Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA)- On Wednesday, August 29, 2018, Great Tehran Penitentiary guards used batons, electrical shock, and tear gas to break up a sit-in of *Dervish prisoners that had been in effect in Ward 3 since June 13th.
The Twitter account of Majzooban Noor — who publishes a news feed on Dervishes, a religious minority — reported that prison officials filtered the other detainees out of the quarantine area before charging the Dervishes’ sit-in. They welded the gate of the prison yard, leaving a number of Dervishes surrounded. Guards used tear gas to keep at bay another group of Dervish prisoners who were attempting to break the siege.
A Dervish who took part in the sit-in explained in an audio file that “instead of heeding our ultimatum to release the female Dervish prisoners of Gharchak, they jarred us awake early in the morning and broke up the sit-in. The guards divided us into two groups, taking one to the prison hall and the other to the guard stand. One group of Dervishes broke a door to join the others. The guards countered by beating them severely. Our condition is troubling.”
Hours after the assault, all of the Dervishes imprisoned in Ward 3 were taken to solitary confinement cells. Shortly after, the following Ward 4 Dervishes protesting the attack on their Ward 3 comrades were also transferred to solitary confinement:
1. Ali Mohammad Shahi 2. Heydar Teymouri 3. Hassan Arab Ameri 4. Saeed Doorandish 5. Reza Yavari 6. Reza Sigarchi 7. Mohsen Azizi 8. Mehdi Keyvanloo 9. Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam 10. Salehodin Moradi 11. Sina Entezari 12. Hadi Shahreza 13. Ahmad Iranikhah 14. Mehdi Mardani 15. Rassoul Hoveydah 16. Kianoosh Abbaszadeh 17. Mojtaba Biranvand 18. Abbas Dehghan
Dervishes in Ward 2 also protested the violence of the raid by tying their hands with a white cloth.
These events unfolded during a visit from Mostafa Mohebbi, Director General of Prisons of Tehran province, who had come to see the prison following reports of its poor conditions.
The sit-in was sparked by a violent attack on female Dervish prisoners of Gharchak Prison on June 13, 2018, in which they were assaulted with batons and shocked with electrical weapons before being dispersed among different wards. In protest, these female Dervishes declared a 16-day hunger strike, while male Dervishes organized the sit-in in a display of solidarity. HRANA previously published the identities of those who attacked the female Dervishes.
The crackdown against Dervishes intensified in late February 2018, when police forcibly disbanded a protest they had organized against ramped-up surveillance of their leader.
The February 2018 clash ended in the injury and arrest of a number of Dervishes. While Iranian Judiciary authorities estimated the number to be around 300, HRANA published the names of 324 and estimated the number to be considerably higher.
Human Rights Watch also tweeted about the February 2018 crackdown, and revealed in a recent report, “Since May 2018, revolutionary courts have sentenced at least 208 members of the religious minority to prison terms and other punishments in trials that violate their basic rights”.
* There are various divisions among Dervishes in Iran. In this article, the term “Dervish” refers to Nematollahi Gonabadis, who in recent years have declared themselves followers of Twelver Shia Islam, the official state religion in Iran. On March 8th, Noor Ali Tabandeh, the spiritual leader of the Gonabadi Dervish faith, published a video stating that he is not permitted to leave his residence in Tehran.