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Covert Terror: Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus

Intimidation and threats were another central component of the PIA’s multi-pronged strategy of creating an environment devoid of any hope, one which would eventually lead to the submission of detainees. Detainees indicated that the interrogations went hand-in-hand with verbal threats and intimidation, all of which amounted to psychological torture intended to break down the detainees’ sense of dignity and self.

All of the former detainees interviewed by IHRDC recalled that verbal assaults and threats began as soon as they arrived at the illegal detention facilities. The persistent and deliberate stream of verbal assaults usually commenced with the announcement of serious but arbitrary charges against the detainees. The threats were often accompanied by “mercy offerings,” such as assistance in exchange for cooperation -- a classic carrot-and-stick approach used to simultaneously intimidate and coax victims into self-incrimination.

When more subtle tactics failed to work, detainees were often faced with more overt forms of intimidation, including threats of physical and sexual violence. These threats were often employed when the detainees were exhausted and in shock due to sleep deprivation, long interrogations and persistent beatings. Former detainees also told IHRDC that they were often left in an interrogation room and made to listen to a detainee in the next room begging, shrieking and asking for mercy.

“After some time in Khatam, I was made to watch how the investigators beat other prisoners,” recalled Hassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, a human rights activist and journalist who was arrested 12 times by plainclothes PIA agents. “The prisoners were miserably asking for mercy, but they were still beating them. It was a very horrible scene. It was killing me. Then they would threaten me, and tell me that if I did not cooperate, I would be similarly tortured.”

Mock executions were another method of intimidation used by PIA agents. Ali Afshari, a political analyst who was held in solitary confinement for a total of 329 days, told IHRDC that he reached his breaking point when he was subjected to a mock execution:

“One of my interrogators who was playing the role of the bad cop said that I should get ready to be executed. He took me out of the cell and dragged me to the courtyard of Evin Prison so that he could to carry out the execution. At the same time, I heard another interrogator (who played the role of the good cop) beg the judges on the phone to show mercy on me.… Then someone else said “no, that’s not possible. The execution has to be carried out.” [Again] the interrogator who played the role of good cop approached the bad cop and asked him to show mercy on me. And again the bad cop said ‘no, this guy is a lost cause.’ Then the good cop came to me begged me to think about my parents… and confess -- otherwise I would be executed by firing squad. The back and forth between the two interrogators lasted half an hour. I was completely broken.

Physical torture was also rampant in PIA-run detention facilities. The methods used included punching, kicking, whipping, electric shock, sleep deprivation, asphyxiation and hanging detainees upside down on a rope. Many of the detainees interviewed by IHRDC were subject to severe physical punishment. Some detainees were beaten during the first interrogation session; others were subjected to physical punishment after their interrogators were unable to break their resolve with psychological torture. IHRDC’s interviews suggest that PIA interrogators were prone to use violence against detainees who were highly educated and better equipped to withstand psychological torture.

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