In a letter written from within a notorious jail, one of Iran’s most well-known female activists detailed the process by which confessions are coerced from prisoners. In 2018, a court found Sepideh Qolian guilty of “acting against national security” for her support of a strike, and she was sentenced to five years in prison.
She writes from inside Evin Prison about how she and other detainees have been brutally interrogated.
After being tortured, they are made to confess on national television.
Ms Qolian makes reference to the widespread protests against the government that have recently swept the country in a writing: “Now, as I enter my fourth year behind bars, I can hear the sounds of freedom echoing across Iran.
Inside Evin prison, you can still hear cries of “Woman, Life, Freedom” reverberating.
While incarcerated, Ms. Qolian is pursuing a legal education. She writes that the “cultural” wing of Evin, where she sits for her exams, has been transformed into a “torture and interrogation” building, and that she has seen young detainees being interrogated there.
In the examination room, “young boys and girls can be heard, along with the shouts of torturers,” she writes.
Ms. Qolian recalls the events of 28 December 2022, when she was being escorted to the wing for her exam.
“Outside the building, where it is cold and snowing, a young boy is sitting in front of an interrogator while blindfolded and wearing only a thin grey T-shirt.
“He is weak from fear and pleading, “I swear to God I didn’t beat anyone.” What they really need is for him to make a public confession. I pass by shouting “DO NOT confess” and “Death to you tyrants.””
Human Rights Activists News Agency reports that at least 519 protesters, including 69 children, have been killed and 19,300 have been arrested (HRANA). Prison populations have grown by the thousands.
Many of those detained are likely to be put to death, and four protesters have already been hanged after their confessions were broadcast on television.
Human rights lawyers and activists claim the defendants were tortured before and during their trials. The officialdom refutes these statements.
Dozens of protesters who were arrested at the beginning of the unrest in September of last year have had their forced confessions aired on television.
Sepideh Qolian writes in her letter about her own interrogation and forced confession in 2018 after she was arrested for supporting the workers’ strike and protest at a sugar factory in Iran’s Khuzestan province.
Ms. Qolian says she was interrogated by a female interrogator, reasoning that “at least she won’t sexually assault me” compared to her male interrogators.
A female interrogator “kicked the leg of the desk and shouted ‘you communist whore, who did you sleep with?'” she writes, dashing her hopes.
Human rights activist Nargess Mohammadi, who is currently serving a 34-year sentence, spoke out in December 2017 about the sexual abuse of women prisoners following recent protest arrests.
A female interrogator, according to Ms. Qolian, removed the blindfold and demanded she discusses the intimate encounters she claims to have had on camera. Ms. Qolian flat-out refused to help.
She says that she was interrogated for hours and finally asked to use the restroom. The female interrogator pushed her into the stall and locked the door once they reached the facilities.
Ms. Qolian claims that the toilet she was confined to was located in an interrogation room where she overheard a man being tortured and whipped.
The torture screams went on for “hours or maybe a day, maybe more,” she writes.
Ms. Qolian says she was taken to a room with a camera after being released from the restroom, exhausted from three days of nonstop interrogation.
While still groggy, she says, “I took the script from her and sat in front of the camera and read it.” She received a five-year prison term because of her confessions.
Ms. Qolian, a prisoner at Qarchak in the year 2019, recognized her interrogator while watching a television broadcast of the forced confessions of another inmate.
The “interrogator-journalist” with ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was named as Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour in a public letter she released.
US Treasury Department sanctions Ms. Zabihpour in November 2022 for her role in broadcasting forced confessions of dual nationals and other prisoners.
In response to Ms. Zabihpour’s accusations, Ms. Qolian was sued and given an additional eight months in prison.
At the letter’s conclusion, Ms. Qolian calls the demonstrations a “revolution.”
The sound of a revolution, the true sound of woman, life, and freedom can be heard today in the streets of Marivan, Izeh, Rasht, Sistan and Balouchestan, and across Iran.