Iranian Prison Chief Removed after Reports of Prisoner Beatings Spark Outrage

Iranian Prison Chief Removed after Reports of Prisoner Beatings Spark Outrage

Reuters writes that, after news that political prisoners at Iran’s Evin Prison received severe beatings last week, semi-official Iranian government media reported that prison chief Gholam-Hossein Esmaeeli had been transferred to the judiciary.

Last Thursday, news surfaced from relatives of political prisoners at Evin that about 30 inmates had been severely beaten during an inspection at the prison. Relatives have been marching and calling for federal intervention to reform the prison system, something that the head of the Iranian judiciary appears to have reacted to by forcing Esmaeeli to relinquish power over the prison system. As Reuters notes, only the head of the judiciary has the power to control those in the Iranian prison system; the president, Hassan Rouhani, has no constitutional authority to meddle in the affairs of the prison system, as it is under the judicial branch.

Esmaeeli had denied any wrongdoing in the matter, or that there were any beatings at Evin at all. Iranian government officials, nonetheless, demanded an investigation, which reportedly involved about one hundred guards, who allegedly severely beat and broke the ribs of many prisoners. 

Relatives of the survivors of the alleged attack took to the streets of Tehran to call for more oversight in the prison system, particularly where political prisoners were concerned. According to the AFP, the protesting relatives chanted, “Evin has become Palestine, government why are you sitting and doing nothing?” Their protests elicited a response from some legislators, who reportedly met with family members Monday and promised to advocate for their incarcerated relatives. Seven lawmakers announced earlier this week that they would seek legal action to investigate the incident to uncover who the potential culprits were and whether victims continued to need medical care.

The incident highlights calls from the international community for the Iranian government to better treat their political prisoners, if they are to have political prisoners at all. Earlier this month, United Nations human rights experts publicly stated their concerns about two political prisoners in particular who are gravely ill and in need of medical care: Mohammad Reza Pourshajari and Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, a blogger and a religious cleric, respectively. The UN experts noted the deteriorated state of the prisoners, citing “physical abuse, poor prison conditions, prolonged solitary confinement and other forms of repeated torture and ill-treatment” as reasons for the physical damage. Boroujerdi is serving his term in Evin.