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Political Prisoners in Iran

In response to:

Iran's "Progress" from the February 17, 1977 issue

To the Editors:

Reza Baraheni’s comments on Iran (NYR, February 17) contain an error. He says, “Amnesty International has put the number of Iranian political prisoners between 25,000-100,000.” Actually, AI’s 1975-1976 report says: “The exact number of political prisoners in Iran is not known, but AI believes it to be several thousands. Other sources have given approximate numbers which range from 25,000 to 100,000.” (Emphasis added.)

James D. Seymour

New York University

Reza Baraheni replies:

When I wrote the comment Mr. Seymour mentions I had not seen the AI 1975-1976 Report he refers to. I had earlier, in my article “Terror in Iran” (NYR, October 28), cited the previous Amnesty Report for 1974-1975, which states:

The total number of political prisoners has been reported at times throughout the year to be anything from 25,000 to 100,000 but AI is not able to make any reliable estimate.

After my article was published I read an AP dispatch from Vienna published in The New York Times, November 29, 1976, which said:

A report by Anmesty International said that 25,000 to 100,000 people have been jailed in Iran for political reasons and that the Iranian secret service frequently used torture in interrogations.

In fact this AP report neglected to say that AI was not offering its own estimate but rather citing the “estimates made by foreign journalists and Iranian exile groups.”

It is indeed difficult to make reliable estimates of political prisoners for any given month since the prison population of Iran fluctuates. In December, for example, university students demonstrate throughout the country to commemorate the death of men who were killed by the Shah’s police on the campus of the University of Teheran more than two decades ago. Many are arrested. In the two Arabic months of Moharram and Ramazan the mosques are full of people and the religious leaders, during their sermons, sometimes compare the Shah’s brutality with that of the ashqiya, the “cruel men” who killed the Moslem saints of Iran’s Sh’ite sect. The SAVAK invades the mosques and not only carries away hundreds of people to its dungeons but kills others with its machine guns.

That many thousands have passed through the Iranian prisons and have frequently been tortured in them—and that thousands are being subjected to the same treatment now—is not in question.

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