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The last update to the methodology was made in May 2020.

 

What is the Iran Prison Atlas?

The Iran Prison Atlas (IPA) is a comprehensive database of political prisoner cases in Iran. The IPA gathers and verifies three types of information:

  • Cases of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience
  • Information on the prison conditions under which those political prisoners are held
  • Information on the judges who sentence the prisoners

The first version of the Iran Prison Atlas was released in 2011. Since March 2016, the scope of the activities of the IPA has expanded and it is now available to users in the current format. The current version of the IPA contains information gathered since March 2016.

 

What information is recorded on The Iran Prison Atlas?

The IPA gathers three primary types of information:

  • Any political prisoner or prisoner of conscience
  • Any prison or detention center that holds political or ideological prisoners (whether in the past or present)
  • Any judge who tries political prisoners or prisoners of conscience

 

How is the information collected?

IPA’s researchers collect information through:

  • Direct interviews with prisoners, their families, witnesses, or other informed sources
  • Collecting, categorizing, validating, and multi-step refining of information available in the media

 

What is the purpose of the Iran Prison Atlas?

Our team aims to:

  • Resolve news inconsistencies by gathering and verifying information
  • Enable long-term attention to political prisoners regardless of the fame or media salience of prisoners
  • Record human rights abuses in prisons
  • Record abuses by judges against prisoners
  • Increase the visibility of political prisoners and increase the possibility of human rights assistance
  • Provide an immersive image of the status of political and ideological prisoners according to domestic law and international human rights law by categorizing information with different criteria

 

What prisoners make it into the Iran Prison Atlas (i.e. how does the IPA define ‘political prisoner’)?

The IPA includes anyone detained for their beliefs, political activities, or free expression that fall within one or more of the following groups of prisoners:

  • Persons whose detention is based solely on the peaceful use of fundamental rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Exercising such rights including freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association and assembly, or freedom of religion or belief, the right to participate in political affairs, and the right to express one's culture, traditions, and language. This definition is rooted in “Category Two” the United Nations’ definitions of “arbitrary detention.” Under this definition the IPA records cases of journalists, human rights defenders, political activists, social media activists, religious minority practitioners and more.
    1. The one exception the IPA makes under this definition is that we exclude cases of persons detained for expressing hateful views or participating in activities against others on the basis of gender, religion, race, sexuality, ethnicity, or immigration status;


  • Persons whose detention is rooted in a politically motivated activity, sometimes including alleged armed activities, and who reportedly received grossly unfair trials. For example, this category might include persons in which there is reasonable evidence that they did not have access to a lawyer or whose convictions were based almost wholly on confessions derived under torutre or ill-treatment. This definition is consistent in “Category Three'' the United Nations’ definitions of “arbitrary detention.” Exceptions are:
    1. The first exception IPA makes under this definition is that the IPA excludes anyone for which there is a credible allegation that they used violence aimed at civilians or worked with organizations that used violence against civilians. Cases in which there is a credible allegation that the prisoner participated in political violence aimed solely at the security arm of the state are recorded in the IPA and housed under “facing other political charges.”
    2. Those arrested on charges of espionage and cooperation with hostile governments, unless it is determined to be an espionage case in Iran's judiciary having a political purpose, whatever it is or the baseless accusation which has been determined for public opinion, international human rights organizations or Iran Prison Atlas researchers with grossly unfair trials;
    3. Cases which lack sufficient evidence to be properly categorized.

The IPA generally uses the term 'political prisoner’ over ‘prisoner of conscience’ because the term ‘prisoner of conscience’ is narrow and excludes anyone associated with political violence or promoting political violence in their speech.

 

Are profiles made for prisoners as soon as they are arrested?

The IPA has set a minimum detention time of about two weeks before a detention is recorded on the database (one month in the case of mass arrest situations). It may take up to a month or more to record a person's information in IPA because many cases are not publicly known, especially in instances of mass arrests, or it might take time for the IPA team to properly verify the circumstances around the detention.

 

Is the IPA useful for political activists, academics, or human rights organizations?

Iran Prison Atlas is an advocacy tool for NGOs, activists, foreign governments, and all people working to improve human rights in Iran. The Atlas is designed to record the treatment of every current Iranian political prisoner.

By dividing prisoners by activity, gender, religion, ethnicity, charges and human rights violations and combining them with our Timeline, the Iran Prison Atlas enables political, social, and human rights researchers and activists to:

  • Understand or detect possible patterns of human rights abuses
  • Plan to stop these patterns

 

With the help of the IPA human rights organizations can:

  • Use a reliable source for constant monitoring of the human rights situation of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience
  • Iran Prison Atlas’ interactive tools allow users to identify patterns of abuse by Iranian judges, mistreatment at various detention centers, and conviction trends based on race, religion, gender, activity, and other classifications

Key people in the Iranian human rights movement are using the Atlas. For example, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, regularly used the Atlas in his reports. Iran Prison Atlas has also been a pivotal tool in encouraging countries to vote for UN resolutions calling on Iran to improve its human rights record.

 

What should be considered in using the IPA?

The IPA researchers do not have access to everyone’s religion or ethnic information. For example, the ethnicity or religion of a blogger arrested in Shiraz is usually unclear. Many people are unable to define themselves as a specific ethnic group, and some sources do not answer questions about religion. Therefore, in using the IPA note that the "uncertain" option plays an important role in dealing with various issues, especially ethnic affiliation or religious belief. 

The IPA may record a person's possible ethnic or religious affiliation depending on geographic location, source of news, and other factors.

Generally, the judicial security system acts on the basis of a family's religion except in cases where a prisoner is arrested for religious reasons. For example, if someone is recorded as Shia in the IPA, it doesn't necessarily mean that he or she has Shiite beliefs as well. The family’s religion is assumed to be Shiite due to the geographic area of the arrest and political representation.

The IPA sets the basis of prisoner’s rights on Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code unless the Judiciary's refusal to comply with this article is substantiated.

In the Judges section, the “Other / total Sentences” option may be used for cases where the prisoner's sentence has changed in unusual ways, such as forgiveness of the sentences or instances where multiple cases of a prisoner have been combined.

In Iran’s judiciary, exile has various legal and illegal forms. The IPA records the exile on the prisoner’s profile in three forms: "Exile" for people who have been sentenced only to exile, “Exile” and “exiled to prison outside the city of residence” for those who have been sentenced to exile in prison and "exiled to prison outside the city of residence" for those who have been exiled without a judge's order.

The IPA considers detention in a closed room or suite for more than two weeks as an imprisonment in solitary confinement.

The IPA records a hunger strike when a prisoner refuses to eat, receive serum, or otherwise take nutrients for at least a week.

The IPA records visits and phone calls barring when a prisoner is deprived of a visit or a telephone call for more than two weeks and also in the early days after being arrested.

Whereas the Iranian government deprives political prisoners of having an elected lawyer during the preliminary hearing and the judiciary has also endorsed this organized deprivation, the IPA generally assumes no access to a lawyer unless the contrary is proved.

The IPA assumes that the detainee has been released if there is no information on the continued detention.

The IPA researchers may omit partial information such as a prisoner's multi-day transfer from detention to prison before release. This approach is necessary for the unification and deletion of statistical outliers.

 

How is the scope of prisoners' activity determined?

The IPA classifies prisoners based on the scope of their possible activity. There are currently 16 activity scopes in the IPA. Three of these are explained below:

  • Facing other religious charges: the IPA will list prisoners in the category of “facing other religious charges“ if the individual is charged with collaborating with armed religious groups or promoting them and informed sources have been silent about the case. This category is originally temporary, and associated profiles will either be deleted or transferred to other categories.
  • Facing other political charges: the IPA will list prisoners in the category of “facing other political charges“ if the scope of activity of a prisoner is completely unclear or he/she is charged with using weapons or espionage activities and there is insufficient information to delete the profile or move it to other categories.
  • Accused of collaboration with foreign governments: Dual Citizen Defendants who have been arrested for political reasons as a result of internal conflicts or for foreign concessions or people who have been arrested on charges such as espionage or contact with hostile governments according to domestic and international human rights organizations or public opinion will be listed in this category. 

I know someone who has been arrested in Iran for ideological or political reasons. Why can't I find her/his name in the IPA?

  • The person may have been in detention for less than two weeks
  • The IPA may avoid recording some arrests to keep people safe. This happens in very rare cases
  • The person may have been arrested and released before the IPA began data collection. The IPA has collected and validated all published news since autumn 2016 and has increased its contacts with informed sources. Those who testify about human rights abuses or give their information and available evidence to the IPA and those who describe various aspects of a collective case, the status of a prison, or the behavior of a judge are the exceptions of the time limit
  • The person you are considering may not be a political prisoner according to the guidelines mentioned above;
  • The IPA researchers may not be able to find the information of the person you are looking for or their data are in the validation phase. If you believe this is the case, please contact us at ipa[at]united4iran.org.


I know someone who has been arrested in Iran for ideological or political reasons, a judge who has made a ruling for political or ideological reasons or a detention center where someone is imprisoned for political and ideological reasons. Can I add my own information to the IPA?

Please send an email to ipa[at]united4iran.org, If you have information about a political prisoner, judge, prison or detention center, or a security or judicial center involved in dealing with political or ideological activists. Our researchers will review your information and publish it when validated, or contact you for further review.

 

Is the Iran Prison Atlas, really an Atlas?

The Iran Prison Atlas is really an Atlas. The only difference between this Atlas with conventional Atlases is that its researchers are both searching for what happened in the past and are currently updating information.

Please note that the information of all prisoners is not published in the media, and some files cannot be accessed by the IPA. The fact is, there is no reliable estimate of the number of such cases.

The Atlas enables users not only to zoom in and see the story of one person but also to zoom out and see patterns and trends of abuse among Iranian prisons and judges. The Atlas pairs unique stories with the big picture and is a valuable tool for anyone working for judicial and prison reform and the release of all political prisoners.

A real-time interactive map shows the distribution and the population of political prisoners in each prison. Users can monitor trends or drill into the data by focusing, for example, only on lockups administered by the Ministry of Intelligence.

A demographic matrix helps users sort current political prisoners based on ethnicity, gender, charges, and other classifications. Finally, Iran Prison Atlas ranks judges based on a number of factors, including those who have given the highest average prison terms against current political prisoners, highest total verdicts against political prisoners, or the highest number of procedural violations against political prisoners.

 

What is the reason for citing the source in some cases and not citing in other cases?

  • The most important variable in citing or not citing sources is to maintain the security of the resources that Atlas has used. In some cases, we do not cite the source for similar reasons.
  • Atlas has been completely rewritten twice. In these rewrites, the resource section has been completely deleted once. Unfortunately, there are resources that are no longer available due to changes to the website, but users and researchers who have any questions about our sources can email ipa[at]united4iran.org. We will respond as soon as possible. 


What kinds of violations are entered into the IPA?

The violations entered into the IPA are based on articles of international law signed by the Iranian government. Since the Iranian security and judicial system violates the Iranian and international law systematically, we were forced to intensify the legal criteria, appointed by international covenants, general comments, and Iranian domestic law. Otherwise, we had to enter most of the violations for most political prisoners, which could lead to senseless and indifferential statistics.

 

Legal responsibility 

The Iran Prison Atlas Group and United for Iran have a multi-step process to validate the information on each case. This process was designed by Atlas researchers with over 10 years of experience in investigating Iranian political prisoners, prisons, and judges. However, gathering information on cases governed by a non-independent and purposely vague judiciary has many challenges and unusual complexities. As such, the United for Iran organization has no legal responsibility for the information provided.

Human rights activists and researchers interested in more details or related resources can email ipa[at]united4iran.org. We will respond to emails promptly. The Iran Prison Atlas Group expresses its willingness to cooperate with other human rights activists and those who seek to support political and ordinary prisoners.

 

Take Action

Share the Iran Prison Atlas with your network. Click on the take action button to support an individual prisoner or a class of persecuted people in Iran. You can contact us with information or questions at ip[at]united4iran.org.