V. Ill-treatment of Detained Activists at Evin 209

“Security” detainees held in Evin 209 often face the prospect of ill-treatment during interrogation and detention. Prolonged interrogation while blindfolded and without counsel, lack of access to phone calls or visits with family members, and confinement in solitary cells are among the routine experiences of detainees. In some instances, Ministry of Information personnel subject detainees to sleep deprivation, threats, and other forms of physical and psychological ill-treatment.

Ill-treatment during Interrogation

In a July 24, 2007 open letter to Ayatollah Shahrudi, head of the Judiciary, the families of detained students Majid Tavakoli, Ahmad Ghasaban, and Ehsan Mansouri wrote that prison officials were physically and psychologically mistreating those at Evin 209 to coerce them into making self-incriminating statements and to implicate other students. Based on conversations with their sons and the statements of five students released on bail on July 18, the families alleged that authorities had subjected their children to 24-hour interrogation sessions, sleep deprivation, and threats against them and their families. The families also said that security agents had confined the detainees in cells with dangerous convicted prisoners, beaten them with cables and fists, and forced them to remain standing for long periods of time.153

A student activist imprisoned in July 2007 reported to Human Rights Watch how interrogators treated him and fellow students:

I was interrogated every single day. I had three interrogators but others had more. One of my friends was interrogated by seven different people at the same time. In my case, sometimes one would interrogate me, other times two would show up, and sometimes all three would be in there. Their whole aim was to get me to confess to things in a way that carried the heaviest penalties. For example, I had once participated in a peaceful gathering on campus with a couple of other people, and they tried to get me to say that I had “disrupted the general order” by doing that and thereby had “endangered national security.” They used all kinds of pressures to get me and the others to say these things. They would insult us and our family in the most vulgar ways. Or they would threaten to beat us or throw us in the cells of dangerous criminals like Al-Qaeda members. They would threaten rape with soda bottles or hot eggs. They also would give us false news about our loved ones and brought forged documents to scare us. They told one guy that his dad had been fired because of him and showed him a piece of paper on official looking letterhead. Or they’d say, “Your mother is in the critical care unit of the hospital and she’s dying,” and they would bring fake medical files. They’d try to demean us in various ways. We would have to take off our pants and underwear and lay on the ground, and then they would say sexually degrading things to us. There were also physical pressures. They would keep us in interrogation for seven or eight hours without letting us eat or use the restroom. They would also blast loud noises into our cells when we weren’t in interrogation.

They also hit us. They punched my back so hard the first day that I had to take strong painkillers the whole time I was in detention. Sometimes they would make me do repetitive movements or stand with one leg bent. If I put my leg down, they would pull down my pants and underwear, and then when I would try to pull them back up, they would kick me in the face.154

Journalist Jila Baniyaghoub was among the 33 women arrested on March 4, 2007. Her writings document the interrogation practices she experienced at Evin 209:

The interrogations weren’t at a specific time. They would begin first thing in the morning and continue until the middle of the night and sometimes until the next morning. They dedicated the first days to interrogating the very young girls, which had made us hopeful that they would release them sooner. But this was a vain hope. They hadn’t released many people in these few days. When the guard opened the cell door and called my name loudly, I was totally asleep. It seems that he had called me a few times and I hadn’t heard. I’d had my head under the cover because it was so cold, so I shook myself and pushed the cover aside. I was really sleepy and couldn’t open my eyes. I looked at the female guard with difficulty. She said “Get up. Your expert is ready. You have to go to interrogation.” By “expert,” she meant interrogator, but the interrogators in Evin’s security unit called themselves experts, and that’s what the prisoners called them too. The hands of the clock showed 12:30 [a.m.]. I said to myself, “The interrogator doesn’t want us to sleep, and he/she doesn’t want to sleep either.” The guard said, “Put on the blindfolds.” With my half-open eyes, I picked up one of the blindfolds that were in the corner of the cell so that I could cover my eyes when leaving the women’s units.155

Baniyaghoub goes on to describe her first interrogation session, where, blindfolded, her interrogator told her to write in depth about all of her “political, social, and cultural activities” while blindfolded. She says that when she pointed out that the Citizens Rights Law enacted by the Iran’s head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, prohibit the questioning of prisoners while blindfolded, the interrogator interrupted her, stating that “I know what Mr. Shahrudi has said, but this is the prison of the Ministry of Information and has its own special rules.”156

Another women’s rights activist described her experience of being questioned blindfolded, facing a wall, punished when she tried to object, and pressured to sign a false confession:

My interrogations lasted anywhere from one to seven hours. I objected to being interrogated in the middle of the night, and my interrogator said, “I’m only interrogating you at night because I want to let you go sooner.” I was blindfolded, and he told me to sit down on the chair facing the wall. I turned the chair around and lifted my blindfolds when he left the room. When he came back and saw me, he was really angry and yelled at me to put on my blindfold and turn around. I wrote letters of objection about our treatment—a lot of the women did—but they ignored us. One of my interrogators got so mad about this that he tore up the paper and threw the pieces on my head. For the first couple of days, we hadn’t been able to make phone calls. Once we’d been allowed to make some calls, the interrogators tried to use them against us. They’d threaten to cut off our phone access when we didn’t make statements they wanted us to make. Sometimes we’d be in the middle of a conversation with a family member, and they would cut off the line in the middle.157

Solitary Confinement

Ministry of Information agents were in charge of the detention and interrogation of the students and activists arrested in May and July 2007.158 A student activist detained during these sweeps described his detention and interrogation experience in Evin 209 to Human Rights Watch:

They put me in solitary confinement from the first night. The cell was about 3 by 4 meters. It was carpeted, had a sink, and a single lamplight that was always on. There was a small window that was always open, but it had bars, and they had welded a metal sheet with holes across the window so not much air could come through. My cell didn’t get much light because of the metal sheet either, but I could still tell whether it was night or day. The cell was the only place I could take off my blindfolds. I complained to the Ministry of Information guards and interrogators that keeping me blindfolded was in violation the Citizens Rights Laws. They would either ignore me or make fun of me. For example, when they wanted to take me to interrogation, they would give me the blindfolds and say, “Here, put on these violations of your Citizens Rights.” If I said that there were certain rules that they had to follow in detention centers, they would make fun of me and say, “This isn’t a detention center; it is purgatory.” I asked about access to a lawyer or calling a lawyer, but I spent my entire time in detention in a solitary cell, without being able to contact anybody.159

The security forces at Evin held at least seven of the teachers who took part in the March 2007 demonstrations in solitary confinement for periods ranging from 16 to 60 days.160 One of the four whose wives wrote in objection to their detention (see above), Mohammad Bagheri, spent 33 days in solitary confinement. 161

As noted above, Ali Farahbaksh spent 45 of his 318 days in prison in solitary confinement. Kian Tajbakhsh was in solitary confinement from the day of his arrest, May 11, 2007, until his release on bail on September 20, 2007. Haleh Esfandiari was in solitary confinement in Evin 209 without access to her lawyer for almost four months.

A woman activist arrested on March 4 described how the police and security forces blindfolded them on arrival at Evin 209, and how one women’s rights protestor was taken immediately into solitary confinement:

The police and security forces arrested us and took us to the police detention center on Vozara Street. They asked some of the women a few questions, and they told us to gather our stuff because we were being released. We were all really happy and got on the bus thinking we would be freed, but then they took us to Evin, straight to 209. That was a really terrible moment. We didn’t know what we were being charged with or what was going to happen to us. The guards blindfolded us at the entrance of 209. Almost everyone objected at once to this, but they ignored us. I think to scare us for speaking out, they took one of us to solitary confinement right away.162

This woman emphasized to Human Rights Watch, however, that compared to what has been alleged about the Information Ministry agents’ treatment of students and other activists in the detention facility, the agents treated the women detainees relatively well.

153 “The Complaint Letter of the Families of Majid Tavakoli, Ahmad Ghasaban, and Eshan Mansouri,” Advaar News , Amir Kabir University Newsletter, July 11, 2007, (accessed August 24, 2007) and Human Rights Watch email correspondence with student activist (name withheld), July 25, 2007.

154 Human Rights Watch online messenger correspondence with student activist (name withheld), August 17, 2007.

155 Jila Baniyaghoub, “What Happened to us in 209 Evin (Part Two),” Gooya Newsletter, June 8, 2007,, (accessed June 8, 2007).

156 Ibid.

157 Human Rights Watch online messenger correspondence with women’s rights activist (name withheld), August 14, 2007.

158 Human Rights Watch online messenger correspondence with student activist (name withheld), August 17, 2007.

159 Ibid.

160 “Some of the Teachers Who Have until Now Paid a Heavy Price for their Cry for Justice,” website of the Trade Association of Tehran-Iran Teachers, July 30, 2007, (accessed July 31, 2007).

161 Ibid.

162 Human Rights Watch online messenger correspondence with women’s rights activist (name withheld), August 15, 2007