VIEW: Evil Guantanamo, but what about Evin —Rafia Zakaria
Evin prison, located north of Tehran, is the sordid site where hundreds of Iranian human rights activists, philosophers, journalists and student leaders are being imprisoned under chilling and ghastly conditions. Section 209 of the prison, reserved for political prisoners is run by the Iranian ministry of intelligence and used to house anyone accused of opposing the regime
The world is by now painfully familiar with images from Guantanamo. In a widely circulated image men clad in orange jumpsuits huddle in metal cages, shackled and bound on the floor of a barbed-wire cage. In another, an inmate is seen cowering in fear while a guard threatens him with a menacing dog.
Since its establishment in 2002, nearly 775 detainees have been held captive at Guantanamo and approximately 430 still remain there. In 2005, over 200 detainees participated in a hunger strike at the camp to protest their indefinite detention without trial. According to Amnesty International, the hunger strikers were reportedly placed in isolation cells, strapped into restraint chairs, subjected to painful force-feeding and deprived of personal belongings. Just this past Thursday, May 31, 2007 a Saudi inmate committed suicide, becoming the seventh inmate known to have killed himself in the prison.
The list of abuses is long and the stories of torture and humiliation related by those who have been released from the prison undoubtedly gruesome. Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long called for the closure of the prison. Indeed, Bush Administration officials have come under fire both from US opposition groups as well as other Western world leaders for their inability to uphold the Geneva Conventions in the treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that “Guantanamo cannot and should not exist in the longer term”. British prime minister Tony Blair has called it an “anomaly” and even Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch ally of the Bush Administration, has called for the closure of the prison saying “One should move with maximum speed toward closing down these centres where incidents condemned by the whole world have occurred”.
Stories of the atrocities of Guantanamo have echoed far and wide in the Muslim world. In cities like Amman, Karachi, Cairo and Kabul one would be hard pressed to find a person who has not heard of the notorious prison in Guantanamo or is unwilling to condemn the grotesque violations of human rights that are taking place there. Despite its geographical distance, Guantanamo and the images of its persecuted prisoners seem to have etched themselves in the minds of Muslims and become the subject of much condemnation.
However, Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba is hardly the only place home to cruel atrocities carried out with impunity. Evin prison, located north of Tehran, is the sordid site where hundreds of Iranian human rights activists, philosophers, journalists and student leaders are being imprisoned under chilling and ghastly conditions. Section 209 of the prison, reserved for political prisoners is run by the Iranian ministry of intelligence and used to house anyone accused of opposing the regime. So secret is the prison that one journalist Zahra Kazemi was found beaten to death by Iranian authorities for having attempted to take pictures of the facility in 2003.
In recent weeks, Iranian authorities have put scores of journalists, student leaders and activists in Evin. One such person is the scholar Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old academic who went to Iran from the United States to visit her aged mother. On her way to Tehran airport, she was accosted by masked gunmen who stopped the taxi in which she was travelling and took her away to be questioned by the ministry of intelligence at Evin.
In March of this year, 35 female university professors, lawyers, jurists and journalists were arrested for simply gathering in front of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran for a peaceful protest. Earlier this May, six student leaders were arrested for having written subversive articles against the government even though it is widely alleged that the articles were fabrications used by the Iranian government to crack down on student leaders.
As in the case of Guantanamo, those released from Evin tell harrowing tales of persecution and torture at the hands of Iranian authorities. Their stories are just as terrifying, if not more so than Guantanamo. One could even argue that Evin far surpasses Guantanamo in its abject immorality since the Iranian Government chooses its own citizens to persecute rather than the “combatants” imprisoned by US authorities as part of a war. Yet, despite the blatant depravities of its cruel purpose, Evin remains a seldom talked about issue in the Muslim world. While the suffering of inmates in Guantanamo get persistent and routine attention on channels such as Al-Jazeera, Geo News and others, the fate of Evin’s political prisoners, helpless at the hands of Iranian authorities, is hardly ever mentioned.
One possible explanation is the fear that in criticising the Iranian regime one could be bolstering the United States War propaganda against Iran. However many Iran commentators such as Danny Postel, an author of a book on the subject have exposed the falsity of this notion. In Postel’s words “Iranian dissidents and human rights activists are themselves opposed to a US attack on their country, so in supporting them we are in fact supporting people who stand in direct opposition to the neo-cons and to Washington’s imperial agenda”.
Despite this reality and the urgent helplessness of hapless men and women condemned to silence and persecution not a single political leader in the Muslim world has condemned the Iranian government for carrying out such horrific crimes against its own people. Cloaking its oppressive practices in the garb of religious piety, the Iranian regime seems to have convinced everyone in the Muslim world to turn a blind eye to its infractions.
Disinterested in anything that does not affirm their own self-righteousness against the West, the Muslims continue to ignore the plight of fellow Muslims whose persecutors are their own countrymen. Viewed thus, Evin represents not simply a prison but the greatest danger facing the Muslim world, the self-defeating practice of condemning only the evil without, while obstinately refusing to confront the evil within.
Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org