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'Keeping People In Solitary Confinement Is Inhumane' Say Activists

Iran -- The spiritual leader of Gonabadi Dervishes Nourali Tabandeh, on December 22, 2017.

In a joint statement, Iranian human rights activists and prisoners of conscience Narges Mohammadi and Abdolfattah Soltani have cautioned that the incarceration of Sufi Gonabadi dervishes and environmentalists in solitary confinement in Tehran is “mental torture.”

The statement, published on the website of the Defenders of Human Rights Center (DHRC), said, “Keeping people in solitary confinement is an inhumane, illegitimate act against the law, moral and ethical standards, as well as a type of mental torture used to force a suspect to confess. Therefore, any sort of confession extracted under [the] unbearable condition of solitary confinement has no legal or legitimate credibility.”

Mohammadi, deputy head of the DHRC, and Soltani, its spokesman and veteran lawyer, have noted that they have been urged to issue the joint statement after receiving news of the suspicious prison deaths and conditions for environmentalists and dervishes held in solitary confinement.

The statement was issued after more than 500 Gonabadi dervishes were detained during an assembly on February 19 in front of their spiritual leader’s residence in northern Tehran.

Sufi dervishes belonging to the Gonabadi order had assembled to prevent security and intelligence forces from erecting a checkpoint near the home of their spiritual leader, 91-year-old Nourali Tabandeh, which practically put him under house arrest.

Police special units, supported by plainclothesmen, stormed the assembly and battered scores of dervishes.

While suffering physically, many of the detainees were taken to prisons and kept in unbearable conditions in solitary confinement, according social media reports and images. The detained dervishes were tried behind closed door without having access to lawyers.

The environmentalists who were arrested last winter are experiencing a similar fate, well-informed sources close to them have revealed. Although an unknown number of the environmentalists were released later, many of them were deprived of the right to contact their relatives. Nearly five months into their detention, the fate of many of the environmentalists, initially accused of espionage against the establishment, is still shrouded in mystery.

The most well-known figure among the detained environmentalists, the founder of the Persian Wild Life Heritage Foundation, Iranian-Canadian Professor Kavous Seyed-Emami, died inside Tehran’s notorious prison, Evin, in January under suspicious circumstances.

Prison and judicial authorities claimed Seyed-Emami had committed suicide after admitting to spying against Tehran. They also claimed a CCTV tape had documented the suicide. Later, the environmentalist’s son and at least two MPs disclosed that the claimed CCTV tape only showed Seyed-Emami entering a lavatory inside the prison and then his body lying on the floor.

Similar previous claims of at least two more suspicious deaths at prisons in Tehran and the city of Arak, central Iran, had proved baseless.

Mohammadi and Soltani say they felt dutybound to call upon the Iranian authorities, President Hassan Rouhani’s administration in particular, as well as members of the parliament and its Commission 90, defenders of civil society and proponents of expansion of civil rights, as well as internal and international human rights organizations to focus on the need to close down solitary cells at prisons and detention centers across Iran.

The activists also noted that keeping prisoners of conscience and political activists in solitary confinement during preliminary investigations is the cornerstone of injustice and the first step toward unfair trials.

Solitary confinement is “systematic psychological-mental torture,” they say, leading to “mental and physical illnesses” of the detainees that should be banned immediately.

Cutting off a prisoner’s communications with the outside world is illegal, against the Iranian Constitution and amounts to over-punishing prisoners, Mohammadi and Soltani say.

Human rights activists and former prisoners have spoken out against solitary confinement for years, but it has been repeatedly used as a way of supplementary punishment for so-called unruly prisoners, including political detainees and prisoners of conscience.

Calls to end solitary confinement have so far fallen on deaf ears, according to human rights activists.