What It’s Like to be in Gharchak Prison

This article presents a picture of Gharchak prison, located in a desert on the outskirts of east Tehran, where female political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were held. The article was originally published here by Kaleme.com on May 10, 2011.

One week after the transfer of a group of female political prisoners from the facility at Rajā’ī-Shahr to that of Gharchak, the families of these prisoners were finally able to visit with them.

According to reports received by Kalemeh, relatives of Shabnam Madadzadeh, Maryam Hajilu’ee, Motahareh Bahrami, Masoumeh Yavari, and other female political prisoners that were transferred to Gharchak in the city of Varāmīn, were informed that they were allowed to meet with their loved ones. On Monday morning, they reconciled with their family members, albeit under extremely harsh conditions.

Despite the remote and distanced location of this new prison, situated in a desert on the outskirts of east Tehran, not all of the families were given the opportunity to visit their loved ones at that time. The snubbed families reported that they were later confronted and vehemently insulted by the prison guards.

The families of the female political prisoners presently being held in Gharchak stated that they are deeply concerned about the physical and spiritual condition of their loved ones. Over the past few days, these families have approached the office of the Prosecutor-General of Tehran on several occasions, but they have thus far been unsuccessful in their attempts to meet with him. Additionally, up until now, no express reasons have been given as to why the female political prisoners were transferred to the Gharchak facility.

In a meeting with their families, the female political prisoners stated that if the status quo is left unchanged, they will commence a hunger strike beginning this Thursday. Prior to this formal commitment, the prisoners had already alluded to this prospective hunger strike in a petition addressed to the clergy and government officials.

According to the female political prisoners at Gharchak, their present facility is like “a second Kahrīzak” due to its glaring absence of proper sanitation.

A small sample of the difficulties faced by the prisoners at Gharchak includes the prison’s general filth, caused by a lack of adequate facilities and sanitary services; overcrowding due to the cramming of 2,000 prisoners in seven salons*, which alone can barely accommodate a third of the prison’s population; harsh treatment by prison guards toward inmates, and the danger posed by placing inmates under the age of 18 with highly dangerous criminals; and virtually inedible food, coupled with a lack of drinkable water. Last week, subsequent to their transfer to Gharchak, nine of the female political prisoners published a letter addressed to the people of Iran, the clergy, and the government officials, an excerpt of which states: “Firstly, having witnessed the present situation, verbal abuse, and illicit behavior in which the prison guards are engaged with the inmates, we have decided to go on a hunger strike and insist that our freedom to exercise this right be respected. If this is not done, and current conditions persist, we have no fear of giving up our lives—for if we did, none of us would be in this prison today. And yet, experience has proven to us that the most worthless thing in prison is human life, and in such a prison, no law exists—not the system of the Islamic Republic, not even the judicial system which calls the fundamental principles of humanity into question. At any rate, we are reaching out to those conscientious souls so that if there is but an iota of humanity still left in us—a creation of God before whom the angels once prostrated**—we beseech you to not remain silent in the face of this affront to human dignity.”

The worrisome conditions of the female political prisoners at Gharchak, compounded by the announcement of their impending hunger strike which is slated to begin this Thursday, have caused a great deal of concern for their situation.

Presently, Shabnam Madadzadeh, Maryam Hajilu’ee, Motahareh Bahrami, Masoumeh Yavari, Maryam Akbari Monfared, Kobra Banazadeh, Mahvash Shahriary [this is her maiden name; adopted “Sabet” by marriage], and Fariba Karabadi [sic; should be Kamalabadi] are among the female political prisoners who were transferred to Gharchak. As of late, the Prisons Bureau of the province of Tehran has stated that all of the female political prisoners who are being held in Evin prison will be transferred to the Gharchak facility in the near future.


Notes:

* In this context, a salon refers to a single open area with a high ceiling. It is similar to a room one would find in an aviary or hennery (“morghdānī”).

** This expression goes back to chapter 15, verses 28-30 of the Qur’an, where God first breathed life into man and ordered the angels to prostrate before him.

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