Ahwazi: Interview with Civil Rights Activist Who Was a Victim of Torture and Detention in Iran
The following statement is based on an interview with an Ahwazi Iranian Civil Rights Activist, Mr Tofiq Hammadi, who tells about his experience, describing his extrajudicial arrest and the interrogations tortures and extremely long trials he faced, as well as the conditions of his detention and exile. He also explains his background and his work as a journalist and a human rights activist, contextualising it in the situation in the Ahwazi region of Iran and the April 2005 protests.
Below is an article published by Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation:
Victims and Witnesses// My Interrogator Said: Neither Imam Ali, Nor Khalif Omar, Not Even God is Here, Your Life is In My Hands
An Arab Iranian Civil Rights Activist's Account of His Arrest, Trial, Detention and Exile
This statement is true to the best of my knowledge and belief. Except where I indicate to the contrary, I make this statement on the basis of facts and matters within my own knowledge. To the extent that the facts and matters in this statement are within my own knowledge, they are true. Where the facts and matters are not within my own knowledge, I have identified the source or sources of my information and I believe such facts to be true.
My name is Tofiq Hammadi. I was born in Ahvaz in 1973. I have a high school diploma. My childhood and adolescence coincided with the Iran-Iraq war. Back then, our family lived in the Lasgharabad neighborhood. Ahvaz was constantly being bombed and shelled. In 1982, a shell hit our house and partially destroyed it. We moved to [the city of] Shushtar because of the war and lived there between 1982 and 1988.
I chose submission of human rights reports and journalism as my main activity
My income was low and I never held an official or governmental position. At the time of my arrest, I was working with one of my friends who owned a shoe store. I was not an official member of any political group or organization but I was, and still am, in contact with Ahvazi Arab non-governmental organizations, as well as civil and human rights activists, both inside and outside the country.
My first political fight consisted of participation in Ahvazi Arab demonstrations in 1985-86, which started subsequent to Ettela’at newspaper printing an offensive quote by Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani regarding Ahvaz’ Arab population. This was the beginning of my struggle, which started when I was 14 and has continued to this day. Conditions for political activity were very difficult after the war. Under Khatami’s administration, however, many institutions and NGO’s started operating. One such organization was the “Vefaq Party.” I wasn’t a member but I participated in a lot of their activities. I also participated in other groups’ programs and activities, such as the al-Amjad Institute.
Since 1985, and after I had done some research and reading, I developed a better perspective, saw the oppression of the people, and understood many things. I realized how poor our people were in spite of the richness of our land. I never believed in arms and armed struggle because that’s exactly what the Islamic Republic wants. The Islamic Republic has no regard for human life. We live in the age of communications and we can easily have contact with the rest of the world; there is no need for the use of arms in our struggle. One of the reasons for the defeat of popular movements is imprecise information: many of the institutions and news agencies did not do an accurate coverage of Ahvaz’ Arab population’s protests, and this left the field open for the Islamic Republic for further oppression. That was why I chose submission of human rights reports and journalism as my main activity, so that I could let, not just Iran, but the whole world, hear the voice of Intifada.
Ahvaz’ April 2005 protests
Ahvaz’ Arab population’s protests first began on April 15, 2005 in the Shelangabad neighborhood, which was kind of close to our home. This is a neighborhood where most people are unemployed and where most protests in Ahvaz start. I participated in all the protests. Our problem was that we knew very few human rights activists at the time. We would, therefore, establish contact in any way we could, with anyone we knew to be active outside Iran with the purpose of providing them with news they could disseminate. I was in contact with Mr. Mussa Sharifi who worked at al-Arabia Farsi, with the late Mansur Ahvazi, secretary of Ahvaz’ Hambastegi Party in London, and with Salah Mazra’eh, secretary of the al-Ahvaz Popular Democratic Front in Canada, and provided them with the news of the protests.
Back then, few people in Ahvaz had access to a computer and the internet and so we always had to use phones and cell phones to disseminate the news. The Information Ministry was able, therefore, to easily monitor and record our conversations. But we had no other option than the phone.
The people of Ahvaz’ uprising were peaceful; they were not carrying arms at all. They were demonstrating day and night and chanting slogans such as “I will give my life for Ahvaz.” On the opposing side, the entirety of the Islamic Republic security and military forces participated in the suppression. In addition to the police force, the Revolutionary Guards and the plainclothes forces, auxiliary forces were brought in from outside of Khuzestan Province, from [the city of] Khorramabad, for instance. Additionally, forces from Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraq’s Badr Army’s 9th Division (which is the Revolutionary Guards Corps’ arm in Iraq) also participated in the suppression of Ahvazi Arabs’ uprising. Since reporting was my job, I tried to somehow talk to them to find out where they had come from. For instance, when I would see a stop and search station, I would approach them and ask a question like “Will I have any problems if I try to cross the street to go to my family’s home on the other side?” Then I would realize that some of them were speaking Arabic with a Lebanese accent. I personally saw them using weapons when arresting young people in the Shelangabad and Kut Abdollah neighborhoods. I was in the center of neighborhoods where people were protesting and I never heard of a single member of the police or the military being killed.
A 13-year-old kid named Yuness Shamusi was in the first line and chanting slogans like the rest of the demonstrators. I saw with my own eyes how a plainclothes agent, wearing a white shirt and kafiah, shot and killed this kid with his Kalashnikov... The entire neighborhood turned upside down at that point... When something like this happens, people will fight back with whatever they can get a hold of - sticks, stones, whatever
Malashieh is one of Ahvaz’ neighborhoods with an Arab population and is located alongside the Ahvaz-Khorramshahr Road, 15 to 20 minutes from our house. Across from Malashieh, there are gigantic industrial companies where, for example, metal rods and pipes are produced, and the majority of people who work there are not native to Ahvaz and have come there from other provinces. This is while everyone in Malashieh is unemployed. The Malashieh and Shelangabad neighborhoods are places where most popular protests begin.
I believe it was on the third day of the protests, that is, on April 17 or 18, when Malashieh was very busy and all the people had gathered at the entrance to the neighborhood and on the main road of Ahvaz to Khorramshahr, when, around 6 PM, the Revolutionary Guards Special Unit started throwing tear gas and shooting pellet guns at demonstrators. There were also anti-riot forces with green uniforms, clubs, shields and at times with pellet guns, as well as plainclothes forces wearing white shirts, Basiji pants, kafiahs, and carrying Kalashnikovs.
A 13-year-old kid named Yuness Shamusi was in the first line and chanting slogans like the rest of the demonstrators. I saw with my own eyes how a plainclothes agent, wearing a white shirt and kafiah, shot and killed this kid with his Kalashnikov. People raised him up on their hands and took him to his family, who started screaming. The entire neighborhood turned upside down at that point and a huge demonstration happened, with clashes continuing until nightfall. When something like this happens, people will fight back with whatever they can get a hold of - sticks, stones, whatever, because most people in the neighborhood are related.
Many arrests were made in the 2005 protests. On the first or second day (April 15 or 16), first the elite, cultural activists, and people belonging to NGO’s and to Vefaq Party, were arrested. The arrests continued, with more and more activists and young people being arrested. People and families would go to the police headquarters to obtain news of the arrestees. I went as well, to find out who had been arrested and to get pictures or other information. Eventually, they released some of the activists on bail and exiled others. People who were injured in the course of demonstrations were not taken to the hospital because they would immediately be arrested. People would treat the injured any way they could, inside their homes. I later saw one of these youths who had been shot with a pellet gun, at Karun Prison. The pellets were still in his body.
The Ahvazi Arabs’ uprising of April 2005 was different than the protests of previous years. The uprising did not end in a few days and continued extensively. Even though hundreds had been arrested, the struggle continued in other forms. Many of the young people I knew continued their activity by writing slogans, distributing leaflets, disseminating news and holding various meetings. After a month, however, things began to change in ways desired by the Information Ministry.
Ahvazi Arab youths are quickly radicalized, for various reasons, including lack of knowledge of civil struggle methods and because of the oppression they have suffered; they thus become prey to the Information Ministry. One of the methods used by the Information Ministry is to infiltrate demonstrations and have its agents distribute explosives and the like among demonstrators. Later, this becomes an excuse for the judge and the interrogator to sentence the accused on charges of Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz. I witnessed this firsthand: In one of our meetings, some of the participants were saying things like “they’re killing us, so we must take up arms.” One of the participants said that he could procure bombs and explosives. Because of my experience, I figured that the guy was an Information Ministry agent. Therefore I told them: “Don’t even think about doing something like this. It’s true that we are oppressed and injured but this is not right. We fight using only peaceful means and we fight the right way.”
I was home with my family on August 22, 2005, when about 6 armed plainclothes individuals entered the home around 12:30 PM. They drew their weapons as soon as I stood up. I pulled my shirt up and said: “Look, I’m unarmed.” They handcuffed me. When I asked if they had a warrant, they said “You know us” and did not show a warrant. They searched the entire house and they turned the closet, household items, appliances, the bedroom, the living room and simply everything upside down. They didn’t find anything except a CD about Katibeh Mohieddin al Nasser (the al-Nezal Movement’s military wing) which had been distributed in the entire city of Ahvaz.
They insulted my parents and my family as they were searching the house. They pushed my mother and my sister and hurled very nasty insults at my father. The Arabs among them insulted my father in Arabic. I was already handcuffed when they were taking me out of the house. The neighbors had gathered at the front door, some crying, some telling me to be strong. An old woman from [the city of] Khorramshahr who spoke Farsi well told the agents that she had been our neighbor for twenty years and had never seen us do anything wrong. Outside, there were three police cars and three unmarked Peugeots (no military or government insignias). They put me in a car. Like everyone who gets arrested, I tried to find out where they were taking me. They blindfolded me and pushed my head down. We stopped after about 20 to 25 minutes and I heard the sound of a very large gate opening. As they got me out of the car, I stepped on gravel. Someone took me by the sleeve and after a five minute walk, I went down a number of steps and we entered a hall.
Someone asked whether I was Sunni or Shiite. I didn’t answer. I had never thought about saying whether I was Sunni or Shiite
I just stood there. I felt like it was very busy around me, a lot of people coming and going. Someone took my belt, my watch, and all of 150 Tumans cash I had in my pocket. Someone asked whether I was Sunni or Shiite. I didn’t answer. I had never thought about saying whether I was Sunni or Shiite. I just didn’t answer. Then they took me to a room and I felt the door close behind me. After a couple of minutes I lifted my blindfold and realized I was in a very small, 2 by 1.5 foot, gray-colored room. There was a very small window, so high up that you couldn’t reach, and all you could see was a wall behind it. There was also an old black carpet and a blanket. I sat and started reading the writings on the wall from previous detainees.
I was arrested along with 31 other individuals that day, of whom I was in contact with only two. One was a member of the Ahvaz Democratic Party and had friends in Syria he was in touch with. I would give him news items, photographs and reports that I prepared. That first day, I had my ear to a small opening at the bottom of the door to the solitary confinement cell and I was listening to the Farsi news on the radio. It said 32 individuals responsible for the Ahvaz bombings had been arrested. Suddenly somebody said: “Turn the radio off.”
I found out later where the detention center was: There is a Revolutionary Guards, Sixth Army garrison house in Chahar Shir Square, behind Abazar Hospital. There is a detention center inside this which is reserved for the Information Ministry; it is inside the garrison itself and separated from it by a wall. The entire detention center has 32 rooms, two of which are general, that is, reserved for detainees whose files have either been completed to be sent to court, or have already been sentenced. This general room has a bathroom and shower and sink inside the room and it’s almost four times the size of the solitary confinement cell I was in.
I was transferred to the general cell number 28 after about six months. I was in solitary cell number 32 before that. There were a number of Arab activists with me in the general cell. A lot of people were arrested in January-February 2006 and they had divided most of the guys who had been there a while between general rooms 27 and 28. The other cells were allotted to new arrivals. I even remember some of the guys who were in the general cell being transferred to Shiraz and Tehran detention centers. I remember hearing the voices of two small children and their mothers. I later found out they were Fahimeh Badavi, Ali Motirinejad’s wife, and the wife of Habib Nobgan, al-Ahvaz Liberation Army’s Secretary General. We could hear them in Cell 28 when they were being taken for recreation in the yard. I later found out Mrs. Fahimeh Badavi was pregnant and gave birth to a girl named Kowsar, right there at the Information Ministry Detention Center.
This is what the interrogator told me at the very first moment: “I will make you talk. Here, there is no Imam Ali, no Khalif Omar, and not anybody else. Even God isn’t here. I hold your life in my hands. You see this pen? With this pen, I can hang you or set you free.”
I was there for about eight months. We would sometimes be four people in Cell 28, sometimes five, and sometimes just one person. The general cell had its own set of problems. For instance, there was a pipe in the bathroom that was always leaking. There was a fairly long distance between the pipe and the ground and so when the water dropped on the bathroom floor, it made a sound that was agonizing, especially at night. It was a form of torture. I once took my shirt off and hung it on the pipe so that it wouldn’t drip. The agents found out. They came in the room, showing my shirt, and asked: “Whose is this?” I said it was mine, and I was beaten for four or five hours for that reason alone.
Interrogation and Torture
I was taken to Cell 32 of the Information Ministry Detention Center when I was arrested. Two hours later, a guard took me to the interrogation room. The first thing they said was: “You are charged with acting against Iran’s national security.” I immediately denied the charge and the only thing I remember before I passed out was that I was kicked a few times and that a bunch of people were beating me. When I regained consciousness I realized I was in my cell. I don’t know how they had taken me there, but they took me back again after a few hours and the torture continued until the next morning.
I was under pressure and being tortured for six months. This is what the interrogator told me at the very first moment: “I will make you talk. Here, there is no Imam Ali (Prophet Mohammad successor, according to Shiites), no Omar (Prophet Mohammad’s second successor, according to Sunnis), and not anybody else. Even God isn’t here. I hold your life in my hands. You see this pen? With this pen, I can hang you or set you free.” For six months, all they wanted me to do was confess. They wanted me to confess that I was the one who had bombed such and such place, whereas I was against armed struggle as a matter of principle. I had several interrogators, each of whom used his own particular tone. Some were Lor, some were Arab. After three months they simply stopped showing up on Thursdays and Fridays.
Rooms 1 to 5 were interrogation and torture rooms and were located behind this door. These rooms resembled solitary confinement cells. There was a bed, two number 6 electric cables, and a carpet. There were also two very large ventilators that they would turn on when they were torturing prisoners so that the noise would drown out their screams, and other detainees would not be able to hear them.
I later learned that the detention center’s hall had two areas divided by an aluminum door which was closed at night. Rooms 1 to 5 were interrogation and torture rooms and were located behind this door. These rooms resembled solitary confinement cells. There was a bed, two number 6 electric cables (a fairly thick electric cable used to connect the electric meter to the city network cables), and a carpet. There were also two very large ventilators that they would turn on when they were torturing prisoners so that the noise would drown out their screams, and other detainees would not be able to hear them. But when I was being interrogated in rooms 1 to 5, I could hear them because I was close to those rooms.
I was tortured in various ways during my time at the Information Ministry Detention Center. One type took place in the interrogation room. The interrogator himself would kick or punch or hit you in the head with a table or chair. Or they would handcuff you to a clamp in such a way that you would not be fully seated on the chair; they did this when they didn’t want you to sleep. Another method was to send us to the torture room and someone other than the interrogator would torture us. We would be made to lie on our stomachs on a metal bed and our hands and feet would be tied to it with special cuffs. Then they would beat us so much with cables that you wished you were dead. They would beat the entire body, from head to toe. When you’re being beaten like that and are in unbelievable pain, the pressure from the cuffs on your wrists and ankles increases because of your movement and you start to bleed. And if you screamed too much, there was a military blanket that they would stuff in your mouth. Your mouth would then be dry and stiff like a wooden stick and filled with hair and other types of strands from the blanket. We would pass out; they would pour water on us and keep us conscious for a few minutes so we could breathe, then they would lie us down and start beating us again, and they would repeat this process. This went on for the first five months. They wouldn’t do it all the time but we were taken to the torture room at least two or three times a week.
When we called the names of the Imams, the Prophet, or God, under torture, they would say: “Do not say God, Ali, or Hossein. You have betrayed them all. You turned your back on them. You turned your back on the Islamic Republic. You are hypocrites. You betrayed our Master, Ali.” When we would ask them what their answer would be to God on Judgment Day for torturing us, they would reply: “Beating you has heavenly rewards. Beating you is legally (from a religious standpoint) permissible, we have a fatwa to that effect. Why? Because you are Mohareb, anti-revolutionary, against the Islamic Republic, against ‘the rule of the Most High Religious Scholar,’ and you are secessionists.” After the torture session ended, they would not allow you to drink water for a while. They would give you a special cream to rub on your wounds so that there wouldn’t be any scars. Sometimes they would rub it on us themselves.
Interrogations conducted in the night were very tough. Imagine they take you to a room, sleepy, and they start torturing you to make you confess, then they put you on a bed and give you 50, 100, 150, or 200 lashes, hard, to your face, your back, bottom of your feet, your head, anywhere they can; then they bring you back in the room and want you to confess.
Another method of torture was hanging: they would hang a rope from the ceiling in the torture room and tell you to stand on the table. Then they would put the rope around your neck and say: “See, this is the gallows,” and push you off the table, and just when you were about to suffocate and die, very quickly, they would cut the rope and you would fall on the ground. You literally suffocate for a few seconds. They got me to a point where I actually told them to hang me: “Why don’t you just hang me? Kill me and free me from this torture.” They did that to me a few times, more than four or five times.
They would reply: Beating you has heavenly rewards. Beating you is legally (from a religious standpoint) permissible, we have a fatwa to that effect. Why? Because you are Mohareb, anti-revolutionary, against the Islamic Republic, against ‘the rule of the Most High Religious Scholar,’ and you are secessionists
All of detention is torture, every second of it. Solitary confinement itself is torture. Sometimes the psychological torture was so hard that I purposely did something so they would beat me. That would do away with the psychological torture and I would be feeling only physical pain, which was easier to take. Imagine being in a 3 feet by 7 feet room, and they keep you there indefinitely. It’s very hard being in solitary when nobody comes for 48 years, it’s unbearable and frightening. Solitary confinement becomes hell; you feel like you’re about to go insane.
Each interrogation session was different than the other. One day you hear a woman screaming under torture. Another day the interrogator makes threats to the effect that they’re going to arrest your mother, or your sister, or your father, and bring them there. I mean, everyone has a red line when it comes to their family. They would say, for instance: “We’ll bring them here and rape them.” Just like that. You’re dealing with a bunch of savages; they look like human beings, they have hands, feet, eyes, and ears that resemble those of a human being, but they don’t have the slightest notion of what it means to be a human being.
I resisted a lot and didn’t accept any of the charges. Things are very hard for people who resist. The only thing that helped me under those circumstances was the Koran. The Koran helped me a lot. All they wanted us to do was confess. They knew we weren’t involved with any of that stuff. How? Because they had controlled and monitored us. I was communicating with the entire world from Iran on my cell phone. They had not arrested the Mohieddin al-Nasser Brigade yet and just wanted to somehow make a case against us. For example, they wanted me to confess that I was the one who had blown up the Governor’s office. I mean, he had even drawn a sketch, he had drawn everything. He was even writing everything himself: that “I had gotten the Fiat vehicle and parked it next to the Governor’s Building that I had gotten in the car with an individual who was the driver, I was sitting in the front and he was seated behind me…” They had written the scenario in such a way that if you showed it to anyone else, they would think that I was one of the people involved in the bombings. They just wanted us to confess. Right now if you look at my file in the Information Ministry, I have confessed that I have actually bombed such and such place. They would take you to the torture room and would flog you with cables for two to three hours, and then they would bring you back for interrogation. The interrogator would write the question and would tell you what to write in response, and would then take your finger and sign then paper.
Around the fifth month, several people had come from the National Radio and Television to do filming. There was a desk and some writing materials in one of the rooms, and they had pre-determined questions as well as answers. They said that we were supposed to express sorrow for what we had done and apologize to the people, and in the end, put our head on the table and cry. They had written a complete scenario. They removed the blindfold once they brought us to the room and sat us behind the desk. Several people were seated in front of us, with cameras and other equipment. They were wearing hats in such a way that you could not see their faces except maybe their eyes. Ultimately, I refused [to confess] and told them: “Send me to court and come and film me there.” They beat me severely but I still refused to say what they wanted me to say because they wanted me to confess to something I hadn’t done so they could execute me.
One night, they took me to the interrogation room. They brought a military uniform and military boots and a black hat and face mask where only the eyes could be seen; there was just enough room to breathe. They told me to put all of that on. Then they handed me a Kalashnikov and an RPG, and said: “Hold these in a military fashion. Now run a little in the hallway. Now do this … Hold it this way …” It was then that I felt like they were taking photos of me or recording my actions.
On one occasion, one of the interrogators by the name of Hassan Kaka, showed me pictures of people whose dead bodies were covered in blood or burned and asked: “What do you think about these people who were killed in the bombings?” “I do not agree with the killing of any human being and I don’t believe in it,” I replied. “One question, though. Where did this bombing take place,” I asked. They wouldn’t tell me at first but ultimately said that it was the Ahvaz’ Karun Parking bombing. Previously, when I was in Cell 28, one of the prisoners revealed to me that, prior to the explosions, he had confessed to the authorities about being part of a four or five-member group that had planned to bomb the Basij headquarters as well as several military installations. He had even given them the address of the group members. I told the interrogator: “Such and such person had given you information about this group and you knew who they were. So why didn’t you arrest them? Why did you allow the bombings to happen?” “Well, yes, we were negligent,” he stated. “You could have arrested these people before the bombings and prevented all these people from being killed. Why didn’t you do that? Shouldn’t you feel responsible for their murder too?” I said. I didn’t hear anything after that, I just remember being hit with an object and passing out. When I regained consciousness, it was questions, kicks, and punches until the next morning.
All of the people and friends I met in prison developed psychological problems due to extreme pressure. I, myself, have problems to this day. The seven or eight months I spent there are always with me; I think about it all the time and it never leaves me alone. I sleep very little at night and when I do, I have nightmares remembering the torture. Sometimes I jump out of bed feeling that I’m being tortured.
There was an Arab man at the detention center named Hassan Kaka. They took me to one of the rooms (numbers 1 to 5) after ten days, where my interrogator and this person were sitting. He said he was a judge, and proceeded to explain the charges, which were acting against national security and a number of other charges. He asked if I accepted those charges and I said I did not. Then he said: “Mr. Tadayon, come and take this guy away.”
They beat me severely but I still refused to say what they wanted me to say because they wanted me to confess to something I hadn’t done so they could execute me
One of the charges was membership in one of the parties outside the country. I had met someone in those days who was a member of the “Ahvaz Democratic Front,” which I was not aware of. My job was reporting the news, in any way possible, by phone, or via this person that I had met. He travelled to Syria and he was in contact with a many people there who were in the same party as he was and whose thinking was the same as his; these were things I did not know then and only found out later. In addition to this person, another friend who was close to me had been arrested. They bunched us up like this in a made up group [purely by association], and charged us with “Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz through formation of and membership in the Abu Hamzeh al-Ahvazi mini group, the military wing of the al-Ahvaz Arab Democratic Front.”
During interrogations, he would show me a printout of my phone calls abroad, or would make me listen to my phone conversations with Messrs. Mansur al-Ahvazi, Salah Mazra’eh, and Musa Sharifi, which they had tapped and recorded. He would say: “You say you’re not a member and you’re talking to them?” “My talking to them doesn’t mean I’m a member. I’m just reporting what I had witnessed,” I would reply. “Why do you accuse us of killing a 13-year-old boy in Malashieh” he would ask, for example. “Because I saw it with my own eyes. I saw how a plainclothes person, the Basiji with a kafiah around his neck, killed that boy,” I retorted. And at that point, he would start beating me and saying: “You have a big mouth. It was your distribution of leaflets and your reporting that made people come out in the street and get killed. You are the cause of the bombings, you are the reason why people were killed.” This took place on the last days of interrogations. After six months of solitary confinement, they wanted me to at least confess to being a member of such and such group.
Conditions of Detention
I had no contact with my family during the first four months of detention. And after that, I only had two short contacts; one was a phone call to my family that lasted two minutes (after four months) and the other one was when I visited with them after my trial. That was in approximately the beginning of the seventh month of incarceration that I was taken to the Information Ministry’s News Headquarters, handcuffed, shackled and blindfolded. There, I was allowed to visit with my family for ten minutes in the presence of an Information Ministry agent. I was limping a little that day. When I got up to kiss my mother’s hand, she immediately noticed and asked what was wrong. I said it was nothing and that my leg was numb from sitting. They had beaten me so hard with cables that I couldn’t walk and was limping, but they had warned me against talking about it.
I had no access to anything during my time at the Information Ministry Detention Center. It was as we lived in a different world; we had no contact with anyone other than the interrogator and the torturers. We even needed them just to go to the bathroom. They had specific hours when they would come and take us to the bathroom; for instance, to get washed up for prayers, around noon or at the time of the morning call to prayer. Other than that, if anyone needed to urgently go to the bathroom or take a shower, he had to knock on the door and ask, at which point they would sometimes open the door, hurl a couple of insults and then take them.
Once I asked for a Koran. They tortured me because I told them that if I had asked an Israeli for a Koran, he surely would have given me one, that an Israeli had more compassion than they did. That made them very angry
Newspapers and pens were prohibited. Books were limited to the Koran, Nahj-ol-Balagheh (book assumed to contain Imam Ali’s writings and speeches), and Mafatih (a prayer book). We used aluminum foil found in yogurt and butter packaging to write with. We would take the aluminum and cut it in the form of a circle which enabled us to write with it on the wall; it would have a grayish color like a pencil. Once in a while they would inspect the cell, and if there were too many writings or poetry, the prisoner would get beaten and tortured and told to erase everything. Once I asked for a Koran. They tortured me because I told them that if I had asked an Israeli for a Koran, he surely would have given me one, that an Israeli had more compassion than they did. That made them very angry.
After months at the detention center, I was taken out into the yard for the first and last time. When the sun’s rays hit me, my entire body started to itch, as if someone had poked me with a needle. I took one look at the sky and I thought I had gone blind, I couldn’t see anything. I frantically started to look for a shade somewhere so I could hide from the sun. After a few minutes, I broke a sweat and my itching went away a little, but I still couldn’t raise my head to look at the sun.
I was taken to court on February 27, 2006. They took us in a white van to the Revolutionary Court parking lot in Ahvaz’ Kian Pars neighborhood and kept us there until the end of business hours. Then they took us in one by one, to the Revolutionary Court Branch One. I was the second person to be taken in. I was in shackles and handcuffs, and once inside, they took the blindfolds off. I asked the judge to order that the handcuffs and the shackles be removed as well. “I have rights, and you’re an impartial person. Why should I stand trial like this,” I asked. He paid no attention and gave no answer. One of the Information Ministry interrogators whose voice I recognized was sitting next to him. He was laughing in a very sarcastic manner.
I asked the judge to order that the handcuffs and the shackles be removed as well. “I have rights, and you’re an impartial person. Why should I stand trial like this,” I asked. He paid no attention and gave no answer
The judge was a young guy named Ahmadi Golban. There was another person there called Piriai, who was the Ahvaz prosecutor, as I found out later. One of the Information interrogators was sitting next to me, along with an individual named Javad Tariri. When I sat down, the judge stated that the person sitting behind me was my attorney. He did not utter a word during the entire trial, and I defended myself alone. The trial was not fair at all. There really was no trial, everything had been pre-determined.
First, Piriai read the indictment for half an hour. Then the judge declared the court officially in session and said: “You are charged with Moharebeh, Efsad fel-Arz, and armed uprising against the Islamic Republic.” I got up and said: “On what basis do you accuse me of such crimes? Where is my tank? Where is my weapon? Where is my battalion? What country supported me? You didn’t even recover a toy gun from me.” “Do you deny these charges” he asked. “I do,” I responded. “You were in contact with foreigners outside the country and with persons who are against the Islamic Republic,” he stated. “Yes. I was in contact with Messrs. Mansur al-Ahvazi, Salah Mazra’eh, and Musa Sharifi,” I said. “Did you report on the events in Ahvaz” he asked. “Yes, I did,” was my reply. “Are you a member of the Democratic Front,” he queried. “I don’t belong to any group,” I responded. “You communicated with them. We have your voice recording,” he said. “That’s correct. I didn’t say I didn’t talk to them. I did. I reported. But that doesn’t mean I’m a member of their group. I am not a member of any party or group. I was only in communication with the outside, I only reported,” I said. “You distributed the letter from the Office of the President,” he stated. He was talking about the letter that was issued by [then-President] Mohammad Khatami’s office. “This letter is available in every website and on every street,” I retorted.
Then the judge declared the court officially in session and said: “You are charged with Moharebeh, Efsad fel-Arz, and armed uprising against the Islamic Republic.” I got up and said: “On what basis do you accuse me of such crimes? Where is my tank? Where is my weapon? Where is my battalion? What country supported me? You didn’t even recover a toy gun from me
I did not accept the charge of belonging to any group. The judge said that I had confessed. “I confessed under torture. It wasn’t as if I was in a nice hotel room, I was in a place where I was being tortured and so I accepted [whatever they wanted me to accept]. But I’m telling you here and now that I don’t accept any of it,” I stated. He said nothing. They didn’t ask a single thing about the bombings in court, not of me and not of the other four people, because they had arrested the Mohieddin Nasser Brigade and that took the pressure off of us a little.
They took us back to the Information Detention Center after trial. That same night, before dinner, two of my interrogators came and asked: “When did we torture you? Aren’t you a member [of those groups]?” I said I wasn’t a member of anything anywhere. “Let me prove to you that you are a Mohareb. By reporting and distributing leaflets, you caused people to be killed in the street and you are not any less guilty than someone who has planted a bomb. You are a Mohareb and Mofsed fel-Arz,” one of them said. “So you equate a murderer with a reporter,” I asked. At that point he said: “Now you have just opened your big mouth and your big mouth is going to get you in trouble.” Then he proceeded to beat me and insult my family, my sister, and my mother, and all I could do was scream.
A few days later, one of the interrogators came and told me: “You should thank God you won’t be hanged. You’ve been sentenced to five years imprisonment, three years in Ahvaz and two in Taibad, Khorassan Province.” No one among the five of us was sentenced to death. The Information Ministry had arrested all those involved in the bombings at that point. We were tried for “Moharebeh and Efsad fel-Arz through armed uprising against the Islamic Republic as members and supporters of the Ahvaz Arab People’s Democratic Front, and membership in Abu Hamzeh Group, a wing of the Ahvaz Arab People’s Democratic Front located in Khuzestan” and sentenced to long prison terms and exile on the charge of membership in the Abu Hamzeh Group.
In mid-March 2006, a few days before [the Iranian new year] Noruz, eight of us were transferred to Ahvaz’ Karun Prison in a white van.
My initial sentence was two years imprisonment at Karun Prison and three years imprisonment in exile in Taibad, [city of] Mashhad, Korassan Province. The sentence was modified, however, after we were sent to Karun Prison. After approximately 25 days, the prison counselor summoned us and announced our sentence as five years imprisonment in Karun Prison and three years exile in Bardaskan, Kohrassan.
As soon as we got to Karun Prison, and after the preliminary administrative work, Taher Tamimi, Bashir Hammadi, and I, were sent to Ward 8. None among those of us who were brought there from the Information Detention Center were able to sleep the first night. We wanted to see each other and talk. After a very tough period, we were finally able to breathe. We could take a walk, take a shower, see new people, and hear human voices.
Karun Prison has 6[JR1] wards connected through a single corridor, at the entrance to which is the internal watch officer’s cabin. For those of us in Ward 8, visitations were allowed once a week on Tuesdays, alternating between one week for men and one week for women. Visitation with your mother or your sister was mostly without barriers. At the time, the entire Karun Prison had four phone lines, located at the watch officer’s cabin. A specific day was allotted to calls for prisoners of a specific ward; they could speak maybe a total of one or two minutes. The food was very bad and unhealthy. Most prisoners were forced to buy canned tuna fish or other things from the prison store. There was a store in each ward where prisoners could buy what they wanted. Karun Prison was run by the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which meant that the warden and his deputy were Corps members. Mr. Abolqasem Alavi who was the head of the Prisons Organization, was a very tough guardsman. Two people were Karun Prison wardens when I was there: Mr. Saleh Sadavi and Mr. Kiani.
After a while, the number of Arab activists brought in to Karun Prison from the Information detention center increased to about 80 to 90 people, dispersed in different wards. Those from the Nezal Movement (also known as the Mohieddin Brigade) were placed in solitary at first. After twenty days, some were brought into the wards and the rest were transferred back to the Information Ministry Detention Center, and from there to the gallows.
Sometime later, we were transferred to Ward 8’s new building which was completely separated from the Prison corridor. This new ward was called the Labor Ward (or the Green Ward) and we were forced to work at the Ward’s tailor shop from 8 AM to 2 PM. This was a place where sports and soldiers uniforms, such as tae kwon do and the like, were made. All prisoners in the Green Ward had to work at the tailor shop without any compensation. The advantage was that we were living in a fairly new and clean ward. But this ward had its own set of problems: it was completely isolated from other wards and there were a lot of problems in terms of being able to contact others, going to the library, and going to the infirmary. We had to write a request to the officer in charge for all these things, which would be granted only if he authorized it.
A while later, some of us who had been brought in from Information detention were of the opinion that [we were being used]; we had been sentenced to prison, not to prison with hard labor, and we shouldn’t be forced to work every day. So we put in requests to be transferred to other wards. Taher Tamimi, Nazer Barihi, and I, along with a few others were transferred to Ward 3, reserved for prisoners convicted of murder. Ward 3 had six rooms, some of which held as many as 70 inmates, and it was very crowded and dirty. At times there were as many as 400 or 500 inmates in Ward 3, with only four bathrooms and four showers. Just imagine how many hours you have to wait in line just to take a shower! Many, including myself, had to sleep on the floor because we were new and there weren’t enough beds.
My struggles took a new turn at that point, [and became] a one hundred percent legal struggle. I received the Prison Rules of Procedure, and I learned that many prisoners’ rights were being denied. The prisoners themselves were afraid to protest for fear of retribution and beating. The first person who made a strong protest was Reysan Savari. He was a teacher and was in Ward 6. You could go from one ward to another and see your friends. In conjunction with two of the guys, namely Abdolreza Navaseri and Mohammad Ali Savari, we started to voice our protest to the Warden, his deputy, the Head of Prison Organization, the head of Khuzestan Province Prisons Inspection Administration, and to judicial delegations that came to the Prison. I made the point that, according to the Rules, there should be a division based on particular crimes. Why, then, wasn’t there a political ward? Even if a political crime had not been defined, they characterized our crime as a security crime, and therefore, there should be a room for those convicted of security crimes.
Another important issue I always raised was the infirmary. It was a very small room with a very small window. There was a big box in front of the window, and anyone who went to the infirmary would be given a pill. There was a long line for these pills. One of my objections was that the excessive use of the pills would be addictive.
Before transferring us to Karun Prison, the authorities had created an atmosphere of animosity against us among the prison population by telling them that we were the ones responsible for the bombings and that we were Wahabi. I, personally, am not very practicing, and some of our guys were Shiite; one of them was even a student cleric. After we had been there a while, we started to have a positive influence on other prisoners, particularly young people, by raising their awareness. Some of them quit drugs, for instance. They realized that we were protesting and fighting for their rights, and were very impressed. As a result of these protests, I was taken back to the Information Detention Center.
First Transfer to the Information Ministry Detention Center
One afternoon in February 2007, around 4 PM, I was walking in the Ward 3 yard when I was summoned by the internal officer in charge. Usually they didn’t talk to people in the afternoon about administrative matters; so I knew this was something else. Abdolreza Navaseri said: “If they take you to the Information Administration, try to find out if the guys they’ve brought back from Syria are at the Information Detention Center or not.” He was referring to a number of Ahvazi Arab activists who had obtained asylum in Syria but had been turned over to Iran upon pressure by the Islamic Republic authorities.
I was transferred back to the Information Ministry Detention Center. I was interrogated for the first three days. One of the interrogators who always put me under tremendous pressure and constantly beat me, showed up and put a knot on my blindfold. I knew it was him because he always did that. He said: “So you thought just because we gave you a five-year jail sentence that it was over, that we can’t hang you? Why don’t you just stop?” “I’m sorry, stop what,” I asked. “You’re always walking hand in hand in the Prison corridor with Abdolamir Ka’bi (one of the Nezal Movement guys) and they’ve named you Abu Omar! The Warden shows up, you voice your protest; his deputy shows up, you voice your protest; the judges show up, you voice your protest,” he replied. “You mean we don’t have the right to sleep on a bed? We don’t have the right to shower every day? We don’t have the right to go the doctor? Do you condone drugs in prison? I asked the Warden why there were drugs in prison, who brings them in there? And he said it was the prisoners families and other visitors” I said.
He left the room and came back 10 minutes later and I found myself on the floor, being beaten by three people. They were cussing and saying that I should be executed. Then they took me back to the cell and didn’t come back for two days. After two days, they obtained a written pledge from me to the effect that I was not to voice protests to anyone, and that I would be exiled if I pushed my luck. He wrote the pledge and told me to sign it. Again they did not come back until the tenth day, at which time I was returned to Ahvaz’ Karun Prison.
While I was at cell 29 [in the Information Ministry Detention Center] I used every opportunity [to obtain information], such as when they brought food, and I learned that the guys they had brought back from Syria were in Cell 28. Upon returning to Karun Prison on February 13, 2007, I was quarantined, and I learned that same night that three of the guys, Reysan Savari, Majed Albughbish, and Qasem Salamat, were in solitary and were to be executed the next morning.
The Psychotherapy Clinic Prison
After approximately two months, in October-November 2007, I was exiled to the “Drug Addiction Psychotherapy Clinic” prison where I spent some of the worst and most difficult times of my life. The Drug Addiction Psychotherapy Clinic is an unknown prison in the middle of the desert next to a town called Vass, 9 miles from Ahvaz. The prison building used to house Russian engineers and technicians who worked at the Varamin Electric Power Plant near Vass. There were 26 two-story residential units fenced all around to make a prison. Only two of the 26 units were prison wards, and one was the infirmary. Another unit was for prison employees and another was the prison administration. They had turned a unit into a library which no one visited. One unit was a tailor shop where a prisoner who knew how to sew could work. meals were served cold, in disposable containers. If we had rice, for example, there would be dried up oil on top that you couldn’t possibly eat. There was no store there either; the person in charge of the ward would take our orders once a week to purchase goods from outside. That way we might have been able to get some canned eggplants or green beans. For 170 prisoners, there were only four bathrooms and two showers, with electric water heaters that had hot water for only the first three or four people; the rest had to take cold showers in the middle of winter.
"The Drug Addiction Psychotherapy Clinic" is a prison in the middle of the desert next to a town called Vass, 9 miles from Ahvaz... There was nothing in this prison to warm your food with, and for 170 prisoners, there were only four bathrooms and two showers. The prisoners were mostly homeless and had communicable diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis, or AIDS.
The prisoners were mostly homeless and had communicable diseases like tuberculosis, hepatitis, or AIDS. There were two wards, 7 and 11, and I was sent to Ward 11. It’s possible that I was the first political prisoner to be sent to the Psychotherapy Clinic prison. There were 170 prisoners in that ward and each unit had six rooms in addition to an empty room with a TV set, which was actually a place to do drugs such as opium, crack, and hashish.
Before transferring to the Clinic Prison, the officer in charge of the outside of Karun Prison sent me to Sagduni (“dog house”) for a few hours, as a mode of punishment. Sagduni is a very small cabin in the prison yard, so small that you can neither stand nor lie down in. They sent people there for a day or two to torture them. After I spent three or four hours there, they took me and a few others to the Clinic by minibus. They didn’t even let me gather my things; the person in charge of the cell gathered my belongings and brought them to me.
After a month, I asked to meet with the Warden. I told him about prison conditions and objected to the use of drugs; I asked to be sent back to Karun Prison. The Warden, Saleh Sadavi, had been the warden at Karun Prison and I always had conflicts with him regarding prisoners’ rights. This was a great opportunity for him to take revenge. As soon as I stepped out of his office, the officer in charge ordered that I be handcuffed and shackled and tied to the flag pole in the yard. They left me there all night, in the middle of winter; my body was numb from the cold. Through the night, they would pour water over me, which evaporated [GS2] as soon as it touched my body. I couldn’t even walk back to the ward in the morning.
One night, Nassirinia, the head of the Prisons Inspection Bureau had come to the prison and summoned me to the office of the officer in charge. He started to insult me as soon as I stepped in: “We brought you here to straighten you out. If you don’t shut up, and if you don’t hold your tongue, we’ll send you to the worst possible prison.” Then he told me to pick up the cigarette butts in the yard. When I asked why and told him that I didn’t throw my own cigarette butts on the ground he said: “When you become skin and bones, then your repentance will truly be repentance.” I said: “Why? I haven’t stolen anything from anyone, or burglarized anybody’s home.” And as soon as those words came out of my mouth, the employees started beating me, insulting me, kicking and punching me. The next day they handcuffed and shackled me again and tied me to the flag pole. I was tied to the flag pole four or five times during my stay at Clinic Prison.
I met with the prison’s supervising judge in the Warden’s office in the presence of his deputy and the Clinic counselor. I stated respectfully: “This is the Drug Addiction Psychotherapy Clinic. I have neither a psychological problem nor a drug addiction one. Tuberculosis and hepatitis are rampant here. Please send me back to Karun Prison.” The Warden was provoking the judge, telling him that I had incited riots a few times at Karun Prison, and that if I left the prison, I would take revenge on behalf the terrorists. I said: “I will not allow anyone to turn me into someone who holds grudges by saying these things. I’m talking about my rights and prisoners’ rights. Right behind you, the sign says the Drug Addiction Psychotherapy Clinic. Prove to me that this is actually a clinic.” At that point, the judge started to insult me and cuss me out. I said: “I’m a captive in your control, at least treat me as such. Why do you tie me to the flag pole? Why do you pour cold water on me? Why won’t you let me see my family? Why am I not allowed visitation? Why do you treat me like an animal? Why do you order the soldiers to beat me with clubs and hoses?” They hurled more insults at me and told me to get out. That was it!
After I had been at the Clinic Prison about three months, a delegation came from Tehran for inspections. The Warden took them to Ward 7. As soon as I found out about their presence, I went to the floor above Ward 11 and waited for them to come out of Ward 7. Then I started calling them, so loud that they turned around and came to Ward 11. I went into the yard and started repeating the same things I had been saying, enumerating the problems at the prison, including the presence of tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis, and AIDS, and asked what I was doing there as a political prisoner. The head of the Prisons Organization asked: “What kind of sick people are here? Show me someone with TB.” There were two people in our cell with TB, one of whom came forward to say hello and as soon as he opened his mouth he spat blood, and the entire delegation took a few steps back. I said: “Why are you all so scared? I’m living with these people here.” A few other prisoners with hepatitis and AIDS also came forward. Some members of the delegation told me to write a request for transfer, and since I had a few ready to go, I showed them to each and every one of them.
A few days later, an employee of the Clinic’s Orders Implementation Office told me to write a transfer request but made me promise not to talk to another delegation that was coming there in a few days, and that if I kept my promise, he would send me back to Karun Prison in fifteen days. And that was exactly what happened. I went back to Karun Prison after four months, around mid-March 2008.
Return to Karun Prison
I was transferred to Cell 3 in Ward 6. Prison policies had completely changed: all prisoners convicted of [national] security crimes had been gathered in Cell 3, Ward 6, and officials’ conduct toward these prisoners had become much stricter and very harsh. Previously, we were able to walk between wards, to go to the library, for instance, or to Koran classes; but not anymore. They had installed a cabin in each ward with a prison employee there constantly. When I returned to Cell 3, there were 80 or 90 of us. None of the guys had a death sentence: those who did had already been executed. There were still individuals with death sentences at the Information Ministry Detention Center, but in Cell 3, Ward 6, there was no one condemned to death. There were people with life sentences such as Hamzeh Savari, Nazem Barihi, Yahya Navaseri, Abdolemam Zaeri, Abdolzahra Halichi, and Ramezan Navaseri, who had a 30-year prison term and was sent to Shiraz’ Oghlid Prison. There were also non-Arab political prisoners such as MKO members, as well as Baluchestan guys and Pejak people.
The Warden was provoking the judge, telling him that I had incited riots a few times at Karun Prison, and that if I left the prison, I would take revenge on behalf the terrorists. I said: “I will not allow anyone to turn me into someone who holds grudges by saying these things. I’m talking about my rights and prisoners’ rights
I can’t say that everything was OK after I was transferred to Karun Prison. When you’re under pressure in prison, you’re under pressure, that’s it. There is no way and no place to release it. Where can you go? To bed? To your room? Walk the Ward? How long can you walk? An hour? Two hours? Three Hours? Then come back to the cell? When your privacy is invaded at three o’clock in the morning, as 20 or 30 soldiers, several officers, and prison employees rush into the cell and turn everything upside down, you feel like you’re in the middle of an earthquake. [And how about] when they keep you barefoot in the prison yard for several hours and hurl insults and the most obscene cuss words at you? In one instance, there was this drug addict inmate who would do anything to get a hold of drugs, and prison officials instigated him to act against us. A number of our guys were knifed and beaten and it was all coordinated with the Warden.*
* The rest of the article can be found here
Photo Courtesy of: The Wall Street Journal