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Female political prisoners in Iran facing ‘psychological torture’, say campaigners | Human rights

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Female human rights activists imprisoned in Iran face increased jail terms and transfers to prisons with “dangerous and alarming” conditions, hundreds of miles away from their families, according to campaigners.

Warnings of the deteriorating treatment of female prisoners in Iran come days after Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national who has served a five-year prison sentence in Iran, was sentenced to a further year in jail and a year-long travel ban by the Iranian courts.

Human rights campaigners said that in the past six months increasing numbers of Iranian women jailed for human rights and political activism had been moved from Evin prison in Tehran to prisons outside the capital city without warning.

The women were locked up in the same area as criminals who had committed serious offences such as murder, in breach of Iranian law and international standards. Campaigners said that some had been raped by interrogators, attacked by fellow prisoners or denied medical treatment.

Shiva Mahbobi, spokesperson for the Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran, described it as “a way of subjecting them to psychological torture”.

“It is really, really bad,” she said. “[The guards] take away all their stuff; the family does not know where they are. There is a lack of drinking water, and lots of illnesses and contagious diseases.

“The guards intentionally plan for non-political prisoners to attack them. Some families can’t go and visit; if they can, it’s difficult to do often.”

Iran human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh
The human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, pictured while on medical release with her son Nima, was transferred from Evin prison to Shahr-e Rey, where conditions are described as ‘extremely poor’. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer imprisoned for her work defending women’s rights and protesting against Iran’s forced veiling laws, was transferred from Evin prison to Shahr-e Rey prison in Varamin, outside Tehran, in October last year. In January she was diagnosed with a myocardial bridge – symptoms include angina, chest pain and other heart complications. She was told by a doctor to avoid stress and that she should be held in a well-ventilated space.

But the conditions in Shahr-e Rey prison are “extremely poor”, according to Nassim Papayianni, Amnesty International’s Iran campaigner. It is a disused chicken farm that holds several hundred women convicted of violent offences in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, without access to decent food, medicine and fresh air, she said.

There are no windows, and prisoners have no access to safe, drinkable water. Reports from the facility indicate high levels of assault towards inmates by other inmates and prison staff, as well as rampant drug use and infectious diseases.

In December last year, Saba Kordafshari, a human rights defender, was also transferred from Evin to Shahr-e Rey prison.

Zeynab Jalalian, a Kurdish Iranian woman, was moved to four different prisons between April and November last year including Yazd, Evin and Kermanshah. She has described prison transfers as a type of mental torture. She was not allowed to take her personal belongings, including clothes, with her and said she had been denied healthcare, which caused her more suffering, especially as she recovered from Covid-19.

In January, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was moved almost 120 miles (200km) from Shahr-e Rey to Amol prison in northern Iran without notice and deprived of her personal possessions. She had already served one sentence when she was imprisoned again in November 2019 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. In an open letter, her husband wrote that guards had dragged her across the floor by her hair.

Atena Daemi, a women’s rights activist, has been sentenced in two further cases for peacefully protesting while serving time for campaigning against the death penalty in Iran. She was transferred suddenly, and without notice, from Evin prison to Lakan prison in Gilan province, north-west of Tehran, last month.

Also in March, Sepideh Gholian, a human rights defender, was transferred from Evin prison to Bushehr prison, which is nearly 300 miles from her family home. And Maryam Akbari Monfared was transferred from Evin prison to Semnan prison, east of Tehran. She is serving a 15-year sentence and has been in prison since 2009 without a single day of leave.

Iranian women activists in prison: Monireh and Yasaman
Monireh Arabshahi, left, and Yasaman Aryani were transferred from Evin prison to a facility in Karaj, Alborz province.

Yasaman Aryani and Monireh Arabshahi were transferred in October last year from the women’s ward of Evin prison to one in Karaj, Alborz province.

Papayianni said that all the women had been wrongfully convicted and should be released. “At Amnesty International, we believe that none of them should be in prison at all. We believe all their sentences are unjust and that they should be immediately released.” She added that the situation for these women was deteriorating and that transferring women was commonly used to silence detainees, particularly when they had campaigned from behind bars.

Mahbobi said that she suspected the increasing number of transfers were part of a political move to close Evin prison, where most political prisoners are traditionally held, in an effort to declare that Iran does not detain human rights defenders.

“It’s quite dangerous” she said. “It’s really alarming. On one hand, they can send these prisoners to prisons that are really unimaginable and put their lives in danger, and then [the government] can claim they don’t have any political prisoners.”

The Iranian government has been approached for comment.

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‘Freudian Slip’: Biden Confuses Trump With Obama in New Gaffe

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The 78-year-old American president is known to be prone to verbal gaffes and slips of the tongue, for which he is usually criticized or mocked by some people on social media.

US President Joe Biden appeared to confuse former US President Barack Obama for another former US president, Donald Trump, in a Wednesday speech, but swiftly corrected himself and suggested that the mistake was a “Freudian slip”.

“Back in 2009, during the so-called Great Recession, the president asked me to be in charge of managing that piece, then-President Trump,” Biden said while addressing the public in Pennsylvania. “Excuse me, Freudian slip, that was the last president. He caused the…anyway, President Obama, when I was vice-president.”

Apparently, Biden briefly messed up the timeline, confusing his predecessor, Trump, with the 44th US president, Obama. Even his quick apology did not prevent social media users from picking up on his gaffe.

​Some suggested that since a Freudian slip occurs as an action inspired by an internal train of thought or unconscious wish, it was Biden “dreaming” about working with Trump rather than Obama.

​Others argued that the 46th president does not know what a Freudian slip really is.

​Biden was in Pennsylvania on Wednesday speaking at a Mack Truck assembly plant in Lehigh Valley, promoting his administration’s new measures to encourage US citizens and companies to “buy American”. Particularly, he announced plans to modify the 1933 Buy American Act that requires federal firms and agencies to purchase goods that have at least 55% US-made components. 

Under the Biden plan, the threshold will be increased to 65% by 2024 and to 75% by 2029.



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Countdown to the airstrike: the moment Israeli forces hit al-Jalaa tower, Gaza | Global development

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Countdown to destruction

During the 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in May 2021, Israeli airstrikes destroyed five multi-storey towers in the heart of Gaza City. The images of buildings crumbling to the ground flashed across TV channels around the world as Gaza faced the most intense Israeli offensive since 2014. At least 256 Palestinians were killed, including 66 children, and 13 in Israel, including two children. Israel claimed it was destroying the military capabilities of Hamas, who had fired rockets at Israel after weeks of tension in Jerusalem over the planned displacement of Palestinian residents and police raids on al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.

Each time Israel said it was targeting Hamas and that it had warned the residents first. But what is it like to have only a few minutes to evacuate before watching your life collapse into rubble?

In conjunction with the civilian harm monitoring organisation Airwars, the Guardian spoke with dozens of residents and gathered footage and photos to piece together the story of one building, al-Jalaa tower, demolished by an Israeli airstrike on 15 May 2021. These are the stories from inside the tower, of the Mahdi clan, who owned and lived in the building, the Jarousha family and the Hussein family.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021.
Clockwise from top left: Israeli airstrikes in Gaza hit a 12-storey building in the early hours of 12 May 2021; a 13-storey residential block collapses in the Gaza Strip on 11 May 2021; an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, 14 May 2021; smoke rises following an Israeli strike on al-Shorouq tower in Gaza City, 12 May 2021.

The story of al-Jalaa tower

The upscale Rimal area of Gaza City and its multi-storey towers had suffered since the bombing began. Though al-Jalaa was thought to be safe, night-long bombing had terrified its residents, who struggled to sleep. Fearing the impact of blasts, families had been sleeping in hallways away from the windows.

Children from al-Jalaa tower get ready to sleep in the hallway of the building for safety. Photo: Issam Mahdi

Al-Jalaa tower was built in 1994 as part of a property boom sparked by the landmark Oslo peace agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The first five floors were offices, with floors six to 10 inhabited by families. On floor 11, the top floor, were the Gaza offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, two of the world’s largest media companies. The ground floor had two levels of shops and beneath it was a car park.

Many of the residents came from the Mahdi family, including the building’s owner Jawad and his son Mohammed.

After each marriage in the Mahdi clan the new family settled into the tower. Jawad, 68, had traded in Israel before 2007 when the Jewish state blockaded Gaza after the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory. Since then he has run his clothes company in Gaza.

The whole family had huddled together into a few apartments on the sixth floor for safety, but were about to be scattered as they rushed to evacuate.


Timeline



The aftermath

As Jawad searches through the rubble he finds a single folder. It contains pictures of his wedding day.

Jawad Mahdi with a photograph of his wedding day, found amid the rubble of al-Jalaa tower. Photo: Mohammed Mahdi

Mohannad and Suzanne’s cats were never found. “I still don’t know their fate until today,” Mohannad says. “Every day from the moment it was destroyed I was going to the building listening for any sound.”

Suzanne says their lives will never be the same. “Everything you love is gone – it doesn’t matter about the cupboards and beds and things. There are things my kids had when they were babies, clothes that I had from when I was a child – these were memories. There was a box with all the things from my father, god rest his soul, his glasses and mobile and pictures. Where am I going to get things like that again?

“We have become people without memories or mementoes. What is a person without those? If you have no memories you feel like you never lived.”

Walid Hussein, the engineer who had returned with his family from years living in the US, has become like a ghost. He has not a single document to prove who he is. Sometimes he thinks about going back to the US for his children, but he has his elderly mother in Gaza to support. He doesn’t want to have to make a choice. He shares his hopes for a peaceful future in Gaza:

“This is all we are asking for, to live a peaceful life. Very peaceful life, it means security, it means no harm to anybody, it means don’t touch my kids – not because you have this technology and this kind of weapon you bomb all of us from the air.”

Main photo: NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock, Guardian composite; Satellite images ©2021 Maxar Tech/AFP/Getty Images, Google Earth

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UK in talks with US for travel corridor

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said his government is in talks with its US counterparts to ensure that American citizens can enter the UK “freely” and “in the way they normally do,” Reuters reported on Wednesday. The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the UK was expected to announced the reopening of England for fully-vaccinated travellers from the EU and US this week.

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