In early September, Hadi Attazadeh, a prisoner at Ahar prison in Iran, died after being lashed. Attazadeh’s death sparked an outcry in his region and across the country. However, his story is not unique. Over the past few decades, Iranian prison guards and security services have increasingly adopted torture as a tactic to punish prisoners. This raises grave human rights concerns that need immediate attention. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture must condemn the continuous use of torture in Iranian prisons. Additionally, he should also organize an UN-body visit to Iranian prisons to help promote transparency, accountability, and oversight.
One and a half years ago, Hadi Attazadeh was arrested for consuming alcohol. He was subsequently sentenced to Ahar Prison in the Turkish-majority Eastern Azerbaijan Province of Iran. His sentence was indefinite and included lashing as a punishment. As per Iran’s strict legal code, any individual who consumes or possesses alcoholic drinks can face up to 80 lashes and variable imprisonment terms. Although Attazadeh’s cellmates insisted that he needed medical attention after his lashing, prison officials denied their requests. Eventually, Attazadeh passed away.
In the aftermath of his death, rumors circulated around the notion that Attazadeh had committed suicide. Additionally, prison officials have stated that he had died of coronary heart disease, while local officials said he had died of drug poisoning and abdominal pain. However, Attazadeh’s family has vehemently denied these claims, stating he was in perfect physical and mental health before his death. Photo evidence from his pre-burial rituals also clearly depicts wounds from lashings. Attazadeh’s death has sparked significant controversy in his province and across the country. His death has also garnered the attention of the local government and security services. According to his relatives, local security agencies have issued threats against
the family, warning that they will arrest them if they speak to the media. The agencies also pressured the family to withdraw the complaint they had filed against prison authorities.
Attazadeh’s death is the latest example of prisoners dying due to torture and brutality in Iranian prisons. His inflammatory story came one week after a hacker group released shocking surveillance videos which show Iranian authorities mistreating detainees inside the infamous Evin Prison. The videos demonstrate a range of torture practices, including beatings, sexual harassment, and the purposeful neglect and degradation of individuals needing medical assistance. The clips also highlighted concerningly inhumane prison conditions, including overcrowded cells and cells used for solitary confinement. According to Amnesty International, the videos represent “the tip of the iceberg” of the gruesome torture practices Iranian prisoners are subject to and prison guards’ impunity. Local and international media outlets had covered such controversial deaths as far back as 2003 when Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died from a skull injury she obtained during interrogation. Thus far, Iranian authorities have dismissed international outcry around the use of torture practices, claiming these tactics are uncommon and used by a small population of prison guards.
Iran is one of the few countries that still use torture and degrading punishments against its citizens and prisoners. The regime often uses flogging as a tactic to punish its political opponents and protesters. Today, an array of acts are punishable by flogging. These include theft, assault, extramarital relationships, fraud, adultery, and a breach of public morals. Iran continues to use these concerning practices even though international conventions such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture prohibit torture and punishment practices such as flogging and execution.
Shortly after Attazadeh’s death, Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, called on Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, to condemn this act of torture. She also called on Mendez to visit Iranian prisons. Rajavi’s organization works to undermine and overthrow the Iranian regime, and she is often critical of the government and its practices. Thus far, numerous UN bodies, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee, have noted that flogging is considered a cruel and inhuman punishment that is not acceptable on an international scale. The UN Special Rapporteur must heed Rajavi’s requests and build on past UN precedent around flogging and other torture practices to pressure Iran to change its ways. Additionally, Mendez should organize a series of visits to Iranian prisons, as this would help promote transparency, accountability, and oversight over the use of state of affairs in these institutions.
The recent death of Hadi Attazadeh has once again reignited domestic and international discussions on the use of torture tactics by prison guards in Iran. This is a concerning trend that has marred the country’s history for decades. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture must condemn the use of these torture tactics in Iran. He should also assemble a team to visit Iranian prisons. This will help put pressure on Iran to change its practices and promote transparency, accountability, and oversight over the Iranian prison system.