White torture

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White torture is a type of psychological torture[1][2] that includes extreme sensory deprivation and isolation.[2][3][4] Carrying out this type of torture makes the detainee lose personal identity through long periods of isolation.[5][6]

Allegations of usage[edit]


In Iran, white torture (Persian: شكنجه سفيد‎) has been practiced on political prisoners.[7] Most political prisoners who experience this type of torture are journalists[8] held in the Evin prison.[9] According to Hadi Ghaemi, carrying out such tortures in Evin are not necessarily authorized directly by the Iranian government.[10]

It can include prolonged periods of solitary confinement, the use of continual illumination to deprive sleep (listed in 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 rapporteur 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.[11][12] [13]

An Amnesty International report in 2004[3] documented evidence of "white torture" on Amir Abbas Fakhravar, by the revolutionary guards. According to the report, which called his case the first known example of white torture in Iran[14] claimed 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".[15][16][17] Upon his arrival in the US, Fakhravar confirmed this report in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network.[18]

In a telephone call to the Human Rights Watch in 2004, Iranian journalist Ebrahim Nabavi made the following claim regarding White torture:

"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."[19]

Kianush Sanjari, an Iranian blogger and activist who had allegedly experienced this type of torture in 2006 claimed that:

"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."[20]

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 hunger strike but he was denied medical attention before he died.[21]

United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)[edit]

John McGuffin's book "The Guinea Pigs" details the use of sensory deprivation used in Northern Ireland by the British Army until the UK conviction in 1971 of torture before the European Court in the Hague, later downgraded to "severe maltreatment".[citation needed] This consisted of hooding and dressing in thick boiler suits and being made to stand against a wall on tip-toe and being subject to "white noise". This technique was developed largely in order to avoid accusations of torture (by not inflicting physical pain, but an absence of stimulus) while still providing an interrogation tool. The antecedents of this had been experiments carried out in Canada on volunteers, ostensibly in support of a manned space programme.[citation needed] These had to be discontinued due to the severity of the psychiatric symptoms induced.[citation needed] The UK Government brought together experience of previous torture carried out in various colonial wars - Fort Morbut in Yemen, Hola Camp in Kenya and in Cyprus - in a conference held at Ashford Joint Intelligence Centre in Kent. Photographs taken during the Abu-Ghraib scandal indicate similar techniques being employed by the US Army.[citation needed]

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.[22][23] 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."[24]


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".[25][26][27][28][29] The cells are two by three meters that have a cement bed, white walls, security cameras, no windows and barred doors, with each cell aligned next to one another so there are no interactions between prisoners.[26] Such conditions have caused prisoners to become very ill, though they are denied medical treatment.[29] 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 Metro Caracas cars.[25][26][28] Allegations of torture in La Tumba, specifically white torture, are also common, with some prisoners attempting to commit suicide.[26][27][28] Such conditions according to NGO Justice and Process are to force prisoners to plead guilty to crimes they are accused of.[26]

In art[edit]

  • German artist Gregor Schneider based his room design of "Weiße Folter" (lit. German for White torture) on this idea.[30][31]
  • The film "White" ("Lavan" in Hebrew, 2011) directed by Israeli director Guilhad Emilio Schenker is based on testimonies about the "White torture" in Iran. The film participated at more than 70 film festivals around the world, won 12 international prizes and was broadcast in 10 countries.[citation needed] Direct link to the film: http://vimeo.com/39217482
  • 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's for sensory deprivation, and that bits of color will be added as she begins to cooperate.[32][33]


  1. ^ Ruxandra Cesereanu, "An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century" (PDF). (703.3 KiB), Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies (JSRI), Summer 2006.
  2. ^ a b "Educational Aids to Work with Survivors of Torture and Organized Violence". (704 KiB), Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), 2004, p. 50.
  3. ^ a b Helping to break the Silence: Urgent Actions on Iran, Amnesty International, April 1, 2004.
  4. ^ Lionel Beehner, Iran's Waning Human Rights, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), August 9, 2006.
  5. ^ Call for Action Against Isolation and Torture, TML Daily, December 12, 2003.
  6. ^ David Morgan, Violations of human...rights of the Kurds in Turkey, Kurdish Media, March 22, 2005.
  7. ^ Karl Vick, Report Cites 'Climate of Fear' in Iran, The Washington Post, June 7, 2004.
  8. ^ UN human rights commission urged to sanction Iran, Reporters Without Borders, March 15, 2005.
  9. ^ Amnesty International, Iran:... Kianoosh Sanjari, January 10, 2007.
  10. ^ Doug Saunders, Few know who is held behind the tiled walls of Tehran's Evin prison, February 19, 2007
  11. ^ Vahid Asghari was beaten to make confess - "Human Rights Group in US"
  12. ^ United Nations Report -" IranHRDC"
  13. ^ Asghari spent 7 years in prison without court's final verdict - " The official facebook page "
  14. ^ Sarah Baxter. Fugitive pleads with US to 'liberate' Iran, The Sunday Times, May 21, 2006. Retrieved on March 10, 2007.
  15. ^ United States Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Iran in 2006, March 6, 2007.
  16. ^ Cathy McCann [1], NEAR International, March 17, 2004.
  17. ^ Eli Lake, Iranian Dissident to Seek Support For Opposition, The New York Sun, May 9, 2006.
  18. ^ Kenneth R. Timmerman, Sins of Omission, Sins of Commission, Frontpagemag, September 8, 2006.
  19. ^ Like the Dead...Crushing of dissidents in Iran, Human Rights Watch, June 2004
  20. ^ Golnaz Esfandiar, Iranian activist believes blog caused detention, International Relations and Security Network (ISN), January 12, 2007
  21. ^ Iran: Investigate Suspicious Deaths in Detention, Release Activists
  22. ^ Guantanemo conditions 'worsening' BBC News April 4, 2007
  23. ^ US: Did President Bush Order Torture Human Rights Watch, Dec. 21, 2004
  24. ^ European Democratic Lawyers (EDL) statement on Guantanamo Bay and other detention centres European Democratic Lawyers July, 2004
  25. ^ a b "Un calabozo macabro". Univision. 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  26. ^ a b c d e Vinogradoff, Ludmila (10 February 2015). ""La tumba", siete celdas de tortura en el corazón de Caracas". ABC. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Jan Thorn-Prikker, Gregor Schneider: When Violence Takes the Form of a Room, January, 2007.
  31. ^ ARTSGATE, News, March 17, 2007.
  32. ^ Screen Grab https://twitter.com/DeanGeorgaris/status/943675669204033536
  33. ^ Plot summary including white room http://starrymag.com/the-brave-desperate-measures/