Families in the Dark as Prisoners at Rajaee Shahr Illegally Moved to High-Security Ward
The sudden transfer of dozens of political prisoners in Rajaee Shahr Prison in Karaj to a high-security ward and the denial of their visitation rights is illegal, according to prominent human rights attorney Mohammad Seifzadeh.
“I heard that the transfer happened suddenly,” said Seifzadeh in an interview with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on July 31 2017. “The prisoners didn’t even have a chance to collect their belongings.”
“This had happened to me, too,” added Seifzadeh, who spoke out about the prison’s inhumane living conditions after spending five years in Rajaee Shahr until his release in 2016.
“One day I was told I was being taken to the hospital, but on the way I realized they were transferring me to a new prison,” he said. “It is against our prison regulations and international laws to move prisoners without their knowledge or informing their relatives.”
Article 50 of Iran’s State Prisons Organization’s regulations calls for transparency in detention centers by requiring the authorities to allow prisoners to inform their relatives of where they are being held “by telephone or any means possible.”
On July 30, 2017, the prison’s special guard units were deployed to Ward 12—which housed more than 50 political inmates and prisoners of conscience—and transferred them to Ward 10, which has been equipped with enhanced electronic security measures.
“There are no phones there and they have installed a lot more devices that can block [smuggled] mobile phones and Wi-Fi signals,” a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity told CHRI. “All the cells have a CCTV camera. The windows have been carefully fortified with metal bars and it’s impossible for the inmates to even exchange letters.”
“The ward is on the third floor and the inmates have fewer contacts with ordinary prisoners held in the wards on the first and second floors where there are no cameras and it is easier to move around,” said the source.
No reason has been provided to the inmates by the prison authorities for the sudden transfer or cancelled weekly family visits on Wednesdays.
“We have no news since our last visit on July 26,” added the source. “The prisoners have not been allowed to make a single phone call in order to bring their relatives out of the dark, but there have been reports about protests and hunger strikes.”
“After the move, the prisoners protested by turning away their food rations,” added the source. “Other inmates could hear them chanting slogans.”
Article 176 of the State Prisons Organization’s regulations states that family members are entitled to visit imprisoned relatives once a week.
Also known as Gohardasht, most of the inmates of Rajaee Shahr Prison located in Karaj, 12 miles west of Tehran, have been convicted of violent crimes. The prison is also notorious for its poor living conditions and for holding political dissidents and activists.
Its political prisoners and prisoners of conscience include people imprisoned for their religious beliefs, for their alleged ties to the outlawed Mojahedin-e Khalgh (MEK), ethnic Kurdish and Azeri political and civil rights activists, and trade union activists.
In December 2016, political prisoner Saeed Shirzad sewed his lips shut and went on hunger strike to protest what he described in a letter sent to judicial officials as “the quiet death of prisoners,” a reference to the human rights violations suffered by the inmates of Rajaee Shahr Prison.
Shirzad was arrested on June 2, 2014 at his place of employment in the Tabriz refinery. He was first taken to Evin Prison and then transferred to Rajaee Shahr Prison. He sat behind bars there for over a year under so-called “temporary detention” before he was tried.
On September 12, 2015, Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court sentenced him to five years in prison. Sources close to the case told CHRI at the time that Shirzad was prosecuted for his peaceful advocacy of education rights for the children of political prisoners.