The notorious Qarchak Prison in Varamin is the only all-women prison in Iran used for detention of women convicted of violent offences and as an internal exile for female political prisoners. There is no separation of crimes in this prison and political prisoners are held along with common prisoners and dangerous criminals. In one word, the conditions of inmates in Qarchak Prison are abysmal.
Also known as Shahr-e Ray Prison, Qarchak Prison is a disused industrial chicken farm in a desert area of eastern Tehran, falling far below international standards. Some 2,000 prisoners are held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, without access to drinkable water, decent food, medicine and fresh air.
Common complaints include urine-stained floors, lack of ventilation, insufficient and filthy bathroom facilities, prevalence of contagious diseases, poor quality food containing small pieces of stone, and salty water.
Abuse of Inmates
Female protesters released from Qarchak Prison have reported that inmates were sexually abused by prison guards and authorities, to the extent that some have gone into a mental state.
Access to Medical Care
Prisoners are also denied proper medical treatment by doctors and other medical staff. There are concerns about the reliability of medical equipment at the prison clinic. There have also been reports that a lack of stretchers and wheelchairs has resulted in fellow detainees being forced to carry sick prisoners out of their rooms and into the clinic, which has led to falls and other accidents.
Amnesty International has reported that women requesting emergency medical care in the evening or at night have been refused treatment by doctors and nurses until the following day and even berated for purportedly disturbing the medical staff’s sleep in the middle of the night.
Inmates with Contagious Diseases Mix with Others
Women released from Qarchak Prison have reported that more than 130 inmates in Qarchak Prison suffer from AIDs and Hepatitis, but they are held in various wards among other prisoners.
There are also six prisoners suffering from scabies who are held with other prisoners, instead of being isolated.
Qarchak Prison authorities have closed down the quarantine ward. As a result, new prisoners directly enter the wards without being tested for AIDs, Hepatitis, and other contagious diseases.
Even if they are tested, they are admitted into the general wards regardless of their positive or negative results. Prison authorities have not taken any action to separate the sick prisoners from others.
One of the most tragic conditions is that of mothers who have their children locked up with them.
Lack of access to suitable clothes for children and the wards’ unsanitary conditions are only a small part of the problems mothers face in prison.
In February 2019, when prison guards raided these prisoners, a 20-day infant who was staying with his mother in prison, died due to the tear and pepper gas used against the inmates.
Hell on Earth
Political prisoner Atefeh Rangriz sent an open letter on August 15, 2019, describing the situation in this prison: “Qarchak Prison is the nickname for hell!”
She also explained the conditions of the wards in Qarchak Prison:
“There are ten wards here and there are approximately 120 to 150 prisoners in each ward. Except for the mothers’ ward…
“There are 11 cabins in ward five, and four triple-bunk beds in each cabin, which 12 people have to use… (The cabins) enclosed by two walls, one and a half meters from the ceiling, and about eight meters wide are the place for eating, drinking and living. That means 12 people with their belongings have to fit in eight meters.
“There are fluorescent lamps which are constantly on. They hurt our eyes. And then there are sounds that deafen our ears: the constant paging, threats, warnings, and numbers being called out in the morning and evening that tell us to leave the outdoors space and go back to the wards…”
In another part of her letter, Atefeh Rangriz wrote:
“Washing dishes and clothes here is considered to be hard labor, so there are workers who do this for a very low price. The salty water of this prison is also constantly denied and the baths here remind me of the age of gas chambers.”
Transmission of dangerous diseases
Political prisoner Monireh Arabshahi also wrote an open letter on July 18, 2019, disclosing the medical deprivations of sick prisoners and the dangers of keeping them among other inmates.
“When women arrive, medical check-ups are done and after being medically screened the people with contagious diseases are identified. In the clinic known as the triangular clinic people are screened and tested for AIDS, hepatitis, and etc. But what never happens is the announcement of the results of these tests and the separation of prisoners with dangerous diseases from other people.
“The proximity of these people to healthy prisoners in the wards and cabins increases the likelihood of transmission of dangerous diseases.
“Other human rights violations take place in Qarchak due to lack of adequate resources, including syringes for prisoners with diabetes. Sometimes women reuse the same syringe used by other patients to inject their insulin.”
Political prisoners brutalized by dangerous criminals
Yasaman Aryani, Neda Naji, Atefeh Rangriz, and Sepideh Qolian were severely beaten by criminal inmates in Qarchak Prison, on July 29, 2019, upon provocations by the prison authorities.
Neda Naji, a labor activist, was beaten in Qarchak Prison on July 6, 2019. She suffered blurred vision for long hours due to the many blows she received to her head.
Former political prisoner Negar Ha’eri was beaten up by ordinary prisoners provoked by the prison’s warden on October 27, 2014. She suffered an injured eye in this incident.
Sakineh Parvaneh, a Kurdish political prisoner, was beaten by several criminals in June 2020. They targeted the inmate after prison officials in Ward 3 of Qarchak Prison incited them.
Sakineh Parvaneh was beaten while she was on hunger strike. After her transfer from Evin to Qarchak Prison, Sakineh Parvaneh was transferred in April to Aminabad Psychiatric Hospital in Rey. There were visible signs of beatings on her body.
Violent raids against inmates in Qarchak Prison
Prison guards in riot gear severely beat and injured female prisoners and used tear gas, pepper spray, water cannon and firearms during raids inside wards 1 and 2 of Qarchak Prison in Varamin on February 7, 2019.
To neutralize the tear gas fired into the closed area, prisoners set fire to their beds and bed sheets. In turn, prison authorities used a fire engine to extinguish the fire while women were still trapped in their wards. They resorted to firearms to end the protest.
The raid was in response to a protest by inmates demanding medical treatment for one of the prisoners. As a result of this attack, a 20-day infant who had been born in prison died.
The authorities subsequently cut off the electricity and gas inside the ward and let the prisoners remain in the cold weather after being drenched by the fire engine. Despite inhaling large amounts of pepper spray and tear gas, the prisoners were left unattended until the morning. They also cut off water and denied food to the prisoners for several days. The prisoners gathered what food they had left and gave it to the “mothers’ ward,” to feed their children.
Twenty-five (25) women were transferred to solitary confinement. On February 9, 2019, forty (40) female prisoners were hooded and violently transferred from Qarchak to Ward 240 of Evin Prison.
Coronavirus infection among inmates in Qarchak Prison
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus, the health situation in the Qarchak Prison deteriorated to the point that it made its way to the state media.
On April 15, 2020, the state-run Khabar Online news agency reported the plight of 20 female prisoners infected with Corona virus in Qarchak Prison, who were being held among other inmates.
The women who were arrested during the uprisings in November 2019 and January 2020 are being held in this prison, none of whom have been allowed to go on leave.
According to the lawyer of several female prisoners and a prisoner who was released in April from this prison due to Corona virus outbreak in prisons, Khabar Online revealed a part of the tragedy in this facility.
A female prisoner who was released in April from Qarchak Prison in Varamin said two prison staff, including a doctor and a nurse, both tested positive for corona and were in quarantine, and at least 20 female prisoners in Ward 5 and 6 had come down with the Corona virus and were not being treated.
They were kept in sharia conjunctional visiting rooms void any special facilities. While many of them suffered from respiratory problems, there were no medications, doctors, or breathing apparatus (ventilators) in these rooms.
Mehrzad Tashakorian, healthcare director general in the Prisons Organization, did not respond to an Online news question about corona sufferers in the country’s prisons, saying “He is not allowed to say how many people are infected.”
Increased threat of infection in overcrowded wards
The eyewitness also revealed that sick and healthy women prisoners were all being held together. 186 people were being held in a prison ward using their beds as make shift quarters. At present, the doors of the corridor are closed, and prisoners are not allowed to enter the corridors.
One of the wards is known as the mothers’ ward. Many children under the age of two and nursing mothers are held in this ward.
The infirmary inside the prison is ill equipped and the prevalence of Corona virus has exacerbated the problem. There are no masks or gloves in the prison. According to the released prisoner, some women who had gone to the prison staff with fever symptoms, were told to go to their beds and use their headscarf as a mask!
According to the prisoner, there is no screening in the prison. Some ordinary prisoners who have gone on leave have been told to return after the end of their leave. Their return to the ward without a corona test will lead to another catastrophe.
The witness adds that one of the causes of the spread of the virus is the telephone inside the ward. Everyone queues up to talk on the same phone. Using a safe distance or disinfectant in regards to the phone usage is ignored contributing to the spread of the virus.
Infected inmates are held in the prison’s “club” which is an unsanitary place without ventilation. The patients are abandoned in this place without providing them proper care and even food.
A new report from Qarchak Prison says eight inmates infected with Covid-19 say they have contracted the disease from a prisoner who returned from furlough. Now, they have been transferred to the club where they are abandoned and nobody cares for them.
Around March 20, two female prisoners infected with the coronavirus died in solitary confinement due to lack of medical care. The prisoners were initially transferred along with eight other inmates to a newly established ward called, “Bashgah (or club),” where female protesters arrested during the November 2019 uprising are being detained.
As the conditions of the two prisoners aggravated, they were sent to a hospital outside prison, but were turned down and returned to prison.
At this time, they were sent to solitary confinement. One of the prisoners suffered from Hepatitis B. The lifeless bodies of these prisoners have been transferred out of prison to be buried.
Floor sleepers and addicts
According to the lawyer for the female prisoners in Qarchak, some prisoners are sleeping on the floor of the prison, which is one of the causes of the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The cells and hallways are filled with prisoners and if there is only one person infected, it will be transmitted to everyone else.
Even the addicts who are in a bad situation are not separated from other prisoners. Obviously, women who are addicted are more likely to get corona, but they intermingle with the rest of the prisoners.
Lack of sanitary materials and food
Health conditions in Qarchak Prison for women were deteriorating even before the pandemic. According to the inmates in Qarchak Prison, they did not even have the sanitary materials to deal with head lice among the prisoners, so the authorities would only shave the heads of the prisoners and wash it with bleach. However, after the outbreak of corona, no extra sanitary materials were provided to prisoners.
Omid Moradi, a lawyer who has several female clients in Qarchak Prison, explained: “About 2,000 female prisoners are being held in Qarchak, and the sanitary materials provided to them is less than other facilities. Sanitary and even food items are sold at several times the price outside the prison. There are prisoners who do not have visits, and now that visits are more limited, many of them are in financial difficulties to buy what they need.”
Due to the citric acid that is poured into the water and food of the prison, and the methadone that the prisoners consume heavily, as well as the use of all kinds of sedative pills, the physical resistance of female prisoners is very low.
They are not given any vitamin pills, vegetables or fruits. On the other hand, and due to lack of money they cannot purchase these materials at their own expense. Given that the regime has also banned visits, it is obvious that a prisoner without a visitor does not have the money to buy what she needs, and unfortunately, this has contributed to the unhealthy condition in prison more than ever. The prison store provides only one bar of soap and one laundry detergent per month for each prisoner, which is merely not enough for a female prisoner.
Another woman, who had just been released, said, “There were times when I would stand in line to buy liquid soap but it would sell out before I got to the window. Another prisoner who had purchased two liquid soaps would offer to sell one to me for 100,000 Tomans! Fearing the spread of Corona virus, I had to purchase it at that price. In women’s prisons, a 300-500 gram of liquid soap which usually costs 10 to maximum 15,000 Tomans, sells for 75 to 100,000 Tomans which is 5 times the price of the prison store. The prisoners are forced to purchase their needed hygiene items several times the official price from the prison store.”
Work of inmates in Qarchak Prison
In the regime’s prisons, the term “working vote” is used to denote an inmate who works for the prison workshops in exchange for enhanced privileges such as monthly visits, extended telephone calls, or freedom of movement in the corridor and other parts of the prison.
Regular prisoners are entitled to no more than 10 minutes for telephone calls and must work to earn additional minutes.
Several inmates in Qarchak Prison work as servants in the dormitory of the prison personnel – preparing their food, washing their dishes, and even laundering their bed linens – from morning until night. Their daily wages are 40 minutes per day for the use of the telephone and 70,000 Tomans per month. Prison authorities also employ female inmates as their servants.
Other jobs in prison include cleaning the corridor, cleaning the washroom, distributing food, timing the telephone, helping with health care, being the ward’s contact with the dispensary, and running the ward.
The state-run khabarfori.com revealed examples of this exploitation, quoting one of the prisoners: “We sew clothes in the workshop. The clothes get labeled by a sponsor, and are later sold at much higher prices at the prison boutique. For example, cotton trousers might cost 20,000 Tomans outside of prison, but here, they cost between 70,000 to 90,000 Tomans.” (The state-run khabarfori.com– February 3, 2020)
Khabarfori.com described additional dimensions of the torture of female prisoners, writing, “A prisoner’s monthly ration of food is one small chicken, 250 grams of red meat, six eggs, five small individual portions of cheese, rice, oil, and half a kilo of potatoes and onions. Prisoners who receive the food ration can no longer use prison food.