Iranian protesters who have been released from prison, and the families of those still held without charges, say that some of the detainees have been tortured and killed.
“People inside are being tortured, maybe tortured to death,” a 31-year-old activist named Amir told Fox News, speaking by telephone from a rally outside Iran’s infamous Evin prison.
Amir said one of his friends was “lucky” to have been released after a week in jail, but has gone into hiding because he fears for his family’s safety. During his week in detention, this student friend was “beaten badly.”
“He said 400 to 500 people were forced into a room that should only hold 120 persons. They suffered all the torture—sleep deprivation, lack of food, all the things,” Amir told Fox News. He said his friend also reported Iranian officials are forcing detainees to make on-camera statements they are being treated well, despite the brutal reality.
Several other protesters told Fox News they did not know the status of friends and family members detained during the government crackdown.
An Iranian woman currently living in Europe said a member of her family was shot in the heart while protesting outside an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps office on December 31, and his body was spirited away by the IRGC after he died in the hospital. She said the IRGC returned his remains to the family five days later after extracting a promise they would not talk to the media.
Fox News notes that demonstrators can effectively be charged with apostasy for opposing the divinely-ordained Iranian government and sentenced to death. Complaints are mounting that most of the 3,000 known detainees have not been charged with anything yet, even though Iranian law stipulates they should have been charged within 24 hours of arrest or released. That is something to keep in mind when listening to Iranian officials boast about their lawful system and its deep respect for the rights of demonstrators.
Soon after the alleged suicide of 23-year-old detainee Sina Qanbari came reports of two more deaths in custody, activists named Vahid Heidari and Ashkan Absavaran. The official account of suicide has been met with wide skepticism, especially since veterans of Iranian prison say captives are routinely deprived of the items they would need to hang themselves and are monitored closely.
Qanbari’s death was especially galvanizing for both dissidents and opposition politicians. The regime initially claimed he was a drug dealer who had nothing to do with the demonstrations, but a reformist Iranian lawmaker disputed that claim, and an investigation is supposedly underway into the circumstances of Qanbari’s incarceration and death.
Tehran University has established a committee to track students imprisoned during the protests, ostensibly in a spirit of cooperation with the authorities, although concerns have been raised about the “pre-emptive” arrest of students who did not actually attend the demonstrations.
Amnesty International called for thorough investigations of at least five reported deaths in custody following the government crackdown, denouncing the alarming “shroud of secrecy and lack of transparency over what happened to these detainees.”
“We have long documented the nightmarish conditions in detention facilities in Iran, including the use of torture. Those suspected of having any responsibility for these deaths should be suspended from their positions and prosecuted in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty reports that many relatives of detainees have “faced intimidation and threats by the authorities for even making enquiries” about their status.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) suggests Iran “outsmarted itself” by cracking down hard on the uprising, predicting that viral video footage and eyewitness accounts of government abuses will draw international attention and turn the crackdown into a worse headache for Tehran than the problems that caused the protests. HRW also predicts that demonstrators have learned to decentralize and deny the Iranian regime high-profile leaders it can imprison or destroy, so the new unrest will be harder to stamp out than previous movements like the 2009 Green Revolution.
Unfortunately, that prediction of withering international attention on the Iranian government’s abuses might be a little premature. The Trump administration has forthrightly condemned the crackdown and repeatedly called for the release of all political prisoners, but European leaders have been largely silent. The European Union made it uncomfortably clear on Thursday they are well aware of Tehran’s brutality, but they are unwilling to speak out for fear of jeopardizing the Iran nuclear deal and the billions of dollars in business deals that depend on it.