Last week the Iranian authorities arranged a rare international visit to one of the country’s most infamous places of detention – Evin Prison in Tehran.
This visit wasn’t arranged for an international prison expert or a human rights body. It was for representatives of over forty foreign diplomatic missions from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. The UK had a representative there.
The foreign delegates were shown around some limited areas of the prison, and there was a roundtable discussion, held outdoors in a lush garden. There are photos in circulation and you can see various countries’ flags perched on al fresco tables, the Union Jack amongst them. By the standards of diplomatic meetings, it all looks rather idyllic.
But what was it all for? For the Iranian authorities it was very clearly a PR exercise. In the days after the visit, Iranian state media outlets were flooded with gushing stories about Evin’s supposedly state-of-the-art conditions. The “excellent facilities” were showcased, including an in-house beauty salon, a gym, a library and even a restaurant. And articles featured congratulatory comments from the Indian, Indonesian, Portuguese and South Korean delegates.
What these stories left out was the fact that Evin is a vast prison complex made up of multiple buildings where conditions vary enormously. The visitors saw only a handful of sections in buildings 4 and 7, mostly housing wealthier prisoners convicted of financial crimes. In these areas prisoners have used their own money to improve conditions, buying carpets, curtains, televisions, air-conditioning units and kitchenware. The beauty salon, gym, library and restaurant are only accessible to prisoners held in building 7.
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