Great Tehran Penitentiary Imposes Information Blackout on Eight Sufi Detainees Held in Solitary Confinement
It has been more than a month since the wife of a Sufi Gonabadi Dervish held in Iran’s Great Tehran Penitentiary (GTP) has heard from her husband after he was put in solitary confinement with seven other Sufi detainees.
Faezeh Abdipour said judicial officials have refused to provide any information about her husband Mohammad Sharifi Moghaddam and his fellow inmates Reza Entesari, Kasra Nouri, Morteza Kangarlou Bilchi, Sina Entesari, Mehdi Eskandari, Amir Nouri and Hessam Moini.
The information blackout began after the detainees were moved into solitary confinement for allegedly taking part in a sit-in protest inside the facility on August 29, 2018, to demand the release of Sufi women being held in Gharchak Prison in Southern Tehran.
“They were badly beaten when they were put into solitary confinement and were not given any treatment, clothes or blankets,” Abdipour told CHRI. “The families tried to get these items to them but the authorities didn’t allow it and said the prisoners have to buy whatever they need from the prison store, which is very expensive.”
“Instead of caring about the lives of human beings, they’re thinking about doing business,” she added.
“Judiciary officials are giving the families the runaround,” said Abdipour. “Rostami, the prison’s judicial supervisor, says the prisoners are free to have visits and make phone calls. But when we went to Farzadi, the GTP’s director, he said higher officials, including Rostami, have ordered these prisoners to remain in solitary without visitation or phone access.”
“Then the director’s deputy said there’s no ban on having visits or making phone calls; they just don’t want to do it, which is obviously completely false,” she added.
“On October 6, the families went to the prison and were told that there would be no visitation until November 22, and the prisoners are still in solitary confinement,” she said.
Abdipour also told CHRI that the detainees could be facing new charges but that she had not been formally informed of anything.
On February 19 and 20, 2018, nearly 300 Gonabadi Sufis were arrested during a protest near the home of their spiritual leader. The protests left at least one dervish and three policemen dead.
At least 20 of the protesters were later handed heavy prison sentences. Eight of them were issued the sentences in absentia after they refused to appear in court to protest the denial of their due process rights.
The Sufis of Iran’s Gonabadi Order believe in a different interpretation of Islam than the ruling Shia establishment. The Islamic Republic views any alternative religious belief system, especially those seeking converts, as a threat to the prevailing Shia order and has imprisoned dervishes in the past as part of an ongoing persecution campaign.
Since the prison guards attacked the detainees on August 29, 18 of them have been on hunger strike by severely limiting food and liquids.
Multiple former detainees have pointed out the inhumane living conditions in the GTP, the largest detention facility in the country. A journalist recently described it as “beyond the limits of human tolerance.”
Located in Tehran Province’s Fashafouyeh district, 20 miles southeast of Tehran, and built in 2015 primarily for holding inmates convicted of drug-related offenses, Iran’s judiciary has also used the GTP to incarcerate dissidents and anti-state protesters convicted of politically motivated charges.