Iran's Post-Election Detainees Likely Tortured
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. In Iran, an unknown number of people are still in prison two months after the country's disputed election. With those detentions have come allegations of torture, and that has sparked debate within Iran itself. Our next guest has reported on charges of prisoner abuse, and we should warn listeners that we're going to be discussing some of the details in the next few moments. Borzou Daragahi covers Iran for the Los Angeles Times. He's been following the story from Beirut, Lebanon.
Mr. BORZOU DARAGAHI (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Thank you very much.
INSKEEP: We say an unknown number of people in prison. Is there anyway to approximate how many may be in prison?
Mr. DARAGAHI: Officials this week revealed that in the very first week of the protests alone, 4,000 people were arrested. But subsequently, we don't have a really good handle on how many people are there. Some people say just a couple hundred. We talked to Western officials in Iran, and they say that it's quite a bit more than that. Part of the problem is that there are the official prisons that are under the authority of the state prison authority, but then there seem to be these other prisons that are under the authority of more obscure forces.
INSKEEP: What's happening in those other prisons, those semi-formal detention centers?
Mr. DARAGAHI: For weeks, we've been getting reports on Web sites that there has been some horrible things happening there, allegations of torture, abuse of prisoners, people left to die in these prison facilities. But we were reluctant to report on them, because they were just rumors on Web sites as far as we were concerned.
But this week, we spoke with a very credible witness, someone who was in a hospital attending to a relative and encountered someone who was a detainee at one of these detention facilities, an infamous one called Kahrizak. And she saw that this person had all but his two upper teeth knocked out. His nails had been pulled out. His head had been bashed in. His kidneys had stopped working. But what most disturbed her were signs of rape, stitches around very sensitive parts of his body that nurses told her and that, you know, seemed very obvious to her were signs that he had been brutally raped.
INSKEEP: And this person had then been taken, finally, to a hospital after apparently being abused, very close to being killed.
Mr. DARAGAHI: He was comatose. And at some point, his relatives came and took him to a hospital, a different hospital, where he passed away. We knew about this death before. We had had a witness at the funeral service, which was allowed to be held only because this person had a relative who's high up in the government. And that is one of the reasons why these allegations are bubbling up.
There have, for years, decades, been allegations of prisoner abuse inside Tehran's prisons. But in this particular unrest after the elections, the unrest was so widespread and the crackdown was so widespread that many people who were linked to very powerful figures in the Islamic Republic were victims.
INSKEEP: This is one thing that has surprised me. It's no surprise, I suppose, that people in the opposition would allege that terrible things are happening in prisons. But Iran's supreme leader even made an announcement that this semi-formal detention center that you're describing would be closed, which suggests that the government itself seems to admit that something horribly wrong has happened here.
Mr. DARAGAHI: The government allowed the most, shall we say, violent and extremist forces within the security apparatuses to have free reign. And I think that this is part of the consequences of that, is that they are - it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle now that they're out.
And so what happened in one particular case was the son of a prominent scientist who also was an adviser to a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard was just brutally beaten until he was near death, and then died shortly after he was released from prison. And this created a huge furor in the elite circles.
INSKEEP: So people who accepted or even benefited from a brutal prison system in the past are not happy now that it seems to be turned on some of them.
Mr. DARAGAHI: Well, I would just say that this whole unrest after the election has created a very dynamic situation where new alliances are being formed. People who had previously been pitted against each other are either finding it convenient or finding it a matter of principle to team up against someone else with each other. And so this is creating a situation where you're getting some unusual statements about unusual subjects from unlikely people.
INSKEEP: Borzou Daragahi is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Thanks very much.
Mr. DARAGAHI: It's been a pleasure.
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