Journalist Recounts “Inhumane” Living Conditions at Iran’s Great Tehran Penitentiary
An Iranian journalist who was detained at Iran’s Great Tehran Penitentiary (GTP) has written about the jail’s “inhumane” conditions, stating in a Facebook post that day to day life there is “beyond the limits of human tolerance.”
“The sign above the entrance to the prison in Fashafouyeh says, ‘Great Tehran Penitentiary,’ but the fact is that psychological and physical pressures on the prisoners are so intense that you essentially don’t have the opportunity to ‘contemplate and repent,’” wrote Nader Fatourehchi on August 21, 2018.
With an official capacity of 15,000 inmates, the GTP, located in Tehran Province’s Fashafouyeh district, 20 miles southeast of Tehran, is the largest detention facility in the country. It was built in 2015 primarily for holding suspects and inmates convicted of drug-related offenses, but the judiciary has also used it to incarcerate dissidents and anti-state protesters.
Since February 2018, more than 200 Sufi Muslims belonging to the Gonabadi Order have been transported to the penitentiary after being arrested at a street protest in Tehran that month. In late August, human rights lawyer Arash Keykhosravi and former MP Ghasem Sholeh Sa’di were also taken there in handcuffs and prisoners’ uniforms that are only used for inmates convicted of violent crimes.
Both men were detained for attending a peaceful protest rally.
Fatourehchi, a freelance film critic and author, was arrested on August 19 and held at the GTP for one day after he was sued by producer Mohammad Emami for criticizing the “suspicious” financial backers of Emami’s popular historical drama series, “Shahrzad.”
In November 2017, Fatourehchi published an article on the Amsterdam-based Radio Zamaneh news website, titled, “Shahrzad: 10 Questions Journalists Are Not Asking,” questioning where the film’s huge budget had come from. He also leads the “No to Shahrzad” campaign on social media.
Fatourehchi, who was released on bail on August 20, wrote about his experience the next day.
“Paying attention to the living conditions and welfare of ordinary prisoners in Fashafouyeh is a very pressing and urgent matter,” he wrote. “In Iran, nobody is more helpless and destitute than they are. Their conditions are the exact definition of ‘inhumane.’”
“What they are experiencing is beyond the limits of human tolerance, even it were for just a day, and I have no doubt that it is leaving an irreparable impact on their bodies and souls every day,” he added.
According to Fatourehchi, about 40 new prisoners are admitted into the facility each day. The new inmates are first kept for four days in the quarantine unit, which he described as a “sewer” without ventilation or washing facilities, and fed “cold macaroni or uncooked yellow rice.”
Fatourehchi continued: “More than 80 percent of the prisoners in quarantine are homeless drug addicts who are too weak to stand on their feet. They should be hospitalized, not imprisoned. The stench from body odor and infected wounds is unimaginable and what makes it worse is the vomit left by drug addicts who don’t have the strength to go to the toilet.”
Fatourehchi also noted that many of the inmates, who come from poor backgrounds, are rarely able to see their relatives who cannot afford to travel to the prison’s remote location. When their relatives do show up, they have to wait outside for long periods and sit on dirt.
In his Facebook post, Fatourehchi included a photo of three cigarettes he had been given during his encounters with detained Sufis in the jail.
“As I was leaving the prison, I bumped into some Gonabadi dervishes, including the dear Kasra Nouri, Mr. Entesari and others whose kindness, stature and affection were so deep that it felt like I was looking at familiar faces filled with light that brightened the surrounding darkness.”
“I will never forget their loving smile,” he added.
Nouri, who was a graduate student in human rights at the University of Tehran before he was arrested, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, 74 lashes, two years of exile in Salas Babajani county in Kermanshah Province, a two-year ban on traveling abroad, and a two-year prohibition on political and social activities including social media.
Entesari, who was an editor of the Gonabadi-run Mazjabroon website, has been sentenced to seven years in prison, 74 lashes, two years of exile in the northeastern city of Khaf, a two-year ban on leaving the country and a two-year ban on political and media activities.