Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 18:04 UK

Fears grow for Iranian detainees

Opposition supporters in Tehran June 15
Concern is growing over the fate of detained opposition protesters

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News

First the mass protests were suppressed by force, then came the mass arrests.

Three weeks after Iran's disputed presidential election, scores - possibly hundreds - of opposition supporters and prominent reformists remain in prison.

Their families have had little or no information about their fate.

Most are too worried to speak to the press now. They describe a climate of terror in Tehran.

But I met one woman at her university here in England who wanted to tell me what had happened to her husband. She only asked me not to use their real names.

They don't let my husband call me. They don't let me know what his future will be. This is torture.
Wife of detained opposition protester

Ali, as I will call him, is an opposition activist who worked for the presidential candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, at the elections. He was arrested in Tehran two weeks ago, and disappeared.

"It was just a terrible moment. I could not stop crying," Zahra told me.

"I just thought, why should he be in jail? What was wrong with what we did in Tehran? It was the basic right of all Iranians to take part in the election and we did the same."

Solitary confinement

For nine days, Zahra had no idea where he had been taken. Then he was able to make a brief call to his brother, saying only that he was in prison, in solitary confinement.

He has been denied access to a lawyer and to his family. Zahra has no way of knowing how he is being treated.

"They don't let my husband call me. They don't let me know what his future will be. This is torture," Zahra said, her eyes defiantly lined in green, the colour of Iran's reformist opposition.

But her main concern is that Ali - and the other detainees - are being pressured into signing false confessions which could have serious consequences.

Saeed Hajjarian
There is concern about the health of detainee Saeed Hajjarian

Last week, state TV broadcast what it said were the confessions of demonstrators.

Their faces obscured, men and women claimed that the protests last month were part of a violent, Western-backed plot to topple Iran's government.

A senior cleric has now announced that other detainees, staff at the British Embassy in Iran, have admitted they were planning a "Velvet Revolution".

"Many of the detainees, especially the higher-ranking leaders of the opposition, are coming under a great deal of pressure to make false confessions which we fear may be used in show trials in the future," says Tom Porteous, London director of Human Rights Watch.

"There are very long interrogation sessions. We have heard that detainees are being beaten up. There are real grounds for concern about their treatment."

He calls the scale of the clampdown unprecedented.

There is particular concern about the health of one detainee, Saeed Hajjarian, who has been severely disabled since an attempt on his life in 2000.

Iran's chief of police announced this week that just over 1,000 people were arrested in total during the post-election unrest, but said that "most" had been released.

They were creating terror in the hearts of anyone who voted for Mousavi
Husband of Mousavi supporter

There are no official statistics, and reports from Iran say the arrests continue.

Some people, like the wife of another Iranian I spoke to here in the UK, were set free after several degrading days in custody. The man asked me not to use their names.

His wife was arrested along with several friends at a silent street protest in Tehran to demand a re-run of the controversial election. Now in London, she has told her husband what happened.

"They had nine to 12 people in the same cell for five days. There was no proper light, no bathroom, no proper food.

"The entire thing has been humiliation: intimidating and terrifying them so when they come out they will not take part in any demonstrations," he told me, describing his wife as still traumatised by her experience.

Mir Hossein Mousavi
It is thought that scores of Mousavi supporters remain in jail

"She told me they gave them papers to sign and they had to give a commitment they would not go to more demos. They asked everyone, who did you vote for?

"They were creating terror in the hearts of anyone who voted for Mousavi," the man said.

He is convinced the more prominent detainees - still in prison - will be dealt with far more harshly than his wife.

"They won't be released soon. Something very bad has happened, the authorities didn't expect this. And now they're taking revenge on these people. They are going to be tough," he said.

That is what Zahra is afraid of. The prosecutor in charge of investigating the unrest is a known hardliner; last week, a senior cleric called for leading protesters accused of violent protest to face the death penalty.

"I hope they don't accuse people of very serious accusations and then execute them. But in such a situation anything is possible. They will do anything to keep power," Zahra told me.

"The only way we have at this point is just to wait. And this wait is unbearable."

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