Iran protesters released from prison wrestle with fear and trauma


In northern Iran, the 35-year-old engineer tried to prepare himself for the agents he knew would come.

When his home was raided in the fall, allegedly over an Instagram post he had shared and his participation in anti-government protests, the man joined thousands of Iranians who have fled the Islamic Republic in recent months. Have been through Iran’s prison system – part of it. The mass arrest and release campaign is at the center of a wider crackdown.

Four months after the uprising, many Iranians are still associated with the movement. It began in September after the death of 22-year-old Maha Amini in the custody of the country’s hated “morality police”. But the mass detentions have taken a heavy physical and psychological toll on people cycling in prison, and have terrified some of them and their families, according to interviews with seven Iranians recently released from prison. Accordingly, five local and international rights groups, as well as Iranian doctors and lawyers, directly contacted the people arrested after supporting the protests.

The videos show evidence of a growing crackdown on Iranian protests.

The engineer from Karaj, near Tehran, said the government’s “main goal is to scare people as much as possible, to maximize fear … and to put as many people under surveillance as possible”. Like all those interviewed inside Iran, he spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Yet thousands of Iranians are also gaining experience standing up to authorities and navigating the prison system, which could be a serious asset to the decentralization movement.

“By arresting many of these youths, they only remove the fear of arrest and violence,” he continued. “Prisoners think to themselves, ‘I can withstand as much pressure as they can, so nothing can stop me from getting my rights.'”

Most of the others jailed with the man had no prior experience of activism or arrests, he told The Post via a secure messaging app amid the internet blackout. The Post could not independently verify the stories shared by former detainees, but they are consistent with reports from the media and other rights groups.

The engineer was eventually released on bail pending trial, but found little relief back home. He said he avoided protesting, fearing what loved ones would go through if he was arrested again. And he was in poor health because of a flu-like outbreak in prison, he said, and the withdrawal of an unknown drug that he suspects was mixed with strange-flavored tea or fruit juice by authorities during interrogations. Given to drink an hour ago, he left it. Tired and upset.

He remains haunted by the psychological torture he endured, and the torture he witnessed inflicted on others: “You bastards are so spoiled,” he recalled to his interrogators. Saying “we should take your testicles out and hang them from your behind so you learn to behave.”

Iran’s UN mission in New York did not respond to a request for comment about the allegations of abuse and forced narcotics.

According to the activist news agency HRANA, nearly 20,000 people were arrested, more than 500 killed and at least four others executed in four months of nationwide unrest. Exact figures are impossible to determine, as Iran does not systematically share this information and can retaliate against anyone who does, but rights groups say the scale of the arrests is unprecedented. .

Iran’s top prosecutor has vowed to “deal decisively” with the protesters. Foreign agents and instigators by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Sunday, Khamenei reportedly approved a general amnesty for thousands of prisoners – as he has done before on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution – although it was unclear whether those were detained for protest activities. How many of the individuals will be involved?

At the heart of Iran’s crackdown, a small group of judges sentences protesters to death.

Some of those arrested face the death penalty or long prison terms. But the majority are eventually released, at least conditionally, often with heavy bail or with a family member serving as surety while they await trial, according to the Volunteer Committee to the Situation. said Shiva Nazarhari of the Network of the Stabilization of Detainees. Workers

“Physically, sexually, psychologically, prisoners face such harsh conditions that when they get out, they have to deal with really deep trauma,” said Nazarhari, who escaped from Iran a few years ago. He had been detained several times before.

Although prison experiences vary, the fear of violence remains constant.

“Beatings and torture are common and widespread during and after arrests,” a 39-year-old man in Tehran told The Post. During his two months in detention, he spent time in solitary confinement and was denied medical care for injuries sustained in his violent arrest, he said.

He said the engineer from Karaj was not physically assaulted in prison, but prison officials knew how to hurt him: they constantly threatened his friends and family. If they don’t, they will arrest him. Cut off from the outside world, he was sickly worried.

In the early days of the protests, doctors and lawyers inside and outside Iran formed networks to covertly support the movement. From exile in California, brothers Arash and Kamiar Alai, both doctors previously imprisoned in Iran, formed a telemedicine group to counsel protesters about disconnection from medical care.

In a message Kamiyar shared with The Post, one person wrote asking for help for a 25-year-old married man who was depressed after being in prison. He was worried, he wrote, “noticing the death of some people after suicide attempts and violence”.

From Ankara, Turkey, Iranian lawyer Moussa Barzin works with Dadban, a virtual legal aid group, to advise arrested protesters. Most cases involve people under the age of 25 who were first detained during protests or after social media posts, he said, and when they return home “emotional and The psychological pain is high.”

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Berzin spoke to a man whose 23-year-old niece expressed suicidal thoughts after his release, citing pressure from security forces to act as an informant. In another case, Barzin said, he consulted with the mother of a 30-year-old woman in Tehran who was convinced that the security The agents who were repeatedly threatening to detain and rape her. The woman was detained for a night after participating in the protest. The Post could not independently verify these accounts.

“After the release, you think they’ll just come and get you again,” said the 39-year-old from Tehran. “You keep feeling like you’re being watched because you’re always being watched when you’re detained.”

Kamiyar Alai said people approached him for help with untreated wounds or other health conditions that arose in dirty and overcrowded prisons. He said some people also reported experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms, including extreme fatigue, due to unknown drugs being administered against their will. A woman told him He was forcibly injected with a syringe.

Two former inmates interviewed by The Post said they were given or seen many of the substances, in pill or liquid form, sometimes before interrogation or to silence silent prisoners.

Alai said the Post could not verify their claims, and lacked solid evidence, because Iranians recently released from prison had no safe way to get blood or urine tests. Drugging detainees with antipsychotics and narcotics has become “very common,” he said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the New York-based Campaign for Human Rights in Iran Tracing the practice in Iranian prisons for almost a decade.

Iran’s government appears to be betting that its continued crackdown will demoralize the protesters. crush the rebellion.

The 40-year-old political activist, who was released in December after serving 61 days in prison, told The Post that he had stopped actively supporting the protests on social media. He has a family to take care of. He said that there is practically no possibility of my functioning in the current situation.

A 30-year-old law school graduate in Tehran, who spent 26 days in prison in October, observed that the arrests and executions “scared many people and caused them to retreat, especially among those who have little activity experience.”

But others are fearless.

“Despite massive repression and arrests, we try to continue protesting and fighting in different ways,” the law graduate continued.

Another man, in his 30s, was detained three months later An Instagram post supporting the protests and her Baha’i faith, which is banned in Iran, no longer fears arrest, according to a family member who contacted The Post on her behalf as a safety precaution. talked. He said that he returned home depressed and in debt, as he was the breadwinner, but recovered.

“The worst thing that could have happened, happened,” the family member recalled the man telling them. He said the prisoners had become “like heroes”.

“Unlike previous protests, a significant number of released protesters, even those on bail, take part in the protests,” said Rabin Rahmani, a member of the board of directors of the France-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network. “

“The kind of fear that the security agencies created in previous waves of mass arrests, shootings, violence and heavy-handed verdicts has been defeated by people’s hopes for fundamental change.”

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