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Witness Statement of Shokoufeh Sakh

Name: Shokoufeh Sakhi

Place of Birth: Tehran, Iran

Date of Birth: May 16th 1964

Occupation: Graduate Student

Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview:  September 9, 2009

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an in-person interview with Ms. Shokoufeh Sakhi. The statement consists of 54 paragraphs and 17 pages. The interview was conducted on September 9, 2009. The statement was approved by Ms. Sakhi on November 4, 2009.

My Arrest and Initial Trial

1.   My name is Shokoufeh Sakhi. I was arrested on August 12, 1982 as a supporter of Razmandegan (M.L.),[1] a leftist group. I was a student at that time. My brother and his wife had been arrested five days prior to my arrest on August 7th. My husband had been arrested a few months before on February 1982.

2.   I was arrested by the security forces linked to the Komiteh-eh Moshtarak[2] (or Committee). The Committee detention facility was then located on Naser Khosrow Street and was under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Guards. Because there were too many prisoners and not enough solitary cells, I spent the first two weeks in the corridor blindfolded. As far as I know, most of the prisoners there were leftists, with a small number of royalists (including those who had been arrested in connection with the to Nojeh coup[3] plot) among them. After the first two weeks, I was put in a cell with five or six other prisoners.

3.   My trial was conducted at the Committee detention facility in October or November of 1982. I was blindfolded when I entered the room. After I entered, I was told to remove my blindfold after I sat down. The room was small and had a desk. Judge Mobasheri was sitting behind the desk, and my interrogator stood behind me. There were a couple of other men in the room who constantly harassed me during the course of the trial and tried to convince Mobasheri to issue a severe sentence. I had not anticipated a trial at that time. Before being summoned, my interrogator had told me that I was simply going to be pretrial court appearance. On the way back to my cell, however, my interrogator revealed that I was actually tried.

4.   Mobasheri read the indictment and all the counts, which included: financial contribution to several leftist groups, supporting and membership in several leftists groups, participation in a march against the regime, distribution of flyers and party propaganda, and non-cooperation with the authorities (i.e. obstruction of justice). I rejected all of these charges and defended myself. I argued that all of my activities with these groups were legal prior to Khomeini’s decrees, and that it did not make sense to accuse a high school student of committing so many “illegal” acts simply because she had become politically active. Mobasheri also asked about my marriage, at which point I responded that my personal life was not their concern and had nothing to do with my political charges. He asked about my religion. I told him I was not religious. He asked about my family’s beliefs, and I said they were Shi’as. Finally, Mobasheri asked if I was prepared to repent. I replied that I had not committed any crime, so there was no need to repent. The whole trial lasted no more than a few minutes. In November or December of that year, I was transferred to Evin. At first, they issued a sentence of life imprisonment (along with lashes for being an apostate), but my sentence was later reduced to five years.

5.   I would spend the next several years in all three of Tehran’s major prisons. I was first transferred to Evin. Subsequently I was transferred from Evin to Qezel Hesar and then to Gohar Dasht prison.

Transfer to Evin after Serving My Sentence

6.   In the summer of 1987, my prison term ended in Gohar Dasht. Once again, I was transferred—with two Mojaheds whose prison terms had also ended—to Evin prison. We spent some time in the solitary confinement cells of Section 209, and later in the solitary cells in Section 325.  

7.   All three of us cellmates were retried in anther trial. At that time, whenever an individual’s sentence was up she would be summoned to court again. I was blindfolded. When I entered the court, I was asked to remove my blindfold.  Judge Mobasheri reviewed my file again. He then asked me whether I was ready to accept the conditions of my release, which included conducting a videotaped interview, submitting a letter of repentance, and denouncing my former activities and the political party with which I was affiliated. I did not accept these conditions, and he announced that I would not be freed until I had done so. He sent me back to solitary confinement in Section 325.

8.   I spent some time in Section 325 before I was eventually transferred, along with my two other cellmates, first to solitary cells in Section 209 and later to Ward 1 of Assayesh-gah which literally means “the sanatorium”. The sanatorium is a three-story building with several hundred solitary cells. The first floor, which was called Ward 1, was reserved for women, and the other two floors were occupied by male prisoners. I do not remember exactly how long I was detained there, but I do remember that they transferred me from one cell to another several times. The weather had turned cold. They only gave us three thin blankets, which we could use both as covers and mattresses. The cell’s cold cement floor was covered by a tattered and damp carpet. The three of us placed two of the blankets underneath, and used the third as a cover for all of us. In reality, it was our body heat that kept us warm throughout the night. We took turns switching positions, just like those penguins that constantly change positions in the South Pole so the ones who are originally on the outside also have a huddle up in the center of the group and keep warm.

Prison Life in an Evin Mellikesh Ward

9.   I think it must have been late autumn or early winter of 1987 when we were transferred from the cells in the sanatorium to the closed-door rooms in Ward 1 of the rehabilitation[4] building. The rehabilitation building was previously occupied by male prisoners. However, at the time that I was transferred there they had allocated Wards 1, 2, and 3 to female detainees, while Wards 4, 5, and 6 still housed male prisoners. Ward 1 consisted of six closed-door rooms. This meant that the prisoners who were detained in the six-cell ward did not have regular any access to the hallway, toilet and shower located on that floor. Any form of talking or communication between the prisoners in this ward was prohibited. Female prisoners who had served out their sentences but were unwilling to accept the regime’s conditions for release (i.e. conducting videotaped interviews, or writing repentance letters) were detained in three rooms: Room 1, Room 2, and Room 6. These prisoners were generally referred to as mellikesh.[5] I lived in Room 1, with anywhere from twenty to thirty other inmates. Ward 2 housed a portion of the Mojahed and leftist tavvab[6] prisoners, who had decided to cooperate with prison authorities, prisoners who simply regretted their former activities and were close to finishing their sentences, or any other prisoners whom the authorities decided to separate out. Uncompromising[7] Mojahed and leftist prisoners who had not yet finished serving their sentences were detained in Ward 3 of the rehabilitation building. As such, there were no tavvabs among those of us who were mellikesh and were detained in Wards 1 and 3. (Of course, it must also be mentioned that from 1984 when those of us who were imprisoned in Qezel Hesar were subjected to the infamous torture methods imposed by Haj Davood,[8] prison authorities stopped housing us with tavvabs and officially accepted us as legitimate political prisoners opposed the Islamic Republic.) In addition, we mainly dealt with female prison guards.

10. During this time the prisoners took nothing for granted. Every once in a while they allowed those of us who were detained in closed-door rooms access to fresh air for about an hour. We used this time to exercise, take walks, and gather anything we could—from small rocks to coins (or even the pits of fruits)—so we could make handicrafts. For example, I would inconspicuously gather onion peels, grass, or even petals of flowers every time I was sent for interrogations or visitation, extract the colors, and secretly sneak them out to my friend who was a painter. We also read books. Most of the books that we had brought over from Qezel Hesar to Evin had already been confiscated. Nonetheless, we used different methods to gather prohibited books, copy the contents of the books by hand (in very small handwriting), prepare several manuscripts in small notebooks, and distribute them in different rooms so everyone could read them. If we were caught doing these things, we were severely punished.     

11. Since 1983, the leftist women in Evin and Ghezel Hesar prisons started to adopt a certain form of political resistance. Initially a group of us in early 1983 questioned the prisoners participating or giving audience to the degrading ceremonies of tortured confessions and public denunciations often put on by prison administrators. We decided to resist this tradition and refuse to become a public spectator during such ceremonies, which often took place inside Evin’s huge amphitheater. At the same time, we explicitly refused to participate in mass prayer ceremonies, which at that time were conducted two nights a week. I say “explicitly” because before this, prisoners who were not really tavvab but did not wish to anger prison authorities would often avoid participating in these ceremonies by pretending to be sick. In addition, we thought it was ridiculous that those whose sentences were finished or had been acquitted but not released (because they had not agreed to denounce their past or political affiliation, or pledged loyalty to the regime), were asked to sign a paper indicating they approved of their continued imprisonment until they could prove that they had truly repented. In 1984 we decided to refuse signing such papers. Over time, this line of resistance evolved into a refusal to not respond to any ideological or political questions. The goal was to take back our identity as political prisoners and force the prison to recognize us as such. By 1988, we had achieved our goal.

12.   Of course, we were continuously intimidated and there was always the possibility of being beaten. Regardless, most of us chose to answer questions such as “Are you a Muslim or not?”, or “Do you accept the Islamic Republic or not” with “We refuse to answer.” We maintained that these questions concerned our personal opinions and we choose not to answer them. We were repeatedly asked the same question, since the interrogations were ongoing and we were often taken in for questioning. They asked us about our charges, religious beliefs, court orders, and whether or not we would provide them with written recantations. Beatings took place, but not as an ordinary course of business. The prisoners were sent to solitary confinement under various pretexts, but the “coffin” or “doomsday” torture tactics used in Qezel Hesar were no longer used. These years were much easier on us than the early 1980s, even though the fact that we were generally kept separate from the rest of the inmates and housed in closed-door rooms amounted to a different kind of psychological torture.

13. In 1987, we were taken to a building adjacent to the sanatorium (which was under the authority of the Ministry of Intelligence) on several occasions. Most of the interrogations that took place there targeted our political and ideological beliefs. For example, they asked us to share our views about the Soviet Union, Khomeini and the concept of the Velayat-e Faqih,[9] Khomeini’s letter to Gorbachev, the government’s economic plans, or the war with Iraq. They asked these questions in the form of a written questionnaire. 

14. We generally refrained from answering these types of questions. We claimed that these types of questions infringed on our personal beliefs and principles, and as political prisoners we were not obligated to answer them. Of course, some of the inmates chose to answer the questions, but we stuck to our plans. All these questions were compiled in booklet form. We were instructed to sit in the corridor on lecture-type chairs and answer the questions. Whenever we refrained from answering, they insulted and intimidated us.

15. ‍‌Once I was summoned to the interrogation room around sunset. The interrogation took place in Section 209. I was surprised that they had summoned me for interrogation at that specific time and place. The interrogator asked me if I still remained firm on my political beliefs. I told him that I would not answer the question. I cannot recall the exact questions he asked me, but I do remember that he ridiculed the fact that my father was an army officer and alleged that my bold answers had something to do with the fact that I was raised an “army brat.” (My father was in the army during the Shah’s regime.) Then he threatened, said I would be sent to the torture chamber again and warned that I would be retried.

16. In early 1988, those of us who were mellikesh summoned for interrogation yet again. This time, we were photographed and fingerprinted before being interrogated. We were asked the same questions regarding our belief in Islam, loyalty to the regime and respect towards the Supreme Leader. The interrogator told us not to answer based on fear. He wanted us to answer the questions honestly, and reiterated that no duress would be involved. The interrogations were short and conducted orally. Of course, the interrogator had a paper and a pen and recorded our answers. The environment was neither harsh nor terrifying. Again, the interrogator said, “Don’t worry, just answer. If you don’t agree, say I don’t agree. We are just classifying [the prisoners]. These questions will not affect your case one way or the other.”   

17. In 1986-87, when the regime’s pressure on political prisoners somewhat decreased and conditions relaxed a bit, the Mojahed inmates began conducting group exercises. These group exercises were conducted both in Evin and in Gohar Dasht. This was very surprising for us. Until then, those who had been arrested for allegedly having links with the Mojahedin (even the uncompromising ones) were generally very cautious. For instance, when asked by prison authorities to state their affiliation, they never referred to themselves as members or supporters of the “Mojahedin,” preferring instead to use the derogatory term imposed on them by the regime: “Monafeqin.”[10] When they were asked by the guards what their charge/crime was, they would say: “Monafeqin [hypocrites].” Sometime during 1986-87, however, they began showing signs of change. Some of them boldly introduced themselves as “Mojahedin” or Sazeman[11], while others did so with much hesitation and trepidation. Use of the term “Sazeman” was tactical, since it did not require the inmates to use either “Mojahedin” or “Monafeqin” as a way to identify themselves. Many preferred this method, since they preferred to limit the possibility of confrontation with prison guards and interrogators. This change of attitude among the Mojahedin members was very obvious until the day before the prison went into high alert and lock-down mode.

Evin Goes into Lock-Down

18. On July 18, 1988, the regime accepted the United Nations cease-fire with Iraq. The news was announced from the loudspeakers in the prison. A few days later, on July 26th (a Tuesday), we heard announcements coming through the loudspeakers which bragged about the regime’s victory over the Monafeqin. Later that day, we met with our families. Our families confirmed that the cease-fire agreement had been signed, and believed that we would soon be pardoned and released.

19. Friday came and the Friday prayer was broadcast through the prison’s loudspeakers. It was July 29th. I remember this well—there was a television series that immediately followed the Friday prayer which we liked to watch. This coincided with the time allotted to us to wash our dishes and use the facilities. As soon as we went out to wash up, a guard came and took away our television set without providing any explanation. They also took our ration of state-run newspapers, cut of all family visits and communication with the outside world, and forbid anyone from going to the prison clinic.

20. The next day, the guard knocked at the door and asked us to put on our chadors. A high-ranking official wanted to come in for a visit. I believe he was referring to Seyyed Hossein Mortazavi, the head of Evin prison. Mortazavi and several prison guards entered and asked us to indentify ourselves and reveal our charges. This was not new to us as we were asked these types of questions on an almost daily basis. The Mojahedin inmates sat on the right side of the room, and we occupied the left side. On that day, all the Mojahedin inmates introduced themselves as either “Mojahed” or “Sazeman.” At the end of the session, Mortazavi turned to us and with derision in his voice said, “The period of fun and relaxation is over. We are going back to 1981.”[12] Unlike the male prisoners who interpreted the end of the war and the Mojahedin’s military incursion from Iraq as signs that the regime was weakening, prison conditions were about to improve, and that they would soon be released after going before the amnesty committee,[13] there was little doubt in our minds that the “good times” had come to an end and we were about to enter a very difficult period.

21. After Mortazavi made his comment, the Mojahed inmates were ordered to exit the room. Two leftist inmates were also taken at random. They ordered us to gather their belongings and place them outside the cell. I believe this incident took place on July 30th. I cannot now remember whether they transferred the Mojahedin inmates to the room next door or to another location. I think they were first moved to the empty room adjacent to ours. The door to our room was closed and we could not see what was going on. We could only hear sounds.

22. Subsequent to this incident, we were completely cut off from the outside world. We did not receive any newspapers, or gain access to the medical clinic. There were no more family visits. We could not communicate with any of the prisoners in the other rooms to find out what was happening to them. Prison conditions became suffocating. Eventually, we managed to make contact with inmates on the upper floors using Morse code. We found out that their televisions sets had also been removed and their Mojahedin cellmates had been summoned away as well. 

23. After some time, we realized that the Mojahedin prisoners who were being kept in the adjacent room were being summoned out and returned to the room after several hours. We guessed that they were being taken in for interrogations.  A little later, however, we noticed that there were no more sounds coming from the adjacent room. A few days later, we determined that they had transferred all the Mojahedin prisoners to solitary cells in the sanatorium, because none of them ever returned. Every once in a while, we caught glimpses through the small gap between the door and the frame and saw black-clad prisoners with blindfolds being shuffled around in groups. These moments were fleeting—there was no opportunity to talk to them or make contact. The prisoners remained silent. I do not think they had any indication as to what was going on. 

24. The room next to ours (Room 2) was being used as a transit room. After removing the first group of Mojahedin prisoners from the adjacent room, they brought in another Mojahedin group. One of the Mojahedin inmates, who had moved away from the Organization and accepted leftist ideology, contacted me and another one of my cellmates via Morse code. She tapped: “A special council is retrying all of those arrested in relation to the Mojahedin … They are going to kill us all … What should I do?” We advised her, via Morse, to acknowledge that she no longer believed in the Mojahedin and is not a member of the Organization. In response, she informed us that it was not as simple as whether or not one is a Mojahed. She said they required the prisoners to prove their commitment by cooperating with the regime, and said she was not willing to cooperate. Her last words were: “[I]t’s a pity that I’m going under for what I no longer believe.” Right at that moment, the door opened and the communication came to an abrupt end. They took all of them. We had no idea what was going on at that time. We still did not really know what was going on. She never mentioned anything about a Death Commission.

25. Not too long after that, we witnessed one of the female guards running towards the bathroom at the end of the hallway. She was holding on to her stomach and throwing up. An older female guard comes to her aid. She tells the older guard that she can no longer bear it. The older guard scolds her and says: “Haven’t you heard [the warden] say that everyone has to be present? Everyone must participate.” Then one of the guards realizes that we have been watching the whole thing. She snaps back at us: “What are you looking at? You’ll be dangling soon yourself!”

The Leftists Are Summoned

26. Once the Mojahedin were dealt with, it was the leftists’ turn. I think it was around September 1988. Just like the previous time, they summoned a number of inmates from each room—this time all leftists—to go in for interrogation. Then the prison authorities came for the prisoners’ bags and belongings. Three individuals were removed from our room. They took a number of inmates from every room. The largest number of inmates was taken from the third floor. I believe they took prisoners from the third floor in two rounds. Two or three weeks passed before the first group of leftists returned. Up until then, we had no clue as to what was happening to them. After three weeks, they were brought back and placed in the adjacent room (Room 2).

27. For the first time, we heard about the Death Commission from this group (via Morse code, of course). The news was horrifying. They explained that a special commission—which was later dubbed the Death or Inquisition Commission—has come to the prisons. In addition to being asked to identify themselves and explain their charges, they were also asked whether they prayed or considered themselves Muslims. If the inmates responded with a “No” or refused to answer the question altogether, the Death Commission concluded that they were murtads[14] and issued the appropriate punishment. According to Shari’a law, the punishment for a female apostate was five sets of lashes within twenty-four hours (corresponding to the five daily prayer sessions), each set containing five lashes. The prisoner would be lashed until she agreed to pray, or died. As such, the prisoners had been systematically lashed until they consented to pray. After they had been forced to acknowledge that they were Muslims, a guard had forced them to perform their obligatory prayers three times a day before her. The prisoners then acknowledged that they were in bad shape and their spirits had been completely crushed.

28. At first, we found it strange that they had transferred this group of leftists to the room adjacent ours. In the past, they had done everything to prevent us from contacting others for information. They were, of course, well aware that we communicated through Morse code. Later on, we realized that they had done this on purpose. They wanted those who had gone before the Death Commission and suffered through the systematic whippings to share their horrific experiences with the rest of us. They wanted us to know what was waiting for us on the other side if we chose to continue resisting.

29. We then asked them whether they had seen the female Mojahedin inmates in the sanatorium’s solitary confinement cells. They informed us that the Mojahedin prisoners were no longer in the solitary cells. It was difficult, if not impossible for us to accept the fact that all of the Mojahedin prisoners had been killed. Ultimately, we found out that they had executed almost all of the female Mojahedin inmates who were mellikesh. It is possible that one or two of the uncompromising inmates who were being detained in Ward 3 survived. They even executed some of prisoners that were detained in Ward 2, which contained a mix of tavvabs and regretful Mojahedin inmates.

30. Next, they informed us that most of them had endured fourteen days of lashings before they broke down and were returned to Room 2. They had seriously contemplated committing group suicide, but finally decided to agree to prayer. Of the Ward 3 leftists that were convicted of apostasy and whipped, one prisoner had actually committed suicide in her solitary cell and a few others had gone on a hunger strike. Only Fatemeh Modaressi (Fardin), who was a member of the Tudeh Party, was executed. Modaressi had actually been sentenced to death during her initial trial, but her death sentence had been set aside on appeal. She was not given a sentence after this. The Prosecutor’s Office often did placed prisoners in legal limbo like this in order to put pressure on them and execute them when it was convenient to do so.

31. It was late September or October. They summoned one of our cellmates. Unlike previous occasions, they did not ask for her belongings. Our cellmate returned after a few hours. She said she had just come from an in-person visit with her brother who was a leftist prisoner in Gohar Dasht prison. Her brother had survived and been transferred from Gohar Dasht to Evin. Her brother described, in vivid detail, the widespread massacre of prisoners in Gohar Dasht, the lashing of prisoners who had acknowledged they were Muslim but refused to pray, and the broken spirit of those who had survived the ordeal. He warned that our fate would be the same if we continued to deny we were Muslims, or refused to pray. He had tried to convince his sister that this time around, resistance would be futile.

32. During this period, each time one of the guards passed by our ward she would suggest that our time was coming. On October 19th, the door opened and a guard distributed some forms to us. She instructed us to write letters to our families and inform them to come for a visit on Tuesday, November 8th. I have a copy of that letter with me. Despite the fact that the guard’s words signaled a possible end to the killings and torture, the atmosphere of the prison was still horrifying and oppressive. We knew that nothing was a certainty in the Islamic Republic’s prison system. On that same day (or a day after) they supplied us with our first batch of newspapers since the start of the lock-down period. 

33. My group was not taken before the Death Commission, but we were constantly summoned for interrogations by prison officials such as Haddad, Halvai, and the others. They continuously threatened us and reminded us that if we did not change our positions, our fate would be similar to that of the leftist men.

Transfer Back to Gohar Dasht

34. Around January 1989, they transferred me and the rest of the leftist mellikesh prisoners to Gohar Dasht. They detained us in one of the general wards that was previously occupied by male inmates. There were pieces of clothing, bags, slippers and other articles that belonged to the male prisoners strewn everywhere. From the very beginning, they were intent on intimidating us into submission. Davood Lashkari, the head of security at Gohar Dasht, constantly reminded us that our fate was to hang in the gallows. One time he said: “This is where we hanged all of your ‘jewels.’”[15] This is where it all began, and it is where it will all end.” It was a strange time. We lived in a ward in which all of its former occupants had been executed.

35. One day, they summoned all of us, blindfolded us and sent us for interrogation. They had managed to create an environment full of fear and instability. We felt that any of us could be summoned away and executed at any moment. We had prepared ourselves for the eventual confrontation with Death Commission. We did not know it at the time, but the Death Commission was no longer active. They line us up with our backs against the wall in the main corridor. I sneak a peek underneath my blindfold. I see a steady stream of inmates enter and leaving the interrogation room after a short while. None of the ones who leave the room flash the usual signals—four fingers for execution by hanging, one finger wagging for solitary confinement.

36. One by one, they took us into a room. Lashkari and two others were waiting inside. They interrogated us. (By that time, the Death Commission had already been disbanded.) After a few questions, Lashkari asked us whether we were ready to beg for amnesty or not. He warned us that those prisoners who had come in for interrogation and refused to repent had already been executed by hanging. We, too, would be sent to the gallows if we followed the same path. I do not think any of us requested amnesty, but it is possible that several agreed to provide interviews. In the end, they returned all of us to the ward. We were still detained in Gohar Dasht when the prison loudspeakers announced a decision by Khomeini to pardon political prisoners on the occasion of the founding of the Islamic Republic (February 11th). It was like a cruel joke. We were being detained in a ward which had been emptied and its occupants massacred. We had sustained months of physical and psychological torture—and now Khomeini was ready to provide amnesty?!

Our Final Return to Evin

37. Before the February 11th demonstrations in which they paraded a group of political prisoners in the streets, in front of the United Nations building and before the Majlis (prior to granting them amnesty), they loaded us onto buses and transferred us back to our closed-door Evin wards. Several days later, it was around sunset when they summoned all of us mellikesh inmates from the three closed-door rooms in Ward 1 of the rehabilitation building. They forced us to wear our chadors and put on our blindfolds before lining us up and marching us to the central office for interrogation. En route, I peeked from underneath my blindfold and noticed several buses parked next to the central office. I also noticed another line of blindfolded female prisoners. I thought that they had brought them into Evin from another location, and were possibly preparing to take them the February 11 demonstrations. When we entered the office hallway, they ordered all of us to line up facing the wall. There was a lot of activity inside the building. We stood there for a while, facing the wall with our blindfolds on.

38. Then a man came and said those of us who wished to be released tomorrow should walk over to the other wall. I do not think any of us walked over to the other side. Again, he repeated that those of us who wished to participate in tomorrow’s demonstrations and be freed should walk over to the other side. Again, no one moved. This time, he said that we could either participate in the demonstrations, or be executed. Once again, there was no reaction. He sent us back to the ward and reminded us that we would soon be executed.

39. During the next several days, they released some of the prisoners who participated in the demonstrations. The “Freedom Caravans,” they called it. The rest of the prisoners were returned to prison and slowly released over the course of several weeks. In addition to the tavvabs, many of those who had been broken pursuant to the torture and whippings they received participated in the demonstrations. Later, I heard from my friends that less than twenty of the uncompromising male leftist prisoners had resisted and not participated in the demonstrations. It must be remembered that the possibility of torture and death cast a long and dark shadow over the prisoners during those days. The male prisoners’ spirits had been almost completely shattered. There were, of course, also female leftists who had been whipped and had finally agreed to pray. We tried our best to take care of them and provide comfort. I remember one of my friends—she had succumbed to the pressure and torture and agreed to submit to prayer. She felt she had been defeated and was in horrible shape. I and another friend of mine kept an eye out on her to make sure she did not attempt to take her own life. Sometimes we stayed up the whole night, or took turns to stay awake and make sure she was ok. Our sense of unity and community was a source of frustration for the prison authorities.

Prison Life after the Summer Massacres

40. During the next year and a half (until I left prison) were very difficult for us. The atmosphere imposed upon us by the regime was one of insecurity and uncertainty. We could not count on anything. We lived between life and death; between resistance and surrender. We tried to preserve our identity. We continued to be detained in closed-door rooms. The guards took every opportunity and excuse to confront and punish us. I think they reacted to us this way because they expected that all of us would also be executed. They could not stand the fact that we were still alive. I remember overhearing one of the female guards complain to a high-ranking official and ask him why they had not executed us along with the rest. She told the official that it would not make any difference to anyone if a few additional prisoners were executed.

41. Family visits had resumed during this period. Our family members were always worried that this would be the last time they would see us. Many of the family members constantly pressured their loved ones to accept the prison authorities’ conditions for release so we could be freed. Most of us continued to resist. My mother, father and son came to visit me on several occasions. When I was arrested, my son was a year old. He was now (in 1989) eight years of age.

42. By 1989, the regime had essentially annihilated a whole generation of revolutionaries who fought for freedom. Revolutionaries who weathered the social turbulence of the 1979 revolution, and had grown and matured after spending years in the regime’s prisons. The regime no longer knew what to do with these prisoners—prisoners who had endured endless torture, sleep deprivation, whippings, sensory deprivation, and threats, and continued to show signs of resistance. Each one of these prisoners had gained a lifetime of valuable experience. In reality, the regime could see no solution but to kill all of them. 

43. The 1988 massacre was the regime’s “final solution” to the problem of political prisoners who had survived the turbulence of the 1979 revolution and continued to oppose the Islamic Republic. The regime’s actions were no different than the Nazi regime’s “final solution” in connection with the “Jewish problem.” By annihilating these political prisoners, the Iranian regime rid itself of a generation of political activists that opposed every aspect of its right to rule. The Islamic Republic wished to neutralize this generation in any manner possible, and it did so. After the 1988 massacre, government officials realized that they had successfully uprooted any serious opposition against the regime. Opposition leaders had been massacred and the revolutionary leaders of a generation perished.

44. In 1989, they returned some of us to the solitary confinement cells in the sanatorium. The interrogations continued, and the interrogators constantly pressured us to ask for amnesty. One day the transferred all of the prisoners who were in solitary cells to the general ward. This time, they did not take us to Ward 1 of the rehabilitation building, but to the upper level of Ward 1 in Section 216. I remember standing in the hallway of the sanatorium next to my bag personal belongings, peeking underneath my blindfold, and seeing my cellmates secretly talking to each other. I was happy that we were all going back to the general ward. At the time, we did not know why they had decided to transfer us out of the solitary cells. From there, we went to Room 6 of Ward 1 in Section 216. I think all of the mellikesh prisoners were in one room. They also transferred the rest of the uncompromising leftists who were serving out their sentences from the rehabilitation building to this ward. The doors to the rooms were closed here, and living conditions were harsh.

45. In the winter of 1989, we read about the arrival of Galindo Pohl and the possibility that he and a team of human rights inspectors from the United Nations would visit Iran in the newspapers. I remember that there was lots of discussion amongst us about whether we should meet with representatives of the United Nations. Around the same time, one of our cellmates left our room for medical reasons and returned with some disturbing news. She reported that our ward, the only ward that included uncompromising and non-tavvab inmates, had been separated from the other wards via the construction of a wall. This meant that they had essentially hidden our ward behind a wall. It was as if we no longer existed inside the prison. Even if Galindo Pohl and his special committee were allowed to roam freely inside the prison, they would never have found us. This is the reason they had transferred all of us from the solitary cells to this ward. When we realized this, some of us began to joke that the prison officials had resolved our problem regarding whether to meet with the United Nations representatives or not. After the United Nations representatives visited the prison, the guards continued sending inmates to solitary confinement as before. In March 1990, I was also sent to a solitary cell in the sanatorium.

46. By 1990, there were seventy or eighty of female prisoners remaining. All of us were leftists. As far as I know, leftist male prisoners who had agreed to pray had already been released. While in the sanatorium, I noticed that a couple of inmates whose sentences were about to run out any day were transferred to solitary confinement and then taken in for interrogation a little while later. Several hours after that, guards would come, collect their belongings and leave again. I was in contact with other cells via Morse code, but none of us could figure out where they were taking these prisoners. During one of my visits with family, they informed me that those prisoners had been released. In 1990, prison authorities were instructed to send prisoners who had just recently completed their sentences to solitary confinement. After that they were ordered to release them. They did not impose any preconditions for release, probably because they had come to the conclusion that doing so would simply cause them more hassle since most prisoners would not accept any preconditions and would remain in prison. We had become a thorn in their sides, and they were being pressured both by the families and by the international community. They had lost their opportunity to kill us and it was no longer possible to commit another massacre without “proper justification.” The prison authorities and guards had all grown tired of dealing with us.       

47. Next, it was their turn to deal with the mellikesh inmates who were in solitary confinement. Haddad, and even Mortazavi (who was the head of Evin prison) visited these cells every now and again. They asked each and every one of us whether we were ready to be released on temporary leave or not. As far as I know, none of us accepted their offer. This was the first time they asked these questions of us. They asked me the same question, and I also refused. I told them that it had been three years since the end of my sentence. I should be completely free—it did not make sense for me to request a temporary leave of absence. After they realized they were getting nowhere with us, they decided to approach our families. They asked the families to request temporary leaves of absence on behalf of the prisoners. They required the families to provide personal and financial guarantees, and requested that they convince us to write repentance letters. They forced the family members to acknowledge that if they failed, they were personally held responsible and would be required to escort their children, brothers or sisters back to prison.

48. July 2, 1990 was my mother’s birthday. I was summoned for interrogation from my solitary cell. In the central office, they placed an order for a temporary leave of absence in front of me and instructed me to sign it. The order called for a leave of one week, and required that I return to prison after that. I refused to sign it. Again, I reminded them that my sentence had ended three years ago, and they were required to set me free. I told them I would never request a leave of absence, and if they kicked me out of prison I would not return. They then informed me that my family had requested the leave, and I was required to sign the order. After keeping me in that room for several hours, they told me to sign another document indicating that I refused to sign the leave of absence order and told me to go back to my cell. Apparently, they did not think that I would actually do this, because when I wrote that I was a mellikesh, that I refused to go on a temporary leave, and that I would not return if they sent me away they acted very surprised and began insulting me. I wanted to return to the ward and inform the others (via Morse) about what had just happened to me. I wanted to let them know that the prison’s policies had changed and that they now wanted to put pressure on us to accept temporary leaves of absence by using our families. At the time, we had no idea what was happening to the prisoners who were sent to interrogation and never returned, so it was important to let the others know. Of course, they refused to allow me to return to the ward. I asked why. They said because my family had guaranteed my leave.

My Release

49. It was afternoon when a guard escorted me out of the room. I thought he would return me to my ward. Suddenly, a man lifted me up from behind. I was in shock, and began to yell when I heard my uncle’s voice. He was carrying me towards the prison entrance, and was full of joy and excitement. He finally put me down and told me to take off my blindfold. I took it off. It was so surreal. I was still inside Evin, but my uncle was standing in front of me. He had aged, but he had a big smile on his face. He told me that the entire family had been waiting in front of the prison gates since morning, but the prison authorities had informed them that I was not ready to leave and kept telling them that I wanted to return to my ward. We walked toward the prison gates. I looked back at the prison buildings and wards—toward my friends who were still inside the cells and closed-door rooms. We went through a small exit. I saw my cousin waiting outside. A little further, I saw my father who was getting out of a car parked in the street. He began walking toward me.

50. One week passed and my temporary leave came to an end. I did not write a denunciation recantation. My family called the prison officials and informed them that I had not agreed to write the letter. The prison officials extended my leave for another week. My family put a lot of pressure on me to write the letter, but I continued to resist. It was very difficult for me to deal with the immense pressure on my family and my young son. My husband came and took my son away and said that I could not see him until I wrote the letter. Again, I refused. After the prison authorities extended my leave three times, the prison officials asked my father (during a phone conversation) to take me back to prison.  I gathered my belongings so I could go back to Luna Park, accompanied by my mother, father and son. I will never forget what my son said to me as he was putting on his socks to get ready: “Tell me, does a deer give just itself up to the lion so the lion could eat it?” When we reached Evin, my father and son went inside the Luna Park office and notified the authorities that I was ready to return to prison and that I would not write a denunciation letter. They extended my leave for another week.

51. They did this in order to psychologically torture us. After this incident, I was able to convince my family not to call the prison office and request anymore extensions. I told them that this time I would only go back to prison if they came and arrested me. I would no longer surrender myself. I consulted with some of my other cellmates who were in the same situation, and we all came to the same conclusion. All of our families agreed not to contact the prison office anymore.    The prison officials never came after me or my friends. We were effectively free, but none of us had actually received a release order. As a result, we could not live our lives freely—we could not work or pursue a college education if we wished. 

52. After about two years, I decided to leave the country in 1992. My sister and brothers lived in the United States at the time. They had immigrated to the United States while I was imprisoned in Iran. From the very beginning, my parents encouraged me to leave the country, but I did not want to leave Iran and resisted their pressure for a while.

53. After I left prison, I was in contact with some of my fellow inmates who had also been released. We earnestly tried to carve out some space for ourselves and reintegrate ourselves into society. But it was difficult to negotiate family and societal expectations with the need to preserve our identity. Some time after my release, I received news that two of my ward mates had committed suicide. Prison had dramatically changed all of us. Many of us were under the age of twenty when we were arrested and sent to prison. When we were released, many of us were close to our thirties. It was difficult to live with our families. They had expectations and wishes for us that we could not (and often, did not want) to fulfill. Even before my arrest, I had planned to separate from my husband, but my husband had taken my son away and used him to force me to stay in the marriage. These are some of the reasons why I decided it was best to leave Iran.

54. In 1992, my son and I left the country via the Iran-Turkey border with the help of a smuggler.

The end.

[1] This was a Marxist-Leninist group which distinguished itself from the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party, on the one hand, and the pro-guerilla resistance Fedaian, on the other. Razmandegan was firmly committed to the importance of understanding (and applying) Marxist-Leninist theory within the context of grass-roots organizing.

[2] Komiteh-yeh Moshtarak, or “Committee,” refers to an infamous detention facility used by the Shah’s security and intelligence forces to detain, interrogate and torture political prisoners. After the 1979 revolution, the Islamic Republic renamed it the “Towhid detention facility,” but continued to use the facility as a place to detain and interrogate many of its political opponents.

[3] The Nojeh plot, which took place on July 11, 1980, was a failed attempt by pro-royalist military servicemen to overthrow the newly established Islamic Republic.

[4] In Persian, the building is referred to as the Amoozesh-gah (literally, a ‘teaching institution’ or ‘academy’). 

[5] Mellikesh is a term used by the prisoners to identify prisoners whose sentences had ended, but continued to endure imprisonment because they were uncompromising in their ideological or political views, or refused to accept the prison authorities’ preconditions for release. Mellikesh were also referred to as Azadi-ha.

[6] A tavvab is anyone who has engaged in the act of tawbih, or penitence. It usually refers to “reformed” political prisoners who agreed to cooperate with the regime while serving out their prison sentences.

[7] These prisoners were often referred to as sarmo’zeh.

[8] Haj Davood was the infamous head of Qezel Hesar prison, located in the Tehran metropolitan area. He was known to institute various experimental torture techniques in Qezel Hesar prison, which focused (among other things) on sensory deprivation. By November 1986, Qezel Hesar prison was emptied of its political prisoners, who were transferred to Evin and Gohar Dasht.

[9] Velayat-e Faqih means ‘guardianship of the jurist’ in Persian. It refers to the institution of the Supreme Leader in Iran, which concentrates political, judicial and military power in the hands of a high-ranking member of the clerical establishment.

[10] Monafeqin is the derogatory term used by regime to refer to the Mojahedin. It means ‘hypocrites’ in Persian.

[11] Sazeman means ‘organization’ in Persian. Mojahedin members often referred to themselves as members of the Sazeman.

[12] In the early 1980s, particularly 1981, the regime conducted a mass wave of executions targeting political prisoners and opposition members. Most of those executed  were Mojahedin.

[13] Some prison authorities throughout the country deceptively told prisoners that the Death Commissions they would face were actually amnesty commissions sent to determine which prisoners should be freed.

[14] A murtad is an ‘apostate.’

[15] This is a sarcastic reference to prisoners executed  in Gohar Dasht. Gohar means ‘jewels’ in Persian.

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Tagged as:

1988 Prison Massacre, Torture