Committee of Human Rights Reporters – Most people did not know about the dismal conditions in Gharchak prison until May 2011, when a number of female prisoners of conscience were transferred to this facility that is dubbed “Kahrizak the second.” Disturbing news came out about the abysmal state of this facility where a large number of female prisoners are being held with no access to their basic human rights. When the world was alerted to the substandard conditions at Gharchak, the plan to transfer all female prisoners of conscience to this facility was halted. However the female inmates who are held there today are still subjected to living under miserable conditions.
In describing this facility, the families of prisoners said, “the prison is over capacity with 7 cells that cram about 2000 prisoners in a space that can barely hold a third of this number. The buildings are very old with the feel of the most basic storage unit, with stone floors and concrete walls covered with sharp glass. The moment a person enters into the grounds, they are greeted with the stench of old stables and poultry. Each cell consists of 4 rows of beds, 3 stories high against the wall, with 3 rows in the middle, holding about 300 prisoners. The spaces between the beds are very compact; it is not possible to sit and the prisoners have to lie down when on the small beds. There is barely space to stand, so they end up having to lie in their beds most of the time.”
Following is an account by Nargues, a female inmate behind bars at Gharchak prison.
2am, Cell 5, Cabin 8
Fall is approaching followed by the unpleasant cold of the winter.
After 10 years of imprisonment it is as if I am now tormented with intense torture boiling deep in my blood and bones. I fail to comprehend what kind of human being could have come up with the idea to create such a hell to house 2000 women and on average 55 toddlers under the age of 2 years old.
Tonight “the dog” was on duty as inspector. That is what the prisoners call the official who brings in the drugs. The drug dealer passed the crystal to the prisoners on duty as night guards, and left. The night guards then casually sat on their chairs and did their knitting. The shift changes at 4am. The drug dealers are sitting behind their bed curtains packing small bags for tomorrow’s sale. For a few moments I gaze around the ward; about 200 people in 25 by 12 meter cells sleeping crammed against each other, sometimes awakened by the whimpers of the drug addicts.
The thought of Sakineh Fatemi, the 19-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted does not leave my mind. What answer must this girl with a broken spirit give to her religious family? In prison, the “men” in the ward take note of any woman they deem as being attractive. These “men” are actually women who enjoy pretending to be masculine. They especially thrive on spotting a young inmate, and offer her drugs in exchange for sex. If she agrees they are happy and if she does not agree, they rape her. I have sometimes witnessed them show no mercy even to the toddlers under 2 years old. I don’t know why some human beings become this way and take out their own misfortunes on others.
My whole existence is filled with anger and sorrow. I have rage towards the officials who attack the ward several times a day using excuses to punch and kick inmates, use cables and clubs on women and their children. I have witnessed old women who were not able to flee fast enough and were severely beaten by the guards.
To get some relief from these festering dark thoughts I walk towards the infirmary, if you can call it that, to smoke a cigarette. The sewer system of this hellhole is such that every so often the wells overflow. The stench is so strong that walking in the pathway to the infirmary becomes impossible. All areas become infested with dirt and feces causing queasiness and nausea; an array of retching diseases come our way.
When I went to lie down on my bed, my eyes fell upon an old woman by the name of Manijeh Golifam. Manijeh suffered a brain stroke, causing her brain to diminish with every day that goes by. She doesn’t have the means to pay the medical fee, which is less than $30 for an examination and medical furlough. So she must endure her illness within the challenges of prison.
I want to sit in the middle of this damn cell and holler at all this wretched injustice. I finally fall into sleep induced by a few pills. At dawn I am jolted out of sleep to the yelling of the guards. It is time to march to the open-air area that packs 400 inmates for the head-count.
Today is the birthday of Maryam Mohed who is known as Arash. As one of her friends, I must do something for her so she can have a nice day. Even though buried behind any smile or laughter there is deep misery, we try at least to give each other some solace when we can.
Arash is a young girl who came into this world alone and out of luck. She had nothing and nobody who cared about her. She cut her hair short out of desperation to do any work just to survive. She was used by a swindler, was arrested with his drugs and was sentenced to life in prison. Nobody ever visits her and nobody ever calls her. She doesn’t even have any memories from a time when she was not in this hellhole.
When I saw Arash outside I hugged her and said, “happy brother bro.” She was so happy and said, “will you throw me a birthday celebration?” I promised her a good birthday and with some friends in our group we went to the prison store and with the small amount we had in our cards we were able to buy some snacks and jam and cream, put them together and created what we called a cake. We put our creation in the prison’s only refrigerator, which resembles a worn out dresser. Then we all went and put gifts together and we each gave Arash the best item we had.
That night Kajal sang Kurdish songs, some sang Farsi songs, and others rapped. We all loved the rap. At the end of the night we sat in a circle and we all made wishes. We told Arash to go first and she wished for a day when she could bathe with warm water, in a clean shower, with nice running water that was unpolluted, that did not leave the taste of salt in her mouth, without someone constantly yelling “hurry up, get out, it is my turn.”
The water at Gharchak prison is dirty and salty. The prison doctors even tell us not to use the water for brushing our teeth. Each ward gets a small ration of unsalted water and it gets shut off fast. Worms and chicken feathers are seen in the water. The Women’s City Council has promised to put a pipe for clean water in the new ward that Mr. Ghalibaf is building but the inmates don’t have much hope for that to happen.
It is Kazal’s turn to make a wish. “I wish we had chicken kababs. I have not eaten chicken kabab in 2 years.” Pegah immediately opened a can of chicken, put a chunk on her fork, and burned it with her lighter. So she granted Kazal her wish even though her chicken kabab was not the real thing. When my turn came I wished that we always stand up for each other’s rights and forever share our joy and misery.
One person put out her hand and we all put a hand on top of the other’s. Our friendships are solid and faithful. My friends are not famous, they have no money and no one to bring them colorful clothes every month. But they do have souls that are shining, they have devotion and loyalty; you know that if you ever have a fever, they will die for you.
To be continued.
Nargues Gharchak prison, Varamin