Family members wait and worry outside prison


The mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters wait.

They sip tea, amble around, look at their watches and stare at the posted lists of names, about 700 or 800 of them.

They arrived early outside Evin Prison, the notorious complex of buildings in northern Tehran where most of the Iranians arrested in the recent unrest have been locked up.


By 8 a.m., dozens have gathered, standing around the entrance or sitting on brown plastic chairs after wiping away the dew.

They hold pay vouchers or shop licenses to use as collateral to bail out family members and friends. Many were called late the previous night and told to come here.

But no one is there to tell them where to go or what to do.

One man approaches the gate of a shuttered general courthouse near the prison entrance.

A kindly soldier approaches. “My dear father,” he says. “You must go to the Revolutionary Court on Moallem Street. They will say where and when your child will be released.”

Some families split up. Sister and brother go to Moallem Street. Mother and father stand in front of Evin just in case, keeping in touch via cellphones, which have begun to work again after spotty service during the protests.

There is little to do while waiting. In front of the courthouse, a blue-roofed trailer serves as a little shop, selling tea bags and hot water in disposable cups and offering photocopying services for documents such as birth certificates.

Sheets of paper bearing the handwritten names of those held inside are taped on the outside of the trailer. They flutter in the breeze. Visitors strain their eyes to read the names of those arrested Saturday, when the capital burned.

The names of those arrested earlier are typed up, along with the name of the courthouse where they will be tried, and stuck on the glass panes of the courthouse next to Evin.

Massoud, the elderly father of a prisoner named Saman Sahrai, and his wife look for traces of their son on the lists.

“I found the name,” she is overheard announcing dryly.

Massoud chuckles. “Who can dare to say that a mother’s instinct is not strong enough,” he says. “My eyes cannot see well enough.”

Most of the approximately 40 people gathered outside the prison decline to give their full name or, in some cases, even their first name for fear of reprisal.

Massoud says he was called late the night before to come to the prison with his salary voucher as bail to get his son released.

A soldier at the prison tells him to go to the Revolutionary Court.

“Getting arrested was a good lesson for my son,” Massoud says.

“If he is released, he will appreciate his father and mother better than before, and will realize what it is to earn a living in this country and he hopefully will stick to his education and finding a job.”

Nargess, the mother of another detainee held since Saturday, overhears his comment and shakes her head. “What lesson? Is it worth it?” she says.

A couple catch their breath as they walk up the hill toward the prison entrance to scan the names for their son’s. They are hopeful they will find him.

“They called last night,” says the father, Hassan. “The investigator called from Evin, but when we called back this morning to the same number, it was on fax mode. So we have come to see if the name is here.”

Some are confused and despondent.

Ali, a middle-aged man with five or six days’ growth of stubble on his face, stares at the handwritten lists on the trailer.

“My son’s name is not here, but he called for a minute two nights ago,” he says. “And I do not know where to go.”

Another man, Akbar, is looking for a cousin who came back to Iran for a visit after living in Canada for five years. The cousin was on the street watching the protest when he was approached by security officials, Akbar says.

“He took out his Canadian identification card and said, ‘I do not have anything to do with the demonstrations. I am just a bystander.’ But the security officials did not believe him,” Akbar says. “Now, since Saturday, we have found no trace of him. He is 29 years old and came to visit his elderly mother.”

A soldier in a gray uniform tries to disperse the people gathering in front of Evin. “Every night the new list will be stuck on the trailer,” he says. “Come back tonight or tomorrow morning.”

Still they wait.


Mostaghim is a special correspondent.