Iran prison chief replaced following turmoil

An inmate peers out as a guard passes in the female section of Evin Prison, north of Tehran, in June 2006.
(Atta Kenare / AFP/Getty Images)

TEHRAN — Iran replaced its top prison administrator Wednesday after public protests alleging excessive violence against inmates at a prison that holds inmates detained for political crimes.

The semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that Gholam Hosein Esmaeli was removed from his position as director of the nation’s penal system and appointed as head of an appeals court branch in Tehran.

Esmaeli told local media that the change was a promotion and was in no way related to last week’s disturbances at the capital’s Evin Prison. He defended prison guards’ actions.


Relatives of inmates at Evin Prison accused guards of excessive violence during an inspection last week. Officials called the incident a routine security crackdown against illicit mobile phones and other electronic devices that had been smuggled into the jail. Activists said several inmates were injured. The government said one inmate received minor wounds.

The incident sparked denunciations in opposition Web pages and several protests in Tehran. The government is extremely sensitive about allegations of human rights abuses.

Some viewed the removal of the prison’s chief as an effort by the government of President Hassan Rouhani to satisfy relatives and friends of the prisoners, while also mollifying conservatives who have little sympathy for those held for political crimes.

“I think this was aimed at pleasing the pro-Rouhani people and the families of the prisoners, while at the same time satisfying hard-liners,” said Masoumeh Dehgan, whose husband is an imnate at Evin and who participated in recent protests.

Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.