Iran Human RightsFamilies claim Iranian student activists were tortured in prison

Families claim Iranian student activists were tortured in prison


The Guardian: Fears that Iran is systematically mistreating political prisoners and dissidents have been further fuelled after the parents of three detained student activists claimed their sons had been tortured. The Guardian

Robert Tait in Tehran

Fears that Iran is systematically mistreating political prisoners and dissidents have been further fuelled after the parents of three detained student activists claimed their sons had been tortured.

In a letter to the country’s judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the parents alleged that the students have suffered physical and psychological abuses since being incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin prison in May.

The students – Majid Tavakoli, Ahmad Ghasaban and Ehsan Mansouri – were among eight from Amir Kabir University arrested for allegedly publishing anti-Islamic articles. The arrests followed a series of crackdowns on activists at the university, where students staged angry protests last December against president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The arrested students claim the articles were forgeries aimed at discrediting pro-democracy activists. But their parents say they have been pressured to make false confessions and have called on Mr Shahroudi to secure their release.

The letter – published on some opposition websites – claims the students have been subjected to prolonged interrogations, severe beatings, sleep deprivation and threats against their families while in the prison’s notorious Section 209, where political detainees are held under the supervision of the intelligence ministry. It lists 15 separate counts of physical abuse, including being forced to stand on one leg for prolonged periods, being struck on their handcuffs to cause severe swelling and being lashed with cables.

Interrogators are also said to have falsely told the students that their relatives had suffered heart attacks or lost their jobs due to their imprisonment.

“How much tolerance does a 22-year-old person have in the face of this torment?” the letter asks. “What has happened is far removed from constitutional, legal and civil rights, and from moral and religious principles. Whatever is forced out of our children under the title of ‘confession’ has happened under the most severe psychological and physical pressures.”

The letter’s claims are apparently based on the testimony of five students who were released. It says the students have been alternately held in cramped one-person cells and forced to share with dangerous criminals. Iranian officials have denied the claims and insist torture is not practised in the country’s prisons.

The accusations come amid rising concerns over human rights in the face of government claims that opposition elements are trying to topple the Islamic system in a US-backed “soft revolution”.

Last week state television aired a programme in which two American-Iranian academics, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh, appeared to acknowledge taking part in activities aimed at undermining the system. The pair, specialists with two US-based thinktanks, have been in prison for two months. Iran’s intelligence minister, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ezhei, announced that further arrests had been carried out in connection with the case.

However, campaigners say the supposed threat is a fig leaf to justify a general clampdown, which this week took the form of stepped-up police patrols to catch women whose dress and head-covering is deemed insufficiently Islamic. Authorities also announced that 12 kidnappers, rapists and drug traffickers had been hanged.

“We have no crime called a soft or velvet revolution in our legal code,” Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel peace prize-winning human rights lawyer, said. “The freedom to gather in public is much less than before, there are tougher restrictions on NGOs and there are students who have been in solitary confinement for 60 days. These are all human rights violations and things are getting worse.”

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