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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

3.1       Kahrizak Detention Center

Many demonstrators who were arrested in the summer were taken to Kahrizak Detention Center. Located in southeastern Tehran, Kahrizak was designed to house “thugs and criminals.”[354] The facility was cited as sub-standard in 2007 by inspectors but the Center was only shut down after some detainees arrested during the July 9 demonstrations died.[355]

In one regularly-cited letter describing conditions in Kahrizak, an alleged survivor with the alias Reza Yavari describes both the brutality of the security personnel and the filthy conditions of the cells:

Plain clothed guards entered the room, shattered the light bulbs and began to beat everyone in complete darkness. They hit anyone they saw in front of them. We were beaten for a good half an hour. A few went into coma and may have even died from the intensity of the beatings. They then shone flash lights in our faces and said “If you let out any sound we will stick these batons …”

… In that room of ours at least four people were killed before morning. Sadegh said in a loud voice, “There is no such thing as a toilet and toothbrush here, you do your business right here, are we clear?” There was not a single uninjured person among us, they all either had blood clotted on their faces or their eyes had been bruised like mine. And many others had broken arms and legs. It was completely dark. Our eyes would become extremely irritated from the light every time they opened the door. [356] 

Another reported account describes methods of intimidation, including torture and sexual abuse:

[Many] were hung for long hours. A large number were only beaten, which was the easiest to deal with. Some were kept in the solitary cells. Some had their hands and feet burned with molten tar. Many of the detainees had their teeth broken in this period. Most of the people who went to Kahrizak don’t have healthy teeth. The young ones were taken to the gallows to be hung, the noose was placed around their neck, but they were brought back down again. The kids were mortified, and all the while the guards would beat them and call them all kind of despicable names. The stronger prisoners were even deprived from the little food provided. They stayed in the containers most of the time. Also, the guards had let loose a few mice inside the warehouse and … They raped those who were younger and quieter than others. We could hear their screams.[357]

Amir Javadifar suffered mortal wounds at Kahrizak. Medical reports reportedly show that he had several broken bones and missing toenails.[358] The Majlis Committee, appointed to investigate post-election abuse, concluded that he was beaten when arrested and that he “did not have the strength to withstand the physical and psychological damages” of his four-day stay at the Center. His condition became critical while on the bus to Evin Prison and he died “outside the bus.”[359] His family first received news of his death when they were told to pick up his body on July 26.[360]

Mohammad Kamrani also died from the injuries and lack of medical care he suffered in Kahrizak. His family has insisted that Kamrani was simply a pedestrian in the area of the demonstrations and not a participant. In any case, the eighteen-year-old was arrested and eventually taken to Kahrizak for some time before being transferred to Evin. His family was eventually told that he would be released from Evin on July 15. On that day, they arrived to take him home but were told that he had been transferred to Loqman Hospital. The Majlis investigative committee found that he did not receive the proper care and that his family was not informed of his critical condition until 30 hours after his transfer.[361] At the hospital, his family found him secured to the hospital bed, under the supervision of guards, and near death. They succeeded in transferring him to Mehr hospital to receive better care, but he died a few hours after his arrival on July 16.[362]

Mohsen Ruholamini was arrested during the July 9 protests and initially taken to Greater Tehran’s NAJA Office in Kargar Street, close to Enqelab Square. The day after his arrest, security forces put Ruholamini on a bus to Kahrizak. The Majlis Committee reported that he was later put on a bus to Evin:

The late Ruholamini was in a critical condition when going from Kahrizak to Evin, and although the other detainees informed the guards about this matter, they dismissed it. Transfer from Kahrizak to Evin was done with improper busses that were stuffed beyond capacity in the height of the heat between 10 am and 2 pm. Once at Evin, although he was in a critical condition, the late Ruholamini was kept in the quarantine section between 14:00 and 17:00, at which point the physician sent him to the hospital to receive medical care.[363]

His father, Abdulhossein Ruholamini, a well-known adviser to conservative presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, spent two weeks looking for him but was unable to find any trace of him until Monday, July 20, when he confronted the Minister of Intelligence.[364] Two days later, he received a phone call from an official who expressed surprise at Ruholamini’s inability to find his son considering his status and rank. Only then did the caller give his condolences and provide Ruholamini with an address where he could find his son’s body. The phone conversation was so surreal that it left Ruholamini in doubt as to the veracity of the caller’s claims. Thinking that it was simply a scare tactic, he went to the Medical Examiner’s office as instructed and found his son’s body.

When I saw his body, I noticed that they had bashed his mouth in. My son was a truthful person. He never lied. I am certain that whatever he was asked, he answered honestly. His honesty was probably too much for them to bear, and they beat him senseless. [They] killed him under torture.

The authorities were kind and let me read his medical file, but the location of his death was blacked out. I learned that he was left untreated causing an infection [which in turn led to] a fever of over 40 degrees Celsius. [The file claimed that he had contracted] meningitis. On 3:30 p.m. of Wednesday, he was taken to Shohada Hospital in Tajrish as an unidentified patient. On Thursday morning, his dead body was handed over to the morgue. Then, after a week, they alerted us to the death of our son. [365]

Like other family members of victims, Ruholamini was forced to sign documents releasing the authorities from any blame for his son’s death and releasing his right to give his son a proper burial.[366] A witness reports that at the memorial service for Mohsen Ruholamini

the special forces attacked people with motorcycles to disburse them and beat them with batons. They would pull some of the protestors out of the crowd and carry them away with private licensed cars. They broke car windows who honked in protest. There were about 2,000 people there. If they found someone alone they would beat him with baton and kick him. They arrested a girl who was filming the guards from one of the floors in Sayeh tower with her cell phone. They forced her in the car and took her with them. They attacked people who protested.[367]

On July 27, the Supreme Leader ordered that Kahrizak be closed, and prisoners were transferred to other facilities. The authorities in Evin Prison, one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East, found the condition of the prisoners shocking. They refused to take responsibility for the Kahrizak prisoners and transferred them to nearby hospitals, where at least three died.[368]

Police Chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam was forced to admit that conditions had been “grave” at Kahrizak. However, he continued to insist that the issue was the overcrowding of the facility and that only two guards had beaten three prisoners—not those who died.[369] Instead, he insisted that “there is indisputable evidence that proves the deceased inmates died of a deadly virus infection.”[370]

Ayatollah Montazeri, directly addressing the Supreme Leader, insisted that simply closing the facility was an attempt to “fool” the people and that the blame could not simply be leveled at the building itself.[371] Ali Mottahari, a conservative Majlis member opined that, “If we are satisfied just to close one detention center, these people will continue to do what they have done elsewhere and nothing will change.”[372]

Investigations were launched by both the Majlis and the military. In addition, it was announced that ten staff members had been interrogated and eight had been arrested, including the head of Kahrizak.[373] Three judicial officers were also reportedly suspended due to their involvement with Kahrizak.[374] Still, even after other members of the government acknowledged the terrible conditions and violent interrogation of the detainees at Kahrizak,[375] General Radan, Deputy Police Chief, continued to portray the episode as a minor mistake.

At the outset, I would like to thank the police personnel for their role in the recent events. I say this because I feel that their work has been forgotten. Basij and law enforcement personnel act only on the belief that the principle of Velayat-e Faqih is unshakable. There have certainly been some minor mistakes in implementing our mission and these must be taken care of. Events at Kahrizak are among them and they must be addressed.[376]

As the investigations began to implicate Saeed Mortazavi, then-Prosecutor General of Tehran, he defended the compound. He claimed that there was no detainee abuse or lack of proper sanitation at Kahrizak.[377] Mortazavi did not deny the deaths of Mohsen Ruholamini, Amir Javadifar and Mohammad Kamrani, but claimed that they were the result of a flood of prisoners.

Many of the incidents that took place at Kahrizak were the result of prisoner overflow. … Even the three individuals who died at Kahrizak had been injured during the riots when they were brought to the detention center. … Two were taken to the hospital and the third died on the way to the hospital.[378]

Known as the “butcher of the press,” Mortazavi was Prosecutor General of Tehran from 2003 until August 29, 2009, when was he was appointed Iran’s Deputy Prosecutor General. Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi replaced him as Prosecutor General of Tehran.[379]

On August 31, 2009, a medical report was issued that rejected meningitis as the cause of Ruholamini’s death. Instead it cited physical stress, substandard detention conditions, and repeated blows to the head and body with a blunt object.[380] His doctor, Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, told an investigating committee[381]

[Ruholamini] was brought to me after being physically and severely tortured. He was in a grave physical condition and I had limited medical supplies, but I did my best to save him. It was then that I was threatened by the authorities of Kahrizak that if I disclose the cause of death and injuries of the detainees, I will cease to live.[382]

Dr. Pourandarjani died on November 10 under mysterious circumstances following his testimony. Only 26 years old, he had been fulfilling his military service as a doctor at the detention facility. His death was initially reported as a heart attack by officials who claimed he died in his sleep.[383] A week later, Police Chief Ahmadi-Moqaddam announced that Dr. Pourandarjani had committed suicide after he had been summoned to court and threatened with a five-year prison term.[384] Finally, Tehran’s new Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi announced that Dr. Pourandarjani had died by ingesting a variety of heart and blood pressure medications in his salad.[385] The Prosecutor General left open the question as to whether the death was a suicide or murder. However, Pourandarjani’s father and others reported that he was communicative and in good spirits the night before his death. The matter continues to be investigated.[386] 

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Sexual Violence, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination, Reports