Profile of a Christian Minority Prisoner: Majid Reza Souzanchi Kashani
Majid Reza Souzanchi Kashani was arrested on November 18th, 2017. Initially, he was charged with being a member of an evangelical group, and was sentenced to 5 years in prison by Judge Amadzadeh of Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court. The sentence was later appealed, and his case was sent to Branch 54 of the court, presided over by Judge Babaei. Judge Babaei reduced Mr. Souzanchi’s sentence to 2 years in prison following the appeal. However, Mr. Souzanchi has remained in prison for each of the last 3 years, as additional false charges were later brought against him: one for murder, and another for theft.
According to individuals familiar with the case, the murder and theft charges were brought against Mr. Souzanchi regarding an expedition he had taken to a mountain with a group of people. Apparently, one of the individuals Mr. Souzanchi had been traveling with had fallen during the trip, and was initially severely injured. Mr. Souzanchi brought this individual to Milad hospital in the north of Tehran, where the injured person was treated for a few days while in a coma and eventually succumbed to their injuries. Apparently, Mr. Souzanchi also had to enter this individual’s car in order to retrieve a government issued identification card in order for the person to receive treatment at the hospital.
Sometime after Mr. Souzanchi was arrested for membership in evangelical groups, he was transferred to Ward 209 of Evin Prison — a special ward run by the intelligence services, which often holds political prisoners. Later, he was transferred to another prison, which specializes in holding criminals charged with murder or other serious crimes. While there, Mr. Souzanchi’s interrogators reportedly tortured him in order to force a confession for the murder of the person who fell from the mountain. However, Mr. Souzanchi did not confess to the murder, and after 1 month of the interrogation process the judiciary found Mr. Souzanchi not guilty for the murder.
However, the judiciary then claimed that Mr. Souzanchi was guilty for theft from the deceased person, claiming that Mr. Souzanchi did not have the permission of the comatose individual to enter his car and retrieve the government identification. He was charged and eventually convicted of this act, and has received an additional 2 years in prison for the alleged theft.
It should also be noted that Mr. Souzanchi did not have the benefit of access to a lawyer during the investigation process. He later chose a lawyer, who appealed Mr. Souzanchi’s case to the Iranian Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court has denied receiving the case, even though the prior court maintains that they had sent his documentation. This is important, since Mr. Souzanchi would be eligible for amnesty were his case still under jurisdiction of the previous court, but he is no longer eligible even though the Supreme Court claims they have not received his case.
Mr. Souzanchi has also reportedly been held in incredibly deplorable conditions during his incarceration, which has only gotten worse over time. For example, it is reported that Mr. Souzanchi was recently approached by prison personnel who asked him to shave his head, but Mr. Souzanchi refused and stated that there was no rule which empowered the personnel to force him to cut his hair. Following this, Mr. Souzanchi was sent to a Type 1 prison, which has some of the most deplorable conditions imaginable, even for Iran’s conditions. The prison is overcrowded — each cell has about 15 beds each, with a total availability of around 240 beds for the entire prison. However, around 500–550 individuals are kept in this ward. This causes serious issues when inmates are trying to sleep at night, as nearly 300 prisoners have no access to a bed. Some prisoners sleep on the floors in the cells, while others are forced to sleep in the hallways of the prison, where they are forced to sleep on their sides since there is not enough space. It is reported that prisoners sleeping in the hallway must sleep side by side in this manner with 2 other prisoners.
This creates an additional problem of limited space in the hallways as prisoners attempt to use the restrooms at night. Prisoners often step on one another while going to and from the restrooms, and the restrooms are unsanitary due to their heavy use, so prisoners may step on each other with soiled shoes or feet. As a result, prisoners often face a lot of medical problems, including skin diseases like scabies.
You can read more information about Mr. Souzanchi’s case on his Iran Prison Atlas profile.