Despite Iran’s continuing imprisonment of large numbers of political activists, dissidents and journalists, Ali Asghar Jahangir, the regime’s prisons chief, claims that there are no political prisoners in the country.
In an interview with the Iranian News Agency [IRNA] published on March 2, 2016 Jahangir said, “In our country, we don’t have political prisoners according to the international definition of the term,” adding “We have a very few ‘security prisoners’ – those individuals who have endangered national security – although the number of these prisoners is minimal.”
So how did the regime magically make the countless political prisoners in its jails disappear? By the simple means of failing to define any ‘political’ offences within its legal system. Instead, detained dissidents, journalists, artists, campaigners and activists face charges such as ‘endangering national security’ or ‘enmity to God’, with brutal torture being a standard means of coercing confessions, and death sentences for these ‘crimes’ being routine.
Under Iranian law, defining these prisoners as a ‘threat to national security’ enables the authorities to keep them in ‘pretrial detention’ for months for questioning without granting them access to lawyers or the right to see family members or have any contact with the outside world. The subsequent show trials take place in ‘revolutionary courts’ whose proceedings fail to meet the most basic standards of a fair trial under international law.
In the same interview, Jahangir told IRNA that all prisoners are granted access to a lawyer, social worker and physician, as well as having the right to make phone calls and access to a library and to take advantage of the country’s education system during their imprisonment in accordance with the Iranian penal system. The availability of these rights will surely be welcome news to the tens of thousands of political prisoners who have been consistently denied them to date.
In response to a question from IRNA about reported hunger strikes by many prisoners over their lack of access to any legal counsel, Jahangir, who is also the adviser to the head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic, flatly denied the reports: “[Reports of] lack of access to a lawyer are not true in any way; this is a standard right in all prisons and for all prisoners,” he asserted, adding, “Those who are on hunger strike often misuse such strategies simply to get into media and create a name for themselves.”
Despite the regime official’s assertions, countless political prisoners remain incarcerated in jails across Iran, including infamous prisons such as Karoon and Sepidar – both in the Ahwaz region – and the notorious Rajah Shahr Central Prison and Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, a city to the west of Tehran.
One example among many of the regime’s standard disregard for international law is the deplorable treatment meted out to Ahwazi Arab prisoners detained for campaigning for human rights and for converting to Sunni Islam. Like countless other dissidents in Iran, particularly among minorities, Ahwazi Arabs are routinely detained for months and even years without charge before being tried at show trials.
Former Ahwazi detainees, both male and female, describe being subjected to torture during interrogations by regime personnel, whose methods include physical assault, hanging prisoners upside down, beating them on the soles of their feet, electrocution, rape or threats of sexual assault. The subsequently coerced confessions are the norm, with the Iranian regime’s notoriously weak and corrupt judiciary simply ignoring this wrongdoing.
The horrendous abuse suffered by Ahwazi political prisoner, Majed Al-Boghobeish is, unfortunately quite typical: imprisoned for eight years on charges of ‘endangering national security’ for the alleged ‘crime’ of converting from Shiite to Sunni Islam, was rushed to the Khomeini Hospital in Ahwaz City on January 31 this year for emergency treatment due to suffering life-threatening injuries inflicted by sustained savage torture by staff at the Karoon Prison and throughout the period of his detention. In just one of the incidents, warders who claimed to have witnessed him praying in the Sunni manner broke both his arms as a punishment. According to sources in Al-Ahwaz, Al-Boghobeish was subjected to psychological as well as physical torture by the prison staff, with both being standard, if unofficial, regime policy.
The Ahwazi rights groups have appealed to the United Nations and its constituent bodies and to all international organisations concerned with human rights to put pressure on the Iranian government to fulfil its legal obligations under international law in order to help to bring an end to the systemic and increasing brutal persecution and human rights abuses of Ahwazi activists and all other political prisoners in Iran’s prisons.