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The Evin prison in Iran is showing grim conditions, according to leaked footage

A guard at Iran's notorious Evin prison suddenly focuses his attention when the monitors in front him suddenly flash off and show something completely different to what he was watching.

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The Evin prison in Iran is showing grim conditions, according to leaked footage

The monitors flash with the words "Cyberattack". Others gather around the monitors, holding their phones high and making urgent calls or filming. Another line reads: "General protest until freedom of political prisoners."

A fake online account belonging to a group of hackers shared footage from the incident and other surveillance video with The Associated Press. The hackers claimed that the footage was being released to expose the harsh conditions in the prison. This prison is known for its holding political prisoners as well as those with connections abroad, who are often used as bargaining chips when negotiations with the West.

One part of the footage shows a man breaking a mirror in a bathroom to open his arm. Surveillance cameras captured scenes in which prisoners and guards beat each other. To keep warm, inmates sleep in single rooms with three-foot high bunk beds against the walls.

"We want the whole world to hear our call for the freedom of all political prisoners," reads a message sent by the online account to the AP Dubai.

Iran has been criticised by the United Nations special reporteur for its prison conditions. It did not respond immediately to a request to comment made to its U.N. mission at New York. The incident at Evin has not been acknowledged by Iranian state media.

However, several embarrassing hacking incidents have struck Iran amid ongoing tensions over its accelerated nuclear program and as talks with the West over reviving the atomic accord between Tehran and world powers remain on hold.

The AP was contacted by four former prisoners at Evin and an Iranian human rights activist overseas, who said that the videos resembled areas of the northern Tehran facility. The scenes were also matched with photographs taken at the facility by journalists previously, as well images from the prison seen in satellite photos accessed the AP.

Also shown are rows of sewing machines used by prisoners, a solitary confinement cells with squat toilets and areas outside the prison. Images of the prison's open air exercise yard, prisoners bathrooms, and offices are included.

Many of the footage has timestamps that date back to 2020 or this year. Many videos that do not have the stamp feature guards in facemasks. This indicates they arrived during the coronavirus pandemic.

The videos speak of the harsh world that prison inmates live in, even though there is no sound. One sequence shows an apparently emaciated man being dumped in a car parking lot and then being dragged through prison. Another sequence shows a cleric going down the stairs, passing the man without stopping.

In another video, guards are seen beating a prisoner wearing a uniform. One guard punches a prisoner while he is in a cell. As prisoners, guards can also fight each other. Many people are squeezed into single-room cells. No one is allowed to wear a facemask.

The account that shared videos with the AP is called "The Justice of Ali", a reference to the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, who is highly revered by Shiites. It mocks Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

It claimed it had "hundreds" and gigabytes data from a hack that was carried out several months ago. It didn't answer any questions regarding who was responsible for the leak.

According to the account, the leak was linked to the election of Ebrahim Raisi as Iranian President. Raisi is a hard-line Khamenei acolyte who was involved in the executions of thousands of Iranian civilians in 1988 after the Iran-Iraq War.

"The Evin prison is an infliction on Raisi’s black turban, and white beard," reads the message displayed on the prison control room's screens.

Iran, which has been long sanctioned in the West, is having difficulties with up-to date hardware and software. They often rely on older systems or Chinese-made electronics. For example, the control room system in the video appeared to be running Windows 7. Microsoft no longer offers patches for Windows 7. This would make it easier to target a hacker. It is common for Iran to have pirated versions of Windows or other software.

In recent months, Iran's railroad system was targeted by an apparent cyberattack. Other self-described hacker groups have published details about Iranians alleging hacking on behalf of the theocracy. The most famous cyberattack, the Stuxnet virus which destroyed Iranian centrifuges during the height of Western concerns over Tehran's program, is widely believed to have been an American or Israeli invention.

Evin prison was constructed under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1971. It was home to political prisoners at the time and later after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the shah.

Although technically under Iran's prison system control, Evin has special units for political prisoners as well as those with Western ties. These units are managed by the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard which only answers to Khamenei. Both the United States and European Union have placed sanctions on the facility.

Many of the protesters who were arrested in Iran after the 2009 election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (hard-liner president) ended up in Evin. After hearing about abuses in the prison, lawmakers pushed for reforms to Evin. This led to the installation closed-circuit cameras.

However, the problems did not stop. U.N. Special Reporter Javaid Rehman repeatedly identified Evin prison as a place of abuses of prisoners in his reports. Rehman in January warned that Iran's prison system was facing "long-standing overcrowding" and "insurmountable barriers to responding to COVID-19.

He wrote that prisoners of conscience and political prisoners had contracted COVID-19, or suffered symptoms. Many were denied testing or treated or delayed in receiving results.

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