WASHINGTON - Iran has transferred a women’s rights activist from Tehran’s main prison to a notorious women’s jail on the capital city’s outskirts, according to a relative, making her the ninth female dissident to face harsher detention in Iran in recent months.
Saba Kord Afshari, a campaigner against Iran’s compulsory hijab (veil) for women in public, was transferred from Evin prison to the quarantine section of Qarchak women’s prison on Dec. 9, her sister, Sogand Kord Afshari, said in a series of recent tweets.
آخرین تماس صبا از قرنطینه بود و روز شنبه— sogand (@sogand1998ka) December 15, 2020
دیگر نه تماسی نه خبری
امروز هم به ملاقات نیامد
و دلیلش را از ما میپرسند که از صبا بیخبریم
و در برابر سوالهای ما جواب های ضد و نقیض میدهند
صبا چرا به ملاقات نیومد؟
صبا کدام بند است؟#صبا_کردافشاری #قرچک
In a Tuesday tweet, Sogand Kord Afshari wrote that her jailed sister’s last phone call from Qarchak’s quarantine ward was on Saturday and since then there had been no further news about her.
Iranian authorities arrested Kord Afshari in June of last year and later sentenced her to 15 years in prison on national security charges for her peaceful act of removing her hijab in public as part of a women’s right’s campaign against the Islamist-ruled nation’s compulsory hijab laws.
In a Dec. 11 interview with VOA Persian from Iran, a knowledgeable source said Kord Afshari’s family was concerned about risks to her already fragile health from being placed in Qarchak’s quarantine ward.
“They worry that she will contract the coronavirus while in quarantine,” the source said.
Kord Afshari, who is in her early 20s, has suffered from preexisting gastrointestinal problems that worsened because of her imprisonment, according to a source who spoke to VOA in October. The source said authorities had denied her proper medical treatment while she had been detained at Evin.
Iranian state media have been silent on Kord Afshari’s apparent transfer to Qarchak prison. VOA cannot independently verify the circumstances of her detention because it is barred from reporting inside Iran.
In a Sept. 2 report about prisons in Iran, the Washington-based rights group the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center said Qarchak’s quarantine ward was a holding area for prisoners suspected of coronavirus infection and by early August housed more than 30 such cases. The group said it sourced the information from unpublished correspondence with Iran’s Human Rights Activist News Agency.
The report also said most of Qarchak’s inmates are accused of drug-related crimes and its living conditions are poor.
“Sanitary conditions in the prison are substandard. Every day, [its] sewer system overflows into the wards’ courtyards, filling the grounds with a terrible stench that draws in swarms of insects,” the group said.
In addition to apparently transferring Kord Afshari to a prison with poor conditions, Iranian authorities also separated her from her mother, who had been detained alongside her at Evin.
Authorities arrested Kord Afshari’s mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, in July of last year and detained her for several days for advocating on behalf of her daughter. Ahmadi later was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison for national security offenses and began serving her sentence at Evin on Feb. 20.
"Saba has been separated from her mother, and this is a violation of human rights and an example of the psychological torture of the two women and their family,” said the source who spoke to VOA on December 11. The family also is concerned about Ahmadi’s health, as she suffers from a thyroid problem that is aggravated by nervous tension, the source added.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, told VOA Persian that Iranian authorities typically transfer dissidents to prisons such as Qarchak to put them under additional pressure.
“One reason for transferring Kord Afshari from Evin to Qarchak and separating her from her mother could be to pressure her into giving a televised confession or to break her resistance,” he said.
Amiry-Moghaddam said Kord Afshari is one of nine Iranian women transferred from Evin to Qarchak in the past five months. The most prominent of the other dissidents is human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose transfer occurred Oct. 20.
Sotoudeh has been jailed since June 2018 for her legal work in defending other women’s rights activists who were arrested for removing their hijabs in public. She has been serving a more than 30-year sentence for national security offenses, according to rights activists.
In a message to VOA Persian, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center executive director Roya Boroumand said Iranian authorities have another motive for transferring dissidents such as Kord Afshari and Sotoudeh from Evin to Qarchak.
She said Evin ostensibly is meant to house detainees charged exclusively with security-related crimes, whereas Kord Afshari and Sotoudeh also have been charged with “spreading prostitution.”
“This kind of distinction adds insult to injury,” Boroumand said. “It denies political prisoners the right to be recognized as such and is most likely yet another attempt to demean them.”