An educational facility at Tehran’s Evin Prison is being used as a place of interrogation of detained protesters and extraction of forced confessions.
In a letter smuggled out of the prison to Iran International from, political prisoner Sepideh Qolian has recounted what she personally witnessed at the “Education Building”, which used to serve prisoners studying when she was taken to the facility by a guard to take an exam.
“The young boy swore that he had not beaten anyone (security forces) but they wanted a confession from him. Don’t say anything. For God’s sake, don’t say anything [that is not true], I told him … The female guard shut my mouth and dragged me away,” she wrote in the letter.
Qolian and Esmail Bakhshi, labor activists, were tortured into so-called confessions after being arrested in November 2018 during labor protests in southwestern Khuzestan province. In January 2019, the state television’s infamous 8:30 program aired their “confessions”.
The pair were tortured into saying they belonged to a diaspora Marxist group. Both later denied what they had said on camera. Qolian also had to “confess” that she had shot videos and photos during the protests of January 2018 and sent them to the media outside Iran which the authorities always refer to as “enemy” or “hostile” media.
“It felt as if I had completely lost my volition and consciousness after three consecutive days or even more of being kept awake, being interrogated, and being locked up in a toilette. I took the text that had been prepared [by the interrogators] and read from the paper in a half-conscious state. Reading every line felt like the sound of another lash hitting my body and soul,” she wrote in the letter that was received by Iran International.
In 2019, Qolian who was held at Qarchak Prison at the time saw the video of her own confessions on television and realized that the presenter, Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, was the same female interrogator who her other interrogators called Ms Askari.
Subsequently, in a series of tweets Qolian spoke about her ordeal and said the texts that she and others were made to read in front of the camera were prepared by Zabihpour.
Qolian who has been in and out of prison several times took legal action against Zabihpour but says the case was dropped by the authorities within hours from the registration of her complaint. Instead, she was sentenced to eight months in prison herself, in addition to her previous sentences, for daring to make such a complaint against Zabihpour.
Zabihpour who has come to be known as ‘journalist-interrogator’ in the media has been presenting the IRIB’s 8:30 program together with Ali Rezvani, for several years. The program is infamous for its smear campaigns against both domestic and foreign-based opposition and airing of forced confessions.
The United States and the European union have both sanctioned the IRIB for its role in human rights violations. In November 2022 the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also designated Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour and Ali Rezvani for cooperating with the intelligence ministry and the IRGC’s intelligence organization (SAS).
The IRIB has in the past four decades aired the so-called ‘confessions’ of numerous people from every walk of life, from top politicians to activists, from social media influencers to ordinary criminals, from individuals charged with economic corruption to the family members of those accused of a crime or those whose statements could corroborate the claims by authorities in any regard.