Iranians shave heads to protest political prisoner ‘abuse’
Dozens of Iranians have sheared their hair in support of political prisoners held at a penitentiary in Tehran, who say guards beat them and shaved their heads last week.
Section 350 of Evin prison, located in northwest Tehran, is infamous in Iran. It’s the wing where most of the country’s political prisoners are held. Last Thursday, the opposition website Kalameh published a report claiming that several of them had been beaten by guards earlier in the day. According to their sources, this took place during a search carried out by about a hundred guards wearing riot gear, who were looking for mobile phones and computers. About 30 prisoners were reportedly injured and transferred to hospital.
According to Kalameh, the detainees told family members about this violence during phone calls and visits to the prison. Several of the prisoners appeared for the visits with shaved heads, as in the photograph below. They claimed they were beaten and forcefully shaved by the guards. About 30 prisoners were then reportedly put into solitary confinement.
Responding to these allegations, the prison authorities stated that no prisoners had been mistreated. The justice ministry said the “routine” search was “met with resistance” from prisoners, and that or two of them, at most, were slightly injured.
On Tuesday, family members of prisoners held in Section 350 gathered for a protest in front of the office of Hassan Rohani, Iran’s president. They demanded the launch of an investigation. At least three protesters were arrested.
“Since we don’t have any media, I’m doing this in order to inform my fellow citizens”
As is often the case with protests in Iran, this one is also being carried out on Facebook. As a sign of solidarity with the prisoners, several dozen people, men and women alike, shaved their heads and posted photos of themselves online. Saba is one of them.
For me, and for everyone else who took part in this campaign, it’s really important to inform average citizens, those who aren’t following what’s going on inside Evin prison. Shaving our heads is a way to create a conversation, and at the same time protest against these acts of violence.
For example, I talked about this with a taxi driver who was shocked to see my shaved head. I told him, “We don’t have any [free] media, so I’m doing this to inform you.” Since shaving my head, I’ve talk to many people about how prisoners were beaten, insulted, forced to kneel on the ground and have their heads shaved.
Official images used to discredit the protesters
Some of the prisoners had said that they had seen guards filming the raid. On Tuesday night, a state television station broadcast official images (see below) during an interview with the chief of the Iranian prison system, Gholam-Hossein Esmaeili, who flatly denied that the Evin prison guards had resorted to violence. The footage shows prisoners sitting in a room before the search; then, they are filmed in the prison yard, throwing stones in the direction of the guards. These images provoked outrage from the prisoners’ families, who accuse the guards of having purposefully avoided filming the violent parts of their raid.
Evin prison, where many intellectuals and political activists are held, is often nicknamed “Evin university”. Human rights groups have repeatedly denounced acts of torture there, as well as cases where detainees were refused medical treatment.
Skip to 2'50 to see the footage filmed by the prison guards.
The mother of a protester who was killed during the 2009 demonstrations against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. She too shaved her head in solidarity with the Evin prisoners.