Two Australian travel influencers have been detained in Iran for the past ten weeks, reportedly for flying a drone without a license.
Jolie King and Mark Firkin are being held in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, The Times of London, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the Persian-language Manoto TV reported. Australia’s Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade declined to confirm the location.
The prison is notorious for housing several foreign and dual nationals including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi, and the British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It also holds Iranian intellectuals and activists who have been critical of the regime.
Conditions inside the prison appear to be horrific. Former detainees have said they were repeatedly threatened with dismemberment and death, were forced to eat rocks and dirt, and slept on hard floors surrounded by cockroaches.
The prison holds an estimated 15,000 people. It’s housed so many Iranian intellectuals that it’s been nicknamed “Evin University.”
Most foreign nationals are sent to Evin, according to Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme who spoke to Insider.
Here are some of the physical and psychological torture people which former prisoners described after getting out of Evin:
- Being blindfolded while transported into and around the cell, according to Marina Nemat, who was imprisoned as a 16-year-old student in 1981.
- Jason Rezaian also said in his family’s lawsuit against the Iranian government that he was blindfolded when moved around the prison, even during his daily, 20-minute walks early into his detention.
- Once in the jail, prisoners are interrogated for hours on end, which according to Rezaian’s lawsuit involve “severe physical and psychological strain.”
- Meals were often inadequate and had low nutritional value, which left the prisoners constantly hungry, according to Rezaian’s lawsuit, Fox News, and a 2016 report by the UK Home Office.
- In some cases, Rezaian’s food contained “concrete, rocks, dirt, or other foreign and inedible objects,” according to the lawsuit.
- Detainees are often denied medical care as part of the torture, according to the Rezaian lawsuit, Fox News, and the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper, all of which cite former detainees.
- Prison guards threatened to cut off the right arm and left leg or left arm and right leg of Rezaian’s wife Yeganeh, or kill her family, in order to get her to provide incriminating information about Rezaian, according to the family’s lawsuit.
- Many are placed in solitary confinement, which consists of being imprisoned in a windowless, six-feet-wide cell, according to Rezaian’s lawsuit. This is also how Matthew Trevithick, an American student who spent 41 days in the jail in 2015, described it to PBS NewsHour.
- Artificial lights in solitary confinement cells are switched on for most of the day to prevent prisoners from sleeping properly, according to Rezaian and a 2016 report by the UK Home Office.
- Former prisoners described being “unable to see anything outside their cells or hear anything besides the sounds of their own voices” in the prison’s Ward 240, which houses 700 to 800 solitary confinement cells, the Home Office reported.
- “Jason was forced to sleep on the floor with only a scrap of rug separating him from the cold, damp concrete. Prison officials eventually gave Jason tranquilizers to induce sleep,” the lawsuit said. A loud fan was also constantly switched on to prevent him from sleeping, the complaint said.
- Yeganeh Salehi’s solitary confinement cell was infested with cockroaches and other insects, while she was given no ready access to a bathroom for 12 days, the Rezaians’ lawsuit said. She was also unable to shower or clean herself, the lawsuit said.
- Jason Rezaian was denied access to counsel and consular officials during his stay at Evin Prison. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian-British dual citizen who remains there, is also banned from making international calls to her husband in the UK, though she is allowed to speak to family in Iran.
The Rezaians were released in 2016 as part of a prisoner swap, while Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains incarcerated.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe met King in the prison’s female political prisoners’ ward, and has described her as having “a really fun sense of humor,” The Times cited Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe as saying.
Australia is leading the consular efforts in King and Firkin’s case, The Times reported.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has declined to comment on them, but said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has pressed Iran on its detention of dual citizens more broadly.
While it’s “really easy to make [King and Firkin’s case] political because of the history of Iran’s detention of dual nationals,” it remains too early to determine this, Chatham House’s Vakil told Insider.
The Australians’ families said in a statement: “Our families hope to see Mark and Jolie safely home as soon as possible. We have no further comment to make at this stage and ask that the media respects our privacy at this difficult time.”