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Iran: Amir Abbas Fakhravar, freelance journalist and prisoner of conscience

This is the first time that Amnesty International has documented evidence of the practice of “white torture” in Iran.

Amir Abbas Fakhravar has been in prison for over a year. In January 2004, he was taken from Qasr prison to a detention centre called 125 to be interrogated about his alleged links with a political organisation called Jonbesh-e Azadi-ye Iraniyan, which opposes the Iranian government. The centre is under the control of the Revolutionary Guards, a military force responsible for matters of national security. His cell in the 125 detention centre reportedly had no windows, and was entirely coloured creamy white, as were his clothes. At meal times, he was reportedly given white rice on white, disposable paper plates and if he needed to use the toilet, he had to put a white slip of paper under the door of the cell to alert guards, who reportedly had footwear designed to muffle any sound. He was forbidden to speak to anyone.

Amnesty International has been told that the “silence is deafening” in the facility and that this technique of sensory deprivation is called “white torture” (shekanjeh-e sefid). Such conditions of extreme sensory deprivation appear to be designed to weaken the prisoner by causing persistent and unjustified suffering which amounts to torture. On or around 8 February, Amir Abbas Fakhravar was reportedly allowed to leave the detention centre. However, two days later he was taken into custody again. This is a form of psychological torture, which keeps a prisoner in a permanent state of uncertainty and anxiety. While he was free he was able to tell others about what was being done to him. It is not clear whether he is now held at 125, Qasr or elsewhere. Amir Abbas Fakhravar was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment on defamation charges in November 2002, because of comments on Iran's political leadership in his book Inja Chah Nist (This Place is Not a Ditch). In February 2003, he and imprisoned student demonstrator Ahmad Batebi signed an open letter which criticised the Iranian authorities. The letter stated, 'We wish to openly and overtly express our dedication to all universal covenants. We want to show our respect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, universal peace, non-violence, environmental protection, permanent progress' and added that 'violence has absolutely no place in our struggle, neither in our words nor in our deeds.' Shortly afterwards, he was reportedly beaten in front of judges in the court room where his appeal was being heard. Background information The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that sensory deprivation, as used by UK security forces interrogating prisoners held under emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. The European Commission of Human Rights had previously found that it amounted to torture. More recently, the Committee against Torture found that the regime of sensory deprivation and “almost total prohibition of communication” under which prisoners at a maximum security detention centre in Peru were held caused “persistent and unjustified suffering which amounts to torture”. See:… ). Amnesty International is:

  • asking where, and in what conditions, Amir Abbas Fakhravar is detained;
  • urging the authorities to end the practice of solitary confinement, in line with the recommendations made by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) following its visit to Iran in February 2003 which noted that “such ‘imprisonment within imprisonment’ is arbitrary in nature and must be ended”;
  • reminding the authorities that Rule 32 of the UN's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that close confinement should not depart from the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment;
  • asking for an explanation of why Amir Abbas Fakhravar has been imprisoned, including the charges on which he was convicted and details of the trial proceedings, including any appeal that he has made;
  • expressing concern that the sentence handed down to Amir Abbas Fakharavar is disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence, a finding expressed by the WGAD in the report on its visit to Iran (see above).

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