How Prisoners Are Treated in Iran

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

Iran has been under the international spotlight these past few weeks due to the rampant protests over the death of an Iranian woman, Mahsa Amani, at the hands of Iran’s corrupt morality police for not complying with the country’s veiling laws. Because of these protests, many Iranian civilians are being imprisoned in the horrific prison system of Iran, where torture, abuse, and a complete disregard for the rights of prisoners are the norm.

Thousands of people in Iran have been interrogated, unfairly prosecuted, and detained for little to no reason. Afterward, they are sent to Iranian prisons. These prisons are overcrowded with poor ventilation, horrendous sanitation, and inadequate healthcare – it reaches a point where the neglect of prisoners’ rights is intentional. Those who aren’t imprisoned in these overcrowded cells, however, have it the hardest. The use of solitary confinement as a method of torture is common in Iran. These prisoners are held in solitary cell blocks in secret underground facilities with 24/7 artificial light. These cells measured about one meter by two meters, with a ceiling height of about four meters and a single light at the top of the cell which was turned on all day. The walls inside the cell are all white. Prisoners were given a blanket, a disposable cup, and a pair of slippers to sleep on a floor they described as chalk; at the very least, they had access to a toilet and a sink. The lucky prisoners were granted 20 minutes of ‘freedom’ in a caged outdoor area per 24-hour period; most weren’t as lucky. Communication with their families, lawyers, medical professionals, and even other prisoners is nonexistent. Under international law, prolonged solitary confinement can be considered to be torture. The former prisoners who spoke with the Human Rights Watch (n.d) stated that the solitary confinement was worse than any physical or verbal abuse they received in the prison, since they feared they would lose their minds due to their time spent without any human contact. Most of the prisoners that were sent to solitary confinement were those who dared to criticize and protest against the oppressive government. They were not told why they were sent there or when they would be set free. In order to return to the public wards, prisoners would either have to tape or sign a confession provided by the prison officials. As stated by the Vera Institute (2021): “Solitary confinement can lead to serious and lasting psychological damage. Physical and social isolation, coupled with sensory deprivation and forced idleness, create a toxic combination. Solitary confinement is a public health issue.” But that is just one of the problems plaguing the Iranian penitentiary system.

Discrimination in these prisons is extremely common. In the case of those in the LGBT community, they are subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the government. Punishments range from flogging to the death penalty, perpetuating violence against this community. State-endorsed conversion therapy which is composed of torture and other ill-treatment from the ‘instructors’ continues to be extremely common; even children are subjected to this treatment. The military continued to characterize homosexuality as a “perversion.” Military exemption cards issued to gay and transgender individuals indirectly disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent, putting them at risk of violence. Those who belong to religious and ethnic minorities are put at risk of arbitrary detention and torture; those from religious minorities must convert to Islam for the sake of their safety. 

Iran has a horrendous record regarding women’s rights, and the same applies to prisons. A report by Iran International (2022) shows how over a hundred female detainees have been kept in inhumane conditions inside prisons after being arrested due to the protests. A source familiar with the circumstances stated, the prisoners have been strip-searched, threatened, and kept indoors in unsanitary conditions with lights that will never turn off. There are only three showers and one toilet available for all the female detainees, which are kept in poor conditions. Because of this, several women have developed infections since there is nowhere to wash or dry clothing or underwear; some have even found lice in their hair. 

Since the death penalty is frequently used to punish protesters, women who have been arrested in the current protests face the same fate. However, there exists a law in Iran stating that a virgin woman must not be killed. Thus, these girls are forced to marry guards, who will then sexually abuse them just to execute them the next day. One guard said, “At 18, I was given the ‘honor’ to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death… I regret that, even though the marriages were legal. I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their wedding night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.” 

Death row is granted based on what court and government officials need at any given moment. For example, serious crimes such as drug trafficking and corruption were given the death penalty. But, the death penalty is commonly used for protesters, dissidents, and ethnic minorities. Yousef Mehrdad and Saadollah Fazeli were sentenced to death for “insulting the Prophet.” Even minors can be sentenced to death in Iran. Sajad Sanjari, a 15-year-old, was sentenced to death and executed in October. Over 80 people remained on death row for offenses that occurred when they were children. 

The conditions of these prisons can only be described as horrific and inhumane. While these actions are all condemned under international law, Iran has refused to improve the conditions in its prisons. In fact, the recent protests might have simply worsened the treatment prisoners receive as an attempt to deter potential dissidents. The only thing we can do is spread awareness of these conditions in hopes that those in positions of power will act accordingly.



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