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Iranian Reformists Call for Release of Prisoners for New Year

Reformist members of the Iranian parliament are calling on the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, to release prisoners for the Iranian new year, amid ongoing reports of overcrowded, unsanitary conditions in Iranian prisons.

Iranian opposition Web site Green Voice reports that conditions inside Tehran's notorious Evin prison have deteriorated, with severe overcrowding and increasingly unsanitary conditions for political prisoners.

That news was coupled with a plea on the reformist Parlemannews Web site by opposition members of parliament to judiciary chief Sadeq Larijani that detained journalists and political activists be released for the Iranian New Year, Nowruz.

Former detainees at the notorious Kahrizak detention facility, which was closed last August, amid reports of torture, rape and severe overcrowding, have also recounted the tales of their detention.

Ali Nourizadeh of the Center for Arab and Iranian studies in London says that overcrowding of political prisoners has become unbearable. "The situation inside the cells is terrible. If in the past every cell was for between 6 and 12 people and big cells for 30 to 40 people, now in a big cell 100 people or 90 people are sleeping, and then in a small one, now 20 to 40 people are staying in one cell, and beside that they try to put you with drug-dealers, with rapists, with criminals," he said.

Nourizadeh notes that the interrogations of political prisoners has also been stepped up in the wake of the unrest following Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election.

"When you are arrested, you are under pressure day and night, and then by arresting any new prisoner, they bring you back and they try to find a relation between you and the new inmate. Then, the threats….telling you that you have been found guilty of spying, of if he is a journalist, of talking to the VOA, or Radio Farda, or BBC. That's a major crime," he said.

Houchang Hassan-yari, who teaches political science at the Royal Canadian Military College, says that families of political prisoners now gather outside of Evin prison and other facilities each night to encourage one another and to demand authorities release their loved ones.

He adds that Tehran's new general prosecutor, Abbas Jafaar Dolatabadi, has added to the cloud of secrecy surrounding the detentions and trials of prisoners by creating a court inside the prison:

"Recently, the new general prosecutor created a kind of court inside the prison. So, in the past, prisoners should go to court outside of prison to be interrogated. Now, everything is done inside the prison. So that created a huge worry among the families and the prisoners, themselves," said Hassan-yari.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission recently met in Geneva, where member states strongly condemned Iran's systematic arrests of political prisoners and deplorable conditions inside detention facilities.