Prisoners of "love"
Evin, Part 5: The Accused & the judicial system
March 5, 2007
Part (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Prison guards and social workers looked at the accused who constituted about one third of the prison population as being already convicted. In fact, the application of the judicial system was defective and unjust. An inmate described her bitterness in these terms:
"I've suffered a lot in the hands of the courts and prison. They treat us like slaves. They are just not open to hearing the truth."
Another prisoner shook her head in frustration:
"Inspectors believe that basically the accused lies. They constantly bark, "Don't lie!" They typically don't listen to what is being said by the defendant and simply look into the file to see what is written there."
A woman convicted of theft explained how completely unethical the process of obtaining confessions was:
"In the investigation office, they have the habit of not being satisfied with confession of the accused to just a few cases. She has to confess to a certain number of cases, to 15 cases for instance. It is only then that the investigators leave her alone. Detectives believe that as long as they don't have a violent attitude, the accused will not confess to their offence. As a result of this violence, the accused might confess to many more cases of offence than she has actually committed."
Another woman confirmed this testimony:
"The inspector of the Public Prosecutor's Office creates an atmosphere of terror and intimidation."
Other testimonies by the inmates pointed to the whimsicality of the judicial process. A prisoner was feeling helpless:
"The judge who rendered his verdict based upon the inspector's false report, found me guilty and sentenced me to 20 years of incarceration while having one ear to the telephone and looking at my file at the same time."
Another prisoner was enraged:
"When the witnesses came to testify, the judge, the prosecutor and the court secretary were joking with each other, laughing about some kind of a poem."
The judicial system was very inflexible. Therefore, defenses such as menopausal problems or PMS (Pre-Menstrual Symptoms) didn't help any woman accused of an offence. On the other hand, everything and everyone had a price inside and outside of the prison, from the time of arrest or the moment of suspicion about the presence of an offence to the time of the verdict and incarceration. The judge's secretaries could be bought for 50,000 toumans each, inspectors for 150,000 toumans, and others according to the lesser or more importance of their occupation for less or more prices. Holding wealthy women such as Robabeh Aminian in prison ˆ under the favourable conditions mentioned before, was done purely for political reasons: because some of the rich women swindlers or traffickers were connected to individuals with specific "political lines," releasing them would have caused trouble for their protecting men. Another sign of corruption in the judicial system was the fact that there were always propositions by men, from investigators to the judges, for sexual relations with accused women, which facilitated their cases.
According to the inmates, the judiciary did not even follow the letter of the Islamic law. They showed more leniency towards women whose offense was non-sexual, i.e., theft, narcotics, or even murder. In cases of adultery, sex work and procurance, they treated women much more harshly than men. The prison was full of teenage girls who were raped and pregnant but detained as adulteresses while their rapists were free. I interviewed a 25 year-old sex worker who told me that she had been working in a clothing factory at the age of 16 when a young foreman promised to marry her if she had sex with him. She got pregnant and had a clandestine abortion paid by the man. Her family found out about it and complained against the man. In the court, the man declared that he would not marry a girl who had had sex with him without being married to him. The court made a judgment in favour of the man, sentencing him only to a few months of buyable jail sentence, which he paid. The man did not have to pay any fine and the young woman was eventually kicked out of her father's home and forced into prostitution.
Among the women I interviewed, there were some who were victims of the judiciary corruption. A 25 year-old woman who was a hairdresser and owned a beauty salon was falsely accused of having stolen a colour TV of 30,000 toumans (about $40.00) and had been in Evin for 21 days without any right of visitation or phone call:
"I was practicing my driving skills when an armed policeman took me to a police station by force, where he and his colleagues told me that if I paid them 30,000 toumans I would be free and nothing would happen to me. When I told them that I hadn't stolen anything, they sent me here. I'm in Evin prison because I refused to pay a bribe. I have everything I want - a comfortable home, a nice family and a good husband. He is a coach and owns a taikwando club. He will have to pay 30,000 toumans for my release."
Another case of the judiciary corruption was that of a woman sentenced to 5 months of incarceration. Her offence had been that of having a VCR machine and alcoholic beverage at home. She was in jail mainly because, at the time of her arrest, she got involved in a verbal exchange with the Committee for Prevention of Vice agent in defense of her elderly husband's rights.
A 42 year-old woman from the city of Qom testified to a worse case of corruption:
"After my divorce, I met an influential mullah who wanted a temporary marriage with me. I didn't accept because of my children, but we had a relationship anyway. The mullah's telephone was bugged by the government and they found out about us. At the time of my arrest, my mullah partner was in Mecca. In detention, I was ordered to say that I took a woman for him. They flogged me 45 times on the soles of my feet, ordering me to say that I was adulterous and a pimp. If I were a pimp, they didn't need to get a forced confession from me. They could have proven it by the phone calls I made from his house. I'm not a pimp. In case of my partner, as he hadn't been viewed positively by the Establishment for a while, the special court for the clerics sentenced him to 7 years suspended prison term and disrobed him, but set him free immediately. I was convicted of adultery and pimping and setenced to 11 years imprisonment and I'm still doing time. My nephew is Qom's prosecutor. They wanted to defame us. The clerics court confiscated my house and threw out my children."
A 23 year-old woman sentenced to 8 years in prison for carrying narcotics spoke of flagrant discrimination:
"I was working in a manufacturing company that, like many other manufacturing plants, was also a narcotics trafficking network. The day they raided and arrested everybody, the two principal traffickers were released. We were detained and two men from among us were executed."
A 35 year-old woman who had a comfortable life was falsely accused of pimping:
"I introduced my female friends to men that I knew. But this was not pimping. I was not asking for money. I did it because I like to give parties and have fun."
There was no court-appointed lawyer program for those who were unable to hire one. A middle-aged inmate was beside herself:
"There are inmates who have received only a 2-year sentence without fine for having had over 2 kilos of opium. While I have been condemned to 8 years and 2 million toumans fine for 6 grams of opium. The reason is that I did not have a lawyer and did not know how to express myself in front of the judge."
There were other inmates who were even less able to defend themselves. A 14 year-old girl from a small village near Arak was accused of adultery and sent to jail for having been raped four times and impregnated by the landlord's son. Her rapist was free on bail and she had no idea how long she was going to remain in jail. A 38 year-old illiterate woman, married to a tanner, having 5 children and working as a (washer) (scrubber) in a public bath, was condemned to 3 years in prison for pimping:
"I haven't committed any offense. I'm a simpleton. The reason for my arrest was that I had a fight with a neighbour over our children. She slandered me by saying that I took her to a man. When I was in the court, I thought I heard them saying that I had committed tannery (dabbaaghi). I said, "No, it is my husband who does tannery!" Then I was told that I was accused of having committed procuring (ghavvaadi)."
The absence of temporary detention centres for women resulted in accused women being sent directly to Evin prison and subjected to strip search and body cavity search procedures. One day I witnessed a woman brought to prison for having broken her neighbour's window glass during a fight and was subjected to a body search behind a screen. Later, I asked her about her occupation. She said that she was a social worker. Then under the contemptuous and icy gaze of a colleague, i.e., the prison social worker, she began crying, "Is it fair to bring me here? Among a bunch of criminals?" Like most accused women in detention, she did not know how long she was going to stay in jail. The period of temporary detention for the accused was very long - from six to ten months or even longer.
It was only the Committee for Prevention of Vice that had detention centres for the "badly-veiled." Some of Tehran's big and famous detention centres mentioned by the prisoners were Pole-Rumi and Vozara. They were in charge of addiction and "vice" (including parties) by men and women. The "badly-veiled" were usually taken to Vozara Detention Centre, and those who were arrested for being in a party were sometimes detained there for over forty days >>> Part 6
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