The deputy head of parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission has lambasted Iranian authorities for deploying a swarm of intelligence and security agents at Tehran’s notorious prison, Evin, while a special delegation of MPs was visiting the detention center.
“The presence of officers at a prison is not unusual, but there were so many of them present at the time we were visiting Evin,” Mohammad Kazemi, said on January 31. “It would have been better if they’d stayed away since we had to talk to the detainees in private.”
After weeks of negotiations, the 11-member group finally visited Evin to investigate reports of detainees being killed in custody, an allegation that judiciary officials have dismissed as unfounded.
“The number of officers were far more than the number of visiting MPs, and that was not acceptable,” Kazemi said.
The group visited Evin’s Reformatory 4 and Block 209 on January 30.
Based on Kazemi’s comments, it appears there were only six detainees at Evin from the recent protests across Iran and MPs were allowed to talk to only four of them under supervision of the intelligence officers.
Kazemi, who represents the city of Malayer, also referred to Sina Ghanbari, who was arrested during the recent anti-establishment uprising and died in custody, which sent shockwaves across the country.
Prison authorities declared that Ghanbari, 22, had committed suicide at Evin.
However, human rights observers have insisted he was killed after being beaten by intelligence agents who had interrogated him.
The legal case concerning Ghanbari’s suspicious death, according to Kazemi, is currently being reviewed by a Tehran court.
“Though it is said that Ghanbari took his own life, I call upon the authorities to look more carefully into his case,” he said.
Earlier, another MP in the delegation, Mohammad Ali Vakili, had noted that his fellow legislators had unanimously decided to refrain from any elaboration on the outcome of their mission.
“We are going to weigh the outcome of the visit in a session tomorrow (January 31) and then decide on our next step,” he said.
Despite this agreement, the head of the judicial commission, Allahyar Malekshahi had announced that while at Evin prison the group of MPs viewed CCTV footage of the suicide of a young man who died while in custody at the prison.
Malekshahi’s statement was perceived as confirmation of a real prison inspection by parliamentarians and an endorsement of the suicide theory.
Now, his deputy contradicts this version of the visit and insists that they really did not have a chance to confidentially speak with prisoners.
Previous visits by MPs to prisons, however, were never fruitful enough to satisfy human rights organizations and activists.
Almost five years ago, four MPs visited Evin and praised its management and facilities.
"From now on, I will call it Hotel Evin rather than Evin Prison," Safar Naeimi Raz, a conservative MP, declared after a six-hour tour of the Tehran complex. "Evin's food is better than what is served at my own home.”
Another conservative MP at the time, Mohammadreza Mohseni-Thani, said prisoners "had no complaints regarding security, health, nutrition, or the facilities at the prison."
The comments triggered a barrage of criticism and open letters written by prisoners and former detainees, accusing the legislators of telling outright lies.
In an interview with Jame’ei No (New Society) website on January 18, political activist Emadoddin Baqi insisted, “Such visits act as a safety valve. The only effective way to control prisons is letting independent local observers regularly visit them."