Evin Prison, Iran’s “Torture Factory,” Sanctioned
By Claire Evans
02/10/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Last February, International Christian Concern (ICC) requested that the United States Treasury Department issue Global Magnitsky sanctions against Iran’s Evin Prison, an entity with a known human rights abuse record. The following report details a casefile summary of the documentary evidence ICC submitted to the US Treasury Department. Names of victims have been withheld for security reasons. Details contained in the report involve cases documented between 2016 and 2018.
Iran is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights. These documents affirm that religious freedom is a key component of human rights and Iran’s constitution verifies that Christians are a protected religious minority. However, the public practice of Christianity is severely restricted and Muslims who convert to Christianity (Muslim-background believers, or MBBs) are not recognized as legitimate Christians.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report for 2018 lists Iran as Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern. Shia Islam is the official religion in Iran and the country’s penal code is written in a manner which opens the door to religious persecution. Through key judicial leaders in Iran, religious minorities are regularly targeted and denied their human right to freely practice their religion.
The actions committed at Evin Prison constitute a serious violation of human rights. The prison has systematically subjected prisoners, including numerous Christians, to assault, intense interrogation methods, medical abuse, and various forms of torture. The cases described below reflect this historical and systematic abuse of prisoners at Evin Prison and the violation of their human rights.
Command Responsibility and Job Description
Evin Prison, located just north of the city of Tehran, was built just eight years prior to the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was already beginning to see his reign weaken and built the prison to house thousands of political prisoners. The prison was run by the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, and quickly became well known as a type of torture factory.
This reputation was strengthened following the 1979 Revolution which overthrew the Shah. The prison’s management was transferred over to the new judicial authority, specifically the Revolutionary Courts and Revolutionary Guards. This new authority was explicitly tasked with guarding against any ideology which could post a threat to Iran’s Islamic Republic. As a result, Evin Prison evolved to incorporate an additional type of prisoner: those who have been accused and convicted of violating internal and external security, slander against the Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and/or its Supreme Leader, conspiring against the Islamic Republic, espionage, moral corruption, and anything related to the economy.
Over the last 40 years of the regime, Evin Prison has evolved in a way which deepens the prison’s capacity for human rights abuses, specifically regarding prisoners of conscience. Evin Prison is more than a jail; it has become a concept that enforces the Islamic regime’s extremist ideology by housing parallel forces and illegal detention centers.
Evin Prison has essentially become the gold standard for human rights abuses in Iran. It is widely referred to as the “torture factory,” “Iran’s most notorious prison,” “hell on earth,” etc. By identifying which ward a prisoner is incarcerated within, it is possible to anticipate the specific kinds of conditions and human rights violations which prisoners are subjected to. In each of these wards, the Intelligence Ministry works in conjunction with prison officials. According to ICC’s research, the following wards are known to hold prisoners incarcerated because of their Christian faith:
- Quarantine Ward: Everyone incarcerated at Evin Prison first passes through a Quarantine Ward. It is intended as a place to process prisoners into more permanent locations. However, because of overcrowding, it also functions as a long-term ward for some prisoners. ICC has documented the case of at least one Christian who spent an unknown amount of time in this kind of ward, possibly exceeding the amount of time it took to process him. For all Christian prisoners who are sent to Evin, it is at this point that decisions are made as to what kind of treatment they will be subjected to while incarcerated. According to witness testimony reported in 2015, the quarantine ward has over 1,000 prisoners and only two restrooms. This is in violation of Iran’s own prison regulations, as well as international standards.
- Ward 4: Little detail is known about this ward except that it is intended for prisoners convicted of financial crimes, and by Iran’s own legal standard no other type of prisoner should be incarcerated in this ward. According to ICC’s research, at least three Christians have been imprisoned in this ward although they were facing charges of a national security nature. They have had one of two experiences in this ward. They have either been transferred here from another ward once interrogations are complete, or they experienced harsh interrogations and health problems in this ward.
- Ward 7: This ward is intended for prisoners convicted of financial crimes, and by Iran’s own legal standard no other prisoners should be incarcerated in this ward. However, ICC has documented at least one case where a Christian was incarcerated in this ward even though he was convicted of a different crime. Ward 7 has a reputation of serious overcrowding, according to Iran Human Rights Monitor. Although it has a capacity for 200 prisoners, it routinely houses 700.
- Ward 8: This ward is intended for prisoners convicted of financial crimes, and by Iran’s own legal standard no other prisoners should be incarcerated in this ward. However, ICC has documented at least two cases where a Christian was incarcerated in this ward although he was convicted of a different crime. Inmates have regularly complained of overcrowding, insect infestations, and excessive heat in these cells.
- Ward 209: This ward is an example of a shadow ward which exists within Evin Prison. It is completely run by the Intelligence Ministry, and is thus outside of the oversight of any other governing authority. The harsh conditions of this ward, combined with its lack of accountability, have caused even Iranian officials to comment on the extreme human rights abuses faced in this ward. ICC has documented at least 11 Christians imprisoned in this ward because of their faith. Because Christians are regarded as a national security threat and come under the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Ministry, it is highly likely that many other Christians have spent some amount of time in Ward 209. Particularly those who were “disappeared” by the Intelligence Ministry in the vicinity of Evin Prison, their whereabouts unknown. Of those 11 Christians known to have experienced imprisonment in Ward 209, six experienced health problems as a result of interrogation or prison conditions.
- Ward 240: According to a report issued by the UK’s Independent Advisory Group on Country Information, “Ward 240 [of Evin prison] houses 700 to 800 solitary confinement cells. Solitary confinement cells lack natural light, and artificial light is on 24 hours a day, exacerbating the psychological pressure of solitary confinement. Former prisoners that spent time in both wards 209 and 240 noted that conditions in Ward 240 were harsher than in Ward 209. Reports describe more aggressive guards and interrogators and former prisoners add that they were unable to see anything outside their cells or hear anything besides the sounds of their own voices in Ward 240. Several prisoners described the small solitary cells as resembling coffins.” ICC has documented only one Christian as having spent some amount of time in Ward 240. His health greatly suffered while imprisoned.
- Ward 350: Ward 350 is intended for political prisoners, but was damaged during the 2014 raid by riot police. As a result of the damage, half of the ward was closed. The ward was reportedly shut down in 2017. However, ICC documented at least one Christian prisoner as having been incarcerated in this ward in 2018. His health hangs in the balance. ICC has documented at least one other Christian prisoner as having spent time incarcerated in this ward.
When the current regime came into power in 1979, they swept away all relics of the Shah’s rule except those which could be co-opted into the service of the new Islamic Republic. They took Evin Prison and grew it into its own entity with a reputation known internationally for its brutality. This clearly demonstrates that Evin Prison is a leading entity within Iran’s machine of human rights abuses. It is an institutionalized tool of repression that supports a shadow ward of even worse human rights abuses perpetrated by a regime with impunity.
Summary of Human Rights Violations and Evidence
Of the arrested Christians analyzed by International Christian Concern where the prison is known, 60% of the arrested Christians have served time in Evin Prison. These Christians report a routine denial of medical care, intense interrogations, and inhumane living conditions. More generally, inmates incarcerated at Evin Prison are subjected to the regime’s most brutal treatment, including assault, electric shock, and medical abuse. A 2016 report published by the United Kingdom’s Independent Advisory Group on Country Information Home Office elaborates that, “Torturing in Evin, like in other prisons in Iran, is a legal method to break down the political prisoners. Almost 71 kinds of tortures are reported by political prisoners who were personally victims of these brutal methods.”
For these reasons, Evin Prison is regarded as Iran’s most notorious jail and was sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2018. Evin Prison’s religious freedom violations have been documented and reported on by the US Treasury, the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In total, ICC has documented 20 cases where Christians have suffered human rights abuses in Evin Prison. In over half of these cases, specific details are known regarding their treatment while incarcerated at Evin Prison. They suffer from ill health, medical abuse, and regular, intense interrogation. They live inside wards known for being ill-equipped for sustaining human life in decency. In some cases, entire families have been victimized at Evin Prison. Given the intense persecution Christians face at the hands of the regime, and the secret nature of the Intelligence Ministry which often targets them and controls a large portion of Evin Prison, there are likely many more undocumented cases.
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