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Activist Describes Iran's Harsh Prison Conditions

A Kurdish human rights activist serving a 3.5-year jail sentence in Iran has provided a rare glimpse into what he says are harsh conditions inside the country's detention facilities.

Reza Sharifi Boukani was arrested in 2010 after publicly supporting the pro-democracy "Green Movement."  He was later sentenced on charges that include spreading "propaganda" against the government and acts against national security.

In a recent interview from jail with VOA's Persian News Network, Boukani said he initially had no legal representation and that Iranian authorities tried to pressure him into making false statements.

"I was not allowed to have a defense attorney and was under pressure to appear on TV and spread lies against Kurdish parties and the freedom-seeking people of Iran," said Boukani.

Boukani said he was also physically abused.

"I was later transferred into the Rajaie-Shahr prison," he said. "I had been beaten several times during the interrogation and had been tortured by electric shocks when I was detained at the Revolutionary Guards' detention center."

He also said he and other detainees at the Rajaie-Shahr prison spend long periods in confinement.  

"It is really the greatest psychological torture for us that the doors are closed here as we have only two hours a day to go out in an open area for breathing fresh air," said Boukani.

Boukani described his conditions during a telephone interview from the prison, which is located about 20 kilometers west of Tehran.

Rights groups have raised concerns about conditions at Rajaie-Shahr and prisons across the country.  In a February report, the Human Rights and Democracy Activists in Iran group said "inhumane and unbearable" conditions at the prison - also known as Gohardasht - had led to at least three recent suicides.

Separately, Amnesty International USA said Iran used the facility to house "violent criminals."

Iran has repeatedly faced international criticism for arbitrary detentions and inhumane prison conditions.

In a 2011 report on Iran, Human Rights Watch said the country's authorities "systematically used torture to coerce confessions."  It cited other problems at prisons, including a denial of medical care and the executions of juvenile offenders.

Iran has defended its human rights record.  Iranian state-run media say President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised Tehran as the world's "best example for asserting human rights" during a speech in February.

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