After days of public statements and posturing by pro-reformist members of the Iranian parliament who were asking to be allowed to visit prisons and see how detained protesters are treated, it seems there has been a breakthrough.
Parliament's Judicial Commission has selected six of its members to visit Tehran’s notorious Evin prison on January 28, state-run Iran Labor News Agencey, ILNA cited the head of the Commission, Allahyari Malekshahi, as saying.
In a session on January 21, the commission elected six of its members -- Mohammad Dehqan, Mohammad Ali Vakili, Mohammad Javad Fat’hi, Hossein Reza Zadeh, and Mohammad Kazemi -- to visit Evin. They will be joined by a member of the National Security Commission.
The MPs are set to visit Evin prison after reports that two more people were killed after anti-establishment protests that broke out on December 28 and spread to more than 100 cities across Iran.
But so far there is no official announcement by judicial and security officials that the visit will be allowed to take place, These officials have previously backtracked on the issue.
The only hint that that the judiciary has agreed, came from parliament speaker Ali Motahari, who said that Tehran's prosecutor general has given the go-ahead for the visit.
“As a rule, the visit will take place next week,” Motahari affirmed.
Motahari had earlier joined his fellow legislators in calling for an investigation into cases of deaths in custody and the claim of judicial officials that these were suicides.
The deputy speaker of the parliament also proposed, “MPs should visit all prisons across Iran to investigate all cases of those who have been declared dead after [allegedly] committing suicide behind bars to eliminate all negative propaganda, rumors, and reservations concerning their cases."
Earlier, in a letter addressed to speaker Ali Larijani, more than 40 MPs had asked him to launch an independent and impartial group to investigate why detainees died in custody..
Larijani has not yet responded to the request. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether he has endorsed the newly formed grouping or whether the mission is an MP initiative.
Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani’s Special Aide for Citizens’ Rights Affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, has joined the chorus of MPs asking permission to visit prisons and detention centers.
“They [apparently the judiciary] are still weighing our request," Molaverdi said on January 20.
However, according to former prisoner and political activist Emaddudin Baqi, such visits have always proved unfruitful.
In an interview with Jame’ei No (New Society) website on January 18, Baqi insisted, “Such visits act as a safety valve. The only effective way to control prisons is letting independent local observers regularly visit them."
State-run Iran Labor News Agency, ILNA, cited the head of parliament’s Health Commission, Ali Nobakht, as saying on January 21 that the head of Iran’s Legal Medical Organization was invited to attend a hearing with the commission and explain the recent alleged suicides at prisons across the country.
Based on an official statement and the state-run TV, 25 people were killed during the widespread protests against poverty, unemployment, skyrocketing prices, dictatorship, corruption, and embezzlement.
Nevertheless, an unknown number of detainees -- including Sina Ghanbari, Vahid Heydari, Shahab Abtahizadeh, Saro Ghahremani, Kianoush Zandi, and Mohsen Adeli -- lost their lives in custody. Yet, according to the judiciary, their detention was not related to the protests.
Judicial officials have maintained that Ghanbari and Heydari were drug addicts and committed suicide at Evin and a police station in the central city of Arak, respectively. They also claimed that CCTV footage documents the suicides. Nevertheless, the officials have not yet published the footage despite demands by defenders of human rights, including UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran Asma Jahangir.
In the latest developments, it has been reported that the body of 20-year-old Shahab Abtahi was dumped outside his parent’s house in Arak on January 5, three days after he was arrested by security agents, the Sunday Times cited the exiled Iranian opposition organization MKO as saying.
He had injuries that appeared to have been caused by baton blows. Three other men, named as Hossein Qaderi, 30, Sarou Ghahremani, 24, and Kianoush Zandi, 26, reportedly died after being tortured at Sanandaj prison in the Kurdish-majority northwest of Iran, Sunday Times reported.
A former official during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency (1997-2005) and current political activist, Issa Saharkhiz, has reported another death of a protester in custody.
Saharkhiz, who has experienced prison terms, said on his Twitter account, “27-year-old architect Maryam Jafarpour who had participated in recent rallies was detained and later died in prison.”
The body of Jafarpour was delivered to her family after an autopsy, Saharkhiz disclosed.