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Covert Terror: Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus

Shahram Rafizadeh, a poet who wrote three books about the Chain Murders, was one such detainee:

“Once they smashed a wash bowl that was in the interrogation room on my head. On other occasions they whipped my back and feet with cable wires. When I resisted, they whipped me all over -- on my back, butt, and legs -- all the way down to my heels. I don’t know how many times they whipped me. It varied. Sometimes they hit me 10 times, sometimes 20 or 30, and other times more. There were short pauses between the torture sessions, during which the interrogators asked more questions. If they didn’t get the answer they wanted, the torture continued.”

The torture of another detainee, Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, makes clear that PIA operatives did not even have qualms about employing their brutal tactics against a former comrade in arms. An exmember of Ansar-i Hizbullah, the Basij and the Quds special forces of the Revolutionary Guard, Ebrahimi was arrested for supporting students’ demands for greater political freedoms and held for eight months at several illegal detention facilities operated by PIA units.

“They tied my legs with ropes and made a strong knot,” Ebrahimi told IHRDC. “There were two people. I knew one of them, Colonel Akbar Sharafi of [NAJA]. Then they hung me upside down. I was really scared and thought that I would definitely die or suffocate. I begged them to stop. He pulled my legs up high to the point where my hands reached the ground. I was in that position for several hours and other than a few kicks and slaps, they left me alone. Around evening time they released me and laid me down. I asked for water, and they brought me water. After 15 minutes I vomited everything that was in my stomach.”

After breaking detainees’ resolve, the interrogators forced them to confess links to the reform movement, express remorse and beg for forgiveness during scripted videotaped confessions. Yet even after confessing to crimes they did not commit, the nightmare did not end for the PIA’s many victims.

Surveillance, harassment, and intimidation were all used by PIA agents in order to discourage former detainees from resuming their activities after their release from detention. PIA operatives continued to harass victims by making threatening phone calls, arbitrarily summoning them to appear in court, monitoring their activities and intruding in their personal lives. The post-release surveillance of the detainees by PIA agents created an environment of perpetual fear, one that prevented them from exercising their right to freedom of expression, and even from carrying out their daily activities.


The Iranian government’s persistent failure to address these gross deprivations of fundamental rights seriously impedes the establishment of civil society and the rule of law in Iran. The regime’s failure to provide redress to victims constitutes a continuing violation of Iranian and international law. Furthermore, the government’s reluctance to address crimes committed by PIA operatives during the reformist era indicates its unwillingness to tackle the fundamental institutional and structural flaws that enabled the creation and operation of the organizations.

The conservative factions in Iran used PIA units to clandestinely hold on to power with little to no political risk. Although PIA activities later dramatically decreased as a result of the closing ideological gap between the Office of the Supreme Leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is no reason to believe that the political balance between reformists and conservatives will remain static. If and when the balance of power shifts again, there is little reason to believe that conservatives will not once again unleash PIA agents.


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