Iranian human rights defender, Narges Mohammadi, has written an open letter about solitary confinement which she calls “white torture.” Narges is unjustly serving 16 years in prison for her work against the death penalty, the use of solitary confinement, and other human rights abuses. She is the Deputy Director of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre (DHRC) in Iran. Her time in solitary confinement has led to severe health problems.
Read her open letter below.
Narges Mohammadi, Human Rights Defender, Amnesty UK, 4 January 2019.
Narges Mohammadi’s birthday passes as she remains in prison, Nobel Women’s Initiative, 3 May 2017.
OPEN LETTER, NARGES MOHAMMADI
Being a pacifist and opposing human rights violations in a country where the government not only violates human rights but has always faced the threat of war is my most pressing concern as a human rights activist. War currently undermines Iran’s civil society and puts pressure on civil rights activists through human rights violations. In order to achieve democracy, law-abiding government, and respect for human rights in Iran, there needs to be a consolidation of the foundations of civil society. Civil society, however, has been under severe governmental repression in recent years. As a human rights activist who has been actively engaged in Iran’s civil society and has worked in eleven civil NGOs as an activist or board member, opposing warfare, fighting against human rights violations, and consolidating civil society are my main objectives.
One of the methods used by the government to undermine political activists and suppress civil society is imprisonment with pressure and psychological torture through solitary confinement.
The imprisonment of civil activists in solitary confinement is “White Torture” and an apparent violation of human rights. According to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, solitary confinement is an outstanding indication of torture which is prohibited under constitutional principles. But for years, the use of torture has been a common practice used by the government against civil-political-conscientious activists. Defendants who are transferred to solitary confinement immediately after being detained and in the preliminary investigation phase (interrogation), sometimes even spend the long part of their sentence in solitary confinement.
Many of the confessions that justify heavy sentencing by the courts of law are taken from defendants in solitary confinement.
While serving their sentence, which may be several years long, defendants in solitary confinement may make non-factual confessions under the pressure of interrogators and then deny those confessions after they are released. These prisoners endorse that the allegations attributed to them are not based on legitimate testimonies against them. Instead, they are based on their own false and unfounded confessions made under intense stress while in solitary confinement.
Many prisoners in solitary confinement have suffered from illnesses caused by horrific and inhumane conditions. These illnesses may affect them for years after their release, and sometimes for all of their lives. Many prisoners have lost their lives in solitary confinement. The last person to fall victim to this painful ending was Kavous Seyyed Emami, an environmental activist and University professor.
A solitary cell is a small room that lacks natural light and fresh air. The person imprisoned must sustain absolute silence overnight and is without contact of any human being except their interrogator. In solitary confinement, there are no more than two blankets and three meals served in disposable containers. The imprisonment of a person in such a situation deprives them of their biological and natural needs, with its continuation causing diseases, in particular, mental illnesses and even dangerous physical illnesses including heart and respiratory tract deaths.
In solitary confinement, many prisoners mistake day from night and suffer from terrible sleep disruptions resulting from the exposure to artificial light and being unaware of the time. One prisoner, Zaynab Jalalian, who is currently detained in Iran’s Kurdistan, once told me that after four months in solitary confinement without access to natural light, she was taken to the courtyard of the detention center. Assuming it was nighttime, she brushed her teeth and was prepared to sleep, but she was surprised to see that it was noon and the sun was above her.
So far, a large number of political-civil-ideological activists have experienced and endured solitary confinement. During the eighties, a large number of political activists in solitary confinement were subjected to psychological pressure and torture. In the 2000s, many members of two major political groups from the Iranian opposition were held in solitary confinement for more than a year and a half.
Women activists, students, and journalists are among the groups that have been victims of this terrible and inhumane torture at various levels. Currently, a group of environmental activists are in a worrying situation. They have been in solitary confinement for the past year and a half. They are severely tormented and suffer from painful illnesses, leaving their families fearful for their lives.
I have been in solitary confinement three times. My first experience was at the age of 29 years old in a military detention center belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. I was in solitary confinement, in a ward where all of the prisoners and guards were male. Among the sixty prisoners, I was the only woman. Before this, I had never been sick, but after tolerating solo cells, I suffer from a disease and am currently in prison without medical treatment or access to medication. As a victim of this terrible torture, I believe that solitary confinement, a white torture that torments the human psyche, must be eliminated from Iran and the rest of the world, and that its dismantling requires a serious struggle. Along with my colleagues at the Center for Human Rights Defenders, we have been fighting this torture for the past eighteen years. We launched “solitary confinement solicitors” with thirteen civil and political activists, and after only a month, three out of five of its signatories were arrested… and this torture continues.
Narges Mohamadi, 2019