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Witness Statement of Shahla Azad

Name: Shahla Azad

Place of Birth: Tehran, Iran

Date of Birth:  


Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview:  March 15, 2009

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to a telephone interview with Ms. Shahla Azad. The statement consists of 89 paragraphs and 17 pages. The interview was conducted on March 15, 2009. The statement was approved in English by Ms. Azad on October 12, 2009.

1.   I was arrested in early 1983. I was raised in a large but modest family in Tehran. My family was well-known in our neighborhood because many of my relatives were intellectuals and some, like me, had been arrested during the Shah’s regime.

2.   Since 1981, the Islamic Republic had suppressed and targeted members of opposition groups, particularly the Mojahedin-e Khalq. Anyone who had connections with the Mojahedin, leftist or other opposition groups was targeted. Many of my friends were arrested in 1981. My siblings and I were forced to leave our home in Tehran and go elsewhere.

3.   I lived a very difficult and transient life from 1981 to 1983. During this period, we were constantly moving from one location to another. There were times when we had no place of residence. We rode the bus from early in the morning until late at night, all the way to the end of the line and back. Sometimes we changed our routes and took a different bus for fear of being followed and arrested by regime authorities.

4.   By 1983, we had practically no contact with each other as members of the organization; our ties had been severed since 1982. Some of my friends who had been arrested were executed and others left Iran. But there were some, including myself, who decided to stay. Those who remained believed that if everyone decided to leave, the resistance would eventually die out. I must admit that I also did not have the financial means to leave the country. Regardless, the real reason for my decision to stay had to do with the responsibility I and others felt toward the movement.

5.   In 1983, my husband and I lived in a neighborhood in the southern part of Tehran. At the time, we did not have any political or organizational ties. We occasionally met with friends, exchanged books and read samizdat[1] pamphlets together. We could not keep a large number of books in one place, so as soon we got hold of a book, we read it and passed it on to other friends. From 1981, many political activists actually burned, buried or threw their books (or music cassettes) away because the mere possession of these books was considered a crime.   

6.   My husband and I lost quite a bit of weight during that time because we did not live on a healthy diet and we were under a lot of stress. One day I remember telling my husband that he had become so skinny that he ran the risk of being arrested on the streets as a drug addict. We joked and laughed about it. The day after I made that comment, he left home to meet with someone. My husband always showed up to meetings early so he could scope out the area and monitor the situation. Many of those arrested by the regime often confessed under torture regarding their future meetings. Security agents would then take advantage of this situation. They would take the detainee to their scheduled meeting place, keep them in the car, and ask them to positively identify the person they were supposed to meet. The positively identified individual would then immediately be arrested. This is why my husband always went to our meetings early. The day of my husband’s meeting I had to stay home to take care of my niece.


My Husband and I are Arrested

7.   When my husband arrived, he sensed that something was wrong, but unfortunately he did not take it too seriously. We usually arranged to meet in the southern neighborhoods of Tehran both because we lived there at the time, and because there was a lot of hustle and bustle on the streets. We also dressed in a manner that allowed us to blend in with the people from the neighborhood. Later he informed me that just before he arrived at his meeting place, he spotted a parked car with someone inside who looked very familiar. He could not, however, get a good look at the individual and could not positively identify him.

8.   They made no mention of my husband’s political activities when they arrested him. This was done on purpose. He was told instead that someone had accused him of being involved in drug dealing. My husband dismissed this allegation as utterly baseless. He did not even smoke cigarettes, let alone use or deal drugs! But the security agents continued the charade. They took him to a store where he was confronted with the alleged accuser, who confirmed that my husband had in fact sold him drugs. My husband fiercely objected to the allegations, at which point the accuser took back his words and said that the dealer was actually another person who was taller than my husband. They pretended it was all a mistake. My husband asked if he could leave now that everything had been cleared up. But he was told that because someone had accused him there was still a need to search his home in order to fully comply with professional requirements. They placed him in their car and drove him to our home.

9.   I became alarmed when my husband knocked on the door. He used the secret code we had previously agreed to, but I suspected something was wrong. I was holding my ten-month-old niece in my arms when I opened the door. Four men entered our home. My husband said, “These brothers have arrested me and accused me of being a drug addict—really!” He told me this so I would not mention anything about our political activities. I was wearing a colorful veil similar to the ones generally worn by woman in southern Tehran. The four men started searching our home. They seized our birth certificates and other documents, pretending it was all part of a routine search to clear up the misunderstanding. Suddenly, one of them asked me to get ready and accompany them to Komiteh[2] to answer some questions. My husband and I were shocked. One of the officers asked where my mallat[3] was. I did not understand why he asked this at that moment, but I realized later that “mallat” was code used by Mojahedin members to refer to banned publications, such as books and pamphlets. I thought he was asking me what I had cooked, so I told him that I had not cooked any meat stew.

10. Finally, one of them told us to get out. As I was putting my shoes on, one of the officers called my husband with the pseudonym he used with his political friends. Then he said, “Now you know what’s going on.” I realized that I could not take my niece with me. This matter was going to take longer than I originally anticipated. I was trying to figure out what to do with my niece when the landlord’s seven-year-old daughter came down to see what was going on. I quickly handed my niece to her, but I was worried that she would not be able to handle her because she was so young. I had bought a new pair of shoes that day. I took them off and put the old pair on, with the thought that I would eventually be executed. I had a strange feeling. All kinds of thoughts entered my mind, but I was the most worried about my niece and my sister who could have also been arrested when she came to pick up the baby.

Transfer to Evin

11. We were put in the car and told to lower our heads. My husband apologized to me for having been fooled and not having taken them more seriously. He was such a gentle soul—I always felt like nothing could happen to me as long as I was with him.

12. After a while, we reached Evin prison. One of the officers asked  if I knew where we were. I said, “No.” “This is ‘Repentance Road,’” he said. One of them contacted the headquarters with his wireless. I realized from their conversation that we were among the second group of individuals arrested on that day. They had arrested another group before us.

13. We were blindfolded as soon as we arrived at Evin. One of the officers told the interrogator that the new group was more stubborn and experienced, and would not easily give in. We were then separated. I was led to the upper floor. I waited in the hallway until my interrogation began. In the meantime, I heard my husband being slapped around repeatedly. Once he hit the door and was knocked over. I could not take it, so I screamed. After a few minutes I was asked what my name was and what organization I belonged to.

14. I was kept in the hallway for about twenty minutes. I kept asking why my husband was being beaten so savagely. I was then taken to a small room. This room was full of blankets, tapes and books seized from people’s homes. The interrogator came in. I was blindfolded. He was so close I could feel his breath. I thought his face would touch mine at any moment. I worried that he was going to do something to me. He talked to me in a disgustingly dirty tone. He asked me in a whisper, “What’s your name?” Then, all of a sudden, he asked me to reveal the locations of several people. The question was so sudden that I really had no idea who he was talking about. We knew some individuals only by their organizational nicknames, and others by their real names. I said I did not know who he was talking about. He kicked me in the stomach with his boot. The blow was so unexpected that I threw up.

15. The guards took me out, pulling me by the corner of my veil (because they did not want to directly touch female prisoners). I was told to stand behind the door. “Listen! Do you recognize this voice?” he asked. My husband was a very calm and patient man. He never complained of pain and never screamed under torture. I could hear him sigh, but he refused to scream. He was desperately trying to control his painful sighs so as not to upset me.

16. I could actually hear his controlled breathing in the midst of the heavy rhythm of lashings he was receiving. I could not see anything, but I knew they were beating him with other things as well. I was asked again if I recognized his voice. I did not answer. They opened the door and removed my blindfold. It was only then that my husband noticed my presence. He had been wrapped in a blanket and blindfolded. They untied him from the bed, and four or five officers began beating him. He was whipped, beaten with a cable, punched, kicked and thrown to the wall. He was so weak, he was hardly breathing. But he made no sounds. He endured all of this torture in order to keep my morale strong. I could not stand it anymore. I screamed and asked them why they were doing this! All of a sudden they pushed me toward the bed and tied me to it.

17. At that time women who were politically active usually wore long comfortable pants rather than skirts. But on that day I was wearing a dress, like most other women in Tehran’s southern neighborhoods. I was not comfortable in that dress and did not want to lie down on the bed with no pants on. I asked them several times to give me something to cover myself up, but they did not listen. They tied my feet to the bed in order to keep them still, and left my hands untied. I was beaten on the soles of my feet continuously for several minutes. Half an hour later my feet began to swell. I heard one of them jokingly say to the others, “I wonder what her shoe size is now!” They were mocking me.

18. This time they had kept my husband outside the room so he could hear my screams. Later, when I saw my husband briefly in court, he told me that while they were lashing me, they were mocking him as well. “Do you know what they are doing to your wife in that room now?” they asked him sarcastically. Obviously, they were suggesting that something worse than mere lashing was going on inside the room. They insulted him and told him that he was a coward for not being able to defend his wife.  

19. Some time later, they brought over a piece of paper that read, “I, [the name under which my husband was arrested] do not know [my husband’s real name]. Should this be proven otherwise, I am prepared to be executed tonight.” They told me they had already obtained permission to execute my husband and could carry out the execution that same night.

20. After some time, I lost consciousness because of the persistent torture. When I regained consciousness, I found myself in a room that they called havakhori—or “fresh air.” Despite its name, the room was not located outside, nor was there any access to the outside. Its roof was covered with some kind of netting that made it difficult to see the sky. When I came to, I saw another man in the room (along with the interrogators). He was weak and in bad shape. I recognized this person. “This is only the beginning—the worst is yet to come,” I thought to myself.

21. I was informed that I had been identified by a tavvab.[4] The tavvab later informed me that she had been instructed to change my clothes and search them while I was unconscious. I knew her. She was the sister of a close friend of mine. She was seventeen years of age when I first met her.

22. The man at the opposite side of the room had been severely tortured and was in terrible shape. The interrogators sprinkled some water on this face. He regained consciousness. They asked him if he knew the whereabouts of a woman. (I found out later they were asking about his wife. His wife had already managed to leave Iran, but he had refused to disclose her location.) He had been arrested quite by accident. He had arranged an appointment with some smugglers who were supposed to provide him with a fake passport. The authorities arrested the smugglers and he was arrested along with them.

Physical Abuse and Torture in Evin

23. After this incident, I was transferred to a cell. When the guard dropped me off at the cell, he said, “You are among friends here.” The cell door remained open. I understood later what he meant. A majority of the inmates in that room were tavvabs. The cell was very small, with barely enough room to move.

24. Because I was in such bad shape, my cellmates allowed me to sleep in the corner, against the wall (which was a little higher and more spacious than the rest of the cell). It was the only spot where a tall person could sleep relatively comfortably. Other parts of the cell were tight, and one could not stretch her feet because a toilet was in the way. I could not sleep that night. They checked up on me the day after and saw that I could barely move. I lost consciousness again and was taken to see Dr. Sheikholeslam, who was the Shah’s former doctor. When I regained consciousness, I heard Dr. Sheikholeslam arguing with my interrogator. He said, “If you want to kill her, go ahead and kill her. She is almost paralyzed. She can’t sustain any more torture!” I was conscious, but I could not move or say anything. I was on an IV when the interrogator left. The doctor said that I should not, under any circumstances, move my lower back for a while. He said I had a fracture close to the spinal cord, and that any slight movement may result in permanent paralysis.

25. This was not the only health problem I had developed as a result of the torture. I also had problems with my kidney and other areas of the body. I was left on my own for seventeen days. On the eighteenth day, I went on a hunger strike. I could not really eat anything anyway.

26. One of the tavvabs in the cell was very dangerous. The other two were mostly pretending to be tavvabs (even though they still had to file reports on everyone’s activities). The dangerous tavvab always relayed terrible news regarding my husband. She told me that she had seen my husband wrapped in a blanket and that the interrogators had mentioned that he was dead. Later, she would tell me that my husband was well and alive and was collaborating with the interrogators. She played these horrible mind games with me on an almost daily basis.

27. I knew at that point that I had been positively identified by the interrogator. I did not need to hide anything anymore. My mood changed. I began chanting leftist revolutionary songs. The tavvabs advised me against doing this. “Don’t play with your life,” they said. But nothing mattered to me anymore. I knew I would be executed and I did not want to die in shame.

28. On the twenty-third day of my detention, I was taken in for interrogation again. The interrogator threatened me: “Where do you think you are? Do you think we’ve forgotten about you? Do you think we’ll just let you off the hook? Do you think human rights will come and save you? Do you think this is Shah’s time? We are not idiots like the Shah was, allowing the Red Cross and human rights monitors into the prisons.” He asked me why I had gone on a hunger strike and whether I actually cared about being released. I told him I was in no mood to trade favors in exchange for my freedom.

29. The next day I was photographed. I thought I was going to be executed because they had threatened me with execution the night before. The tavvabs also behaved as if this was my last day. At the time, all I could think about was writing my will and sneaking it out of prison.

My Initial Trial and Death Sentence

30. On the twenty-eighth day, I was summoned again. Again, I thought I would be executed. I was taken to an unfamiliar place. I sat there for a while. I had no idea what they were up to. Then someone came and escorted me through the hallway to the upper floor. I was told to remove my blindfold. I saw a turbaned cleric sitting before me. I realized I was being tried. One of the guards asked, “Do you know where you are?” “No,” I replied. He told me that this was my trial. My hearing lasted five minutes, during which I was arraigned on several charges. Some of the charges were actually quite amusing. For example, I was charged with being a member of a mountain climbing club. Another charge included imprisonment during the Shah’s regime. I asked them: “Can someone be executed for being a member of a mountain climbing club or being a prisoner under the Shah’s regime? Some people holding office today were, in fact, prisoners under the former regime.” The cleric answered, “For a Muslim, this is a positive, but for an infidel— it is simply another reason to carry out the maximum punishment.”

31. Anyhow, it was a sham hearing. I had not given them any useful information during the course of interrogations. (The more severe interrogations actually began a year later when they transferred a group of prisoners to Qezel Hesar and forced them to disclose new information about me.) The cleric asked me, “Are you willing to give a televised interview?” I said, “No.” He asked, “Are you willing to defend the Islamic Republic?” I said, “No.”  He asked, “Do you pray?” Again, I said, “No.” Then he asked me why I had become politically active. I answered, “I have the same defense I had when I was tried during the Shah’s regime. I did not become political because I read books. I am not an armchair political activist. [I became politically active because] I cannot witness injustice and keep silent in the face of it. The Shah’s regime was unjust. So is yours. You suppress women and treat them unfairly. That is why I oppose you.”

32. The judge responded, “With this statement, you have signed your own death sentence. Do not blame this on us.” I was about to exit the room when he asked, “Have you seen your husband yet?” I said, “No.” He asked me if I would like to see him. I said, “Of course I would.” Then I asked him, “Will you execute both of us? My husband and I?” He said, “Yes.” “May I ask you to bury us next to each other?” I asked. He then ordered me to leave the room. I was taken to the office of the Sepah forces because there were no other rooms available. They took me to an empty room full of blankets that were strewn all over the floor. I sat there and waited. A few moments later, the door opened and my husband came in.

33. It was a sweet, memorable moment. This was the first time we had seen each other face to face and in the absence of others. My husband was in terrible shape. He had a broken shoulder blade, a broken chin and some broken ribs. He had bruises all over his face. He was in rags. He was a very special person. He apologized for what had happened and wished things had been different. He blamed himself for my imprisonment. I tried to disavow him of this guilt and emphasized that he was not to blame at all. None of this was unexpected.

34. We quickly updated each other regarding the previous interrogations and hearings so we could be on the same page for the following trials and investigations. I requested that he give his real name, but he refused. He believed this would lead to more intense torture sessions and punishment. He had not confessed to anything yet and providing his real name meant claiming responsibility for certain things. Our visit was very short. I was transferred back to my ward. There was no mention of an [execution] order. But every time my name was called, I thought I was going to be executed.

35. After my trial, I was blindfolded and accompanied by a female guard called “Rahimi.” She was instructed to take me to the “infidels’” ward. Before arriving at my new cell, an interrogator put me through the same line of questioning I had gone through previously (including questions regarding my name, my political affiliation, etc.). Then one of them said: “Take her to the infidels’ section!” Another one responded, “No, take her to Ward 3. She will learn a lesson there!” Only later did I realize why I was taken to that ward.

36. So I was taken to Ward 3, which was known to house brutal tavvabs. When I entered, my feet were a little better but my lower back still hurt. They had put me on extra-strength antibiotics without monitoring the dosage and keeping an eye on the adverse side effects. The antibiotics destroyed my teeth.

37. One day, I was told I had visitors. My parents had come to visit me. We were separated by a glass window and talked via telephone receivers. It was my first visit and I did not know that the guards were able to read our lips through the  partition. I asked my father to read my lips while he kept talking. I told him that I had not confessed to anything or disclosed anyone’s name, and recommended that he tell my friends to leave the country for their own safety. At the end of the conversation, I told my parents that this might be our last visit and that I may be executed soon. My father felt very weak and broken all of a sudden. He was about to collapse. But he quickly pulled himself together and said, “My daughter, be strong. You will never die.” I was deeply moved by my father’s words. My spirits lifted. It gave me hope to know that I would always remain alive in my family’s hearts.

38. After the family visit, I was immediately taken in for interrogation. The torture and threats continued, but the interrogation was not as violent as the first time. They listened to Dr. Sheikholeslam’s advice. I was whipped while I was sitting down. They did not tie me to the bed, nor did they strike my lower back. They also struck the center of my head with the tip of a pen. It was very disturbing and unpleasant and the effects have lasted until today. I still suffer from chronic headaches and eye problems.

My Sentence is Reduced to Fifteen Years

39. I was awaiting the execution order when the prison conditions changed. Hojatolislams Majid Ansari and Nassiri, Ayatollah Montazeri’s representatives, visited the prisons to study the condition of prisoners. During this period, Montazeri formed a judicial council responsible for reviewing execution orders. Previously, every judge could simply issue an execution order, but upon the formation of the judicial council, executions were carried out only after having been reviewed by the council. The council was composed of five members who had to act by majority vote for an order to be enforced. I was among the first group of unwavering prisoners whose order was reviewed by the judicial council and overturned. I could not believe it when the council sentenced me to fifteen years’ imprisonment instead. Fifteen years seemed like nothing to me. I had a strange feeling when I returned to my cell. Until that day, I had seen and planned my life as if I were to be executed. I thought of every moment as my last. I felt strangely at peace. I had no fears or worries. I freely expressed myself. I did what I desired. The Pasdars mistreated me because of my unwavering stance. They insulted me and called me an “infidel.” But I ignored this and tried to establish a good relationship with my fellow inmates. I tried to do useful things for them, like helping them get their messages to the outside world. I did this not because I was trying to be a hero, but because I needed to keep busy and pass the time.

40. But the fifteen-year sentence upset everything. It changed my life altogether. I was not ready to continue living. I had a strange feeling. I had to live and let life go on. I stayed in that ward for eleven months. The Pasdars did not allow fellow inmates to talk to me. Anyone who exchanged a word with me would be called out and questioned. It got to a point where we had to talk inconspicuously—for instance, while we were performing tasks such as hanging our clothes to dry. For example, I remember consoling one of the prisoners who had been sentenced to death and was constantly crying. Her mood slowly improved, so the guards ordered her not to speak with me anymore. In fact, they instructed all the younger inmates not to talk to me, but we managed to establish contact every now and again.

41. They often took prisoners to the Husseiniyih Hall[5] for interviews, but I did not go. They did not pressure me to go, nor did they torture me because of my lower back condition. Those were difficult times in prison. Some unrepentant leftist prisoners had to pretend they were praying. I was one of the few people who did not pray.

42. During that time, the regime constantly put pressure on us to sign confession letters implicating leftist leaders so that they could blacken their reputations on national television. Some inmates caved in and signed the letters. I remember the prison authorities even collecting prisoner votes for presidential elections. I refused to vote for elections from inside the prison. This refusal often led to arguments, harassment and more interrogations.

43. Here is an example of the harassment I received in prison as an unclean “infidel” or “apostate.” I was very close to the small children who were imprisoned along with their mothers and lived in the women’s ward. There were twenty-eight of them. The little children usually did not want their mothers to give them a bath, so I bathed them even though I suffered from severe back pain. I had to hold them the whole time because the bathtubs were wet, slippery and very filthy. This strained my back further, but I did it with pleasure. After some time, the Pasdars told the mothers that I am a filthy infidel and that they should not leave their children in my hands. The children cried because they did not want their mothers or anyone else to give them a bath. But the mothers eventually gave in out of fear and agreed only to allow me to bathe the children. The final rinsing was left to them.[6] The fact that many of my inmates were forced to pretend that I was “unclean” was very hard on me.

44. Eleven months passed like this. After this, I was interrogated with another group of inmates as some kind of a punitive measure. I wondered why I was being subjected to this new round of interrogations. I was taken for questioning twice a day, sometimes for long hours during the evening. I suffered from severe headaches and lower back pain. Some inmates had begun to think that I had become a tavvab because I went back and forth between the ward and interrogation rooms so often. (Tavvabs often traveled back and forth when they were in the process of reporting their observations about inmates to prison authorities.)

Transfer to Qezel Hesar Prison

45. I never disclosed anything during the interrogations. They beat me up a bit and threw me back in the ward. One day, one of the guards said, “We will send you to hell!” After this, they transferred me and some others to Qezel Hesar prison.

46. I finally began to realize why I was being interrogated. Some inmates who were detained in coffins[7] at Qezel Hesar had already confessed. They had given away information about me, which the authorities then used against me. At Evin, we had heard about the horrifying coffins in Qezel Hesar and how they had been used to break prisoners. Some of these prisoners had gone mad and others had turned into hardcore tavvabs.

47. There were approximately sixty-three of us in the vehicle that was en route to Qezel Hesar. We were discussing what stance to take and what course of action to adopt. Interestingly, when we arrived there, a group that had been sent by Montazeri to investigate complaints by families of those who had been subjected to the coffins arrived at the same time.

48. The authorities became nervous. He instructed us to stay where we were (we had gathered in one of the prison halls) and took off. He was very disoriented. We waited in the hall. We were very hungry, so they brought us some bread and cheese. Then we were locked in a room and left there for three days with food. After three days, they transferred us to Ward 7. Those who were more stubborn were usually taken to Ward 7, and those who they determined were more malleable were taken to Ward 4. But most of us were taken to Ward 7 instead. Once we arrived in Ward 7, we were exposed to prisoners who had just returned from the coffins. Some had completely lost their minds.

Conditions in Qezel Hesar

49. I stayed in this ward from 1984 to 1986. In 1985, they transferred me and thirteen others to another ward because we had continued to maintain our stance. There was really no other reason for the transfer. Unlike other prisoners in my group, I tried not to get into arguments with the guards, but I also did not give in to their demands. I think they were led to believe that I was a more experienced political activist who knew when to pick her battles and provided direction to others. I also had a good relationship with prisoners with varying political beliefs because I did not follow a specific political agenda or group. This was, in fact, one of my biggest problems in prison—I did not side with any particular group or sect. I was on good terms with individuals from other political parties.       

50. In any event, in 1985 the above-mentioned group and I were transferred to a place known as the “cowshed,” which had apparently been used as a stable at some point in time. It was a horribly filthy place that reeked. We cleaned it up a bit.

51. In 1984, as Montazeri’s influence began to increase in Iran’s prisons, conflicts began to emerge between officials as to whether or not the prison should be relaxed. Some feared that prisoners would become uncontrollable if they were given more liberties. But after a while prison conditions improved, books were allowed, and access to fresh air became more regular. In fact, some prisoners took advantage of the situation and were able to express their resistance more openly. The Pasdars tried to maintain order as they had before, but they eventually caved in to the more relaxed atmosphere.

52. In early 1986, the regime issued an order that all female prisoners were required to wear black chadors[8] and pants when they left their cells. We were also forced to wear head scarves underneath our black chadors. At the time, many of us leftists only wore colored veils. (The Mojahed prisoners usually wore black chadors anyway.) The colored veils served as our identification tools. Even when we were blindfolded, we could sneak a peek from under our blindfolds and identify people by the color of their veils. We always tried to wear the same color so we could be easily identified among ourselves. For me in particular, the color of the veil was very important. It helped my husband recognize me in case we ran into each other when we were transferred out of our cells for any reason. (He also wore a particular pair of trousers that immediately allowed me to recognize him.) Because of this, many leftists resisted wearing the black chadors for as long as they could.

53. Ultimately, many of the prisoners decided to go on a hunger strike. In response, prison officials prohibited them from seeing visiting family members, gaining access to accommodations or receiving medical treatment until they decided to wear the black chadors. They transferred a group of the most stubborn prisoners to an underground cell located close to several torture chambers. Then they brought in several non-political prisoners who had been arrested on prostitution charges and threw them in the same cell. They did this to impugn the prisoners’ reputations. After about two years, the group finally gave up and agreed to wear the chadors. I was not a part of this group, but I resisted for a while as well. We declared that we would not leave our wards, even during visitation hours, until the regime changed its position requiring prisoners to wear black chadors. This decision meant denying ourselves a valuable source of information—our families—who acted as our contacts to the outside world.

54. I was among those who were not in favor of this move, but I joined in to show solidarity with others. I did not want to sabotage the movement. In any case, the regime did not budge and kept up its pressure and threats. After a while, the resistance broke, the regime segregated us into smaller groups and detained us in different sections of the prison. The family visitations also resumed.

55. The situation in Iran’s prisons had changed drastically since 1984, when Lajevardi was removed as the head of prisons. In 1985, Montazeri pardoned many Mojahedin prisoners who were to be executed by the regime. A limited number of leftists signed letters denouncing their political beliefs and were freed. The prison environment changed all of a sudden. The number of prisoners was cut in half and a rather homogenous population remained. Leftists made up the majority of the prisoners. This population mostly included unrepentant inmates who had refused to submit to the authorities’ demands. There were also a few tavvabs among us, but most had been released as part of the amnesty. Prisoners were generally friendly with each other and there were less frequent confrontations with tavvabs. But torture and abuse still existed. Sometimes they arbitrarily summoned one prisoner and whipped her. We were forced to watch this scene, or else we received lashes ourselves.

Transfer Back to Evin

56. I was transferred back to Evin in 1986. After that, visits from both inside and outside the prison followed a relatively normal routine. Every one was allowed visitation rights, unless they were being penalized. Visitations between inmates, which used to be a privilege and not a right, also became more frequent during this time. Before, the authorities almost always denied this right if the prisoner refused to submit to their demands.

57. My husband was sentenced to death following four separate trials. But his sentence was later overturned and reduced to life imprisonment. This all goes back to Montazeri. In 1984, he announced that political prisoners who had no history of armed resistance and had not threatened the lives of civilians and regime authorities should not be executed simply because of their beliefs. And this was exactly the case with my husband. He was to be executed because of his political opinions. (Of course, his family also tried very hard to save him from execution.) In March 1987, his execution sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. For the first time, I thought it may actually be possible for us to be together again one day. The thought had never crossed my mind before.

58. From the time of my arrest until 1987, I was only been allowed one visit with my husband. After 1987, they allowed more visits. I saw my husband a total of three times before he was executed in 1987. Mojtaba Halvai (who was the head of security at Evin prison) frequently visited his ward and threatened him. He said they told him: ”Don’t ever think that we’ll let you off the hook now that you got a life sentence. We will kill you!” They often came to me and said the same thing: “We will not let him live. You will see his dead body!”

59. By 1987, some prisoners had agreed to write repentance letters denouncing their former political beliefs. This was a precondition to being released. As I previously mentioned, newspapers were allowed inside prison and we read them closely. There were many articles about the war with Iraq and its repercussions. The newspapers often reported on differences between heads of the regime on whether or not the war must go on. These open and frank discussions had never taken place before. Inside prison, we began to feel that the war was entering a new stage and that perhaps the conflict would soon come to an end.

60. Some prisoners were taken for questioning during this period. One of the interrogators, named Reza Ershadi, enjoyed engaging in ideological discussions with prisoners and claimed to be very familiar with the viewpoints of Iranian leftists. One time, he explained that there were two views among regime heads. Some believed that they must execute all political prisoners and create a more open prison atmosphere so that foreigners could not accuse Iran of perpetrating human rights violations. This, he said, was the, “easy solution.” The international community would make some noise in the beginning, but they would eventually forget everything. There were others, however, who believed they should free some prisoners and reduce the death sentences of others to life sentences or less.

61. These views generated lots of debate among the women in our section. Opinions varied. I truly believed that they would never release those whom they feared, including politically mature prisoners whom the regime considered very experienced and who had the ability to reorganize the movements outside prison. I thought they would be executed for certain. I even told my fellow inmates, “I don’t think my husband, Hamid, will leave prison alive.” Despite constant discussion and debate over such matters, we never received a definitive answer regarding what the regime would do with us and other political prisoners.

Noticeable Changes Prior to the Summer of 1988

62. A little while later, we noticed that prison authorities had begun regularly questioning us every two weeks in a special room under the staircase. Hosseinzadeh (the deputy warden of Evin prison during the summer of 1988) questioned us one after the other. The questions were always the same, “What is your name? When were you arrested? What is your opinion on the current wave? What do you think of the Islamic Republic? Do you pray?” Hosseinzadeh often said things we could not make sense of. For example, he would say, “Things are democratic, Madam. Tell me what you really think.” When they asked me what I thought of the Islamic Republic, I told them that I did not believe in it. But when it came to whether or not I believed in Marxism, I told them that it was not their business and that I would not discuss my personal beliefs with them. But Hosseinzadeh kept insisting that it was a “democratic environment.” We knew he was suggesting something—we did not know what it was, exactly.

63. We knew they were up to something. These regular questionings occurred almost two months before the 1988 massacre. During this time we received some news that prisoners in the male wards were becoming bolder. The regime reacted harshly by beating and torturing many prisoners, which in turn caused more resistance among the inmates. News of such moves reached us in dribs and drabs.

64. Back in the female wards, prison authorities began summoning several prisoners and telling them things like, “Certain events are about to unfold.” Or, “Pay attention … In a month or two things will occur that you cannot anticipate.” One of them said, “We are telling you—none of you may come out of here alive.” But when they said these things, we assumed they were just threats. A fellow inmate, Golzadeh-Ghafouri (who was the daughter of Ayatollah Golzadeh-Ghafouri, and whose brothers had been executed), warned her parents that things were serious.

65. In the past, when interrogators summoned prisoners and questioned them regarding their political affiliation, Mojahedin members always responded “monafeqin.”[9] But suddenly they began responding with “Mojahedin.” This bold move surprised us. We knew something was happening, but did not know what. A little later we found out that those sentenced to life imprisonment had been separated from those with death sentences.

Evin Goes into Lock Down

66. On July 18, 1988, a few fellow inmates who had visitors said they heard on the radio that the regime had accepted United Nations Security Council Resolution 598 and the war had come to an end. On July 20, Nazli, a cellmate of mine, had a visit with her brother who had been sentenced to death in prison. She told us that her brother told her that this could be her last visit with him. We were truly surprised, and there was lots of discussion regarding what would happen next. There was no way we could foresee what would actually happen.

67. Four or five days after the cease-fire, a group of prisoners came back from their visitation sessions and said they saw a note on the hallway that read, “All visits­—internal and external—are banned until further notice.” This news was very strange to us. This was the first time the prison had cut off visitation rights for everyone, including tavvabs. Prior to that, there had never been a period in which they cut off visits for everyone (except during the first wave of arrests that occurred in the early years of the revolution). We were confused as to what was going on. Family visits ended for us.

68. On July 26, we heard about the Mojahedin’s “Eternal Light” operation on the radio TV. That was the last night we were allowed access to televisions in our wards. The war had ended, but they continued to broadcast military songs on television in connection with the Mojahedin’s defeat. Then all of a sudden we saw images of dead bodies flashing on the screen while the announcer said: “These are the much hated bodies of monafeqin … disgracefully defeated in the war.” Only then did we realize that the Mojahedin had launched a military attack. After the news segment ended, the television was removed from our ward.

69. That night, around 9:30 p.m. the guards rushed into our ward and removed our television set. They also collected all the newspapers. We were surprised with the speed and ruthlessness with which they did these things. The next day, around thirty Mojahedin prisoners were taken out of our ward.

70. A few days later, we heard the angry words of Ayatollah Mousavi Ardebili who was giving the traditional Friday sermon on the prison loudspeakers. His words whipped the Friday sermon crowd into a frenzy and they began chanting slogans against the country’s political prisoners. I will never forget what Ardebili said: “We have been even more compassionate to our prisoners than the Prophet. But they did not appreciate this compassion, and instead collaborated with the monafeqin to martyr our children on the field of battle.”

71. Then we heard the sermon crowd chant death slogans against the monafeqin and others. I do not remember who read the second sermon, but he said, “We will kill ten of them for every fallen Pasdar brother.” He continued, “Those who were freed from prisons killed our children, so we must show no mercy on the prisoners. They are all agents of our bloodthirsty enemy and they must be destroyed!”

72. That evening we talked about who might be executed and what might happen. Many of us believed that they would leave the leftists alone because we were not involved in any of the military operations conducted by the Mojahedin. But the rest of us believed that this was merely a pretext for them to get rid of the prison issue once and for all.

Mojahedin Prisoners are Summoned

73. The day after, they summoned Mojahedin prisoners in groups. There were thirty-five people in the first group. It was 2 p.m. in the afternoon. By the time they bid us farewell, it was around 4:30. And by the time they were all removed from our ward, it was about 5:30.

74. One of them returned after some time. The regime often did this to send a message to us indirectly and create fear among us. The authorities would pretend that the prisoner had been released by mistake, but they would give them ample time to tell us what they had witnessed. Once the prisoner had relayed the regime’s message, they would be taken away again. This prisoner said: “I don’t know where they took them, but their papers said Gohar Dasht [Prison].” They used to take prisoners to Gohar Dasht as a punitive measure. But we were still in disbelief.

75. Another strange incident happened that evening. The Pasdars were chanting violent slogans. At 9:30 p.m., we heard gun shots. It had been a long time since we had heard gunshots inside the prison because they no longer executed prisoners outdoors. We thought they wanted to create terror among us. We knew that the regime was doing something dangerous and we knew that they would execute a few, but we could not connect the dots. We did not think the gunshots were related to the state of emergency inside the prisons. We thought they were simply fear-mongering.

76. But over the next several days, they continued taking away Mojahedin members until there were no more of them left. At the time we did not know what had happened to them.

Leftist Prisoners are Whipped

77. Around late August, someone who had spent some time in solitary confinement in the prison’s sanitarium building[10] somehow made it to our ward in the rehabilitation building.[11] She snuck up to our ward and told us, from behind the closed door, that leftist prisoners in the sanitarium were being whipped five times a day. She did not say anything else. We did not know why. We recalled that the only time the guards had lashed the prisoners five times a day was during the early 1980s when they wanted to force them to pray. But as far as we knew, they had not lashed anybody since then. We did not understand why they were lashing prisoners now.

78. Then, another group of prisoners who had broken under torture returned to the ward below our ward where Mojahedin and repentant prisoners were being detained. Only then did we fully realize the reason why prisoners were being whipped five times a day. Prisoners who caved in under torture were forced to perform their prayers out loud. Many had a designated tavvab who was responsible for monitoring their prayer. Some did not know how to pray. They were harassed by the Pasdars and forcibly taught how to pray. It was a group of these prisoners who were brought to our ward. They had resisted for years and had seen and experienced very severe torture throughout their years of detention. But the new campaign of systematic whipping had shattered them and they were now prepared to pray. Some had even signed statements rejecting their former activities in return for the promise of being released. Those who refused to sign these statements remained in prison.

79. The whipping sessions seemed endless. They woke us up in the morning, tied us to a bed and lashed us over and over again. They would repeat this every day at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. We spent most of our time in anticipation of the next round of lashes. It was not only the physical pain that tormented the prisoners, but the anxiety, sleeplessness and the dreadful waiting. Sleep deprivation caused many of us to break.  

80. In any case, by the time the broken inmates were returned back to their wards, they were devastated beyond measure. I saw some of them. I believe the guards wanted us to see them in that state. I had seen people who had been broken and had revealed information under torture, but this was entirely different. They refused to talk to anyone. Their presence and demeanor was a tremendous blow to our morale. A prisoner needs to be surrounded by positive energy in order to remain strong and grounded. Seeing them in that condition—shattered after having resisted for so many years—was so devastating. Many of us could easily imagine ourselves in their position.

81. Prisoners were taken in groups to be whipped and returned only when they surrendered. Most groups gave up within ten or fifteen days and were returned to the ward. We were next in line and faced with a profound dilemma. If we wished that the other women would resist, it meant we wished them more torture. But wishing their return meant it was our turn to go. It was an infernal state. Some women committed suicide during this time. One slit her wrist and another hanged herself. I was against suicide, but when my turn came, I hid a broken piece of glass in my purse so I could take my life. Others had similar thoughts.

Prison Conditions Return to “Normal”

82. We were awaiting our turn when suddenly a group of prisoners who had not broken under twenty-three days of torture was brought into our cell. We were puzzled. They told us that the prison authorities had stopped the whippings for a week now and had even applied medication on the backs of several prisoners so their wounds would heal faster.

83. That same night, November 3, 1988, the authorities supplied us with paper and told us to write letters to our families requesting that they visit us. We had not seen our families in a long time. We were surprised by these moves and did not know what to make of them. Families who did not receive a letter would eventually come to realize that their loved ones had been killed. Some prisoners who were denied visits were instead allowed to contact their loved ones via telephone. But they never allowed me to contact my husband. I soon realized that this meant that he had probably been executed. I received news of my husband’s execution on December 7, 1988.

84. Some women who had been allowed to speak to their brothers or husbands had very strange stories to share. One said that she no longer recognized her husband. He had lost weight and aged tremendously. It was as if many years had passed since they had last seen each other. Then she told us that she had asked her husband what had happened to him and he refused to answer. The only thing he said was, “They made monkeys out of us, and played all kinds of games with us.”

85. We were told that we could give flowers to our families. The regime had placed flowers in one corner of the visiting hall so that we could buy them if we wished. On the one hand, the regime was informing families that their loved ones had been executed. And on the other, families of survivors were exchanging sweets and flowers. All of this was happening at the same time, at the same place. It was surreal.

86. Some families exchanged flowers and sweets. Others were given the clothes of their executed loved ones. Some families were told ahead of time that their loved ones would be released in a few days. I watched some of the prisoners who were awaiting release eat sweets. For me, consuming sweets meant celebrating the death of the many who had been executed.

87. They provided the families of those who had been executed with a phone number or an address so they could obtain more information. After some time, female visitors (mostly mothers and wives) were banned from visiting because they had staged serious protests in front of the prison. The regime did not know what to do with these mourning mothers. They tried to avoid them. For example, my mother-in-law was not notified of her son’s death. She had actually called my father and requested that he go collect his clothes on her behalf. Families who had no news of their loved ones were told by the regime to wait at home until they received a call.

88. Twelve days after my family visited me, I was interrogated again. The asked me the same set of questions. I was asked to write a letter of repentance and told that I would be executed the next day if I refused. I refused. We were instructed to write our last will and testament that evening. (By “will” they meant a letter to the family declaring that we were responsible for our execution.) Instead, I wrote a letter to my family reminding them to stay strong. I still have a copy of that letter with me.

89. They did not summon us the day after. But two remaining leftist prisoners were taken away that same night. One of them went on an indefinite hunger strike and another went on a ten-day strike. The former continued her resistance for eighty-three days. She had decided to end her life, but the regime wanted to keep her alive and torment her. She eventually lost consciousness and they put her on an IV. They force-fed her until she caved in. The prison authorities maintained that she was young and impressionable—they would not let her choose death over life. If they did not want her to die, she would not die.  

[1] Samizdat refers to the reproduction and dissemination of censored or illegal publications by dissidents. It refers to a form of grassroots resistance that was popularized by political dissidents active in the Soviet-bloc countries in the 1980s.

[2] Komiteh refers to the Islamic Revolutionary Committees which developed in 1978. Initially informal grassroots organizations, they later achieved formal status by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Majlis. The Komitehs effectively served as a type of police force designed to combat moral vice and dissident political activity.

[3] Mallat is phrase that is often used to refer to the mixture of ingredients used in cooking (particularly in cooking meat stew).

[4] 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.

[5] The Husseiniyih Hall was an amphitheatre in Evin prison were many of the 1988 executions took place.

[6] Some Muslims believe that they should avoid touching water that has come in contact with the body of an unclean “infidel.”

[7] “Coffins” refer to makeshift wood planks that were waist-high and arranged in such a way as to create small sections inside a larger room. Each tight section held an inmate, who was usually blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs. The inmates were forced to sit upright without back support and with their legs stretched out in front of them. This form of sensory deprivation was made popular by Hajji Davood Rahmani in Qezel Hesar prison.

[8] The chador is a veil that covers the whole body.

[9] Monafeqin was the derogatory name used by the regime against Mojahedin members. Monafeq means ‘hypocrite’ in Persian.

[10] The sanitarium building was referred to as the Asayesh-gah in Persian. The sanitarium was composed of solitary cells that were, on rare occasions, filled with more than one prisoner. Most of the time, however, prisoners were sent there for punishment and kept in cells by themselves.

[11] In Persian, this building was referred to as the Amoozesh-gah (literally, a ‘teaching institution’ or ‘academy’). The Amoozesh-gah was a three-story building that had six wards. Each floor had two wards. Wards 1, 2 and 3 were located on one side, and Wards 4, 5 and 6 on the other side of the building. Women mellikesh prisoners were kept in Ward 1 on the first floor; Mojahedin and leftist tavvabs were kept in Ward 2 on the second floor; and unrepentant prisoners who had not yet finished their terms were on the third floor. Women prisoners, both Mojahedin and leftists, lived together in these wards. 

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Tagged as:

1988 Prison Massacre, Torture