Iran is one of the more democratic states in its region. Criticisms of its regime are often made cynically by those looking for excuses to invade it. As a result, it is easy to forget what complete cockfarmers the rulers of Iran are. It is sometimes said that liberal democratic states have a self-perpetuating power elite that exercises real control despite the facade of elections. In Iran, the self-perpetuating power elite's role is written into the constitution.
With the real organs of state power largely outside the remit of the elected bits of Iran's government, it is no surprise that they behave in the most thuggish and nakedly authoritarian manner. At the moment Ms Haleh Esfandiari, a visiting academic, languishes in the terrifying Evin Prison, accused of being part of an international revolutionary syndicate led by George Soros; Iran is one of few countries where Soros' civil society organisation could be considered some kind of subversive organisation. Last year Mr Akbar Mohammadi died mysteriously in the same prison; he was serving a fifteen year jail term for organising student protests, and while in Evin he had suffered a spinal injury before allegedly dying of a heart attack. In 2005 Ms Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian photojournalist, was raped and tortured to death in Evin. These are obviously just the most famous victims of these seemingly unaccountable gangsters.
Somewhat ironically, perhaps, Evin Prison was famously used as a jail and torture centre by the Shah; the likelihood has to be that some of the regime's current stalwarts enjoyed its hospitality before the revolution. It is apparently situated next to an attractive park and tea house, both of which attract visitors to the area. If you find yourself there, be careful with any camera you have, lest you suffer the fate of Ms Kazemi (although Ms Fariba Amina seems to have got away with it; photos from her article on Payvand News of Iran)