Evin Prison: Visiting political prisoners
After the Iranian Presidential elections of 12 June 2009, and subsequent widespread political arrests, the visitation pattern of political prisoners’ families changed drastically from previous years. The number of political prisoners increased and therefore the number of families who were in search of their arrested loved ones also increased. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has conducted several interviews with the families of political prisoners regarding the details of their visits to Evin prison. What follows are the observations of several of these people. The interview content has been summarized and presented here in the form of a report, taking out the duplicate questions:
These days the Evin prison’s visiting hall has no room for a needle to drop. The hall has about 80 cabins specifically designated for visits. This number of cabins is sufficient for the families of political prisoners to quickly undergo their visits; however, unfortunately, the policy of the prison authorities is to send the visitors in groups of ten people at a time. The process for obtaining the blue visitation cards is that visitors must provide the name of the prisoner, name of the father of the prisoner, and name of the visitors, who must be immediate family members of the prisoner, meaning the father, mother, sister, brother, spouse, and children.
Families of political prisoners start to appear in the visiting hall at 8:00 a.m. daily. But, the authorities in charge of visitation only show up to work at around 9:00 a.m.. The allotted time for visitation is till 2:00 p.m.. But, those who have obtained their cards and have received permission to visit are allowed to stay in the visitation hall after 14:00 till they are done with their visits. However, the card must be obtained first and then whether the prisoner is allowed to have visits or not is reviewed, and after the delivery of a visit permit to the family of the prisoner, finally the names of prisoners are called and their families will find out that they must go upstairs in order to have their visit, a very slow process–particularly as many of the visitors are parents in advanced ages and the long wait could become difficult for them. The important point is that only two personnel and a soldier are responsible for dealing with the large number of visitors. The two personnel take turns to process the women”‘ line, and then the men’s line, while they answer questions.
Sometimes very brief scuffles take place between families of prisoners over observance of turns, which seems to please the Evin prison officials, although some people from the crowd immediately end the issue with the exchange that “we should not be arguing when our loved ones are imprisoned,” to others’ approval, putting an end to this topic that sometimes, like this past Thursday, inflicts extra stress and anxiety on the families, especially those who are older, causing them to have heart pains, leg cramps, or similar problems. Last Thursday, the father of a political prisoner suddenly fell on the ground, and even after they informed him that he could go to visit his son he could not move from where he had fallen. A female doctor, who was also there to visit a relative, worked on him for about 30 minutes, trying to revive him, but, with much difficulty, he was eventually moved out of the prison hall. The scene was so bad that one of the two visit hall staff came outside of the confined glass area and said he could come there and carry him for piggyback his visit. However, these visits produce a lot of stress because it is not clear even after several hours whether family members can see their loved ones or not.
Take the family of Hamzeh Karami, who has been in Evin Prison for nine months and his family have not yet found a regular visitation pattern. Even if they deliver their card early in the morning and get a permit to visit, the Karami family still would be the last ones to make a successful visit. But, why do they send groups of ten people in at a time? It has been said that all conversations are recorded, and for the sake of better quality, smaller groups are arranged. The families of the imprisoned have 20 minutes to visit their loved ones. However, this allotted time for many families may be reduced to 3 to 5 minutes, especially the ones that have been permitted for visitation after 1:00 p.m., because when there is a large number of visitors, they may be forced to finish their visits faster towards the end. Maybe it has another reason, too–the behavior of the prisoner and how satisfied the prison authorities are with it, as is written on the walls of the visitation hall.
During each visit, families can make a payment to the hall’s official with their application for visit, which is between 10,000 to 50,000 Toman. The fortunate ones, who have permission to visit, in addition to clothing can bring food for prisoners and embrace their loved ones. Off course, this can only happen in the presence of an officer, requested by the family, the prisoner’s permission from the interrogator, and persistence from the prisoner’s family, and of course it is more for those who have been in prison for a few months.
Most of the meetings are through a cabin. Those who have been in prison for a few months are allowed one visit in person per month at the most. However, currently there is no specific law. Of course having a kind intermediary can be instrumental.
Conversations are recorded, but many visitors and prisoners convey their messages by pointing or lip-reading, or some things are asked with gestures. But, there are instances where the prisoner might be denied visitations in the future if they says certain things. Especially when the prisoner is making a telephone call to his family, and interrogators stand above his head and the telephone conversations are broadcast. While all prisoners know that if certain things are spoken it might bring them hardship, during cabin meetings there are officers present and sometimes during these visits, it has happened that in the middle of the visit or 10 minutes into the visit the curtain in the middle of the glass partition suddenly drops and sound is cut off.
When a permission for visit is given there are many tears, embraces, and happiness with tears. They usually cry in the downstairs hall and in front of the door, so they won’t cry in front of the prisoners upstairs, to keep the spirit of the prisoner high. The people who are not given permission also cry, which of course this is a different kind of crying from the cry of those who get permission to visit. They plead and beg, and might say that they have come from far way. In some cases, begging has produced results, although only in a small number of cases.