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Inside Evin

by TARA MAHTAFAR in Tehran

08 Jul 2009 17:3617 Comments

Dispatch from Tehran

I was arrested walking home in the immediate aftermath of the election at a busy square in the city center. Chaos reigned: chants, stones, batons, teargas.

I felt a heavy slap land on my shoulder. Briefly, the thought of a close friend with a misplaced sense of humor came to mind. Turning, a black-helmeted riot guard towered over me: "You're the one who gave my soldier a black eye!"

In total shock, I stammered I was not a protester, but the club descended nonetheless as I was dragged and shoved into a bus.

Over the next hours I witnessed scenes of extreme violence as we drove through fire-barricaded streets; one young man had his head bashed open. Soon he was lying on the seat next to me; everyone was in panic to stop the gushing blood.

Sometime near dawn, I found myself in another vehicle speeding along an expressway on a northwest stretch of the capital. I dialed my mother on my mobile, finally knowing where we were headed -- sure enough, our exit sign read EVIN.

The infamous prison -- Iran's Guantanamo -- opened its monolithic electric gate to swallow us ... as everyone who enters it fears: indefinitely.

The Prison

What struck me upon entry to Evin was the green lushness of its grounds. Sort of a ['God-given'] bounty, considering its location in Tehran's hilly Darake area. It was disarmingly landscaped. The sprawling compound was a city in itself, of walls within walls.

After mug shots, fingerprinting, and the body search, I exchanged my cellphone and wallet for a kit containing a washcloth, t-shirt, and pair of briefs. A guard led a group of us down a corridor, checking cells to see which had room. Finally, he herded us into a ten-by-ten meter cell. Drained, I collapsed on the thinly-carpeted floor with an army blanket, and slept.

I woke up when they started serving lunch. Rice-and-stew of suspicious origin, yogurt, and weak tea in a plastic cup. It was served with the day's Etelaat, a state-run newspaper. I ate the yogurt and did the Sudoku puzzle.

This was meant to be "solitary" confinement, by the way, as a prelude to one's interrogation. But apparently there were no solitary cells left. My interrogation was put off for days. That's how busy Evin was, with the influx of arrests.

On Day 2, I was transferred to "The Quarantine," a chamber with high ceilings and rows of bunks. Initially we were about 700 people, all of whom has been arrested in the past 48 hours. More came and went, came and went; it was a zoo. I must have seen a thousand pass before my eyes in those first days.

We slept two per bed, the dozens bunks all filled. Others, blanket-sharing trios, covered the floor. (One blanket spread underneath, one on top, one rolled as a pillow.) Our meals grew more meager as the stream of entrants continued.

They arrived in packs, with news from the outside that was always a day or two old, due to the "time in solitary" delay. I heard what was happening on the streets, and it filled me both with dismay and fierce hope. The worse it got, the less likely I'd be freed soon. Yet, how could I not be overjoyed to learn about the continued resistance?

The Interrogation

Blindfolded, I sat one-on-one with my interrogator; the space seemed to be shared by other interrogators and prisoners, a few feet away.

His voice was soft and affable. "Tell me about yourself."

Almost like a shrink, he had me skim through my life story, from preschool up to the time and place I was arrested. Then he asked about my "political alignment."

I replied I had none.

"Who did you vote for?" Then: "Why did you vote for Mousavi? Do you believe the elections were rigged? Who do you think is responsible for the riots?"

The barrage of questions came out of multiple interrogators in multiple interrogation sessions for the next week.

There was even a good cop, bad cop routine. That night, the blind dark rang with the bloodcurdling sounds of torture. I never learned if this was a recording played to terrify me, or real.

Another time, the get-out-of-jail card was dangled. I could walk if I agreed to appear on television and give a scripted confession of propagating "vandalism."

I replied, "But I did not throw rocks. I did not break car windows or set fire to banks." I ventured further. "Most of the people I've seen here are innocent."

"Our intelligence agency does not bring innocents here. We have files."

"Why am I here?" I challenged.

He was mute.

Prisoner stories

I won't say I wasn't roughed up during these sessions, but I wasn't tortured like the political heavyweights in notoriously sinister Ward 209.

In the general ward where we resided, however, I was witness to the sobering experiences of some of my cellmates.

One man in his thirties told me he got a thorough thrashing -- while blindfolded -- during his interrogation. "There was a young guy in there with me," he said. "His voice was youthful. He was brought in because he knifed a basiji. They had no pity on him. They beat him until he'd pass out, then doused his head in water so he'd regain consciousness. Then knock him out again. The fourth time he wasn't revived by the water. I heard one guy tell another to check his breath, his pulse. He was dead. They were calm about it; the poor kid's body was removed from the room."

Some instances of savage brutality I saw myself. This was a working-class man from the fleet of Tehran's indispensable motorbike couriers. His route had taken him through an intersection with street unrest. The police/militia were striking indiscriminately. Riding his bike, the courier's elbow was sliced by a qama (a longish blade akin to a short sword); the wound gaping open was a painful sight. An actual demonstrator, chased down in protests in front of Majlis, had broken ribs and an arm in a cast. The norm for all who came in was bruises and scars, but some had graver injuries.

I was lucky. As a passerby, I had nothing to hide or tell. The general ward was teeming with guys like me or street protesters at worst. None of us saw the underbelly of Evin, where the politicos reportedly go under proper torture (water-boarding, electric shock, etc.). I hope no one has to see such a thing.


I was released in two and a half weeks. My detainment was an episode I won't soon forget, and the judiciary process is my souvenir.

I'm not 'free and clear' quite yet. For bail I had to leave our house deeds as collateral. My trial date is not set, but I'll be going up for a "suspended sentence" of serving three months on charges of "acts against national security" (standard Islamic Republic-speak for any whiff of civil activism).

Now home, my daily life is unaltered -- except that is for the deep sense of paranoia crawling under my skin, of being under surveillance. Evin looms over me on the telephone, on the internet, everywhere I go and with whomever I meet. Perhaps I'm overreacting. But Evin was certainly a lesson in how the regime arbitrarily exercises its power in the current atmosphere.

Copyright (c) 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Amazing. Thank you for sharing- my heart breaks for you & everyone in evin. I pray some sort of healing or miracle takes place. You are in all of our hearts and thoughts. Thank you.

Michelle May / July 8, 2009 1:57 PM

I am ever so grateful you survived, yet grieved for what horrors they are putting people through, there. I pray daily for the sake of everyone suffering, and for the souls of those killed, and their family and friends, mourning.

I keep a green place in my heart, for all of you. May you achieve the rights and freedom you seek. Bless you all very much, Peg

Peg / July 8, 2009 2:14 PM

thank you for sharing. i praise you that you fought for your freedom. i cant even imagine what goes on in the underbelly of evin prison. the things i've heard done to our people there just gives me the shivers to think about it. these murderers wont get away with this. this is only the beginning of their end. never give up iran, the time has come

babak / July 8, 2009 2:42 PM

This is getting worse and worse. People that want their own people to live in fear are weak and insecure and cowardly. He and his son will continue unless somebody puts a stop to it. My heart reaches out to all, mums particularly, what you have to endure is criminal and unjust. May your luck chhange soon as, now!

jill / July 8, 2009 2:57 PM

Does the Iranian government really think anybody believes those scripted confessions? Then again I guess they think people will believe their lies about the election.

Heidi / July 8, 2009 3:03 PM

I just posted this on my Facebook for the world to see. Thank God you made it out of there and we pray for the others. The world is still watching......keep fighting!

Gloria / July 8, 2009 3:25 PM

Who is this "I" writing this?

If he is afraid and parnoid, then how come he is writing now?

With all due respect, I wish we, the expat Iranians won't fall in trap of our own limelight of sensationalizing the gory-glories of our youth's uprising, long after they have chosen to return to normalcy of life ...

Sometimes, I sense that the Iranian expats (who are safely in Boston, London, Montreal, Sydney, Toronto, Amsterdam, LA, NY, SF ...) are sounding disappointed that the revolution has quieted down; this will take away the lime light from many a pundit-to-be to appear on CNN and was political about the imminent fall of the IRI.

If you have ever lived in Iran, you will know that "exaggeration" is part of the fabric of our poetic, romantic and may I add neurotic character!

Let's focus on this VERY report here. The writer doesn't report any physical abuse exercised on him inside the prison! Yet he is talking about the notorious chambers where people are waterboarded; or paraphrases someone who has witnessed torture. Do you think, that the IRI interrogators will beat a "young man to DEATH" in presence of this blindfolded gentleman, and then announce "he is dead", and then just let this person walk away as a witness of murder?! If these interrogators are as brutal and as careless in 'killing' what prevented them from killing the witness to their murder as well??!

Might that "observation" (made blindfolded) have been just a part of a staged interrogation routine?!

Let's look at the other side of this coin too: Who is benefitting most from these horror stories? Is it not the IRI who effectively terrorizes the people into submission?! Might it be that hey exaggerate stories of their own brutality in order to frighten people out of action?

I have heard torture stories of the IRI; I have seen the marks left on flesh that survive after 20 years, so I won't put anything past them. But i am at the same time vigilant when it comes to getting excited about torture stories I hear, the least i expect is a name.

naj / July 8, 2009 6:49 PM



Here the Petition adressed to Ban Ki-Moon. Please undersign (scroll down):




Bernd Dahlenburg / July 8, 2009 8:29 PM

Que horror! Really inhuman.

shetty / July 8, 2009 10:49 PM


ofcourse this govt will do everything in their power to scare the others.

My relative was in Evin for almost two years without knowing why he was there for 6 monthes.

Later they told him because he was bog writter and his punishmant was daily tourture, beatting,and executing other inmate in front of him and other prisoners and more....

These people have no mercy and do anything to stay in power

I have been witnesed to three cases in my own relatives and one of the family member who had serve prison for 5 years andfled the country from hspital with help of others lives in Canada.

It has been about ten years since he left Iran but stil is afraid of his own shadow.

Dear Iranian, believe everything you hear because this regime is worse than you can imagine. They will destry before they leave our mother land and if they can they will kill everone so they can start fresh with another generation .they are killing children of generation who helped them to come in power .

they have no shame.

God bless Iran and all good people.

suri zane Irani / July 9, 2009 12:40 AM

Naj wants a name - yet he himself is anonymous.

The last sentence about past torture is the usual sign of regime propaganda. Admit a little but make sure that it's distant.

Lars Jensen / July 9, 2009 4:31 AM

I am not questioning the authenticity of this piece, but the writer is full of BS, he is so unaware of what Evin is that is frightening.

He was treated humanely in comparision to almost everyone I know who eneded up in that shit hole (myself included).

IRI does not wather board people, it is a CIA act, they drown them PLAIN and simple.

IRI does not use electrical shock except in very rare occasions, their torture is pure and simple and brutal and bloody.

I still remember the 3 months I spent in Evin in 1981, the torture was realy, so where the eexcutions and miss treatments, but IRI is treating Mousavi supporters way way more humanely that they did to any of us in the 80s.

I don't know where he learned his writing style, but I would gues this sounds much more like an US educated person than an actuall Iranian who lived during the hurror time of IRI.

Farhad Abdolian / July 9, 2009 5:10 AM

When will the guns come out? The question as to when the armed resistance to the state terror in Iran will commence hangs in the air like the charged atmosphere preceding a thunder storm on a hot Midwestern day in the USA. There is only so much oppression and state sponsored terror that any people will take before the need to strike back becomes overwhelming. Sooner or later a counter terror must begin Iran unlike the other Mid Eastern nations has had two successful popular revolutions in the last 100 years: the 1906-1911 constitutional revolution; and, the 1979 one which left the current regime in power. With these models in front of them and realizing that they have lost legitimacy some in the IRI's leadership must be aware of their danger. It must be this that is motivating them to increased state terror.

Richard Kadas / July 9, 2009 8:52 AM

American Idol and Michael Jackson's death is more important then the war in iraq. In the eyes on the main stream news. The media makes me sick!

Keep up the good fight to get the information that matters out there. You rock!

azozel / July 9, 2009 11:40 AM

Recently, every night before I go to sleep I pray for the people that are in any of these prisons especially the ones who are being tortured and dying under torture. I recently read that there other prisons and undisclosed locations (Section 59, I think & others) that the detainees are transferred to and it is not just the Evin prison. My heart aches when I think about all the prisoners and some of them are probably badly hurt. This regime is much more cruel that the last regime and it is all done in the name of Islam. It is sickening to say the least.

Minoo / July 9, 2009 1:37 PM

Thanks for writing the story. You need to read it twice to get it. The whole idea was actually at the end where he said:

"except that is for the deep sense of paranoia crawling under my skin, of being under surveillance. Evin looms over me on the telephone, on the internet, everywhere I go and with whomever I meet."

You got to be kidding me. Are you scaring people? That is all the Iranian Secret Service wants. To scare people so that People do not do jack. Relax Amigo.... Next time you write something either write the truth or tell the whole story where talks about how ugly your captors were. Until then go for the neck. Mangos!

Mangos / July 9, 2009 6:17 PM


If you are dead or still locked up then you won't be able to write anything on internet, would you?

Evin is like gitmo. How quick did the storys get out of that place? If you want to wait for real figures of the death-toll in Iran from the past month and see the need of this as proof of the goverments aggression then you are ... Take the story for what it is. If you don't belive it, then why don't you give the goverment of Iran a call and ask them if you can have a tour around the place and intervju people? ;)

Mike / July 19, 2009 6:35 PM