Open Letter: Zahedan Political Prisoners Ask UN General Assembly to Convey Message to Iran’s President

Posted on: September 30th, 2018

Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) – A group of political prisoners in Zahedan Central Prison have written an open letter to the UN General Assembly, asking them to lift the voice of Iran’s prisoners.

The full text of their letter, translated into English by HRANA, is below:

Dear Members of Iranian Delegates,

Sitting next to each other in the UN General Assembly, you are looking for a way to guarantee human rights among peoples, and to resolve issues, such as scarcity of resources and climate change, which have had a grave impact on human beings’ lives.

There is a group of your fellow human beings who are forgotten behind bars, their voices choked out and their rights quashed. These “domestic charity cases*” look to you for a solution. [*A translation of a saying often used in protests, with the approximate literal meaning, “A light that could burn at home is unholy if burned in the mosque.” It is an outcry against misappropriated resources, or excessive attention being placed beyond the borders when the country’s own needs are great].

Why is it that Iranian officials don’t spend as much time addressing prisoners’ rights as they do for the rights of free people? It would be nice if they could be as vocal on this topic as they have been in their discussions of global issues.

Is the reality what they’re telling us it is? How close to reality are the movies and documentaries produced to further their arguments?

To answer these questions it would suffice to briefly point out some of the sufferings of the prisoners being held across Iran, particularly in Zahedan central prison:

1. Legal Limbo: The number of individuals trapped in legal limbo has reached a crisis level. There are prisoners who have spent two, even ten years behind bars on a pending case. Their requests for clemency, conditional release, or sentence reduction go unanswered. The delay can be attributed both to a high backlog of cases and to hefty bail amounts. Bails typically exceed 5 billion tomans (approximately $300,000 USD) but can even peak as high as 12 billion tomans (approximately $7,000,000 USD) or 300 billion tomans (approximately $18,000,000 USD). Judiciaries stack multiple charges onto defendants so that even when a prisoner’s case is resolved, the next charge against them is only beginning. Even in cases where a defendant is acquitted, the judiciary will hit them with new charges, hitting reset on the cycle of legal limbo.

2. Prison Population: Heavy caseloads (or deliberate delay in trying cases), paired with defendants’ economic [inability to post bail], have led to a burgeoning prison population. The prisoners are so cramped that they have to contort themselves into alternate sleeping arrangements, some laying in front of the washrooms, other on staircases. In prisons like those in Esfahan and Mashhad [the 3rd and 2nd largest cities in Iran, respectively], prisoners even sleep on the roof of the bathrooms and showers. Scant space has devolved into additional problems: a tiny prayer room, a shortage of washroom facilities, cramped outdoor recreation space, lack of amenities, and low-quality, small-portioned meals after which many a prisoner goes to bed hungry.

3. Political Prisoner Legal Limbo: Political prisoners spend several years in limbo prior to their trials, and after conviction spend even more time in suspense on various judicial pretexts. Despite having spent 5 or 10 years of their sentences and being eligible for furlough and conditional release, they are denied such privileges. Political prisoners are neglected deliberately. They even face additional restrictions on their rights to family visitation.

4. Prisoners on the Death Row: The prisoners on death row spend years and even decades waiting for their cases to be resolved. Somehow, they fall through the cracks. While a memorandum has been issued commuting the death sentences of a number of prisoners convicted on drug-related charges, many of the eligible prisoners’ names have been left off the list due to prison overcrowding. Many of these prisoners are routinely given the run-around by authorities who refuse to provide any answers about their fate.

5. Torture: In all institutions, and at the Intelligence Ministry and Intelligence Unit of the IRGC in particular, torture remains a common practice. Prisoners–especially political prisoners–are subject to the most severe and cruel forms of torment. Even if a defendant is innocent, they will confess under duress and torture. Various torture techniques are used in Iran, but no authorities will speak of them. Despite speaking out against the torture and its widespread use, we have yet to see change.

6. Obstruction of Defendants’ Rights: Interference from individuals who are not officials of the Judiciary is a challenge hindering many defendants. Families of prisoners receive threats from people calling themselves “interrogator,” “expert,” and “prosecution representative,” who heckle and dissuade them from inquiring into their loved ones’ cases. Even lawyers are a target. Families are insulted and barred from entering the courtroom.

When a lawyer is not allowed in the courtroom, how is he to protect the defendant’s interests? The defendants have no opportunity to defend themselves, their lawyers are strong-armed from doing their jobs, and the lawyers already blocked from case inquiries receive threats of their own.

So how is a prisoner convicted?

Nobody sees or recognizes the supervisor judges. The supervisor judge visits the prison twice, during which he spends a total of only four hours. Families of prisoners who have been lining up along the prison wall to meet the judge since 3 a.m. bring to mind lines of families waiting on their allotment of bread and gas. Despite the long wait, 90% will not obtain an audience with the supervisor judge.

The director general of Sistan & Baluchestan prisons visits penitentiaries perhaps once a year, during which most prisoners do not even recognize him. These problems are not specific to Zahedan prison: they are mirrored in Birjan, Esfahan, Yazd, Mashhad, Kerman, Ahwaz, etc.

7. Courts: The problems cited above have their root in the courts. Each passing mention of our courts is tinged with despair and disappointment. They beget a panoply of problems, from excessively long temporary detentions and the growing list of legal limbo hostages to the harsh sentences doled out to defendants.

Other points of note are the slow pace of the legal process in which an appeal can last more than five years; the gaps in subsequent appeals which can be as long as three years; and authorities’ disregard of the torturous conditions under which confessions and comments are extracted from defendants.

For those who conduct trials, defense lawyers are an afterthought, especially for political and security-related cases. Guilty and innocent are sent to the gallows. Then they will publish false and misleading statistics, portraying themselves as watchdogs of human rights.

8. Furlough and Open-Sentence Hurdles: The prisoners who are eligible for furlough have to endure a long, laborious process, investing time and money to obtain the right to an open sentence [in which they can leave prison at designated intervals while continuing their sentence]. Their situation is deplorable. We outlined some of their problems in an earlier letter, but the fact is that these prisoners are a source of income for authorities.

These prisoners, especially those from impoverished and neglected areas such as Kurdistan or Sistan and Baluchestan, perform all sorts of drudgeries for authorities. There are more than a thousand of them indentured to these circumstances for anywhere between five and 20 years. They are not eligible for privileges like clemency or conditional release. Their remuneration is trivial, although they work full-time and have to return to prison by 6 PM. Imagine a prisoner who works in the village but is incarcerated in the city: the commute costs 20,000 tomans (approximately $1.10 USD) each way, but is paid at 200 to 300,000 tomans (approximately 15 dollars USD). Their salary will barely cover 10 days of roundtrip commuting, let alone other expenses. You may refer to our previous letters on the matter.

The points discussed in this letter are real violations of prisoner rights. Prisoners have no way of voicing their grievances to top-ranking authorities and have no hope that their concerns will be paid any mind.

We ask the United Nations and international associations to help lift our voice–which echoes the voice of all prisoners across Iran–to Mr. Rouhani [Iranian president], Zarif [Foreign Affairs minister], and all Iranian authorities who are so occupied with the current conflicts of the world, the middle east tensions, the oil, the nuclear proliferation, the sanctions and the pressure tactics.

Please ask this of Messrs. Rouhani and Zarif: “You speak of human rights and proclaim to be defenders of human rights. You claim that Iran doesn’t have any human rights problems. Do you not consider these afflicted prisoners as human beings? What rights do you envision for them? Why don’t you send an independent investigator to the prisons, to speak directly to prisoners and corroborate our written claims?”

Political Prisoners of Zahedan, on behalf of all Iranian prisoners
Nour al-Din Kashani, Abdul Rashid Kuhi, Mohammad Saleh Shabadzadeh, Abdol Wahid Hut, Abed Bampouri, Ishaq Kolkli, Abdolkhaleq J Affadar Shahussei, Bashir Ahmad Hossein Zahi, Zubir Hoot, Ata Allah Hoot, Abdol Amir Kayazi, Abdolsam Hoot, Abu Bakr Rostami, Sajjad Baluch, Hamzeh Chakri.
September 26th, 2018

“We still can’t believe it” Imprisoned Lawyer Reacts to Death of Homa Soltani

Posted on: August 15th, 2018

Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA) — Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and human rights activist who has been detained in Tehran’s Evin prison since June 13th on charges of collusion and propaganda against the regime, has written an open letter in reaction to the sudden death of Homa Soltani, daughter of fellow Evin prisoner Abdolfattah Soltani who is also a lawyer and activist. Ms Soltani recently died from a heart attack at the age of 27.

Nasrin Sotoudeh is a prominent human rights lawyer who has a history of arrests and imprisonment for her outspoken defense of human rights. Below is the English translation of Ms Sotoudeh’s letter:

My darling girl, my dear Homa,

It has been three days since you flew away from this world and we still can’t believe it. In our disbelief, we still wish that it could be a lie. Ah, if only it could be a nightmare, if only…

The women’s prison mourns for you. You had lost the embrace of your father years ago, my dear one. You know what, Homa? A father’s embrace gives one security and you were without it for years. This was something no one else could give you.

Many only knew about the seven years that you had been deprived of your father thanks to the revolutionary courts of injustice. But as far as I remember, your father was always dealing with his cases – cases for activists, colleagues and those they made against himself. You were raised with this news around you, you grew up like this and anxiety filled your childish existence. The temptation of human rights, the rights of dissidents, the rights of the accused and the rights of this person or that didn’t leave your father, Abdolfattah Soltani, alone. He had so honestly given his honor to the community of lawyers that he had forgotten himself and his family; how sad is this story.

Your father was once sentenced to three months in prison. Another time, the revolutionary court of injustice gave him five years but the appeals court repealed it. But the machinery of violence didn’t stop working against this freedom-loving lawyer. During the election crisis of 2009, they once more sought him first and he had to spend two months in detention. He was freed and two years later again arrested. Prison, prison, prison…

I don’t think of what made your father tick because I know it so well. I think of the world of your childhood, your teenage years, your youth; how innocently it was crushed under the weight of our ideals and their violence.

My dear Homa,

What happened to you every time your father was arrested? To you, your sister, brothers and mother?

I have asked myself many times: If Homa had her father by her side every morning when she woke up; if her father took her to university, school or work on some days and was with her throughout her daily problems; if they had dinner together at nights and then slept under the same roof; would the same happen to Homa? No, never…

Nasrin Sotoudeh
Women’s Prison
August 2018

***

Abdolfattah Soltani, who is being held in Evin Prison, was granted a furlough to take part in his daughter’s funeral.

Amnesty International reacted to Homa’s death and asked for the immediate release of Abdolfattah Soltani and all human rights defenders.

On August 5th, Saeed Dehqan, Mr Soltani’s lawyer, wrote to President Hassan Rouhani to say his client had been arrested by the political decisions of people such as former judge Saeed Mortazavi.

Mr Soltani is spending his seventh year in Evin. He has contracted many illnesses in prison.

Abdolfattah Soltani was first arrested on September 10, 2011. He was accused of having accepted the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award, speaking to the media about his clients and taking part in the founding of the Center for the Defenders of Human Rights. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and barred from practising law for 20 years. An appeals court reduced his sentence to 13 years and it was further reduced to 10 years based on the provisions of the new Iran penal code. His disbarring has also been reduced to two years.