Violations of Civil Rights in Security and Intelligence Prisons and Detention Centers in Tehran
Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), Tehran – Hojatoleslam Abbas-Ali Alizadeh, head of the Judiciary of Tehran Province and head of the Civil Rights Inspectorate presented a detailed report to Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, head of Iran’s Judiciary, discussing steps taken to comply with civil-rights standards.
After months of inspecting detention centers, the Civil rights Inspectorate found notable cases of civil rights violations, including: the use of blindfolds; physical punishment of detainees; holding detainees without charge or sentences; prolonged investigations; subjecting a 13-year-old to most inhumane detention facilities for stealing a chicken; retaining a 73-year-old woman in custody for financial debt; imprisoning a women instead of her fugitive husband was accused of drug trafficking; and imprisoning 1400 individuals without charge or trial in one of the prisons.
The head of Tehran’s judiciary made this report available to ISNA after repeated requests and follow-ups by an ISNA reporter.
According to this journalist, such violations took place even though Islam emphasizes human values and dignity and it respects legal liberties and civil rights. Consequently, on the 8th of April 2004, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi issued a set of regulations about the protection of civil rights addressed to judges, law-enforcement officers, inspectors and prison officials.
The issue is of such importance that the legislative branch of the country passed this set of regulations and guidelines into law. The new law places special emphasis on safeguarding and respecting civil rights, particularly as such rights pertain to detainees in various stages of the judicial process including arrest, investigation, and detention.
The circular stresses that:
The law must be observed in every stage of every criminal investigation; Warrants are required for arrests and temporary detentions; Bias, abuse of power, and the use of unnecessary force must be avoided; and Unlawful arrests must cease.
The set of regulations further mandates that verdicts must comply with legal principles, and that the right of self-defense in court and against prosecution must be protected in accordance with Islamic values and principles. Further, it prohibits the use of torture and other illegal means of investigation or interrogation. It recommends that detainees not face interrogation about their private lives. Questions must be clear and demonstrate obvious connection with the alleged charges. Detainees’ words, whether in oral or written form, must not be altered [or misinterpreted], and violators [of the regulations issued by Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi] must be held accountable.
According to the journalist from the ISNA, Article 15 of the regulations requires full cooperation with the Inspectorate that authorities have set up to oversee the document’s implementation.
The inspectorate is made up of representatives of the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces, the Judges' Disciplinary Court, the Military Prosecutor of Tehran, the Military Prosecutor’s Office, the National General Inspectorate, Deputy Director of the Judiciary, and an assistant prosecutor from the Supreme Court. The Inspectorate has inspected various detention centers in Tehran province.
The Inspectorate’s report recounts the findings that inspectors made regarding detention centers belonging to the Tehran intelligence bureau; Army intelligence and military intelligence more generally; the amaken [anti-vice police]; the Defense Ministry; the Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Tehran; and the Seventh District Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office.
Particular prisons visited also included Rajai Shahr; Ward 209 of Evin Prison (maintained by the Intelligence and Information ministries); the narcotics and intelligence detention centers at Shahr-e Rei; Police Station 106 in Khazaneh; Unit 3 of the Ghezel-e Hesar prison in Karaj; Khourin rehabilitation center and the intelligence detention center in Varamin; and the intelligence and narcotics detention centers of Shahriar.
The Inspectorate’s reports significant civil-rights violations [in these facilities] and has identified and taken action against those responsible.
The ISNA journalist reports that the head of the judiciary in Tehran has assigned the investigation of civil rights complaints to various branches of the city’s judicial establishment including: Branch 79 of the Criminal Court; Branch 1059 of the Public Court of Tehran; the Second Investigative Branch of the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office; the Second and Fifth Branches the Court Martial of Tehran; and the Twelfth Investigative Branch and First Branch of the Tehran Assistant Military Prosecutor. The objective of designating these branches is to ease and speed the investigation of complaints concerning civil rights violations.
At the time of this writing [23rd of July, 2005], the Inspectorate has received 143 complaints. One involves a person who has been detained since January 1988, but whose file contains no record of any judicial proceedings or a sentencing order.
The Inspectorate compiled its findings about the detainee situation, including matters regarding prison visits and hygiene as well as the manner in which the detainees were summoned and arrested. These were the findings of the first round of inspection of intelligence and military detention centers. The Inspectorate has made decisions regarding interrogations of, and possible disciplinary measures against, officials suspected of having violated [the law through their actions in these centers].
The Inspectorate’s report mentions that 1,400 detainees in Rajai Shahr prison have not been charged or sentenced. The detainees’ legal status must be clarified and if any authorities are at fault, says the report, they should be held accountable.
The report also says that several cases should be brought to the attention of the Armed Forces’ Intelligence offices in Tehran and Karaj. Among these cases are those of a high-school girl who has not been charged or sentenced, and the case of an old and feeble woman. The report added that a shortage of caseworkers appears to be a problem.
In the first session of the Civil Rights Inspectorate, Abdolali Mirkuhi, the deputy director Tehran’s Judiciary, has stated that the Inspectorate’s duty is systematically to assess and evaluate institutions such as prisons, prosecutor’s offices, intelligence offices, and panels of intelligence-court judges, all with a view to improving the work of such bodies. He also clarified that the penal code, which is under review, tends to disfavor the accused. He said that all aspects of the law must be respected and that respect for [civil] rights calls for some improvements in the law; since the law is general, its ambiguous points should be clarified.
In one of the sessions, Inspectorate chief, Hojatoleslam Alizadeh, said that all necessary provisions of the law had been considered and now they needed to be fully implemented. One of his Inspectorate’s duties is to ensure that executives comply with the law; if they act outside the legal framework, they will be held legally accountable.
The Inspectorate has also announced that it has received information on the use of blindfolds [as an interrogation method], and has pointed out that the use of blindfolds is illegal. Officials have cited national security considerations as a reason to use blindfolds, thereby creating a discrepancy between the law and the conduct of officials in national security affairs.
Regarding this topic, Alizadeh states “such discretionary policies do not concern the law. The executives should solve the problems at hand. The alleged justification for the use of blindfolds is not our business; we should not give in to expediency [in execution of the law].” Another member of the Inspectorate has mentioned in a session that one of the military commanders has implicitly admitted to beating [detainees], and that this matter must be pursued and investigated.
The head of the Inspectorate claims that his organization has become very effective by responding to and investigating complaints. He notes that no law permits excessive beating of a woman. Torture is prohibited under the Constitution and notwithstanding the customary practice [of it], no one under any circumstances can order torture.
Some officials have reportedly obstructed the Inspectorate’s work and refused to fully cooperate. Mirkuhi, deputy director of Tehran’s Judiciary, has stated that the Inspectorate should ignore threats, continue its brave work, and fulfill its objectives.
The report also mentions that despite all the official emphasis on the need to respect public rights, a sergeant has arrested four people without arrest warrants in an airport terminal and then created a dossier on them using their family photo-albums and digging into their private lives. The judge in the case, unfortunately, [is not an independent jurist but in fact] works for the armed forces. A judge should not be the tool of a ministry or the intelligence services, declared Mirkuhi.
Despite high-ranking officials’ emphasis on civil rights, the Inspectorate has witnessed numerous instances of resistance and lack of cooperation. On one occasion, the members of the Inspectorate attempted to visit the intelligence detention center of the Revolutionary Guards but were barred; they were told that even officials of higher ranks [than the members of the Inspectorate] would meet with the same refusal.
Although the head of Tehran's judiciary has declared the Inspectorate to be a legal and legitimate body, and has stated that no information should be withheld from it, detention center officials still see themselves as above the law.
The Civil Rights Inspectorate has encountered 28 detainees in the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center whose offense appears to have been having had contacts with a satellite-broadcasting channel accused of carrying blasphemous remarks. The Inspectorate found that most of these detainees are illiterate and confused. They have been neither charged nor sentenced.
Detention without charges or trials and prolonged investigations are among the problems that the Inspectorate’s report underlines as crying out for a solution.
In a later round of inspections, Inspectorate’s representatives visited Rajai Shahr Prison and were shocked to find among the inmates a woman born in 1922 who had been in jail for four months. Her offense was financial inability to pay back a cash-deposit that she had collected from three Afghans to whom she had rented a place to live. Another woman in the same facility stated that she had been arrested in place of her husband, a fugitive who was wanted for drug trafficking.
According to ISNA, the inspections revealed that wiretapping or eavesdropping is the norm in all intelligence-agency detention centers. The Inspectorate asserts that this should not be the case unless the surveillance is conducted with legal warrant from judicial authorities.
Another noteworthy problem that has come to light has to do with lax management of detention centers. Some [officers and] authorities do as they see fit [without due respect to laws and regulations]. Although officially they are under the supervision of the penitentiaries' organization, in reality they follow their own commands.
The report also highlights the principle of the inalienable right to an attorney; and it considers prisoners’ lack of access to courts and obviously discriminatory treatment that goes on inside prisons to be infringements of the law.
The report points out to the number of suicides among women in Rajai Shahr Prison—a problem that officials there tried to deny—and calls for an investigation. Moreover, the report says that there were only seven caseworkers for three thousand detainees in the same facility.
One thing that leaps out from this report is the sheer number of detention centers in and around Tehran. Every intelligence unit, police district, or other security bureau seems to have its own jail, even though this is in contradiction with the regulations that the head of the judiciary has issued. The Inspectorate has stated that detention centers should be centralized and prisons should not fall under more than one jurisdiction. Military and Revolutionary Guards officers should not serve as prison warders. If there are problems [in prisons and detention centers], it is the judiciary that is responsible; therefore, prisons should be run under the command of the judiciary [not the executive branch].
Additionally, the report considers unsuitable environments to be a serious problem in detention centers. The set of regulations issued by Ayatollah Hashemi Shahrudi stresses that each detainee should have a space of at least twelve [square] meters but the report of the Civil Rights Inspectorate states that there were detainees who had a space of less than a single [square] meter for periods of eight or nine months.
The Inspectorate’s report admits that notwithstanding the legal ban against torture and prolonged solitary confinement, they remain widespread practices [in prisons and detention centers]. The report declares that any confession extracted from an unwilling subject is invalid. The document also strongly criticizes the use of blindfolds during interrogations.
As noted above, one of the cases that the report catalogues was that of the 13-year-old who had spent six months in jail for stealing a chicken. The questions that arise while examining this case are: Whether the most convenient [or the most fitting] disposition of a case should be chosen; who is accountable for severe violations of civil rights; and who should pay compensation for the financial and psychological harm caused by the negligence [of the officials who allowed this youngster to languish in jail so long for so small a crime].
The Inspectorate’s report also calls for an investigation to assess the possible molestation of detained women and girls and asks that the results of such investigation be made available to the Inspectorate.
The report’s closing section laments the armed forces’ current confrontational attitude toward the judiciary, and maintains that such problems [as stated above and throughout the Inspectorate’s report] can only be solved through logical and legal cooperation rather than conflict.
The Inspectorate presents alarming statistics concerning its inspection of the Ghazal-e Hesar Prison. As of 31 May 2005, the entire rehabilitation center held 8,061 people. Of these, some 3,075 had been charged by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office of Tehran Province. Another 1,561 were waiting to be released under kefalat [bail for women and children], and 959 detainees were waiting to be released under regular bail [i.e. bail for adult men], and 555 were under temporary arrest.
The overall number of detainees charged by public and revolutionary courts [in Tehran Province] was 4,986. Of these, 2,058 faced fines. Of all the detainees, 51 percent were up on drug charges. The other 49 percent were charged with offenses such as burglary, battery, fraud, manslaughter, and murder. Since March 2005 [until July 2005], detainees numbering 3,279 have secured some kind of temporary release from prison. Of these lucky detainees, 481 remain on leave at the time of this publication in July 2005, while another 80 have been charged with absence [for having failed to return to prison after their furloughs expired] and are subject to arrest and forced return to prison.
Overall, in Ghezel-Hesar Prison, 41,458 people were detained and 38,830 were released [from March of 2004 to March 2005].