The Iranian regime’s treatment of the Anglo-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who last month completed a five-year sentence after being convicted on trumped-up charges of conspiracy but now faces new charges, has once again shone the spotlight on the country, its judicial system and the appalling conditions endured by female prisoners in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. The security services are renowned for filing additional charges against prisoners once freedom is in sight. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, an Iranian writer and human rights defender known for campaigning against the practice of stoning, was briefly released in 2019 before being detained on new charges the same year.
Iraee was first arrested on 6 September 2014 with her husband, Arash Sadeghi, an activist who has been imprisoned several times for his peaceful human rights work. The authorities did not present an arrest warrant or any form of identification and ransacked the couple’s home, confiscating personal possessions such as laptops, CDs and papers. Among the seized documents was Iraee’s notebook, which she used as a diary. It contained a fictional, handwritten story in which a female character watches The Stoning of Soraya M, a 2008 Persian-language film depicting the true story of a woman stoned to death for adultery. Upset by Soraya’s fate, Iraee’s character burns the Koran in an emotionally charged moment.
Although the story has never been published, Iraee was interrogated about it and was herself threatened with execution. The human rights organisation Freedom Now claims that she was questioned while her husband was in the room next door and she could hear him being tortured through the walls. Iraee was placed in solitary confinement for three days and endured twenty days without access to her family or lawyer. In May 2015, she was charged with ‘insulting Islamic sanctities’ in her story and ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ for two separate Facebook posts and possession of supposed propaganda in her home. She was convicted in absentia and sentenced to six years in prison, later reduced to thirty months as part of a Persian New Year pardon. She was temporarily released in January 2017, while awaiting a judicial review of her case, but was rearrested a few weeks later. Sadeghi, meanwhile, was convicted of ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ for interviews he’d conducted about human rights and prison conditions, and of ‘spreading lies in cyberspace’ and ‘insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic’ in Facebook posts about political prisoners and 1980s Iranian history. He received a fifteen-year prison sentence.
Iraee was released on bail in April 2019 following an eighty-one-day hunger strike. Three months later, new charges were brought against her and the Revolutionary Court in Tehran found her guilty of ‘insulting the supreme leader’ and ‘promoting propaganda against the state’. She was convicted in September and sentenced to an additional three years and seven months. She was sent back to prison in November. Sadeghi is currently being held in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj. He claims that ‘acts of oppression and torture, while undergoing a superficial transformation, have increased’ since Ebrahim Raisi was appointed chief justice of Iran in March 2019. Sadeghi has raised concerns over the conditions in which his wife and fellow political prisoners are being held, particularly given the dangers of coronavirus infection. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was moved to house arrest as a precautionary measure, but most political prisoners remain, like Iraee, behind bars and ‘are increasingly in danger of attracting the coronavirus because new prisoners who enter the facility are not quarantined,’ claims Sadeghi.
In a letter to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, dated 3 February 2021, Sadeghi detailed the inhumane treatment of his wife. He reported that in December 2020, Iraee was physically assaulted by prison guards as she was transferred from Gharchak Prison, near Tehran, to Intelligence Ward-2A of Evin Prison, which is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. After being interrogated for forty-three days, she was returned to Gharchak Prison on 24 January. On the same day, without being allowed to collect her clothes and other belongings, she was sent to Amol Prison in north Iran. She is being held in a dangerous and unsanitary wing with about fifty inmates convicted of drug-related offences, in violation of Iranian laws that require the separation of inmates based on the nature of the crime. ‘When the Iraee family met with the prison director last week and asked why Golrokh had been put in a ward with drug offenders, he said the order had been given by Amin Vaziri, a judge who oversees political prisoners,’ wrote Sadeghi.
Readers might like to send appeals expressing serious concern about the prison conditions in which Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee is being held, urging the authorities to permit her access to all necessary medical care and calling for her immediate and unconditional release.
Appeals to be addressed to:
His Excellency Hamid Baeidinejad
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince’s Gate, London SW7 1PT
His Excellency Hassan Rouhani
President of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English)