Nader Fatourehchi's Account of Fashafuyeh Prison: "Those Who Should be Dead still Move, Sweat, and Rot"
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
August 21, 2018
ABC Note: Nader Fatourehchi, who faced prosecution over his criticism of corruption and misappropriation of cultural budget funds, published the following account of prison conditions after his short-term detention at Fashafuyeh Prison (also known as Mojtamah-e Nedamatgah-e Tehran-e Bozorg, "Greater Tehran Penitientiary Complex") on his personal twitter feed on August 21, 2018.
Fatourechi speaks of conditions at the far-flung Fashafuyieh complex which inmates have termed "hell". He relates severe overcrowding, lack of sanitation, under-staffing, and a culture which marginalizes those deemed "outcasts" like drug addicts and Afghan migrants - all against the background of an administrative structure which keeps families, most of them poor, in the dark regarding the fate of their imprisoned loves ones.
"I and my case deserve the lowest of priority rankings in the country with its immense human suffering" Fatourehchi insists as he demands that officials take action to alleviate the woes of ordinary prisoners as soon as possible.
Tweet from Mahmoud Sadeghi, Majles Representative from Tehran:
Perhaps night owls are again carping about why on earth I am tweeting so late at night?! To be honest, after hearing the news of @Nfatourehchi arrest, I cannot go to sleep. Once again, instead of dealing with #corruption and #corrupt people, they have imprisoned the whistle-blower. If they do not retract their complaint against him by noon tomorrow, I will publish the details of the Teachers Investment Fund [Corporation: TIFCO] case.
Response of Nader Fatourechi:
Mr Sadeghi, I would like to use this opportunity to give a description of Fashafuyeh Prison. Forget about my problem. Read the following and do something as soon as possible!
1) Hard to believe but they actually charge the defendant a “fare” (those with financial wherewithal) for transporting him to prison. Naturally, there is a “considerable” difference between the fare for transporting him to Evin (15,000 tomans, c. 3.5 USD) and the transport fare to Fashafuyeh (100,000 tomans, c. 24 USD). And it was for that reason that I was taken to Fashafuyeh, despite the judge’s insistence that I be taken to Evin.
2) I am extremely pleased with my transfer to Fashafuyeh, because it gave me the chance to observe closely the quarantine conditions of “drug addicts’ prison”. Fashafuyeh Prison quarantine, as it was commonly referred to, is hell.
3) The difference between “quarantine” and “ward” is more or less akin to the difference in welfare facilities, or as described by the inmates, between a toilet and a bedroom. As someone who has experienced quarantine three times in the course of three decades – the 70s, 80s and 90s [Iranian calendar corresponding to 80s, 90s, and 2000s] - I can safely testify to the gravity of the quarantine conditions in Fashafuyeh Prison.
4) In their four days in quarantine, inmates, irrespective of the nature of their crime or detention order, are deprived of drinking water, ventilation, toilet facilities, cigarettes and digestible food (cold and semi-cooked pasta, cold yellow and uncooked rice).
5) Since Fashafuyeh has been designed for addict inmates with little mobility, it does not have a public toilet; the toilet is made up of a hole in a 60x60 space without a wash hose, wash basin or light, separated from the beds by a curtain, and the 3x3 cell floors in which 26 to 32 inmates are crammed together.
6) In the quarantine cells (physic [a reference to drugs]), there are three three-tier bunk beds and two blankets on the floor. There are two skylights without glass, and no central heating or air conditioners. The water is turned off from 4pm until 7am the next day, and the only light is provided by a 100 watt fluorescent light bulb which, once dead, would require the help of the Kiramin Katibin [the two angels, based on Islamic tradition, who record a person’s deeds] to replace.
7) In the quarantine cells, there is an unwritten hierarchical class system in force, based on which “beds with windows” are allocated to veteran and heavyweight prisoners (those serving lengthy prison sentences, known as “old-timers”, big-time drug dealers, thugs, hoodlums, and grand larcenists). Ordinary beds (tiers without window view) are given to the “categories” (petty drug dealers, bag snatchers, small-time burglars), and the cell floors are given to “rough sleepers” (addicts, Afghans, and newcomers).
8) The situation of the “jail floor rough sleepers”, who are generally Afghans or junkies, resembles something like the experience of a coffin. Owing to overcrowding, they are forced to sleep under the bunk beds. And since often three inmates sit with their backs against the beds under which they are sleeping, they are left unable to move or get any light or air.
9) The stench of body odour and infected wounds in the cells is incredibly strong. And since the junkies are going through their come-down in the quarantine, they are too lethargic to make it to the so-called “washroom”. Consequently, the stench becomes even more oppressive; a “persistent” stench that has remained in my nostrils since I left prison.
10) Over 50 percent of the quarantine inmates are junkies and rough sleepers who lack the strength to stand on their feet. They should be taken to hospital instead of prison.
11) In the entire quarantine, there is only one security guard, who is a government official. The rest of the prison staff, including those working in reception, services, kitchen, prison transfer, and night watch, are made up of the prisoners.
12) In addition to the one security guard, a cleric (cultural officer), and a “counsellor” are also part of the “personnel”, whose presence, as goes without saying, is of no benefit to the prisoner.
13) The prison’s self-management system has a hierarchy. The ward’s attorney and overseers are usually prisoners convicted of financial crimes, or who have cases of fraud and embezzlement; they enjoy adequate living conditions, such as exclusive bed, telephone, freedom of movement within the ward, cigarettes, personal slippers or even socks. The second level of the hierarchy consists of the “night watchmen”, who also tend to be financial convicts; and the third level (admission, services, kitchen) generally consists of burglars who have been in the ward less than two weeks.
14) Based on my personal experience in past decades, the considerable number of educated individuals in prison, who tend to have financial records, has been growing at an exponential rate; an issue that may well warrant a crucial and urgent case study from a sociological perspective.
15) It is more or less customary for new inmates to be subjected to bullying, aggression and disdainful looks. However, since the prison is run by the prisoners themselves, the behaviour of inmates in charge of prison administration toward fellow inmates is much better. And although the newcomers are greeted aggressively, yelled at and at times punched and kicked, once the initiation process is over, one can see traces of compassion in the prisoners serving as wardens towards their fellow inmates (but not towards inmates who are junkies).
16) The treatment extended to me did not involve any insults or humiliation of any sort by either the personnel or the prisoners in charge of the ward, because the charge against me was “incomprehensible, inexplicable and odd” to 99 percent of my fellow inmates and even the prison personnel, even though I was transferred to the cell in handcuffs and shackles.
17) I did not experience any disrespect or impertinence at any stage. Although I was one of the “jail floor sleepers”, I was treated with kindness and respect by fellow inmates, the ward attorney, and the overseers, as well as, of course, the admin staff, the police and guards throughout my term. The fact that they did not shave my head, which is protocol for the quarantine, is testimony to that.
18) Yet at the same time, drug addicts, burglars, “the filthy and contemptible” and Afghans, are literally treated as animals and cattle.
19) Fashafuyeh is a prison for non-political and ordinary prisoners, who in general receive no attention from the media or in the form of human rights protests. And that is the biggest criticism of civil and human rights activists.
20) Attention to the living conditions of ordinary prisoners in Fashafuyeh is a matter of urgency and immediacy; there are no individuals in Iran more vulnerable or oppressed than them. They are, to all intents and purposes, subjected to inhuman conditions, experiencing double rejection, endurance of which, for even 24 hours, is beyond human ability.
21) There is no doubt that even a single night’s experience in Fashafuyeh causes irreparable and permanent damage to body and soul.
22) The sign hanging at the entrance of Fashafuyeh Prison reads: “Great Tehran Penitentiary”. This is while the physical and psychological pressure on the prisoners is so severe that they are divested of any ability to contemplate, or basically a chance to “reflect or repent”.
23) Another Fashafuyeh hardship concerns the outside. The prisoner’s family sits in a wasteland area on dirt and debris, and nobody – and the nobody here consists of a few soldiers – gives them the slightest information regarding the whereabouts of the prisoner.
24) The failure to give any information to the prisoner’s family is of utmost importance because the majority of Fashafuyeh prisoners are from poor backgrounds, and their families need to take taxis, which cost 100,000-150,000 tomans ( c. 24-36 USD) – to visit. So if they turn up and the prisoner is not there, they would have borne the hefty cost for nothing.
25) I came across individuals who had been in prison for four days, yet had not been able to benefit from the right to a two-minute free telephone call owing to the prison population density; an issue that costs prisoners from poor backgrounds several hundred thousand tomans.
26) My freedom has been weighing heavily on my conscience. I will never be able to forget the dreadful situation of my fellow inmates. The appalling conditions in Fashafuyeh, those eyes hollowed by despair, stench and helplessness, have deeply injured my soul, to such an extent that my eyes well up with tears every time I drink a glass of water.
27) My detention is of no importance. You must absolutely forget it. It is a joke in comparison with the condition of the prisoners in Fashafuyeh quarantine, who are literally experiencing the “bare life”, as described by Foucault.
28) I am embarrassed and somewhat furious over the amount of media attention, not to mention the kindness of my supporters and loved ones, in the wake of my arrest. I and my case deserve the lowest of priority rankings in the country with its immense human suffering. There are no words to describe the extent of the appalling living conditions in prisons, particularly for ordinary prisoners.
As I was departing, I saw the dervishes. In those few moments, their kindness and dignity lifted the weight of the previous hours. Their kindly smile will stay with me forever. The half Bahman cigarette, a memento of the dear dervishes in those final moments, and the two puffs [of cigarette], was courtesy of Aqa Musa, one of the big-hearted inmates, who said to me: “Go, kid, and never come back.”
I am not a soft-hearted person, but I get a lump in my throat every time I remember each moment in the lives of those “half-dead” creatures, who are dead yet must continue to move, sweat and rot. I had promised to be their voice. I have honoured my promise. But whatever I write feels insufficient and incomplete. I hope they will forgive me…