Iran’s Evin Prison and Its Butcher, Asadollah Lajevardi


by Diba

By Bahman Aghai Diba

Evin was originally a village in the suburbs of Tehran. The entire village apparently belonged to Sayed Ziaeddin Tabatabai, the first Prime Minister of Iran after the 1921 coup d’état of Reza Khan, who later assumed the throne as Reza Shah. Thus, many parts of Evin bore the name of Sayed Ziaeddin Tabatabai.

In fact, the big plot of land next to Evin Prison is called Sayed Zia’s Garden. Apparently, a few years before I went to Evin (serving a sentence there from 1988 to 1996), the personnel of Evin had asked for and received permission from Khomeini to build themselves a housing complex in Sayed Zia’s Garden. Asadollah Lajevardi, the notorious head of Evin Prison, used the services of a crook named Reza Zavareie, his friend in the Mafia known as the Coalition of Islamic Societies ( Hayate Motalefeh Eslami ) who had become the head of Iran’s Properties Registration Organization , to seize ownership of the concerned garden.

Eventually, Lajeverdi established a complex there called “garden of paradise” (Dashte behesht ). The place was turned into a big partying center for the zealots of the regime during Lajevardi’s tenure as head of the prison. High-ranking regime officials, wealthy bazaaris (the financial backbone of the mullahs), and the nouveaux riches among the clerics were using the premises for ceremonies for marriage and Hajj. They paid Lajevardi a great deal of money for the privilege.

This was one of the reasons that the personnel of Evin Prison hated Lajevardi. They were so angry at this act that many of them cursed him openly in their conversations. I personally heard one of them praying for his assassination. Lajevardi was, of course, assassinated in 1998 (by MKO members, it is said), after having left the Prisons Organization and gone back to the bazaar for a new kind of plundering.

A part of the village of Evin was devoted to Evin Prison during the time of Mohammad Reza Shah. It was intended as a place for tackling political and security prisoners. A number of political anti-Shah activists were killed, tortured or incarcerated in Evin. In fact, the notoriety of Evin Prison had its roots in the Shah’s time, though it did not see its darkest days until the atrocities after the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran through the plots of the mullahs. Evin was a complex at the time of the Shah, housing a special unit of the Imperial Guard as well as a section run by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. When people captured Evin during the revolution (1979), all sorts of rumors were circulating that Evin had secret chambers and underground wards, but no one found any such thing. Evin Prison is in the northwest of Tehran, on the street named after the prison. Before arriving at the prison gate one reaches a sharp slope near an intersection famously called the “slope of destiny” (sarashib-e sarnevesht). This always reminded me of the Bab al-Mandab (“gateway of lamentation”), the strait separating Djibouti in Africa from Yemen in Asia. It is said that captured black slaves wept when they passed the strait, because they knew it was the point of no return and they were never going to see their homeland again.

When I saw Evin, it was several years after the revolution. It had everything: solitary confinement, a public ward, closed-door rooms, and sections for the intelligence ministry, office of the Prisons Organization, office of the prosecutor general, and execution chambers.

Lajevardi and his friends had turned Evin into a self-sufficient unit. After the main gate of Evin, on the right were buildings housing the Islamic Republic’s office for the revolutionary prosecutor general. Later, when I worked in the prison premises, I came to know that the execution chamber was also next to the building of the prosecutor general. On the left were the buildings of the Islamic Revolutionary Courts, which resembled an apartment complex. The office of the Prisons Organization was further down on the left.

The office of Evin Prison was a small building on the right. People sat there waiting for the guards to send them to the different sections of the prison. They could be newcomers or those who had returned from the courts, the interrogation chambers or the office of the prosecutor general.

The first time I was in the prison office, blindfolded and accompanied by a group of others sitting there all facing the wall and with blindfolds, someone shouted: “Learning center (amuzeshgah), sanatorium (asayeshgah).” I did not move because I thought this did not apply to me. After a few seconds a guard came to me and said: “Hey, move! You are going to the sanatorium.” I found out later that they had divided the prison into these two sections: “sanatorium” really meant solitary confinement, and “learning center” was the public section of the prison.

These two units, along with the workshops of Evin, were in the foothills of the Alborz mountain range, and several minibuses carried people to and from those sections. The windows of the minibuses were painted over, but looking carefully from under the blindfold and though the small openings in the covering of windows, one could see that the premises were a big garden with enormous trees.

These arrangements of the sections had a special meaning. The prison authorities considered the prison as a place for repentance of the ignorant and the deceived. They thought people who came to prison would first have a chance to “rest” in solitary confinement and then be “re-educated” in prison.

Those who were impervious to re-education at any stage of their stay were sent to the execution chambers immediately. This was an attempt to comply with an ambiguous utterance by Khomeini written in very large letters over the main buildings of Evin: “Prison must be a university.” I conducted research about this later and found it was a misinterpretation of Khomeini’s sentences as usual. (Khomeini used the Persian language more like a foreigner than a native speaker. Unlike the usual practice of putting verbs at the end of the sentence, for instance, he used the verbs at the beginning.)

The public ward in Evin was in fact the offices and living quarters and facilities of the Shah’s guards. The converted tailoring workshop had been the swimming pool of the previous guards. The solitary confinement complex had new and old sections. It was four floors. The last floor was devoted to the mentally retarded prisoners and it was an extremely horrible section.

The lowest level was devoted to women, but the main women’s ward was somewhere close to the main offices. The office of the ministry of intelligence, called 209, was also attached to those sections. I was a constant customer of this office along with almost thirty other people.

Some of the prisoners, especially the younger MKO members, had turned into prison trustees and were called tawwabs (“penitents”). They treated the others very badly. I think the reason was that by the time we reached Evin, a great number of the MKO members had been killed and the remaining ones felt they had to prove their “repentance.”

Lajevardi was one of the persons that had a special place in hell. He was one of the most hated men that I came to know in my life. He was a corrupt, hypocritical, and violent creature. The ugliness of his face—a personification of Satan in my mind—added to his repulsive personality. When I entered Evin Prison, he was already the Head of Prisons Organization of Iran. Lajevardi belonged to the Coalition of Islamic Groups (Hay’at-e Motalefeh Eslami), the religious terrorist group that had assassinated Hassanali Mansour, the PM of the Shah, and was related to the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries through a few traitors to the Iranian nation. The Coalition of Islamic Groups still plays a Mafiosi role in the government and politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and some of its important figures are: Asgaroladi, Khamenei (the so-called Supreme Leader), Ayatollah Yazdi, then the head of Judiciary but virtually Lajevardi’s puppet, and Zavareie (d. 2005), the head of the Office for Property Registration that helped Lajevardi in his corrupt activities.

Lajevardi spent a great deal of time in Evin. He was instrumental in all the killings there after the so-called revolution. He worked there as interrogator, torturer, executioner, head of branch, head of prison and, finally, head of Prisons Organization, which was inside Evin. He considered Evin his child.

Other than a few persons who were isolated, he had gathered a bunch of idiots to run Evin. Anyone who began to suspect corruption within the management of the prison was sacked right away. Some were sent to the cells of Evin as soon as they raised a protest. Lajevardi was very fond of the landscape in Evin. For him the beauty of Evin as a garden was very important, even more important than the prisoners and prison staff. For the same reason both groups hated him.

Another thing that made Lajevardi very disgusting was his deep hypocrisy. He used to punish the prisons and prison personnel for trivial things while he and his family were plundering in the millions from the public treasury. Once he inflicted severe punishment on a person employee because he washed his car inside Evin with public water. Evin has great workshops. In the tailoring workshop alone, more than a thousand industrial sewing machines were working several shifts.

Lajevardi confiscated what these workshops produced and hauled it away in a big trailer. A prisoner who was a friend of mine managed the accounting for the tailoring workshop. He told me personally how he had to alter names and cook the books to conceal the stealing. At that time Lajevardi’s son-in-law and father-in-law both were working in the management of the workshop. Later, when the thieves reached a point of conflict over the division of the spoils, Lajevardi put some of his family in prison for corruption. They had been working there for more than fifteen years and Lajevardi claimed he did not know the scope of corruption.

Lajevardi was also a symbol of mismanagement in the Islamic Republic of Iran. He had been a petty tradesman in bazaar, and when he had reached high places in the system he was still thinking of management in terms of running a small bazaar stall (hojreh). Combined with mismanagement was a general sickness of nature that he shared with other managers in the Islamic Republic at all levels, from the head of sweepers in a small region all the way up to the Supreme Leader. This sickness of mind derives from a deep conviction that God has given a special and unique talent and power of decision-making to a select few and whatever comes to their miserable minds is the best thing that can be done.

This kind of thinking resulted in untold disasters in Evin and other prisons in Iran during the tenure of Lajevardi. Among other things, Lajevardi arbitrarily and illegally changed regulations and procedures in prison management, and he mixed prisoners of various types to conceal political prisoners.

The changing of the prison bylaws (ayin-nameh zendanha) was egregiously illegal. It made his task easier that the laws and regulations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, starting with the Constitution and going down to ordinary statutes, are replete with mistakes, points of injustice, contraventions of Islamic jurisprudence, violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and even contrary to common sense. The new prison bylaws that Lajevardi cooked up contradicted even to the miserable laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Lajevardi had ordered Ayatollah Yazdi, his protégé and scarecrow in the judiciary of Iran for many years, to sign the new prison bylaws without so much as reading a single line. Bylaws clearly should go through a process to become enforceable. Usually, such important bylaws must go through the appropriate parliamentary committees and come to a full vote on the floor of the parliament, then go through the government apparatus like the council of ministers, and so on. The new prison bylaws never went through those steps; only the chief of the Judiciary put his signature to them, which in no way invests them with legal authority.

Other problems that I remember with the new bylaws are as follows:

1. In the classification of prisoners there was no distinction between criminal and political prisoners.

2. Prisoners that were called “spies” and “criminals against the security of the country” (which encompassed all non-ordinary criminals) were deprived of almost all advantages in prison.

3. According to new articles in the bylaws, a prisoner who learned a part of the Koran by heart became eligible for a few days’ furlough. This was a ridiculous chapter in prison life. Many of the intellectual prisoners who refused were denied privileges, while hard-core criminals who learned small parts of the Koran without knowing what it meant could spend time outside prison. Numerous reports indicated that these furloughed prisoners stole cars right within the prison neighborhood, raped women, drank heavily and engaged in disorderly conduct, and even committed murder.

4. Limiting the power of judges over the prisoners as opposed to the powers of prison officials. This may look like an innocent provision, deceptively so. For many years, starting with the first days of the revolution, the judges of the Revolutionary Courts handed out sentences to their victims (political and ideological prisoners) with no clear criteria. They had sent many to their deaths, and those who were not killed were supposed to be ready for some kind of rehabilitation. Therefore, the judges granted furloughs, or even released the prisoners when they were convinced that they were no longer a threat to the regime. Contrary to that, if someone the judges considered a threat to the regime had served out the full prison term, they refused to release him or her. Now, Lajevardi had changed the prison regulations to divest judges of decision-making in cases where they knew that the sentence was meant to be open-ended and conditioned on the behavior of the prisoner. A judge had given a 20-year sentence to someone who may have deserved a six-month prison according to ordinary laws, and now after two years he was convinced that the prisoner should go home, but Lajevardi and his bylaws would not allow it. The duration of furloughs for the prisoners was very limited, because Lajevardi wanted to keep people in prison and use them as slaves in the prison workshops, from which he derived considerable wealth. Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience—those for whom prison furloughs were actually devised—were denied their freedom entirely.

Pishva. This was the name given to a miserable, illiterate man. Lajevardi quickly discovered his violent character and wide-scale idiocy. He had become the head of Evin Prison during the time that I was in a cell there. The appointment of Pishva was ridiculous, because everybody knew that Lajevardi would not give up his dear child, Evin Prison. Pishva’s real name was Karbalai, but most called him Hitler. Almost all the personnel of Evin and the revolutionary courts had pseudonyms, while prisoners and their families had given them special names. For instance, the man that prison officials called Haj Hussein was known to the prison population as Hussein the “honorless” (bi-namus). Prisoners referred to another character as “Hassan Zapata,” because he had Mexican features.

Lajevardi devised a plan for Evin Prison that cost him his job, and eventually his life. To bolster the claim that Evin did not contain political prisoners, he opened the prison to dangerous criminals. The staff and administration of Evin were accustomed to political prisoners and did not know the ways of felons. The newcomers had no fear of the prison guards, who were ill-equipped to deal with them. These dangerous murderers, thieves or prostitutes assumed the most pious appearances, denying the guards the tool of branding them as irreligious or regime opponents. The customary threats Evin guards had used against political prisoners (whereby those that did not “behave” could travel the distance between life and death very quickly) had little effect on these dangerous criminals. Unlike the political prisoners who had almost never attempted an escape, the hardened felons made numerous attempts, succeeding in some cases. Some of them threatened the family of the guards out of the prison. During my time in Evin, I was aware of at least two cases where the prisoners had brazenly robbed the house of the head of the public section and other Evin officials. These dangerous prisoners were not processed by revolutionary courts, which did not know or follow the intricacies of the legal system. As a result, these felons did not fear the lawlessness of these courts. Some of them were rich and could buy the services of low-level workers who served as guards in the prison. Unlike the political prisoners, who showed no interest in corrupt actions, the criminals took advantage of the ignorance and incompetence of the Evin staff to engage in corruption within jail.

This is a piece from my recent book (Bahman Aghai Diba, Problems of the Islamic Republic of Iran: How not to govern a country, published in the USA by CreateSpace, June 2011)


more from Diba
Shazde Asdola Mirza

Hooshang dear: I am with you on that one, especially ...

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

... the Right to Visit San Franscisco.

Yes, the best system made by humans so far is a well taxed and regulated capitalist economy with good social programs and support. And this system has been the result of evolution, through the path of Open Society in the West.


While on the subject of China

by Reality-Bites on

Yes, its economy has grown amazingly fast, like the US's did in late 19th/early 20th century. In fact, China's economic planners used the US as a model to follow, particularly in regards to constructing the infrastructure necessary to lower the price of movement of goods, improving distribution and transport networks, and opening up huge swathes of the country to inward investment.

But let's keep a few points in mind about China's breath-taking economic growth:

- its success has come about through an economic switch to the capitalist system, while retaining a Communist (of sorts) authoritarian political system. At the some point the political system either has to open up, or there will be serious turbulence.

- An integral part of China's growth, and overtaking of other major economies and at some point in the future, the United States', is its very high population. We know that China's per Capita GDP is still very low, way below the average Western economy. So it's breeding like rabbits that has helped China to get to where it is today. Again, at some point this could bite the country's backside, if it goes on unchecked.

- Another element of China's economic success is its deliberate holding down the value of its currency to undercut all the other major economies in labour rates in particular. Again, despite China's seemingly endless work force, this is likely to cause unrest among the hundreds of millions, who work like dogs for a pittance, while the relatively few get filthy rich. Also, other economies will start to take a more hostile line towards China manipulating the exchange rates solely in the interests of its own export market. The US has already complained repeatedly and this is only likely to intensify.

Oh yeah, there is also the small matter of China not giving a damn about copyright laws and copying pretty much everything designed and invented by others, but doing it a lot of cheaper

In short, things might not quite as rosy for China's miracle economy in near future as it appears now.


Mirza jan I have no defense for brutality of the "communist"

by Hooshang Tarreh-Gol on

regimes, heck, we've been one of the most critical opponents of them (CPI had published a five volumes study of "Soviet Experince" and our conclusion was basically the same as yours, they were in fact " State Capitalist").

What is most striking for me in an eaglitarian system, is the opportunity provided to every ordianry women  and man, to have a say in their life, and how at least their most basic social needs: housing, health, education, are met and guranteed. You could call this system whatever name you wish to call, at this point the lable really doesn't matter. As long as we could set these standards and actually implement them.

P.S. Oh yeah, and I almost forgot: The Right to Visit San Franscisco (with other consenting adults) in whatever way or shape as you please!


If there is a another revolution

by Reality-Bites on

This humble soul has one peice of advice:

DO NOT REPEAT THE MISTAKES OF THE LAST ONE....i.e. prepare not just for the duration, but also the aftermath. 


But this humble soul also has a prediction:

chances are, you WILL repeat at least some of the mistakes of the last one .....if not all.

Shazde Asdola Mirza

Moment Hooshang Jan ... moment

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

Communism can't get any credit for turning Russia into a superpower ... it became a superpower after turning into a State-Capitalism and an Imperialistic power owning half the Europe!

Same for China ... as long as it was stuck in the true Maoist regime, it was backward and dying of hunger and filth ... like North Korea today.

Russia was a superpower before the revolution ... socially backward but in terms of territory and strenght at par with England in the 19th century. It regained its position after the 1945 victory over Germany and the annexation of the Eastern Europe ... thanks to Hilter's failed gambit.

Both China and Russia started from big nations (in terms of population and territory) which were SuperPowers at their rights ... went through a failed-state revolutionary period ... just to re-emerge as superpowers (albeit dictatorial and closed) ... just as they were before.

Communism can take as much credit for Russia and China's progress during the re-emergence period ... as wild fires can take credit for newly grown forests.


Mirz jan , you have many vaild points, at the same time

by Hooshang Tarreh-Gol on

October Revolution changed Russia from a third rate country to a superpower. Stalin's crimes are a different story altogether.

Same story with China. A country divided into different sphere of foreign influence, is now the second economic power in the world, some say going to be first in a few decades.

What we need to pay close attention to, in our upcoming revolution this time (yes, your humble servant thinks, another one is around the corner) is institutionalization of laws and rights, and an all out comprehensive culural, political, personal, social emphasis on tolerance and practicing of such an attitiude and disposition on all levels of government and society at large.

It would have been nice, if we could acheive all the changes that need to occure in our country through reforms and legislation and ...But alas that is not the case.


Dear Amir: Revolutions are as unavoidable as earth quakes.

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

 They happen as extreme reactions to extreme forces of dictatorship and social injustice. Not a single revolution in history was planned. All revolutions are different from each other. 

What happens immediately after revolutions, what forces take ownership and leadership of revolutions, and what path the revolution takes as the result is another question.

I believe Iran is heading towards another revolution. No questions there. What we, as democrats should strive and work for is for a Revolutionary leadership with unquestionable commitment to ideals of democracy, secularism and social justice......

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."


I would also add...

by AMIR1973 on

Let's not be romatic about any of the other revolting revolutions either. The outcomes of the Russian red revoltion of 1917 was 100 times more inhumane, 100 times more bloody, 100 times more damaging to the global progress ... than the Iranian revolution of 1979!


That the outcome of the Russian revolution was 100 times more inhumane, bloody and damaging than Czar Nicholas II would have ever dreamed. I daresay Stalin caused more Russians to die in a month than the Czar did during his entire reign (same goes for the Islamists thugs versus Mohammad Reza Pahlavi). 

Shazde Asdola Mirza

Revolutions are all Collapses of Societies ... the Greater ...

by Shazde Asdola Mirza on

... the WORSE.

When a society, from leadership to participants, is unable to work its way through its fundamental problems; then wars, anarchy and revolution can occur.

There is nothing great about revolutions, about wars and fires - except that a sort of renewal may happen long afterwards. However, in of itself, revolution is the collapse of a failed society, of a failed order.

Let's not be romatic about any of the other revolting revolutions either. The outcomes of the Russian red revoltion of 1917 was 100 times more inhumane, 100 times more bloody, 100 times more damaging to the global progress ... than the Iranian revolution of 1979!


The "Great" revolution

by Reality-Bites on

Was undoubtedly supported by huge numbers of people, inc some hoping for genuine democractic change...........but also a good deal of typical hezbe baadi, and many others totally clueless as to where Iran was heading in the aftermath.

Interesting and informative article, Dr Diba. Thank you.

Maryam Hojjat

Dr. Diba, great Info

by Maryam Hojjat on

About this horrible criminal Lajevardi & Evin he created.  Thanks


The Great Iranian Revolution of 1979, had the highest levels

by Hooshang Tarreh-Gol on

of Street Political demonstration plus Industrial Strike action, seen anywhere in the world. Compared to all other revolutions before it, French, Mexican, Russian, Chinese, Cuban,.. it was the most Urban, with highest levels of mass mobilization.

How the result of this glorious uprising agaisnt Monarchy was degenerated into an Islamic Republic, and eventually it became DOA, is another story. But as far as the Revolution against shah, it was as magnificent as it gets.

P.S. Lajevardi was shot to death, in his little store in Bazar Tehran, by two teenage boys (most probably Mojahedin supporters) carrying Uzi machine guns. In a perfect world, he should have been tried and given a  life sentence with hard labor.


 Great Revolution of

by vildemose on

 Great Revolution of 79?LOL

Reform requires the consent of the corrupt


amazing piece of writing....

by shushtari on

I will make sure to buy the book.

 I hope that this P.O.S. lajevardi really suffered a horrible death for all the brutal crimes he committed against iran and its people


Clear the space....

by پندارنیک on

If I were the publisher of your book, I would have asked you to fill the chronological gap between the barren land and your imprisonment in order to educate your reader about the history of the infamous prison prior to the Great Revolution of 79. 

I wish I could exhibit more sympathy for the great ordeal that you suffered in Evin, but for some obvious reasons I can't............