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“Like the Dead in Their Coffins” Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran

Human Rights Watch latest Iran report:

"If there had been no press, no investigations by the Parliament, no Article 90 Commission, I think that I would still be in prison or I would be dead. They made sure that I was not forgotten... If I had spoken out and no one knew my name from the newspapers, I would be dead. I am sure of this. Now, there are those students in prison, and no one knows their names, and they are rotting in a corner somewhere thinking that no one in the world knows where they are. And now, how will we know?"
—Hossein T., a student activist and former prisoner.
Is the "nuclear threat" providing cover for Tehran? Is this yet another ill-effect of neo-con foreign policy? or is there collusion between the two?

Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran
No one knows how many people are held in Iran's prisons and secret detention centers for the peaceful expression of their views. Over the past four years, as the window of free expression has closed in Iran, abuse and torture of dissidents have increased in Evin Prison's solitary cells and secret detention centers.

In the years following the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997, on a platform of supporting rule of law and civil society, independent newspapers and journals flourished in Iran. In 2000, a large class of more vocal and reform minded representatives entered a revitalized parliament, promising to introduce new laws that would challenge the status quo. Intellectuals, journalists, and writers debated publicly some of the most critical issues facing Iranian society. In response, the judiciary and the extra-legal security and intelligence agencies of the Iranian state have sought to destroy these voices.

Since then Iran's independent newspapers have been almost completely destroyed, the result of a campaign launched by the Office of the Leader and the judicial authority in April 2000 to silence growing dissent. Said Mortazavi, then the judge of Public Court Branch 1410, was the leading force behind the crackdown in its early years, directed mainly at newspapers and journals which had become critical voices for change. He was subsequently appointed to the powerful position of Tehran Chief Prosecutor, a post he holds today.

This report demonstrates a nexus between the press closures that began in 2000, the systematic arrests of journalists, writers and intellectuals in the following years, and the treatment of political prisoners. With the newspapers closed, treatment of detainees worsened considerably in Evin prison and in detention centers operated clandestinely by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the judiciary. Members of parliament and defense attorneys who have spoken out against the crackdown have themselves been summoned to court, and some jailed. Few platforms outside of the Internet remain available to expose the reality of conditions for Iran's political prisoners in detention centers. The closure of the newspapers has secured an environment of impunity for judges and security forces who routinely violate international human rights law and Iran's criminal and penal codes.

The Iranian authorities have managed, in the span of four years, to virtually silence the political opposition within the country through the systematic use of indefinite solitary confinement of political prisoners, physical torture of student activists, and denial of basic due process rights to all those detained for the expression of dissenting views. Paradoxically, criticism of government policies has increased over the past several years on the streets, in shopping lines, in taxis, within homes. But those engaged in criticism on the record—newspapers, websites, public statements of members of parliament, and legally organized protests—have been silenced.

The former political detainees interviewed for this report were denied the most basic aspects of due process, including rights of access to counsel, to be formally charged, to prepare a defense, and to have a public trial. Many were held in small basement solitary cells for weeks or months without any contact with other human beings except their interrogators. Some were denied medical care. Judges used confessions extracted through torture, ill-treatment, or the threat of continued isolation to hand down prison terms, fines, and lashings.

The Iranian judiciary is at the center of the human rights violations documented in this report. A small group of judges accountable only to the Leader has shut down public dissent. They have used various tools for repression: including plainclothes militia, various intelligence services, prisons and detention centers, and courtrooms.

This report documents treatment in detention in a number of facilities in Iran. Among these, Evin Prison is the most well-known and holds many political detainees. In addition, former prisoners interviewed for this report were held in several secret detention centers in and around Tehran. The entire number of secret detention centers in Iran is unknown, but this report documents conditions in Prison 59 and Towhid detention center. Finally, this report discusses an interrogation center, Amaken, the location most recently used to threaten and terrify political activists, writers, and journalists.

The combination of torture and ill-treatment in detention, closing off of avenues for legal redress, and silencing public information about these abuses has created an increasingly hostile environment for human rights in Iran. This report is structured to convey the experiences of former prisoners who spoke with Human Rights Watch. As each means of monitoring and reporting is destroyed, the risk of torture and ill-treatment increases. By attacking a small percentage of those critical of the government, Iranian authorities have been able to silence a much larger body of journalists, activists, and students. Many of those who spoke out in years past now choose to remain quiet. The authorities have largely succeeded in their campaign to send a message to the broader public that the costs of voicing peaceful political criticism are unbearably high.

VI. Exploiting Heightened Iranian-US Tensions 09.Feb.2008 22:21

HRW reader

"You Can Detain Anyone for Anything"
Iran's Broadening Clampdown on Independent Activism

VI. Exploiting Heightened Iranian-US Tensions
The Iranian government has long applied the broadly conceived security laws to accuse civil society activists of collusion with foreign powers. Specifically, it has used the hostile relationship between the United States and Iran as an excuse to suppress peaceful expressions of dissent and accuse activists of receiving funds from the US government. After peaceful student demonstrations in 1999, for example, the government broadcast "confessions" of detained student leaders who claimed on television that "we have received financial assistance from America on three or four occasions to organize student movements."163

The Ahmadinejad administration has made particular use of widely applicable charges such as "receiving funds from foreigners" to persecute civil society activists of all stripes. At the same time, US President George W. Bush has played into this strategy by opening promoting the use of US funds for "regime change" in Iran. For instance, on February 14, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to substantially increase its existing democracy funding for Iran and announced that "the United States will actively confront the aggressive policies of the Iranian regime. At the same time, we will work to support the aspirations of the Iranian people for freedom and democracy in their country." 164 The Iranian government in turn has used rhetoric that pairs support for democracy in Iran with an expressed desire to confront the Iranian government to accuse independent Iranian civil society activists of being the agents of foreign agendas.

Prominent Iranian activists, decrying the adverse impact on Iranian civil society, have criticized the US government's allocation of funds. In a May 2007 opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune, Iranian Nobel laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi attributed recent arrests in Iran both to the country's internal politics and to US foreign policy:

The recent arrests, including the detention of Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator and a close aid to former president and losing 2005 presidential candidate Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani, should be viewed as Ahmadinejad's retaliation against the more moderate faction. But the most important reason has to do with President George W. Bush's policy toward Iran. Last year, the administration requested and received $75 million from Congress to "bring" democracy to Iran.165

Well-known human rights activist Emad Baghi and political dissident Akbar Ganji have similarly criticized US policy.166 In an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ganji pointed out the ways that the Iranian government has exploited US funding of Iranians in order to intensify its crackdown on activists:

Exploiting the danger posed by the US, the Iranian regime has put military-security forces in charge of the government, shut down all independent domestic media, and is imprisoning human rights activists on the pretext that they are all agents of a foreign enemy. The Bush administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact being (sic) largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the US government, had made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the US and to crush them with impunity.167

Only 15% Of Our Population Is In Prison In The Great Free USA!!! 11.Feb.2008 14:50


Since only one out of six USA citizens of the USA are behind bars at any given moment, this must be THE LAND OF THE FREE, AND THE HOME OF THE BRAVE!!!

The rest of you ingrates should move to Russia.

of course 14.Feb.2008 17:52


Since HRW employs those who have been instrumental in blowing up civilians in the middle east, you can't really take their "concern" for the plight of the Iranian people too seriously. They're just looking to blow up more brown people they don't like. Human Rights? Watch!