Never a Good Time to be a Prisoner in Iran
Kalame reported that the Iranian guard and intelligence officials undertook unprecedented level of violence against Evin’s political prisoners in a raid last Thursday. The article reported that this “unprecedented raid is the most violent action against political prisoners in the past 20 years”, marking it one of the darkest episodes in Iran’s most notorious prison.
A source inside Evin prison told Al-Monitor that clashes in ward 350 of Evin, where inmates with political charges are held, was due to their protests about their prison conditions and irregular inspections. Kalame reported that the guards used batons and attacked the inmates with an unprecedented amount of brutality.
An estimated 30 prisoners were injured in these clashes and at least four inmates were hospitalised outside the jail due to severe bleeding or sustained fractures. Two inmates were also transferred to solitary confinement.
Unsurprisingly, the (now former) head of prisons Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili denied that these clashes took place describing that these reports as propaganda attempts against the Islamic State. Comically, he professed that the guards did not so much as ‘flick’ the inmates, let alone harm them. He argued that it was in fact the inmates who resisted inspection and refused to leave their cells who then became violent. If this blatant denial was not bad enough, he continued that this inspection of ward 350 was more successful on this occasion than in the past and definitely within the confines of the law.
Despite this very convincing plea, Reporters Without Borders reports of “extreme violence, smashing TV sets, equipment and personal effects”. Those involved and injured in the incident include journalists and bloggers, such as Mohammad Sadegh Kabovand, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, Mohammad Davari, Saeed Matinpour, Siamak Qaderi, Said Haeri and Yashar Darolshafa and Human rights lawyers Abdolfattah Soltani and Hotain Dolati, and an activist in the workers’ movement Behnam Ebrahimzadeh.
More recent reports describe the chilling facts about what occurred. The Guardian’s Saeed Kamali Dehghan summarised the injuries as according to opposition sources “some suffering skull fractures, broken ribs, wounds and swelling on their bodies after guards and intelligence officials created a tunnel and made prisoners run through it as they beat them with batons”. Relatives of the inmates have also provided separate interviews about what occurred in ward 350 last week.
In response to Mr Esmaeili’s denial of the clashes, Reporters Without Borders said “according to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the operation was prepared and organized by senior officials in the justice system, information department, Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Ministry, and the presence of representatives from all of these departments during the raid was no coincidence.”
Although the world has been looking for a response from President Rouhani, he has remained silent on the subject despite detailed facts of the event being revealed by inmates and their families (including Emad Bahavar, who recounted some of the horrific moments in a letter sent out of jail and published in Kaleme, on Tuesday). A number of activists have concluded that this attack was in fact designed by hardliners in an attempt to send a signal to Rouhani reminding him that ruling system will not compromise on political prisoners.
Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi has commented on the attack, claiming that it was an isolated incident. “We conducted a primary investigation and we saw that there was no confrontation”.
The families of the inmates of ward 350 claim that currently 12 of those prisoners attacked by guards are on hunger strike in protest against the aggression they have faced. In solidarity, 7 prisoners of conscience and political prisoners from Ward 12 of Rajai Shahr prison have also started a hunger strike on Wednesday of this week.
This attack on the political prisoners of Evin places the international eye on Iran once more. Those familiar with the repressive regime are aware that this is not a new development to the regimes tactics, however the increase in the vehemence of the attack causes deep concern. Not only are the grounds for which the political activist have been imprisoned dubious, with trials that fall far below international standards of fairness, but they are now also being punished with physical violence for demanding better prison conditions. The expression of one’s opinion is not a crime and Iran is increasingly under pressure to address its clear abuse of administrative powers and human rights violations. The Iranian government must provide an immediate and independent investigation to account for the attacks that took place last Thursday on ward 350.
Head of Prison “promoted” after Evin disaster
From what seems to be an attempt to address the issues that arose after the events of last week in ward 350 of Evin prison, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili was removed from his position as the Head of Prisons. IRNA reported on Wednesday that Esmaeili has been ‘promoted’ to the head of the Justice department of Tehran. IRNA informations that Esmaeili has now been replaced by Asghar Jahangir in accordance with the decision of Sadeq Ardeshir Amoli Larijani. When interviewed by ISNA, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the prosecutor general of Iran, claimed that this move was in no way connected with the occurrences in the 350 ward last Thursday and that the decision to promote Mr. Esmaeili was reached around 40/50 days before. Ironically he maintained that this promotion was due to Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili proven talents and ability.
This news is concurrent with last week’s events and increasing news and activism surrounding the attacks on the political prisoners of ward 350. It is unclear as to why this move was taken, but it is testament to the Iranian Governments political strategy when a crisis arises: promote the man that needs to be held accountable. However analysts say that this is in effect a ‘quiet dismissal’ after protests and calls by several Iranian MPs and lawmakers on the justice minister to investigate the incident. Nevertheless, this is not a sign of retreat or the success of justice, but rather a passive attempt at addressing the issue without holding legitimate investigations, which will not silence calls for a an transparent process to hold those in charge of these human rights abuses accountable.
Attack on Prominent British-Based Journalist
Since his reporting on the Iranian Government’s crackdown on the political prisoners of Evin, Saeed Kamali Dehghan a journalist for the Guardian, who has also been named as the 2010 Journalist of the Year in Britain at the Foreign Press Association, has been branded as a propagandist with an “anti-government agenda” by Fars News. His tweets, cartoons and news reports have been attacked by the news agency defaming his award-winning work. In the report by FarsNews, Mr Dehghan, who they refer to as S.K, has orchestrated a propaganda mission against The Islamic Republic using the current events in the Evin prison for his own agenda.
Again unsurprisingly a journalist purely documenting current developments in Iran that do not correspond with the Iranian Government’s statement of events is seen as a conspirer of Western, predominately British, publicity with an alternative anti-governmental agenda. Unfortunately, it is as a cause of these publications by Iranian news agencies that the legitimate freedom of expression in Iran becomes subsided.
Iranian Blogger from Ward 350 in Critical Condition
Kalame reported that Iranian blogger, Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, who was one of the ward 350 prisoners attacked last Thursday, is in critical condition after a two day hunger strike. The blogger was transferred to intensive care within Evin prison, but was released only after an injection of pain killers.
According to Kalame, Maleki was promised by prison officials that he would be transferred to a hospital outside Evin for his liver to be examined, which did not occur. He developed kidney disease whilst in prison, possibly as a result of torture, and has been suffering from related complications since April 2010 including undergoing a liver transplant without being granted medical leave.
His father, Ahmed Ronaghi Maleki, after a recent visit has explained that his son is in a critical condition and in need of urgent assistance.
We urge that Mr Maleki is provided with the necessary treatment required to treat his health problems. His health is of paramount importance which is being ignored by Iranian officials. Not only is he solely being held on account of his peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, but he is now being denied his basic rights within prison. Article 19 will continue to follow progress into Mr Maleki’s condition.
Fate of Roya Saberi Unclear
In October of last year Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht was arrested at Imam Khomeini airport, allegedly for making comments against the Iranian Government and Islam on Facebook.
She has been charged with “insulting Islamic sanctities” which can carry the death penalty in Iran.
Roya, a naturalised British citizen residing in Stockport, had gone to visit family in Iran when she was arrested. However since her arbitrary arrest little has emerged about the full grounds of her sentence. Her husband, Dariyoush Taghipour said “It’s a very bad situation. We don’t know what’s going on. Roya is not well at all. She has lost three stone and is frightened. She is scared that the government will kill her.” He has had little news about what the future holds for Roya. “Roya is not a political activist in any way. She is just a normal citizen. The authorities don’t clarify why she has been arrested”.
According to the charge sheet provided to the Independent, she was charged with “gathering and participation with intent to commit crime against national security” and “insulting Islamic sanctities”.
This again highlights the misuse of vague and ambiguous laws by the Iranian government. As expressed by Amnesty International’s Iran researcher Bahareh Davis “(r)egrettably, vaguely-worded and broadly-defined crimes such as ‘gathering and colluding against national security’ and ‘insulting the Islamic sanctities’, for which she appears to have been held, are often used by the Iranian authorities to curb those who peacefully express their opinions, including criticising the government.”
The current Computer Crimes Law (2010) of Iran uses the same method to curtail the freedom of expression for Iranian netizen. For example, as highlighted in Article 19’s report on Online Repression of Iran, article 14 of the legislation grants the availability of the death penalty for crimes committed online against public morality and chastity, or “dissemination of lies” (Articles 16 – 18). These broad and ambiguous terms are engineered to ensure all forms of legitimate expression are restrained by yielding the Iranian authorities with unfettered discretion.
From the evidence available it seems that Roya has been detained for peacefully exercising her right to expression thus must be released immediately and unconditionally.
Rouhani Speaks Up for Women’s Rights
To mark Women’s Day in Iran, President Rouhani made a progressive speech criticising “those who consider women’s presence society as a threat” and maintained that Iran has “a long way to go” to ensure gender equality. On the same day he tweeted: “Gov. of Prudence&Hope remains faithful to its promise of providing more opportunity for our women & girls #WomensDay”. This is a vital step towards ensuring the rights of women. Women journalists and activists have been at the fore-front of the struggle for human rights in Iran, so what the implications of this are for the female activists would be interesting to see.
On Sunday, at the National Forum on Women Shaping Economy and Culture in Tehran, Mr Rouhani pronounced: “We will not accept the culture of sexual discrimination.” He continued “Women must enjoy equal opportunity, equal protection and equal social rights.” Whether this would translate into the respect of women’s expression when Iranian activist protest for equal rights in Iran, is unclear. Iranian women have protested, either on the streets or through social media, for the progression of women’s rights in Iran, but they are most often than not met with the brute force of the Islamic guards.
Importantly, Rouhani highlighted that: “According to the Islamic rules, man is not the stronger sex and woman is not the weaker one.” Although this stance by Rouhani is a step forward, th
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei (who will have the final say) seemed to disagree in an indirect clash where he denounced the presentation of “equality” and said the priority was for women to stay at home.
On 24 April 2014 Iran was also appointed to several key United Nations committees that oversee the protection of women’s rights and global human rights, including the appointment to the Commission on the Status of Women – these appointments have so far been heavily criticised by the US. We will wait and see the result of these appointments for the rights of women in Iran.
The Dangers of Gadget Blogging in Iran
Danny O’Brien who writes for the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports summarised what happened to the Iranian gadget Blog Narenji (Orange) and the imprisonment of its founders. They are now circulating a petition for the immediate release of these bloggers and ask that you raise awareness of their case on social media, using the hashtag #Narenji.
The team of bloggers that worked in the Narenji offices were arrested last December; in the video broadcasted on Iranian state television it was held that the bloggers were funded and trained by “espionage networks…aiming for a ‘soft overthrow’ of the Iranian regime.”
O’Brian pleads that “(t)he Narenji team’s treatment is another example of how technologists are targeted by governments worldwide as a result of their work. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a blog about Android development or distributing anti-censorship proxies: to many governments, simply being well-known online or having a latent power to influence or change society through your technical knowledge can quickly turn you into an unacceptable threat to the social order.”
It is worrying that regardless of what you are blogging about in Iran you are under threat – whether it is political and distributing anti-censorship proxies or if you are blogging about the new Angry Bird app. This is a ridiculous stance by the Iranian government that inhibits cyber expression of any kind. Although, if you are blogging about your admiration of the Supreme Leader, you are probably going to be safe.
Iran’s Blogestan in Decline
Between 2002 and 2010 the Iranian Blogosphere gained international attention for its rapid growth, making Iran one of the most active within the blogging realms. However, as shown in the report by the University of Pennsylvania’s Iran Media Program, there has been a big decline in Iranian blogs due to the introduction of policies by the Iranian regime aimed at deterring online expression; including the expansion of technological and regulatory restrictions over online communications.
The authors assessed whether Blogestan itself has faded in size, activity and influence since 2009 and the causes for it. The report uses “three parallel methodologies: An audience survey of 165 Persian blog users from inside and outside of Iran; a web crawling analysis of the Iranian blogosphere; and a series of interviews with 20 influential bloggers living outside and inside Iran.”
Unsurprisingly, the ‘Whither Blogestan’ report found in the web crawl analysis that reformist blogs are filtered or removed 17 times more often than conservative blogs. In an interview with a well-known blogger, it was again shown how the Iranian government use their monitoring of Iranian blogs for targeting opposition activists. He said that once government officials began reading his blog, it “in effect became my case file.”
This does not however mean that we are seeing the end of Blogestan, on the contrary Iranian bloggers are now becoming more tech-savvy and searching for new ways to have their blogs read.
In the conclusion, the authors wrote:
Likewise, many bloggers disagree with the “end of history” notion regarding Blogestan and believe that cyberspace is young, evolving and prone to new developments…Other bloggers also suggest that Blogestan, to survive, will likely need to abandon the now- antiquated, tech-heavy blogging platforms and adapt to new, more efficient technologies by integrating, rather than competing against, the advances of social networking. To some, it is increasingly evident that the early manifestation of Blogestan is no longer a viable model, and that Blogestan’s future depends in part on its ability to mobilize the capacities of social networking that are constantly re-generating new avenues of communications.
Ensuring the survival of the blogging sphere for Iranians – which at times provides the only avenue for online expression – is an important quest for Article 19. We will work to ensure that Iranian bloggers continue to exercise their freedom of expression by raising awareness of Internet freedom and digital security.
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