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UPDATED Iran Feature: Inside Rajai Shahr Prison (Bijnen)

UPDATE 1725 GMT: Human Rights and Democracy in Iran has posted the letter from Saeed Masouri on conditions inside Rajai Shahr.


Loes Bijnen writes a guest feature for EA:

When I recently read that seven leaders of the Baha'i community in Iran were transferred from the Evin Prison in Tehran to the Rajaï Shahr Prison in Karaj, west of Tehran, my heart forgot to beat for a moment. Do these innocent people have to remain there for twenty years? Amid murderers and rapists? And finally die there?

In the summer of 2005 I wrote an article for Rooz Online about the fate of political prisoners in Rajaï Shahr . I did this at the request of an Iranian contact in the US who urgently wanted to draw attention to some of his friends who were detained in that infamous prison. They were in a bad state, and the circumstances under which these political prisoners, some of them older than 50, were held were said to be gruesome. My acquaintance in the US was in direct contact with one of them, Arjang Davoudi, and he sent me information that came directly from the Rajaï Shahr.

Iran Witness: Political Prisoner Arjang Davoudi From Evin on Human Rights (2008)

I wrote in 2005:

Rajai Shahr is the place where political prisoners who are seen as a nuisance, are stowed away. Going to Karaj is a severe punishment. Once in there one stops to be a human being. One is put out of sight, even of human rights activists and the press. In Rajaï Shahr, political prisoners have to share cells with dangerous criminals like murderers, rapists and drug addicts who don?t hesitate to attack their cell mates. They have nothing to lose: many of them are condemned to death anyway. Murders or unexplained deaths are a regular occurrence.

Two of the detainees I noted were Arjang Davoudi and Amir Saran. Davoudi, an engineer, teacher and poet, was abducted in 2003 and condemned in 2005 by a Revolutionary Court to 15 years in jail, exile to a harsh climate, five years suspension of his civil rights, and 70 lashes of the whip. He spent 100 days in solitary confinement in the Rajaï Shahr prison and was severely tortured. Later he was exiled to the Bandar Abbas prison in the hot south of Iran. [Editor's Note: Davoudi is again in Rajaï Shahr where he reportedly is in critical condition after a hunger strikie of more than 50 days. A new court case against him is being pursued.]

And Amir Saran? In March 2009, he died of a stroke in the gruesome conditions of Rajai Shahr.

Since my piece in 2005 the situation in Iran has worsened. Hundreds if not thousands of innocent Iranians spend their days in prisons in solitary confinement. They are being interrogated for long periods day and night until they are broken down and will sign any document.

However, this reality does not seem to reach the world media. A letter from a prisoner with a life sentence was recently smuggled out of Rajai Shahr:
I want to paint a picture of Rajai Shahr prison. Though large in the eyes of the citizens of Karaj, in reality it is a very small prison because of overcrowding. This is a different world, much like the Hell depicted in movies, full of fire and smoke. A world filled with burnt, black, dishevelled faces, naked bodies covered with sweat and red marks from the sting of lice. A world filled with torn trousers, scraps of which are used as belts; bare and filthy feet; clothes worn inside out and covered with lice; torn, mismatched slippers. A world in which you are exposed to polluted air, the extreme smell of putrid waste, overflowing sewage from toilets, the toxicity of dry vomit, infectious phlegm, and the body odour from bodies in close proximity, rarely given the opportunity to bathe --- all coming to a climax with the smell of urine by those who are unable to control themselves.

All this against the backdrop of the tremendous uproar and cries of prisoners who seem to spend their entire day in lines. Prisoners standing in lines holding plastic bottles that have turned black and serve as tea cups; standing in multiple, long, packed lines to use a bathroom, to take a shower.

It is in this prison that an internationally prominent journalist, Isa Saharkhiz, one of my own acquaintances, has to spend his days. Even more incomprehensible is that seven innocent, civilised and highly-educated Bahá'í leaders have been brought to Rajaï Shahr. They are the voice in Iran of the most peace-loving religion in the world.

How long will they survive there?

What can the world community do to rescue these political prisoners and hundreds of others from the dungeons in Evin in Tehran, Adel Abad in Shiraz, Vakil Abad in Mashhad, Karoun in Ahvaz, Dastgerd in Isfahan, and other, often secret, prisons? Speak out, of course. But first of all the international media has to be awakened. With a SCREAM.

I look at Le Monde, The Washington Post and The New York Times, at El Pais, The Zürcher and the Süddeutsche Zeitung, and at NRC Handelsblad. I look at Obama, at Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. And also at [Dutch Foreign Minister] Maxime Verhagen. Help the Bahá'ís and all the other hundreds of innocent prisoners in Iranian prisons.

References (3)

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Reader Comments (5)

Here is the complete letter written by Saeed Masouri from Rajai Shahr prison. I posted a link to it back in the Latest from Iran (29 July): 22% Support?

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Dear Loes (and everyone),
If you are dissatisfied with the amount of attention paid by the international media to this case (and so many othersd), why not re-send Saeed Masouri's letter from Rajai Shahr to all the e-mail addresses listed under the headings:
- Extended gov’t & int’l org contacts
- Extended media contacts
on this campaign page that was originally created for another important issue?:

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Dear Catherine,

Thanks for your advice. I wrote this piece at the request of my Baha'i friends and sent it to Gary Sick's forum Gulf2000. It was publised and Scott saw it and contacted me. But in the original article I did not write that Saeed Masouri's letter was smuggled to ME! I read it after you posted that link. I am hesitant to re-send that letter as Masouri is still detained in Rajai Shahr and more publicity might harm him even more.
PS I think we both live in The Hague

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBijnen13

Beste Loes,

Thanks for your clarification.

RE "I am hesitant to re-send it as Saeed Masouri is still detained in Rajai Shahr and more attention for his person might harm him even more."

That's always the chicken and te egg dilemma in these cases: what effect will broad internation attention have on the future fate and current situation of a prisoner in an authoritarian regime? That's also something that has preoccupied Dutch authorities regarding the Zahra Bahrami case.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

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