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Witness Statement: Amir Atiabi

Waiting to Die

60. The lashings finally came to an end. Those who accepted prayer after the first series of lashes were taken to rooms in a large ward. Jalil and I were taken to a different room. It was empty. Naserian accompanied us. When we got there he said, “There’s a rope in this room. There is also some glass. If you want to kill yourself, help yourself.” Jalil did not really understand what was going on, so I explained things to him after Naserian left.

61. Jalil Shahbazi had been in prison since 1979. He had never received a sentence since his arrest, and was one of the longest serving leftists in prison after the revolution. (He believed in the ideology of the Fedaian (Majority) and Tudeh Party.) They had kept him in prison since 1979 because he had refused to repent. He had suffered greatly through the torture and executions of the early 1980s. Many prisoners had broken during this time and agreed to cooperate with the regime. On several occasions, he had told me that he could not tolerate going through another such period of mass killings and torture. When he went before the Death Committee, he admitted to being a communist and thought he would be executed.

62. Jalil and I had decided that it was best to put an end to the torture and simply be executed. I told him that even if we tolerated the torture for not praying, they would execute us after three days anyway based on Shari’a law.9 We decided to tell Naserian to take us to the Committee again. We wanted to let them know that if this is what it means to be a Muslim, then we do not wish to be Muslims. Early next morning, the guards came after us. But there was no sign of Naserian. There was no use in telling the guards about our decision, so we endured ten more lashes because of our refusal to pray. After the beatings, we were taken back to the room. Both of us were shaking and shivering from the extreme pain we felt.

63. Naserian came for us at noon. We took the opportunity and asked him: “Why do you bother beating us? Take us to the Committee. We want to tell them that we are not Muslims.” He told us to shut up. Then we were whipped again for refusing to perform our noon prayers and, again, taken back to our room. We repeated our request before he left. Our feet had swelled from the forty hard lashes we had received since the previous evening. Naserian came back after a while. He ordered us to run to the Death Committee. We were in immense pain. Then he escorted me to the room and informed the Committee that I had told him that I was not a Muslim. Once I was in front of the Death Committee members, I showed them my feet and said, “If this is your Islam, I am not a Muslim.” I told him that forced prayer was meaningless. Eshraghi turned to me and said, “I know your family is Muslim, Don’t do this to yourself. Go and pray.” I think he knew our family was Seyyed,10 perhaps from my identification and father’s name. I told him that I would continue to refuse prayer because I was being forced to do it. Nayyeri interrupted and ordered that I be sent to the left side of the room. The guards then escorted me out of the room and placed me in a queue of prisoners who were to be sent to their deaths.

9 According to some survivors, male prisoners who were considered apostates were given three opportunities (in three days) to renounce their apostasy and become Muslim. If they still refused to renounce their apostasy, they would be executed on the fourth day.

10 A seyyed is someone who is believed to be a descendent of the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Imam Ali.

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Tagged as:

Imprisonment, 1988 Prison Massacre, Freedom of Religion