The Prisoners’ Rights
When we speak of prisoner’s rights, it means that we have left behind the age of dungeons and branding bodies and have caught up with civilization and the culture of human rights. Furthermore, it means that we possess a law and legal document to which we can refer. Even if we regard this document as distinct from the international criteria of human rights, it appears as a symbol and expression of citizenship rights which the Iranian government has endorsed.
The executive regulations of “State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measure Organization” [State Prison Organization], which were published in the issue 13440/84 of official newspaper on December 14, 2005 after being approved by the judiciary’s head, make the judiciary the sole body responsible for responding to the complaints by prisoners, lawyers and prisoners’ families. According to these regulations, an institution such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), for example, has no right or duty to interfere with the rights and privileges of prisoners. These regulations stress the country’s judiciary as the only authority responsible for the life, health, security and, on the whole, human dignity of prisoners. Some of the articles and amendments introduced by this body of regulations, which have assumed urgency, especially after the June election of 2009 and the ensuing crisis of prisoners’ rights, will be examined in this piece.
The prison regulations begin by stressing the judiciary’s responsibility for the prisoners’ conditions. Article 1 asserts that “the State Prisons and Security and Corrective Measure Organization is an independent organization which performs its tasks under the direct supervision of judiciary’s head.” The independence of this organization points to the fact that the Intelligence Ministry, the IRGC, the Special Court for the Clergy, the police, as well as other centers of political power, do not have any right to control the prison wards in which specific political or ordinary prisoners are held. Even if we suppose that this violation of law occurs, the judiciary, under all circumstances, is obligated to protect the prisoners’ right to life, dignity, security and physical and mental health. The judiciary cannot evade its responsibility by the feeble excuse that its inspectors are barred from entering certain wards by the IRGC and the agents of Intelligence Ministry.
The law defines “prison” and “detention center” and stresses the compatibility of types of prisoners who are held together in a specific ward. Article 8 states: “All prisoners, according to the type of crime, prison term, criminal record, personality and behavior, are classified and held in closed prisons or training and professional development centers unless the judge designates another place for the incarceration of prisoner.” Article 8 does not mention the political prisoner directly, but since it emphasizes the moral character and compatibility of inmates’ personalities with each other, political prisoners must not be mixed with criminals and drug smugglers. The Council for Classification of Prisoners is an institution that acts under the supervision of State Prisons Organization and cannot shun its responsibility. According to Article 47, the Unit for Admission and Evaluation is responsible for the “admission, examination and assessment of prisoner’s personality.” Thus, the function of this system is to classify prisoners.
Although Article 8 authorizes judicial officials to designate a specific place for confining prisoners, this authority does not allow them to strip prisoners of their basic rights. The judicial official who hands the prisoner his sentence is not permitted to send him to illegal prisons which lack the minimum conditions stated in prison regulations. If it was otherwise, the four amendments that are added to Article 234 would not accentuate the comfort of the prisoner and his family as regards the place in which he is held. These amendments are as follows:
First Amendment: “Upon the prisoner’s request, the State Prison Organization must ensure that he spends his term in the prison nearest to the place of his residence. It is clear that judicial officials will take the necessary steps in delegating their judicial authority.”
Second Amendment: “After transferring the convict to a new prison, all future judicial and executive affairs will be handled by the prosecutor of the new judicial district, penal institution or prison. It is evident that the judge who has issued the preliminary sentence will delegate his judicial authority to the prosecutor or judge who will carry out the final sentence.”
Third Amendment: “The prisoner or his family can present a request for transfer to the prison warden of preliminary detention center or final prison so that the latter can act accordingly. In such a case, the prisoner will be responsible for incurred costs.
Fourth Amendment: In case of the overpopulation of prisoners in one penal institution or prison, or the occurrence of incidents such as earthquake, fire and the spread of critical and infectious diseases, or the specific economic and familial conditions of the prisoner, the director of State Prison Organization can order the transfer of prisoners to nearby prisons.”
Despite all efforts by the compilers of prison regulations to focus on the comfort of prisoners and their families, the authorities have trampled on these amendments after the June 12, 2009 election. Instead, they have vengefully transferred prisoners to the prisons that only cause pain and distress for them and their families. We can see clearly how the law has been shamelessly violated in the case of Ahmad Zeydabadi, the prominent Iranian journalist.
Ahmad Zeydabadi was arrested the day after the election and was transferred to the Rajaee Shahr prison in Karaj on February1. The Rajaee Shahr prison is designated for specific and dangerous criminals. Therefore, the situation of Ahmad Zeydabadi is an explicit violation of prison regulations. In addition to the increasing suffering that Zeydabadi has undergone, his family is beleaguered by the problems that stem from the authorities’ contempt for regulations. The families can visit the prisoners in Rajaee Shahr once a week. But it is said that since dangerous prisoners are held in this prison, the visits by men and women must be conducted on separate occasions. Therefore, one week is assigned to the visits by men and the week after to the visits by women.
The separation of visits by men and women has engendered numerous difficulties for Ahmad Zeydabadi’s wife and children. Mahdieh Mohammadi, Zeydabadi’s wife, has three children. She and her children are forced to visit Zeydabadi separately in alternate weeks, and this has produced a grueling predicament which results from the prison’s far distance from the family’s residence. The children cannot go to Rajaee Shahr on their own and an older family member should accompany them. Making arrangements with a male member of the family is an extremely arduous task. That is why Zeydabadi’s children are sometimes unable to visit their father for three or four months. Does the judiciary accept responsibility for this degree of indifference toward the prisoner and his family? Do the prison regulations allow the judiciary to disregard the basic rights of prisoners so inhumanly? For what crime should a noble journalist (who has always expressed balance and tolerance in his writings and speeches) and his family become the victims of political revenge?
Unfortunately, even when prison administrators and judges, who supervise prisons, observe the rights of prisoners, they think they are doing a favor to prisoners. They assume a patronizing attitude and forget that every prisoner has inalienable rights which the officials who manage prisons must respect. This faulty and distorted view causes the authorities and prison guards to strip prisoners of their rights easily; they imagine they have conceded to certain rights of prisoners out of the kindness of their own heart and, when necessary, can revoke those rights without the slightest compunction. Therefore, although the rights of prisoners are predicted in the law, the individuals who should enact and protect these rights do not believe in them and consider them as privilege. There is no specific training system to educate and prepare the people who enforce prison regulations. That is why these regulations and their content are frequently dismissed or neglected.
The prisoners who have recently gone on hunger strike in Ward 350 of Evin prison have demanded the observation of rights that are stressed in prison regulations. Here parts of these regulations are repeated which prove that the demands of hunger strikers and all other prisoners, whose physical and psychological health is in danger, are legal:
According to Article 105 of prison regulations, “All prisons and dependent penal centers must be disinfected at least once a month unless the invasion of insects, epidemics, the spread of viruses, or local and seasonal diseases make the disinfection of prison’s facilities necessary earlier than the scheduled date.”
According to Article 107, “In every penal institution or prison, prisoners must be provided with bathing facilities; as soon as a new prisoner arrives at the prison, he must take a bath.”
According to Article 108, “The prison’s bathhouse, toilet and washroom must always be clean and tidy and prisoners must be provided with adequate cold and warm showers. Taking into account the particular condition of each season, prisoners should be able to take a bath once a week.”
According to Article 111, “The clinic of penal institution or prison must give complete medical checkups to a new prisoner. If necessary, the prisoner must be given the required medical tests, and proper steps should be taken to either treat him or transfer him to [a better equipped] hospital; all medical actions must be noted down in the prisoner’s file.”
According to Article 112, “Whenever a new prisoner carries a prescription or drug, it will be taken by the prison’s clinic so that the clinic’s doctor can prescribe the prisoner’s needed dosage. If the prisoner’s life depends on the drug, it must be given to him immediately after the doctor examines and prescribes the drug for him.”
According to Article 113, “The prisoner should inform the guard as soon as he feels ill. After acquiring a permit, the prisoner must be sent to the clinic of penal institution or prison in order to receive the needed drugs and medical instructions.”
According to Article 115, “After diagnosing the prisoner’s illness, the doctor of penal institution or prison decides whether the prisoner should be placed under medical care in the prison’s clinic….”
According to Article 120, “The head of prison’s clinic is required to visit all prisoners who are held under care in the clinic every morning. After inquiry into the conditions of prisoners and making certain that they receive adequate care from doctors and nurses, he must supervise the patients’ proper diet and recovery completely and continually.”
In addition to attentiveness toward the prisoner’s physical health, the law also emphasizes the care for the prisoner’s psychological well-being. According to Article 169: “Imprecations, utterance of indecent words, and ill temper toward the accused or prisoner violate the law. All physical, violent, agonizing and insulting punishments are entirely forbidden in penal institutions and prisons.”
According to Article 235:
“The dispatching and transportation of the accused and prisoner to judicial authorities or training, educational and healthcare centers, as well as their leave of absence under guard, as specified by the State Prison Organization, are carried out by the organization’s armed units. Until the complete takeover of these forces, these duties are performed by the police.” The following amendment immediately adds: “The use of handcuffs on the accused and prisoner in the abovementioned cases is not permitted….”
If at least these articles and amendments had been observed, the young Akbar Mohammadi was still alive. He died in Ward 350 because the guards were unconcerned for his physical and psychological health.
Zahra Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, could also be alive today, an innocent woman who was neither tried nor condemned. The criminals, in the guise of police and judicial authorities, arrested her illegally and banged her head so hard against the wall that she died under torture. Of course, there are many other savageries of which I cannot speak. We have never heard that the compilers of prison regulations (which outlines the duties of prisons) who know these criminals well to have accused or pressed charges against them in a court of law.
Nevertheless, if the articles and amendments of existent prison regulations were enacted, Zahra Yaghubi was still alive. She was a young doctor who was arrested for sitting on a bench beside her fiancé in a park. They killed her brutally in a detention center in Hamadan and then claimed she had committed suicide. Even if we accept this claim, the preservation of prisoner’s life is a duty of State Prison Organization which is supervised by the judiciary. As in the case of Zahra Kazemi, the officials did not allow Ms. Yaghubi’s body to be exhumed and examined. Iran’s security and judicial apparatuses have never cared about these murders which have followed by other heinous crimes after the June election. That is why some criminals, by entirely disregarding the law that the judiciary has approved, could transform the Kahrizak detention into a torture and death camp. After the crimes at Kahrizak were exposed, the court delayed investigations about this matter for a long time to contain the reproach and criticism that would be unleashed against the system.
Although the stories of cruelty and injustice toward prisoners in post-revolutionary Iran still continue, the attempts to tell these stories are often stifled. The stories of prisoners who are not protected by a faction within the regime have remained untold; that is why we have no idea about the tortures and sufferings they had to bear.
Who knows what torments and tribulations were inflicted on the seven Bahais who have already spent three years in prison and are supposed to stay there for twenty more years? Who, except Siamak Pourzand and his family, knows about the tortures that he experienced in illegal and often secret detentions. The aim of these tortures was to compel Pourzand to make a false confession about receiving millions of dollars from the United States and spending it on the reformist press. Even the reformists, when it was vital, feared to divulge the news about these lawbreaking activities. That is why the Article 90 Commission of sixth parliament, despite its reformist majority and all the evidences it had piled up about the ill treatment of prisoners, refused to discuss the case of Siamak Pourzand in an open parliamentary session. After the speaker of sixth parliament received a secret letter from Mr. Khatami’s Intelligence Minister, the reformists, who sensed their own interest was in danger, decided to abandon the pursuit of justice. This case is now completely forgotten in the parliament’s records center and this 80-year old man is not allowed to leave the country to join his children who are afraid to visit him in Iran.
These examples prove that the compilation and legislation of laws on citizenship rights are more an ornament than a true recognition of prisoners’ rights and dignity. Even the opportunity to acquire information about a prisoner’s condition or publicize his plight depends on whether he belongs to faction within the regime or not.
The procedure for the prisoner’s meeting with his lawyer is explained in Articles 180 and 187, but the State Prison Organization resorts to any stratagem to delay the prisoner from signing over his power of attorney to the lawyer; it employs every means at its disposal to convince the prisoner to choose another lawyer, even promising that the judge will help him. This is an obvious example of infraction of law. The prisoner has a right to send a message to his chosen lawyer and request the drafting of an official power of attorney. The State Prison Organization, which is not permitted to question or influence the prisoner’s right in choosing a lawyer, is obligated to provide the prisoner, as soon as possible, with an opportunity to sign the power of attorney and, after its confirmation, present it to the lawyer.
If the prison officials and guards do not perform their duties properly and trample on the prisoner’s rights, they must be reprimanded and punished. According to Article 33 of prison regulations:
“…when the guard observes an offense from a prisoner, without having the right to punish or even reprimand him, he must refer the matter with all details in writing to the officer in charge. If it is proven that the guard’s report is false, he will be reprimanded. Amendment: violation of the abovementioned article, in addition to legal prosecution, will lead to disciplinary punishment.”
According to Second Amendment to Article 35 of prison regulations, “All inspectors of State Prison Organization, whether in headquarters or provinces, must be selected from the jurists who are experts on prisoner’s rights.” Do these jurists inspect the prisons while prisoners prefer to die by going on hunger strike than tolerate the deadly conditions of prisons? This is unbelievable, but if these inspectors are jurists, we must ask who has given them their law degrees! Why does the regime refuse to introduce these jurists to the people and the families of political prisoners who wish to ask questions from them?
And finally, Third Amendment to Article 45 defines the most important task of State Prison Organization in this way:
“The heads of educational and research centers of State Prison Organization and the officials of educational and research units of these centers will be chosen preferably from the experts on penal law who must prepare the ground for the institutionalization of new penal policies and make the duration of prisoner’s term of punishment and confinement beneficial.”
Now, in the context of current situation, we must ask the following question: where are the experts on penal law who were supposed to implement and carry out the country’s penal policies by utilizing new penal ideas? Why are they silent before the injustice and abuse that are inflicted on prisoners? Who are the educational and research officials of these centers? Iranian people consider it as their right to demand from the State Prison Organization to reveal the identities of the experts who manage these centers. People wish to hear from them which “new penal policies” justify the barbaric and insulting behavior toward prisoners.
The current prison regulations, which include 247 articles, were approved by the judiciary in 2005. Of course, the previous body of prison regulations, which had been approved in 2001, assigned even lesser rights to prisoners. But even so, the judiciary shrinks from performing the responsibilities that are entrusted to it by these two bodies of regulations. This is the people’s right to demand from the judiciary to be accountable. It is evident that the judiciary has become a puppet in the hands of other institutions by giving in to their unlawful demands. That is why judicial official have no real authority while justice, law and prisoners have become mere playthings in the hands of the IRGC. But this does not extricate judicial officials from their responsibilities; it even adds a greater deal to their share in the disgrace of this branch of government.