What the worst means in Iran’s prisons

I was reminded today of Iran’s prisons. Not just that they exist, because that’s not easy to forget when you work in human rights. With dozens of journalists behind bars, the country is at the top of CPJ’s list of nations that jail journalists (along with China). But this story on imprisoned journalist Isa Saharkhiz—about his “inhumane treatment”—led me back to an article I wrote over the summer that’s left me sleepless, recalling the testimonies I’ve read from former prisoners.

Saeeda Siabi described being raped in front of her 4-month-old son. “They took me to a torture room and tied me to a bed,” she said. “I was wounded and injured, but I forgot about wounds and injuries. I thought I was fainting.”

Rape is used as a form of torture by the regime. CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Mohamed Abdel Dayem, explained to me that interrogators use the brutality of rape to terrify the public and deter people from following the example of outspoken members of society.

Saharkhiz, who has been held since July 2009, has leaked word to the press that prison officials have subjected him to physical violence and “encouraged prisoners who are drug addicts to attack him by promising them drugs in return,” according to RFE/RL.

I think of him and his fellow prisoners now, and I know that “inhumane treatment” can only mean torture of the worst kind. Mehdi Saharkhiz, the journalist’s son, said the Iranian authorities “want to put my father’s life on the line” because of a grudge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds against him, RFE/RL reported. I have no doubt that this is literally the case.

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