“Unfavorable weather conditions” forced Iranian MPs to postpone a planned visit to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison January 28, according to the Parliamentary Presiding Board.
The weather conditions did not, however, stop MPs from holding a session just a few miles from the prison to vote on President Hassan Rouhani’s budget bill.
Reports concerning young prisoners who died behind bars in recent weeks triggered a barrage of public criticism in Iran to the extent that MPs felt pressured to personally visit the prison and report on the treatment of prisoners.
After days of negotiations and correspondence, one week ago the MPs said they had received the green light from the Judiciary to visit Evin. But there was never an announcement by judicial or prison authorities confirming a planned visit.
On January 21, the parliament’s Judicial and Legal Commission elected six of its members to visit Evin. Later, they were joined by a female MP, Fatemeh Sa’eidi, as well as representatives from the Parliamentary Presiding Board and the National Security and Foreign Policy commissions.
The outspoken Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ali Motahari has insisted that the investigation should not be limited to Evin prison.
“MPs should visit all prisons across Iran to investigate all cases of alleged suicides in police custody to eliminate all negative propaganda, rumors, and reservations concerning their cases," Motahari said.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic’s judiciary still maintains that two young prisoners, 22-year old Sina Ghanbari in Tehran and 23-year old Vahid Heydari in the city of Arak, were drug addicts and committed suicide while in custody.
Nevertheless, independent human rights defenders believe that the two, along with four others, Shehab Abtahizadeh, Mohsen Adeli, Saro Ghahremani, and Kianoush Zandi, were beaten to death while in detention after participating in anti-establishment protests that broke out in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad on December 28 and soon spread to more than 100 cities across the country.
In reaction to these reports, Iran’s judiciary has repeatedly said that Ghanbari and Hedari’s detentions were not related to the recent protests and that CCTV footage documents their suicides, though they have not released any footage.
The judiciary maintains that Saro Ghahremani was affiliated with a terrorist group and was shot dead in a clash with the security forces.
Ghahremani’s relatives, however, deny this version of events, saying there was no bullet wound on his body. They also claimed the medical examiner was not allowed to file an autopsy report.
Though the families of those who have died in the Islamic Republic’s prisons have repeatedly called upon MPs to investigate their loved ones’ deaths, past visits have not resulted in any new evidence or changes in Iran’s prisons.
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, Mohammadreza Mohseni-Thani, said at the time that prisoners "had no complaints regarding security, health, nutrition, or the facilities at the prison."
The comments triggered a wave of criticism and open letters written by prisoners and former detainees accusing the legislators of telling outright lies.
According to political activist and former prisoner Emaddudin Baqi, such visits have always proved unfruitful.
In an interview with the Jame’ei No (New Society) website January 18, Baqi insisted, “Such visits act as a safety valve [for the establishment]. The only effective way to control prisons is letting independent local observers regularly visit them."