Torture has been carried out systematically during the almost 40 years of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is one of the most basic methods of survival for a regime that is on the verge of collapse.
One such example is flogging, used for more than 100 offenses in Iran, which has been institutionalized by the regime in its Islamic Penal Code.
The regime denies the use of torture despite thousands of reports from as early as the 80’s that prove the use of torture to extract forced confessions from prisoners or to break the spirit of political prisoners.
Despite the regime’s claims that torture is against the law in Iran, ordinary Iranians cannot press charges when they are abused in prison. If an Iranian dares challenge the state with torture claims, they are more or less made to regret ever accusing the government of torture.
Most recently, almost all the regime’s officials rallied to reject the accusations of labor activist Esmail Bakhshi, who said that the intelligence agency of the south province of Khuzestan had tortured him “to the brink of death” during his 30 day incarceration.
A presidential official even said that the state and the Ministry of Intelligence reserved the right to press charges against the labor activist for “undermining the state” and that his claims were nothing more than “propaganda”.
The labor activist was also put under pressure to withdraw his claims of torture.
Torture in the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist, or Vilayat-e Faqih in Persian, is not comparable to torture in any other country. The extent of the brutality of torture is entwined in the essence and ideology of the state, which it defines as “Tazir”, invented by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ruhollah Khomeini.
Article 38 of Iran’s Constitution states that “All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information are forbidden. Compulsion of individuals to testify, confess, or take an oath is not permissible; and any testimony, confession, or oath obtained under duress is devoid of value and credence. Violation of this article is liable to punishment in accordance with the law.”
Despite this, torture in all its forms have been used during the Islamic Republic’s almost 40 years of existence. The use of torture is so prevalent that the United Nations has adopted 65 resolutions condemning Iran’s use of torture and other human rights violations.
Torture in the 1980’s
The most imprisonments and executions of political prisoners were carried out in the early days of the Islamic Republic.
Most notably, the 1988 massacre of political prisoners, which resulted in the execution of 30,000 political prisoners, is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, with its perpetrators still ruling Iran. Most of the victims of the atrocious massacre were members of the MEK (People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran).
“By concealing the fate and whereabouts of thousands of political dissidents who were forcibly disappeared and secretly executed in prison 30 years ago, Iranian authorities are continuing to commit crimes against humanity,” Amnesty International said in its report of the massacre in early December 2018.
The families of the detained political prisoners all knew of the widespread systematic torture of their loved ones in prison. Most accounts and evidence of torture during this time have not been documented due to the lack of general communication and the free flow of information in the 80’s.
Many of those who survived the 1988 massacre talk of this era as the darkest period in Iranian prisons with the most brutal forms of torture, one of which was the systematic rape of female political prisoners before their execution.
Torture in the early 2000’s
Due to a surge in student protests, many students were detained because of their activism and were sentenced to years of prison. Since most young people now had access to the internet and social media, they shared their accounts of torture and abuse while in prison in their blogs or social media accounts.
After the 2009 disputed elections which saw the arrests of thousands of street protesters, hundreds of people were taken to the little known Kahrizak Detention Center. It was there that reports of rape, sexual abuse, and torture of prisoners emerged earning it the nickname, Iran’s Guantánamo Bay, by protesters.
The detention center was built underground without proper ventilation and toilet facilities. Although it was supposed to have a maximum capacity of 50 prisoners, in the turmoil after Iran’s presidential election it was filled with hundreds. At least five died under torture while many more were raped.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency documented the scandal by piecing together the personal accounts of those who experienced the jail in Kahrizak. “Flogging, beating with batons and metal bars and electric shocks were common. Some were forced to pose in humiliating positions and some were sexually abused by bottles and batons. Some were bound and others had to urine on them,” the report said.
Torture in this decade
In the 21st century, with most Iranians having access to the internet in the palm of their hands, prisoners have sometimes even been able to relay information from inside prison about tortures that they or their cellmates have endured.
Although Iran’s intelligence agencies and the Judiciary would like nothing more than to return to the dark era of the 1980’s to quell protests, neither the world nor Iranians would tolerate such violence in the 21st century.
Human rights organizations, and specifically Amnesty International, have issued constant warnings to the Islamic Republic’s authorities, with statements condemning torture and prisoner abuse.
This has to a certain extent curbed Iran’s judiciary from using the violent 1980’s methods of torture.
A unique feature of torture in 21st century Iran is the sophisticated use of psychological torture, including humiliating treatment, extended use of solitary confinement, and threats or harassment directed at torture survivors and their families. This appears to be an effort to destroy not just individuals but societal structures and trust in order to maintain control.
Another torture method is the denial of treatment to ailing prisoners, even those suffering from cancer.
Sadly, there are still reports of both male and female prisoners being raped, sexually abused or threatened with rape.
During protests that erupted in December 2017, dozens of prisoners were tortured to death in Iranian prisons with the regime claiming that they were drug addicts or had committed suicide.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has used torture and suppression to stay in power but after 40 years, Iranians will no longer tolerate their fellow countrymen’s abuse at the hands of the state.