DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The guard of a control room in the infamous Iranian prison of Evin draws attention one by one, the monitors in front of him suddenly turn off and display something very different from the surveillance footage that he was watching.
“Cyberattack” flashes the monitors. Other guards gather, brandishing their cell phones and filming, or making urgent calls. “General demonstration until the freedom of political prisoners” reads another line on the screens.
An online account, allegedly created by an entity describing itself as a group of hackers, shared footage of the incident, along with portions of other surveillance footage it seized, with the Associated Press. Suspected hackers said the release of the footage was an effort to show the harsh conditions in the prison, known to hold political prisoners and people with foreign ties who are often used as bargaining chips in negotiations. with the West.
In part of the footage, a man breaks a bathroom mirror in an attempt to open his arm. Prisoners – and even guards – fight in scenes captured by surveillance cameras. Inmates slept in single rooms with bunk beds stacked three times against the walls, wrapping themselves in blankets to stay warm.
“We want the world to hear our voice for the freedom of all political prisoners,” read a message from the online account to the PA in Dubai.
Iran, which has come under criticism from the UN special rapporteur over its conditions of detention, did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to its UN mission in New York. Iranian state media in the country did not acknowledge the Evin incident.
However, several embarrassing hacking incidents have hit Iran amid continuing tensions over its accelerated nuclear program and as talks with the West over reviving the atomic deal between Tehran and world powers remain on hold.
Four former prisoners in Evin, as well as an Iranian human rights activist abroad, told the AP that the videos look like areas of the facility in northern Tehran. Some of the scenes also matched photographs of the facility previously taken by journalists, as well as images of the prison as seen in satellite photos viewed by the PA.
The footage also shows rows of sewing machines used by inmates, an isolation cell with Turkish toilets and areas outside the prison. There are images of the prison’s outdoor exercise yard, prisoners’ toilets, and offices in the facility.
Much of the footage has timestamps from 2020 and this year. Several videos without the stamp show guards wearing face masks, signaling that they have come amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Although there is no sound in the videos, they do speak of the dark world facing the prisoners at the facility. Footage shows what appears to be an emaciated man thrown from a car into the parking lot and then dragged into the jail. Another shows a clerk descending the stairs and passing the man without stopping.
In another video, guards are seen beating a man in a prisoner’s uniform. A guard punches a prisoner in a holding cell. The guards also fight with each other, as do the prisoners. Many are crammed into single room cells. No one wears a face mask.
The account that shared the videos with the PA calls itself “Ali’s Justice,” a reference to the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law who is revered by the Shiites. He also mocks Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
He claimed to have “hundreds” of gigabytes of data from what he described as a hack that took place several months ago. He did not answer questions about those involved in the leak.
The account linked the timing of his flight to the recent election of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a diehard Khamenei sidekick involved in the execution of thousands of people in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.
“Evin prison is a stain on Raisi’s black turban and white beard,” the message also read on screens in the prison control room.
Iran, long sanctioned by the West, faces difficulties in updating hardware and software, often relying on electronic devices made in China or older systems. The control room system seen in the video, for example, appeared to work on Windows 7, for which Microsoft no longer provides fixes. This would make it easier to target a potential hacker. Pirated versions of Windows and other software are common in Iran.
In recent months, the Iranian rail system has been the target of an apparent cyberattack. Other self-proclaimed hacker groups have published details of Iranians alleging hackers in the name of theocracy. Meanwhile, the most famous cyberattack – the Stuxnet virus that destroyed Iranian centrifuges amid Western fears about the Tehran program – is widely believed to have been an American and Israeli creation.
Evin Prison was built in 1971 under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran. It housed political prisoners at the time and later, after the 1979 Islamic revolution swept the shah from power.
Although in theory under the control of the Iranian penitentiary system, Evin also has specialized units for political prisoners and those with ties to the West, led by the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, who report only to Khamenei. The facility is the target of sanctions from the United States and the European Union.
After Iran cracked down on protesters following the contested 2009 re-election of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, many arrested protesters ended up in Evin. Lawmakers then pushed for reforms in Evin, following reports of abuse in the prison – which led to the installation of closed-circuit cameras.
The problems continued, however. Reports by UN Special Rapporteur Javaid Rehman have repeatedly cited Evin Prison as a site of prisoner abuse. Rehman warned in January that the entire Iranian prison system faces “long-standing overcrowding and poor hygiene” and “insurmountable obstacles to responding to COVID-19.”
“Prisoners of conscience and political prisoners have contracted COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms, and many have refused to undergo testing or treatment or have suffered unnecessary delays in receiving test and treatment results.” , he wrote.
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