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Pictures of Smiling Prisoners Shut Down Tehran Prison Ward

A riot police member stands in front of the Evin prison's door .UNDATED

Ward 350 at Tehran’s notorious prison, Evin, has reportedly been shut down after images of three outspoken prisoners were widely circulated on social media.

The pictures depict imprisoned human rights activists Arash Sadeghi, Esmail Abdi, and Soheil Arabi smiling and posing for photos in the prison’s courtyard. All prisoners of the ward have been transferred to other wards except for Sadeghi, who has reportedly been exiled to another prison, Rajaee Shahr, outside Tehran.

Citing a well-informed source, the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) reported that civil rights activist Sadeghi was sent to Rajaee Shahr prison on October 18.

Meanwhile, the dissident website Zeitoun confirmed that, following the publications of the pictures, Ward 350 had been completely shut down.

According to Zeitoun, most of the prisoners who were forced to leave Ward 350 are being kept in Evin’s quarantine ward, Salon Four. Arabi, who is accused of actions against national security, after being acquitted of insulting the prophet of Islam, was transferred to Evin’s Ward Eight.

Immediately after the pictures were published, Zeitoun maintains, “The prison guards attacked Ward 350, confiscated cell phones, dragged Soheil Arabi to Ward Eight and exiled Arash Sadeghi to Rajaee Shahr prison in Karaj, a city near the capital, Tehran.”

Political prisoners at Evin are not allowed access to cell phones.

In an interview with CHRI, renowned lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Mohammad Seifzadeh denounced Sadeghi’s transfer to a prison in Karaj as illegal.

“Sadeghi has been sentenced to prison, but the final verdict did not include exile,” he said. “Since he is a resident of Tehran, banishing him to a prison in Karaj is excessive punishment and a violation of the law by prison officials and judicial authorities.”

Exiling Sadeghi to Rajaee Shahr means he will no longer be able to have weekly meetings with his wife, Golrokh Amraee, who is also serving a five-year sentence in Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward for writing an unpublished story about the practice of stoning in Iran and for the content of some of her personal posts on Facebook.

The photos taken in Evin prison, Arash sadeghi, Esmaeil Abdi and Soheil Arabi
The photos taken in Evin prison, Arash sadeghi, Esmaeil Abdi and Soheil Arabi

In June 2016, Sadeghi was convicted of assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the state, spreading lies in cyberspace, and insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic with his peaceful defense of civil rights.

Transferring political prisoners from Ward 350 is not unprecedented. Many political prisoners behind bars at Ward 350 -- including journalists Ahmad Zeidabadi and Bahman Ahmadi Amouei as well as students and human rights activists Keyvan Samimi Behbahani and Majid Tavakoli -- have been exiled to Rajaee Shahr.

However, according to accounts from former Rajaee Shar prisoners, the conditions there are as inhumane and inhuman as Evin’s, if not worse.

In August and September, as many as 20 political prisoners at Rajaee Shahr went on hunger strike to protest the transfer of dozens of inmates without their belongings from Ward 12 to the security-enhanced Ward 10, CHRI reported.

Earlier, in December 2016, political prisoner Saeed Shirzad sewed his mouth shut for a hunger strike against what he described in a letter sent to judicial officials as “the quiet death of prisoners,” a reference to human rights violations suffered by prisoners.

“The clinic did not have medicines to treat anything worse than a cold, let alone high blood pressure,” Seifzadeh said. “Bad nutrition and a lack of vitamins weakened the prisoners.”

Furthermore, on October 9, several political prisoners at Rajaee Shahr issued a statement saying that prisoners are deprived of furlough, medical equipment, telephones, and required medicines, among other things.

Last year, Sadeghi, went on hunger strike for more than 70 consecutive days to protest his wife’s arrest by security agents. Arash ended his hunger strike after she was granted furlough.

Ms. Amraee was returned to Evin last February.

The other prisoner smiling in the Evin photos, Arabi, was first arrested in 2013 and charged for blasphemy and insulting the prophet of Islam. A year later, he was tried and condemned to death.

Later, in 2015, Iran’s Supreme Court acquitted him of insulting the prophet, which by the Islamic penal code is punishable by death, and sent his case back to the lower court for deliberation.

The lower court canceled the charge of insulting the prophet but sentenced Arabi to seven years and five months and banned him from leaving the country for two years after completing his term.