Labor Activist Describes Torture and Inhumane Living Conditions at Iran’s Largest Prison
Teachers rights activist Rassoul Bodaghi witnessed torture and inhumane conditions including overcrowding, unsanitary living spaces, intolerable heat with severely limited water resources and the denial of medical care as an inmate at the Great Tehran Penitentiary (GTP), he told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“It was normal to see prisoners being beaten for all sorts of excuses, whether by the guards or others with higher authority,” Bodaghi told CHRI on August 7, 2017. “For instance, during morning roll call, prisoners were forced to sit on their knees for an hour, or sometimes two. It was all arbitrary, depending on which guard was less or more brutal.”
“Prisoners refer to GTP as the ‘Ultimate Prison,’ but I named it ‘Desert Hell,” he added. “It’s located in the Hassanabad Desert near Qom and in the summers, without water and cooling facilities, it feels like hell.”
“The building where I was held was called Quarantine 2,” said Bodaghi. “It has six cells and a large room. We had no hot water. There was running water for only one hour a day. There was only one toilet for every 170 prisoners. Sanitation and health conditions were so bad that after less than two months I got a serious infection.”
Bodaghi also told CHRI that the warden frequently shouted obscenities at prisoners on the loudspeaker.
A former teacher and board member of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association (ITTA), Bodaghi was released from the penitentiary on July 31, 2017 after serving a four-month prison sentence.
He was convicted based on a complaint by two security agents who physically assaulted him and then accused him of “insulting the supreme leader” while he was visiting fellow labor activist Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi in the hospital in May 2016.
Due to the time he served in detention prior to his sentencing, Bodaghi spent 44 days at GTP.
“Sanitation in GTP is a joke,” Bodaghi told CHRI. “We had to take a shower with a single pitcher of water. There was also so much overcrowding that ticks and lice infestation were very common in the cells.
“There were prisoners with HIV and hepatitis who are not being treated or segregated from other prisoners,” he added. “The authorities are well aware of this, but they don’t care.
“You can get treatment at the clinic only when you are carried there unconscious by your cellmates,” said Bodaghi. “When I told a guard that I needed to go to the clinic because of a sore throat, it made him laugh. The pain got worse and turned into a bad infection, which I am now trying to get treated.”
“Inmates smoke cigarettes and take drugs all day,” he added. “The cells and halls look like they have been swallowed by smoke.”
Also known as Fashafouyeh Prison, GTP is located 20 miles south of Tehran. Opened in 2015 with an official capacity of 15,000 inmates, it is the largest detention facility in the country, built mainly to hold suspects and inmates convicted of drug-related offenses.
“I didn’t see all the wards, but the prison seems to be holding more than what it can handle,” said Bodaghi. “If our cell was any measure, we had between 25 to 30 prisoners where there were only 12 beds.”
Before his latest incarceration, Bodaghi, 47, served more than six years in prison between September 2, 2009 and April 29, 2016 on charges of “assembly with the intent to disrupt national security” and “propaganda against the state” for engaging in peaceful labor activism.
Labor activism in Iran is seen as a national security offense; independent labor unions are not allowed to function, strikers are often fired and risk arrest, and labor leaders are consistently prosecuted under catchall national security charges and sentenced to long prison terms.
The teachers’ rights activist told CHRI that he was sentenced in absentia because he arrived 30 minutes late to the trial. Prior to that the judiciary had repeatedly postponed his trial.
“My case had been delayed for a year,” said Bodaghi. “Every time I went to the Shahid Ghodoosi Court in Vanak, the trial was postponed.”
“Then it so happened that I was just half an hour late for my last trial date and the judge sentenced me in absentia to four months in prison,” he added. “I objected and wrote a statement in my defense, but it didn’t make a difference. The Appeals Court upheld the decision.”
Bodaghi told CHRI he had not previously spoken about his conviction or time at GTP because he did not want his story to overshadow the cases of other imprisoned trade unionists.
“I wanted the teachers’ union and activists to focus on imprisoned colleagues such as Esmail Abdi and Mohsen Omrani,” he told CHRI.
Abdi, ITTA’s former secretary general, was returned to Evin Prison on July 27 despite being promised extended furlough by a judicial official in exchange for him ending his hunger strike. For engaging in peaceful activism in defense of teachers’ rights, Abdi was sentenced to six years in prison on the charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”
Omrani, a teachers’ rights activist based in the southern port city of Bushehr, began serving a one-year prison sentence for “propaganda against the state” for his peaceful activism on May 3.
“We believe the authorities should stop looking at trade union activities as a security threat and unconditionally free Mohsen Omrani,” said an ITTA statement signed by more than 1,600 teachers that was published on July 20.
“We believe trade unionists and labor organizations should give full support to teachers who are fighting to improve the educational system and improve teachers’ livelihoods, especially in rural areas where teachers’ rights advocates are treated worse by security agencies that hound and persecute them,” said the statement.