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Covert Terror: Iran’s Parallel Intelligence Apparatus

The search of Mohsen Sazegara’s house is a telling case in point. One of the founders of the Revolutionary Guard, Sazegara served in several senior government positions before adopting reformist positions and, in 2003, spearheading a campaign to hold a referendum on Iran’s Constitution. He was arrested several times that year, and he recounted to IHRDC how his house was searched during one of the agents’ raids:

“Just like last time, they inspected the whole house. They looked through my computer files, personal desk, family photo albums, in the refrigerator, behind the refrigerator, our bedroom, and everywhere else. When one of the searching officers looked at my family photos, my wife protested and said that the women in the pictures were not wearing veils. The security officer responded with, ‘there is nothing wrong with an innocent glance.’ Then they inspected my CDs and DVDs to see what movies I watched…. They took one of my most valued writings about the history of science. This writing was in fact the result of many years of work. I pleaded with the head agent to leave the writing, but he refused and assured me that it would not get lost. Unfortunately, the writing was lost.”


Many of the PIA’s illegal detention facilities were located in and around Tehran, and were managed and operated by elements linked to intelligence units of the Ministry of Intelligence, Revolutionary Guard, NAJA and the Army. The Revolutionary Guard ran Prison 59, Section 325 of Evin Prison and Vali Asr. The Intelligence Office of the Army operated Hishmatiyyih and Detention Center 36 of Jamshidiyyih. Prison Jay was administered by the Intelligence Protection Organization of the Ministry of Defense. NAJA managed the Mullasadra, Vuzara, Tupkhanih, and Khatam-ul-Anbiya prisons, as well as a secret facility at the headquarters of the notorious Amaken branch. The Ministry of Intelligence, for its part, administered Tawhid Detention Center, and Sections 209 and Alef of Evin Prison.

Prison 59 is located on the vast Vali-e Asr military base in Eshratabad. Vali-e Asr is run by military and law enforcement agencies, but Prison 59 itself is administered by the Revolutionary Guard’s Intelligence Protection Office. The Iranian government announced that the prison was closed in 2001, but the Revolutionary Guard reportedly denied the attorney general of Greater Tehran permission to inspect the facility in 2006 and it appears to still be active.

Prison 59 was originally designed to hold the Revolutionary Guard’s military prisoners, but between 1997 and 2004 it was used to detain and interrogate political dissidents. It appears that the Revolutionary Guard began using the facility to launch investigations into students, journalists and political rights activists in 1999, after Khamenei commanded the paramilitary force to suppress the student movement. Detainees describe Prison 59 as a terrible place, completely cut off from the outside world and lacking light, proper food and fresh air. Visits by family members were strictly prohibited, and detainees were denied access to legal counsel.

The Mullasadra, Vuzara, Tupkhanih, and Khatam-ul-Anbiya prisons were run by the NAJA’s Amaken branch, whose PIA arm was particularly active in suppressing dissidents. Other PIAaffiliated units, such as the Intelligence Protection of the Judiciary, also used Amaken’s facilities to carry out interrogations and detain political dissidents, journalists and students.

It is believed that a substantial number of journalists and political activists were interrogated in Amaken facilities after 2001. While some Iranian analysts argue that the covert interrogations were conducted by NAJA agents alone, these operations were in all likelihood overseen by senior intelligence figures purged from the Ministry of Intelligence after the investigation into the Chain Murders.

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