White torture

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White torture, often referred to as white room torture, is a type of psychological torture[1][2] technique aimed at complete sensory deprivation and isolation. A prisoner is held in a cell that deprives them of all senses and identity.[2][3][4] It is particularly used in Iran; however, there is also evidence of its use by the Venezuelan and the United States intelligence services.[5][6]


Visually, the prisoner is deprived of all colour.[2] Their cell is completely white: the walls, floor and ceiling, as well as their clothes and food.[7][better source needed] Neon tubes are positioned above the occupant in such a way that no shadows appear.[7]

Auditorily, the cell is soundproof, and void of any sound, voices or social interaction.[7] Guards stand in silence, wearing padded shoes to avoid making any noise.[1] Prisoners cannot hear anything but themselves.[8]

In terms of taste and smell, the prisoner is fed white food—classically, unseasoned rice—to deprive them of these senses. Further, all surfaces are smooth, robbing them of the sensation of touch.[7]

Detainees are often held for months, or even years.[7] The effects of white torture are well-documented in a number of testimonials.[7] Typically, prisoners will become depersonalized by losing personal identity for extended periods of isolation; causing hallucinations, or even psychotic breaks.[7][9][10]



According to human rights organizations and other NGOs, the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) of the Venezuelan government holds political prisoners in the lower levels of SEBIN's headquarters, which has been deemed by government officials "The Tomb".[11][5][12][13][14] The cells are two by three meters (6 ft 7 in by 9 ft 10 in) with a cement bed, white walls, security to one another so that there is no interaction between prisoners.[5] Such conditions have caused prisoners to become very ill, but they are denied medical treatment.[14] Bright lights in the cells are kept on so prisoners lose their sense of time and the temperature is below freezing, with the only sounds heard being from the nearby Caracas Metro trains.[11][5][13] Reports of torture in La Tumba, specifically white torture, are also common, with some prisoners attempting to commit suicide.[5][12][13] Such conditions according to the NGO Justice and Process are to make prisoners plead guilty to the crimes that they are accused of.[5]

Allegations of use[edit]


In Iran, white torture (Persian: شكنجه سفيد) has been practiced on political prisoners.[15] Most political prisoners who experience this type of torture are journalists[16] held in the Evin prison.[17] "Amir Fakhravar, the Iranian white room prisoner, was tortured [at Evin prison] for 8 months in 2004. He still has horrors about his times in the white room."[8] According to Hadi Ghaemi, such tortures in Evin are not necessarily authorized directly by the Iranian government.[18]

It can include prolonged periods of solitary confinement, the use of continual illumination to deprive sleep (listed in the Geneva Convention on Basic Human Rights, 1949) often in detention centers outside the control of the prison authorities, including Section 209 of Evin Prison.

Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special human rights reporter in Iran, mentioned in a statement that human rights activist Vahid Asghari was psychologically tortured by means of long-term detention in solitary confinement and with threats to arrest, torture or rape his family members. He was also reportedly tortured with severe beatings for the purpose of eliciting confessions.[19][20]

A 2004 Amnesty International report[3] documented the use of white torture on Amir Fakhravar by the Revolutionary Guards, the first known example of white torture in Iran[21] It states that "his cells had no windows, and the walls and his clothes were white. His meals consisted of white rice on white plates. To use the toilet, he had to put a white piece of paper under the door. He was forbidden to speak, and the guards reportedly wore shoes that muffled sound".[22][23][24] Upon his arrival in the US, Fakhravar confirmed this report in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.[citation needed]

In a telephone call to the Human Rights Watch in 2004, the Iranian journalist Ebrahim Nabavi said:

"Since I left Evin, I have not been able to sleep without sleeping pills. It is terrible. The loneliness never leaves you, long after you are 'free.' Every door that is closed on you.... This is why we call it 'white torture.' They get what they want without having to hit you. They know enough about you to control the information that you get: they can make you believe that the president has resigned, that they have your wife, that someone you trust has told them lies about you. You begin to break. And once you break, they have control. And then you begin to confess."[25]

Kianush Sanjari, an Iranian blogger and activist who was tortured in 2006 reported:

"I feel that solitary confinement—which wages war on the soul and mind of a person—can be the most inhuman form of white torture for people like me, who are arrested solely for (defending) citizens' rights. I only hope the day comes when no one is put in solitary confinement [to punish them] for the peaceful expression of his ideas."[26]

On December 20, 2018, Human Rights Watch urged the regime in Iran to investigate and find an explanation for the death of Vahid Sayadi Nasiri, who had been jailed for insulting the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to his family, Nasiri had been on a hunger strike but was denied medical attention before he died.[27]

United States[edit]

Detainees upon arrival at Camp X-Ray in January 2002, wearing goggles, masks, gloves, and earmuffs.

The United States has been accused by Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations of using "extreme isolation and sensory deprivation... detainees confined to windowless cells... days without seeing daylight" along with other torture techniques with the approval of the George W. Bush administration[28][29] under the euphemism "enhanced interrogation."[30] The organization of European Democratic Lawyers (EDL) has explicitly accused the United States of white torture: "Fundamental rights are violated on the part of the United States. In Guantánamo, prisoners are held under sensory deprivation, ears and eyes covered, hands and feet tied, hands in thick gloves, held in cages without any privacy, always observed, light day and night: This is called white torture."[6] Rainer Mausfeld has criticized the practice.[31]

In media[edit]

  • German artist Gregor Schneider based his room design of "Weiße Folter" (lit. German for White torture) on this idea.[32][33]
  • The Brave (TV series) Episode 10 "Desperate Measures" January 8, 2018. A team member is held in an Iranian black site for interrogation. The room is all white, as is her and the guards clothing and the minimal furniture. The interrogator explains it is intended to cause sensory deprivation, and that bits of color will be added as she begins to cooperate.[34][35]


  1. ^ a b Cesereanu, Ruxandra (Summer 2006). "An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century" (PDF). Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies (JSRI).
  2. ^ a b c Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT) (2004). "In Our Midst: Educational Aids to Work with Survivors of Torture and Organized Violence" (3rd ed.). p. 50 – via Grupo de Accion Comunitaria / Psicosocial.net.
  3. ^ a b "Helping to break the Silence: Urgent Actions on Iran" (PDF). Amnesty International. 31 March 2004. p. 2. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  4. ^ Beehner, Lionel (9 August 2006). "Iran's Waning Human Rights". Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Vinogradoff, Ludmila (10 February 2015). ""La tumba", siete celdas de tortura en el corazón de Caracas". ABC. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  6. ^ a b "European Democratic Lawyers (EDL) statement on Guantanamo Bay and other detention centres". www.statewatch.org. July 2004.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Lilith (2016-02-18). "White torture: the damage it can cause". Emadion. Retrieved 2020-09-24.
  8. ^ a b "A Psychological Torture Method Called "White Torture"". Unbelievable Facts. 2017-01-06. Retrieved 2020-01-20.
  9. ^ Call for Action Against Isolation and Torture, TML Daily, December 12, 2003.
  10. ^ David Morgan, Violations of human...rights of the Kurds in Turkey, Kurdish Media, March 22, 2005.
  11. ^ a b "Un calabozo macabro". Univision. 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Unearthing The Tomb: Inside Venezuela's Secret Underground Torture Chamber". Fusion. 2015. Archived from the original on July 29, 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  13. ^ a b c "Political protesters are left to rot in Venezuela's secretive underground prison". News.com.au. 25 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  14. ^ a b "Statement of Santiago A. Canton Executive Director, RFK Partners for Human Rights Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights" (PDF). United States Senate. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 29, 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  15. ^ Karl Vick, Report Cites 'Climate of Fear' in Iran, The Washington Post, June 7, 2004.
  16. ^ UN human rights commission urged to sanction Iran, Reporters Without Borders, March 15, 2005.
  17. ^ Amnesty International, Iran:... Kianoosh Sanjari, January 10, 2007.
  18. ^ Saunders, Doug (February 19, 2007). "Few know who is held behind the tiled walls of Tehran's Evin prison". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on February 22, 2007.
  19. ^ "Vahid Asghari was beaten to make confess - "Human Rights Group in US"". Bcrgroup.us. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  20. ^ "United Nations Report -" IranHRDC"". Archived from the original on 2015-07-02. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  21. ^ Baxter, Sarah (May 21, 2006). "Fugitive pleads with US to 'liberate' Iran". The Sunday Times. Archived from the original on February 11, 2008. Retrieved March 10, 2007.
  22. ^ United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Iran in 2006, March 6, 2007.
  23. ^ Cathy McCann [1], NEAR International, March 17, 2004.
  24. ^ Lake, Eli (May 9, 2006). "Iranian Dissident to Seek Support For Opposition". The New York Sun.
  25. ^ Like the Dead...Crushing of dissidents in Iran, Human Rights Watch, June 2004
  26. ^ Golnaz Esfandiar, Iranian activist believes blog caused detention, International Relations and Security Network (ISN), January 12, 2007
  27. ^ "Iran: Investigate Suspicious Deaths in Detention, Release Activists". Human Rights Watch. 13 February 2018. Retrieved 2019-09-10.
  28. ^ Guantanemo conditions 'worsening' BBC News April 4, 2007
  29. ^ US: Did President Bush Order Torture Human Rights Watch, Dec. 21, 2004
  30. ^ "These Are The 13 'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques' The CIA Used On Detainees". Business Insider. Associated Press. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  31. ^ Mausfeld, Rainer (2009). "Psychologie, 'weiße Folter' und die Verantwortlichkeit von Wissenschaftlern" (PDF). Psychologische Rundschau (in German). 60 (4): 229–240. doi:10.1026/0033-3042.60.4.229. Retrieved 21 August 2019. Translated as "Psychology, 'White Torture' and the Responsibility of Scientists" (PDF). Translated by Ekrol, Vebjörn. Retrieved 21 August 2019. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  32. ^ Jan Thorn-Prikker, Gregor Schneider: When Violence Takes the Form of a Room, January, 2007.
  33. ^ ARTSGATE, News, March 17, 2007.
  34. ^ "Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 2021-11-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ "The Brave – Desperate Measures". 15 January 2018. Retrieved 2021-11-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)