‘Dehumanizing’: Actress’ arrest highlights abuse, torture in Iranian prisons

(LONDON) — Actress Taraneh Alidoosti was arrested over the weekend by the Iranian regime for supporting the ongoing protests, becoming the most prominent person in the country to be targeted.

Alidoosti, who starred in the 2016 film “The Salesman,” which won an Academy Award for best foreign language film, had posted a photo of herself without a headscarf to her 8 million Instagram followers. She also held a sign with the revolutionary slogan: “Woman, life freedom.”

“Every international organization who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action is a disgrace to humanity,” she posted on social media, denouncing the execution of protesters in prison.

The protests began after a 22-year-old woman was detained by the country’s morality police for not wearing a headscarf in public. She later died in prison.

Alidoosti’s first request was to allow her family to send her medication to prison. That request, observers say, highlights an underreported aspect of the anti-regime protests and the crackdown: the conditions of those arrested in Iranian jails.

“The regime knew that her arrest could track huge international attention. It is why they did not arrest her sooner,” Masoud Kazemi, an Istanbul-based Iranian journalist who has been incarcerated in Islamic Republic prisons, told ABC News. “The first and only thing Alidoosti requested was her medication; it drags our attention into prisoners’ situation and to what happens inside prisons.”

Denial of medical care

There are believed to be at least 15,000 people in Iranian prisons on charges related to the protests. The denial of medical care has become a common complaint of prisoners’ families, who have posted on social media and talked to various news outlets.

Elham Modaressi, a 32-year-old painter in Karaj, is currently in jail for allegedly taking part in the demonstrations. She has PSC, a genetic liver condition that requires special medical care. Her family is concerned about her situation.

“My sister is under severe risk in Kachouei prison,” Nahid Modaressi, Elham’s sister, told ABC News. “Elham needs immediate hospitalization or her liver gets severely damaged. Her life is in danger.”

Elham was arrested on Nov. 2 in a security forces raid on her flat where she lives with her ailing mother and brother.

Authorities may restrict prisoners’ access to medical care at any time, according to Kazemi.

“As long as they know you won’t die in prison, they decline medical care to force you to cooperate,” Kazemi said.

Amnesty International has previously condemned the denial of medical care in Iranian prisons, but the sheer influx of protesters in the prison system has thrown the issue into sharper focus, with families expressing widespread concern.

“Medical care denial is a passive torture many times accompanied by different forms of physical and psychological tortures,” Shahla, an Iranian activist and protester who did not want to be identified for security reasons, told ABC News. “Tortures reported by prisoners vary from beating and keeping prisoners in extremely cold temperature to humiliation, solitary confinement and incarceration in psychiatric wards.”

Physical and psychological torture

According to Nahid Modarresi, her sister has been tortured in an attempt to make her accept the charges, which include “leading riots.”

“My sister is innocent and is being humiliated, beaten and not being sent to the hospital and is told nothing changes unless she confesses to something she hasn’t done,” she said.

Humiliation happens in different ways, according to Shahla.

“Security officials had made some prisoners stand barefoot on frozen waters in the police station’s yard while being insulted and beaten the whole night,” she said. “Or we repeatedly hear the guards ask prisoners to dance for them in the middle of an interrogation.”

Psychological tortures, she added, can take “dangerous and life-threatening turns.”

Among the reported methods used to demoralize prisoners at the notorious Evin prison, where Alidoosti is being held, is to transfer them from regular prison blocks to the Amin Abad psychiatric ward where they are subjected to “the same treatment as the severely mentally ill.”

“Once a prisoner is sent to a psychiatric ward, no one knows what kind of medication they are forced to receive. They may get chained to the bed and receive injections that mess up with their minds,” Kazemi said.

Melika Qaragozlu, a 22-year-old journalism student, was arrested on July 13 after she posted a photo of herself without a hijab. After months in jail, she was sent to Amin Abad on Nov. 16, her lawyer, Mohammad Ali Kamfirouzi, said in a tweet. Qaragozlu was released on bail Tuesday but Ali Kamfirouzi has now himself been arrested, reportedly for his role in trying to represent incarcerated protesters.

“What is happening in Iranian jails is ‘dehumanizing’ prisoners and they use all tools you might think to ‘break’ you,” Kazemi said.

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