 2004). “Like the Dead in Their Coffins”: Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran (Vol 16 No. 2). Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/iran0604/index.htm
Nabavi, Ebrahim. (2004, January 8). Telephone interviews with Human Rights Watch
McCann, C. (2014, July 16). Iran: Journalist and blogger Marzieh Rasouli imprisoned and facing flogging. PEN International. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.pen-international.org/news/iran-journalist-and-blogger-marzieh-rasouli-imprisoned-and-facing-flogging.
Saunders, D. (2007, February 19). Few know who is held behind the tiled walls of Tehran’s evin prison. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/few-know-who-is-held-behind-the-tiled-walls-of-tehrans-evin-prison/article679258/.