Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ahwaz Sepidar Prison: Inmates Tortured and Stripped of Humanity - Unless They are Wealthy

Notorious Sepidar Prison, Ahwaz
The following report is by an inmate at Sepidar Prison, who was arrested following his involvement in a fatal car accident. He wrote this account during a week’s medical leave from the prison. “What I am recounting here”, he writes,“are my own personal observations, without exaggeration.”
There are two prisons in Ahwaz, the hot and humid capital of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan. If there are other prisons there, they must be secret ones. Karun is the bigger of the two, home to the infamous Cell Block 6, where political prisoners and ethnic Arab activists are held. Perhaps this is why international human rights organizations pay it more attention than its neighbor, just 400 meters away, Sepidar. Situated next to red-brick houses on the eastern outskirts of this muggy town, Sepidar Prison remains largely forgotten.
The prison is more a torture chamber than a penitentiary. In this place, bit by bit, prisoners lose their humanity.
When I was first taken to prison, after preliminary interrogations, I was placed in the “financial” ward, the cleanest and safest section of the prison. Housing around 200 to 250 men, most inmates in the ward are guilty of financial misdeeds—bounced checks, neglected marriage settlements or liable to pay compensation for death or bodily harm as a result of an accident. Occasionally, a murderer or rapist can be found among the inmates in the ward. Because it is relatively clean, when an official comes to inspect prison conditions at Sepidar, they are usually taken here.
But soon after my arrival, I was transferred to the drugs ward. Conditions here are much worse. Five to six hundred prisoners are detained here, living half a meter apart like cattle, their only possessions an old mattress and a worn-out blanket inherited from former inmates. Without a doubt, this is an inhumane place, difficult for any person to endure.
Inmates in this ward range from drug lords to miserable addicts who have been jailed instead of sent to a hospital or rehabilitation center. Arrested for possession of a few grams of methamphetamine or heroin, these men are now forced to serve their time alongside professional smugglers or crooks.
Burglars and car thieves are detained here too. Many of them teach others what they know. Imagine an academy for perfecting the art of crime: Whether it’s big-time criminal activity or minor misdemeanors, you can learn it all here.
I met a boy called Hassan who looked shy and feminine. He was arrested for possession of a few grams of meth. It was rumored that dangerous and hardened criminals had forced him into having sex with them and that he was even passed around as payment for
favors. One of my prison mates told me that he had seen him in the shower and his body was black and blue from repeated beatings.

The End of Youth 
Once I told a prison official about the thin and haggard boy. “He should not have broken the law,” he said, irritation in his voice. “Prison is not your mommy’s home. All kinds of nasty things happen in prison.” I wished I could have asked him: Is it right for a young man who is guilty of being curious about a mind-altering drug to be punished by being raped and beaten every night?
There’s also a youth ward in Sepidar, where between 16 and 22 young inmates are kept in filthy, inhumane conditions. Most of them are drug abusers, especially of synthetic drugs. One of the inmates who had been there for some time pointed to a thin young man. He told me his name was Sadegh and that he had been brought in a year ago after he stabbed somebody in a street fight. The victim had apparently insulted Sadegh’s family’s honor and Sadegh had thrust a knife into his lung. The injured man was taken to the hospital and had undergone surgery but remained in coma—so Sadegh remained in prison.
I was told that when Sadegh was brought in he was a lively and spirited young man who was not easily intimidated. It was clear that the fight had been an accident and there was nothing evil about him. The bullies in the ward were afraid that someone like Sadegh, who they viewed as an outsider, might report on their behavior. They tried to get him hooked on drugs but Sadegh resisted. But they did not give up; they put drugs into his food day after day. He did not last a month and became an addict. He was now their lackey and servant and did whatever inmates told him to do.
Same-sex relationships are common in the prison but so is rape. When a prisoner who has “connections”—perhaps he knows a high-ranking prison official or someone in government—he is taken to either the “political” or the “financial” where they will be safer. Prior to my time at Sepidor, I had no experience of prisons. So it surprised me when I discovered, without exception, that whoever was
appointed to oversee the youth ward was either not up to the job or was removed after it became known that he had raped inmates.
“Seyeds” Ward 
By far, the strangest section of Sepidar is the “Seyeds” ward. Everyone here is part of an organized group that swindled 120,000 people of more than 150 million dollars during 2004 and 2005. “Seyed” is an honorific term for descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, but the gang leader was neither a seyed nor an Iranian, but an Iraqi citizen. After setting up a pyramid scheme, he and about 100 accomplices promised a return of between 40 to 60 percent to people who invested with them. At first people were wary but when the first investors received the money they were promised, others tried to follow suit, in some cases selling their properties and giving the money to the criminal gang.
Many of them were so successful that in some cases banknotes filled whole rooms of their houses. Victims were given no documentation for their investments, so when the leaders of the scheme fled, people had no evidence of how they had been swindled. Eventually many of the so-called seyeds were arrested ; around 40 of them were brought to Sepidar.
Compared to other inmates, they live in luxury: they reserve the right to restrict who is allowed into their block. Because of their criminal activity, they have enough money to impress even the wardens, paying to ensure they live in relative comfort while their victims wait for compensation.
Sepidar’s ordinary inmates have to make do with very low-quality food. Fruits are a luxury, but for the Seyeds, the best-quality food is brought in from outside. They are allowed mobile phones. Those in the know says that the Seyeds control illicit drug distribution throughout the the prison.
Source: Iran Wire

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