An Iranian dissident who secretly disclosed the excesses of prison brutality in the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, endangering her own life, has escaped to Europe. She is now living at an undisclosed location for her safety.
Shabnam Madadzadeh, 29, was held for six years, serving a five year prison service, in some of the most infamous prisons of Iran’s deeply politicised criminal justice system. Through letters she sent secretly from her cells, Madadzadeh drew attention to the often draconian conditions she and thousands of other women faced.
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She called the on UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran to visit Raja’i Shahr and Gharchak prisons, where she was held. Madadzadeh’s plight as a prisoner of conscience was raised by international NGOs and the US State Department before she finally escaped to Europe.
Inside Raja’i Shahr and Gharchak prisons, Madadzadeh was, like other prisoners, forced to watch the execution of fellow captives, lived under the threat of death and sexual violence, and was tortured while in the custody of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
“In every moment, second by second you can feel death. The interrogators talk about execution every day and every day you think you are going to be executed,” Madadzadeh told IBTimes UK during a telephone interview.
At Raja’i Shahr, Madadzadeh lived in a room she described as a “corridor”, where 200 women were crammed, with only two toilets and unsanitary drinking water. The lights in the room were never turned off, depriving the inmates of sleep between brutal interrogation sessions.
“When I was under interrogation I was physically tortured too. Five or six men surrounded me and as they were questioning me they beat me, pulled my hair and hit my body,” Madadzadeh said.
Her interrogators hoped Madadzadeh would renounce the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), an opposition group in Iran outlawed by the Mullah’s regime and which advocates the overthrow of the Islamist regime.
She explained the worst punishment she could receive was to be sent to solitary confinement, but that it was the stories of sexual abuse in the prison which led her to realise she needed to speak out against her jailers.
“Inside there were girls who were raped by the guards. These girls and these women don’t have anyone to help them or to hear them and [the guards] easily raped many of them,” Madadzadeh said.
Arash Mohammadi, now 25, who also recently arrived in Europe like Madadzadeh, described how he lived a “constant nightmare” while in prisonHandout
“I can still see the face of a girl who told me she had been raped six times by a guard. It was horrible. My heart broke with her and when I was listening I would just cry because I was in prison and I could do nothing for them.
“I said to myself, you should be the voice of these women, because this the way to support these women and to fight the regime,” she added.
Men also face the threat of sexual violence in prison. Arash Mohammadi, 25, who also recently arrived in Europe like Madadzadeh described living “constant nightmare” in which he faced prolonged and vicious beatings and was threatened with rape.
“The interrogations would last 12 hours, there was a rack that I was put up on and then I would be tortured with beatings and also shocked with electric shocks. There would be three interrogators. One would ask the questions and the other two would carry on beating.
“Sometimes I would pass out and they would splash water on me until I gained consciousness again and then they would resume,” Mohammadi explained.
Mohammadi was also told he had to denounce the PMOI and was subjected to eight days of 12-hour-long interrogations. For both Mohammadi and Madadzadeh the beatings served eventually to strengthen their resolve against the Iranian government.
“I believe all of these women were victims of the regime. Without any basic rights for any of the prisoners,” Madadzadeh said.
“Especially for women in Iran. They don’t have any rights and they are still without safety or people to help them,” she added.