Iran's Evin Prison Likened to Torture Chamber

Former student leader Ali Afshari and human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar both spent time at the facility where two Iranian-American scholars are now detained. They describe their time in captivity.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The two Americans who turned up on TV are being held in Tehran's Evin Prison. A former inmate describes it as the symbol of prison in Iran.

Mr. ALI AFSHARI (Former Inmate of Evin Prison): When Iranian think of Evin, they think of torture, confession and fear. And everybody fears about the TV confession or any kind of confession that destroys or break down his personality.

INSKEEP: Former student leader Ali Afshari found his own personality under assault when he was thrown into Evin Prison. He's one of two former inmates who told us about the place. It opened in 1971, when the Shah of Iran was the ruler whose jailors were feared. The ayatollahs who replaced him found the same use for Evin Prison. So many intellectuals have spent time there that it is nicknamed Evin University. Human rights lawyer Mehrangiz Kar was thrown in prison after giving a speech that the government disliked.

Ms. MEHRANGIZ KAR (Former Inmate of Evin Prison): I was there for 54 days in solitary confinement. And something that is very terrible for political prisoner is there is not any separation between political prisoner and other prisoner. And this is terrible. And this is something like torture because political prisoners are, you know, living with drug dealer or murderer and they did do something criminal like that.

INSKEEP: And what were conditions like in that women's section?

Ms. KAR: You know, women's sections were in basement, and the situation of solitary confinement was very bad. And there was no chance to see the sky and the toilet was very, you know, dirty. It's hard to tolerate prison in every system, in every political system, in every country.

But something that makes prisons in Iran more difficult, especially for political prisoner, is a fact that they are not allowed to have a lawyer with them. And that's why there is no witness and they can do anything they want. This is most important problem for political prisoners in Iran.

INSKEEP: Ali Afshari, can you just paint a picture for me? When you're in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, how big is your cell?

Mr. AFSHARI: Very small, for example, it's two and 1.8 meter.

INSKEEP: Maybe a little more than six feet long…

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes.

INSKEEP: …and less than six feet wide?

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes, that's right.

INSKEEP: And that's where you're at.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes, (unintelligible)

INSKEEP: Is there a window?

Mr. AFSHARI: The window is on top of the cell.

INSKEEP: And you had - when we say solitary confinement, we mean solitary.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes, that's right.

INSKEEP: We cannot say precisely how Haleh Esfandiari has been treated or questioned. But I'd like to know, did they put a blank piece of paper in front of you and say write out a confession?

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes. (Unintelligible) first, they asked me several times the same questions. And they tried to push me, to push me to write the answer they would like. But I didn't do that. But, in other prison, I accused of overthrowing the regime. And that time, yes. The investigator, first he told the story and asked me to write exactly about it. And also, he request me to develop that story and…

INSKEEP: Make it a little better story.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes.

INSKEEP: We should mention for those who are not aware that, in the end, you were placed on television.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes.

INSKEEP: Just as Haleh Esfandiari was.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes, Haleh Esfandiari. First, they broke me down.

INSKEEP: They broke you down.

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes.

INSKEEP: Do you mean they tortured you?

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes, they tortured - physical torture and psychological torture for several months.

INSKEEP: Several months. Did they beat you? Did they…

Mr. AFSHARI: They beat me. They didn't allow me to sleep.

INSKEEP: Sleep deprivation.

Mr. AFSHARI: Sleep deprivation. Yeah, for…

INSKEEP: How do they keep you awake?

Mr. AFSHARI: Some investigators follow me.

INSKEEP: If you closed your eyes somebody might…

Mr. AFSHARI: Somebody, somebody…

INSKEEP: Somebody will hit you.

Mr. AFSHARI: Somebody came, yeah, and didn't allow me. Yeah. And finally I surrendered.

INSKEEP: You surrendered.

Mr. AFSHARI: I surrendered and I accepted TV confession. But I think it's not interview, it's a film and I served as an actor in that film.

INSKEEP: You were an actor…

Mr. AFSHARI: Yes.

INSKEEP: …in their play.

Mr. AFSHARI: In their play.

INSKEEP: Ali Afshari and Mehrangiz Kar are Iranians now living in the United States. They told us of their experiences and as inmates at Tehran's Evin Prison. It's the same prison now holding two Americans who were shown on Iranian TV last night.

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