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Guards Attack Female Prisoners In Bid To Suppress Protest

Shahr Ray Prison called Qarchak, where guards attacked protesting female prisoners on February 7, 2019.

Security forces have reportedly attacked prisoners at the Qarchak (Gharchak) detention center in southern Tehran to stop female inmates protesting conditions at the prison.

Tear gas canisters were fired into the closed space of the prison on February 7. The attack was resumed on February 8, during which prisoners were beaten by guards, a website and Telegram channel run by Sufi dervishes of the Gonabadi denomination, reported, adding that several severely injured inmates were taken to hospitals.

There are many women from the Dervish community detained at the prison for participating in protests last year, but it is not clear what percentage of the prison population they constitute.

Tehran's outspoken representative to the Iranian Parliament, Mahmoud Sadeqi (Sadeghi), tweeted on February 8, "I contacted a well-informed person and I was told that female inmates incarcerated for narcotics-related charges in Qarchak, who thought that their names were not on the list of prisoners to be pardoned, held a protest rally but later calmed down after being promised that their names were also on the list."

This tweet shows a view of the prison on February 8, with smoke still rising from the complex.

According to the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Center (ABC), prison officials had recently promised the 1,000 female inmates at Qarchak that Iran's supreme leader would pardon most of them, except those convicted of murder, as part of an amnesty plan. But ABC maintained that prison officials released a shorter list of women to be pardoned on February 7, prompting angered inmates to pound on their doors and walls.

Iran pardons thousands of non-political prisoners each year to celebrate the victory anniversary of the Iran’s 1979 revolution, on February 11, 1979.
Fifty thousand prisoners are scheduled to be pardoned by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's chief-justice Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani recently declared.

Nevertheless, sources close to the female dervishes behind bars at Qarchak report that the real reason behind the protest was the unbearable conditions at the prison, where thousands of women incarcerated for various crimes are held together.

The relatives of numerous prisoners have expressed concern over the fate of their imprisoned loved ones and the "extraordinary situation" of Qarchak Prison after the clashes.

10 women dervishes who were reported imprisoned in Qarchak prison. File photo
10 women dervishes who were reported imprisoned in Qarchak prison. File photo

The Dervishes also reported, "To neutralize the harmful effects of the pepper spray and gas canisters fired into the prison, the inmates were forced to burn their beds and blankets. Prison guards rushed in and put out the fire, using fire engines."

Furthermore, according to the same report, "The prison authorities cut off water and electricity of the blocks to prevent the spread of the blaze, but ignored the prisoners who were stranded in the cold weather after breathing pepper and tear gases."

A relative of the prisoners told the dervishes' site that some of the prisoners were severely beaten by guards and they were transferred to the medical ward.

Responding to reports that Iranian prison guards in riot gear beat prisoners and used tear gas, firearms and pepper spray during raids inside the women-only Qarchak Prison in Varamin outside Tehran, Amnesty International (AI) Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said, “The reports of the Iranian prison guards’ reckless and heavy-handed response to protests at Shahr-e-Rey [eds: official name of Qarchak] prison are deeply alarming. Many prisoners were reported to have received hospital treatment for the effects of tear gas.”

"Prison authorities must refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force against prisoners. Instead of carrying out violent raids against prisoners, they should be working to address the inhumane and squalid conditions at Shahr-e Rey prison.”

AI also said it has previously documented cases of "appalling ill treatment" of prisoners at Qarchak. "Inmates at the site, which used to be a chicken farm, are held in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, without access to safe drinkable water, decent food, medicine, and fresh air," AI noted.