While as many as 3,700 are reportedly behind bars after widespread anti-establishment protests in Iran, Iranian MPs have promised to visit Tehran’s notorious Evin prison where at least two detainees were officially declared dead in apparent suicides.
“We are set to visit Evin next Saturday,” announced Tehran MP and the head of the parliamentary Security Committee, Mostafa Kavakebian, on January 10.
So-called reformist MPs and allied of President Hassan Rouhani constitute the largest faction in the Iranian parliament.
The protests initially broke out against poor economic conditions, corruption, skyrocketing prices, and unemployment in Iran’s second-most populous city, Mashhad, on December 28.
The protests quickly turned into widespread unrest targeting the ruling system across the country.
People in more that 100 large cities and towns across Iran poured into the streets, chanting slogans against tyranny, dictatorship, and extraterritorial military intervention and calling for an end to the regime.
There are reports that an unspecified number of the detainees were freed, which Tehran’s prosecutor-general has confirmed. However, the number of protesters still behind bars remains unknown.
Activists and residents Radio Farda has contacted in Iran say only a handful have been released.
Official claims that the death of two prisoners, one in Tehran’s Evin and another in Arak in central Iran, were suicides has raised concerns over the fate of those still held at detention centers.
Mohammadreza Aref, who leads the Omid (Hope) reformist faction in parliament, said on January 10 that Tehran Province’s MPs had requested to visit Evin.
Kavakebian, who is also a member of the influential commission for national security, promised to put together a report on the visit.
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.
Based on numerous past instances of harsh prisoner treatment in the Islamic Republic, human rights activists fear that now thousands of detainees are being denied their basic rights and even mistreated.
Sattar Zareie, a respected teacher in Esfahan’s Khomeni Shahr was arrested in the street, a day after protests in the city on January 4, beaten and dragged away.
His close friend told Radio Farda that Mr. Zaqreie had a heart operation two weeks earlier and when the family took his medications to the detention center, officials refused to accept them.
The family asked the prosecutor’s intervention and finally the prison took the medications but in the meantime Zareie’s health deteriorated and it is assumed he is in prison hospital.
Prison officials have refused to give any information to the family.
Moreover, the director-general of Iranian prisons, Asghar Jahangir, told reporters on December 30, “Our budget is not enough to run the prisons properly. Prisons in the Islamic Republic have two times more inmates than their capacity. We are incapable of properly feeding our prisoners three times a day.”
The medical and health conditions at prisons have also been a source of concern for human rights activists.
On September 1, 2017, Radio Farda reported, “A prominent Iranian journalist and member of the semi-opposition political alliance of ‘nationalist-religious,’ Alireza Rajaei, lost his right eye and part of the right side of his face after being deprived of having access to medical treatment behind bars.”
Rajaei, while doing his term in prison, suffered from sinus cancer but was not allowed medical treatment. Former prison-mates have said on social media that on multiple occasions the prison infirmary rejected sending Rajaei to the hospital and attributed his pain to toothache.