Foreign diplomats under fire for whitewashing Iran's brutal prison

"Evin prison is symbolic of Iran’s rampant political repression."

A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A prison guard stands along a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison June 13, 2006.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Amnesty International’s Iran expert, Raha Bahreini, issued scathing criticism of 45 diplomats from a range of countries for participating in a tour of Tehran’s Evin Prison intended to show the benefits of a penitentiary that is widely considered one of the world’s most repressive institutions.
Bahreini last week called the regime’s July 7 tour a “crude publicity stunt” and said, “In Iran and around the world, Evin Prison is symbolic of Iran’s rampant political repression. It has held hundreds of peaceful activists, journalists, intellectuals and human rights lawyers throughout its disgraceful history.”
Bahreini continued, “Prisoners have described being forced to sleep on the floor, including during cold winter months, due to a shortage of beds and being fed ‘barely edible’ meals. Prisoners who are lucky enough to afford to do so can purchase food at their own expense from the prison shop.”
She added, “Research by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations over the years points to inhumane and unsanitary conditions at Evin Prison. Chronic overcrowding, severely limited hot water, poor ventilation, and infestations of cockroaches and mice, particularly near kitchen areas, are among the most common complaints.”
Germany’s mass-circulation Bild paper reported that Marian Schuegraf, a German diplomat in Iran, attended the event, and the Islamic Republic’s state-controlled media showed her walking on a red carpet leading into the prison.
According to Bahreini’s article on the website of Amnesty International, “The authorities made no secret of the fact that the tour of Evin Prison in Tehran was designed to counter negative human rights reports about the prison, and showcase the ‘excellent facilities’ on offer which include an in-house beauty salon, gym, library and restaurant.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Kazem Gharib Abadi, the deputy head of the Iranian judiciary’s Human Rights Council, said “the image portrayed of the Iranian prisons by certain countries and media is a false and untrue one.”
He also said prisoners have “perfect access to medical care.”
Bahreini fired back: “Such false claims by the Iranian authorities are an affront to the hundreds of prisoners over the years who have suffered behind bars at Evin Prison. The foreign delegates who took part in this tour may not have known in advance that they would be getting such a limited, distorted view of conditions in this notorious prison. But it should be very clear to them now that they are being used by Iranian authorities to validate their crude propaganda.
“Unsurprisingly many areas of the prison remained off limits to the foreign delegates. They were only granted access to a handful of sections in buildings 4 and 7, mostly housing wealthier prisoners convicted of financial crimes.
In these areas, prisoners have used their own funds to boost conditions, buying carpets, curtains, televisions, air conditioning units, kitchenware and other furnishings,” said the Iran expert.
“Amnesty International learned that ahead of the visit the authorities transferred some prisoners from these sections to other areas in order to alleviate overcrowding, and painted walls. They also warned prisoners against approaching the diplomats and expressing any criticism.”
The countries whose representatives participated in the visit to Evin Prison were: Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Nigeria, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the Vatican.