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Iran's jails: an inside view

Tehran's most notorious prison may have improved but abuses have been reported in new jails.

A female prison guard stands in a corridor in Tehran's Evin prison on June 13, 2006. Evin is Iran's most notorious prison but some detained in 2009 report that treatment is worse in smaller makeshift jails. (Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters)

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Iran’s jails have a notorious reputation for brutal conditions and harsh interrogation methods that include torture.

Now Iranian and international human rights organizations warn that a string of hidden detention sites have been established throughout Tehran and its suburbs by the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The disturbing reports come from many of the thousands of Iran’s opposition supporters who have been arrested in the anti-government demonstrations since the disputed June 12 elections. Several of those released describe being kept in unimaginable conditions inside industrial containers, storerooms and a former Revolutionary Guard arms factory hastily converted into a prison.

“They herded us blindfolded into what I thought was a stadium where they beat us solidly for three days and threatened to execute us,” said one recently released prisoner who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “They said to us that since we haven’t been registered, officially we don’t exist.”

In July, the death of Mohsen Rooholamini, 25, the son of a prominent conservative, spurred Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to order the closure of Kahrizak detention center and the release of 140 political prisoners from Evin Prison.

“The main reason behind Khamenei’s order to close Kahrizak was to prevent Majlis (Iran’s parliament) from doing an investigation on it like it is planning on investigating some detention centers,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a specialist on Iranian politics at the Washington Institute.

Ayatollah Mehdi Karroubi, the only clerical candidate to participate in the presidential elections, wrote a formal letter of protest to the government’s intelligence ministry.

“The security forces commit the most harsh physical and psychological tortures and behavior towards the detainees without taking responsibility for any of their deeds under the name of Islam,” wrote Karroubi.

Some of the most notorious holding centers are the Gohardasht prison in the satellite town of Karaj and a site simply known as Minus 4 in the basement of the Interior Ministry in central Tehran. Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for a parliamentary committee investigating prison conditions, announced that he would be seeking access to Minus 4 but it is unclear whether permission was ever granted.