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Witness Statement of Sherko Jahani Asl

Sherko Jahani Asl provides a detailed account of his three periods of imprisonment for writing allegedly subversive fiction, a blasphemy charge, and human rights activism.

Name: Sherko Jahani Asl

Place of Birth:  Mahabad, Iran 

Date of Birth:  September 16, 1977 

Occupation:  Journalist  


Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview:  January 26, 2012

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff


This statement was prepared pursuant to an interview with Sherko Jahani Asl. It was approved by Sherko Jahani Asl on May 22, 2012. There are 68 paragraphs in the statement.

The views and opinions of the witness expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center.


Background

1. I am Sherko Jahani Asl. I was born in Mahabad in 1977. I have had a turbulent life in politics.

Father’s Execution

2. I was eight or nine years old when my father was executed alongside two of his friends in Tehran for his political activities. We didn’t even see their corpses. [The government] didn’t give the bodies back. He had collaborated with some Kurdish and non-Kurdish parties, for example the Komala, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan [KDPI], the People’s Mojahedin [MEK], and the Kurdish political parties in Iraq—like those connected to [Masoud] Barzani and [Jalal] Talebani. He worked with most political parties. Although he was an independent person from a political standpoint, he cooperated [with dissident parties] against ruling governments, especially the Islamic Republic.

3. [My father and his friends] were executed for bombing a Friday prayer gathering in Tehran. But they had only confessed under torture. I don’t know [if they really carried out the bombing] because I was a child [at that time], but what is apparent is that a number of members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] had been killed [by a bomb], and after that the government arrested these people [my father and his friends] and executed them.

4. Later in life, when I was in prison, I heard from the agents of the Intelligence Ministry that a number of IRGC members had been killed in the bombing alleged to have been carried out by my father. I heard that my father’s role was to transport [the bomb] from the border to Tehran. He was to take a carpet to Tehran, and they did not tell him that a bomb had been rolled up inside the carpet until he arrived in Tehran. He only found out about the bomb in Tehran. He didn’t even question why he needed to transport the carpet in a specific way. The two other people who were with him took the carpet [to the Friday prayer gathering] and proceeded forward in order to place the bomb near Khamenei or other high officials of the government[1] under the pretense they were going to say prayers on it.[2] They put the bomb in the front section of the crowd of participants, but some IRGC members pulled it back and a number of them were killed [in the explosion].

5. Apparently, a few days to a month later—I don’t know how long—the government arrested them based on the report of a spy and tortured them and even showed them on TV, although their faces showed that they had been tortured. I was a child, but I remember it. My father was sitting in the middle. The other two people were his friends from Mahabad. One of them was from the Vaziri family and the other was from the Ghaderi family. I was a young child. I kissed my father’s face on the television screen as I cried and begged him to come back home. At the same time, we had no home and didn’t have anywhere to settle down. My mother was on the run, traveling from village to village with my sisters while I was hidden in the home of one of my paternal aunts.

Prosecution of Family

6. [Government agents] pursued my mother for a long time even though my mother had no role [in the bombing]. The family was scattered. Then my mother turned herself in. Some of the government forces claimed that they had arrested her. She says that she turned herself in because she was a woman with her two daughters escaping from village to village as a large number of [government] forces pursued her, and she finally just gave up. They kept her in detention centers of the Intelligence Ministry’s local offices of Mahabad and Orumiyeh and interrogated her. Ultimately, they released her.

7. In order to arrest my mother, they arrested my maternal uncles. Then they arrested some of my aunts and tortured them, too, especially one of my aunts, Esmat Nourani who was severely tortured despite not having had any role in any [political] activity. One of my uncles was tortured for months as well. He told me himself how they hung upside down from one or two legs for hours. He was tortured a great deal, especially [because] it was the era of Khalkhali[3] and the beginning of the revolution, [which] was a suffocating era. After my mother turned herself in, they were released one by one.

Literary and Artistic Activities  

8. I began engaging in literary activities at the age of 15. I went to the literary association of Mahabad. I wrote my first poems and short stories. I joined the youth cinema club of Mahabad and took one-year courses in screenplay-writing, cinema direction, set design and photography there. Then I studied cinema for a year in Rasam University Institute, which was a private institute based in Tehran that had a branch in Bukan. That’s how I got interested in photography, cinema and the like. But I faced problems in artistic and literary activities too, especially in literature, because a large portion of the literature we worked on was resistance literature, a kind of political literature, and that led to us being reprimanded and threatened time and again by the head of the local office of Ministry of Islamic Guidance in Mahabad at the time, whom I think was named Mr. Abbasi. They also shut down our literary association a number of times and we were forced to gather in the park in front of the Office of Islamic Guidance rather than in the hall therein, but we kept the club [going] any way.  

First Arrest

9. I was arrested for the first time in Mahabad in 2000 because of my political and literary activities. They called me from the Intelligence Office of Mahabad and instructed me to go there to respond to what they called some simple questions “for 5 minutes.” When I arrived there, they told me that “We know you are a dissident against the Islamic Republic and that you are involved in activities [against the regime]. You and your friends gather and talk about political issues.” They told me about one of my friends who was a guerrilla fighter and was killed. “You have participated in the funeral of this counter-revolutionary [as they labeled him]. This is a crime.” They said I had read counterrevolutionary stories in [gatherings of] the literary association that contained leftist (socialist) ideology and anti-government political themes. [The agents] threatened me and wanted to associate me with political organizations somehow. I denied that. They wanted me to confess to crimes and write things that I knew would ultimately hurt my friends and me. Their accusations were ridiculous. One of the charges against me—which the court ultimately maintained—was writing stories against the Islamic Republic.

10. Immediately after they arrested me the Intelligence [Ministry] forces attacked my home and confiscated many of my books. They also brought many of my writings [to the Intelligence Office] and they forced me to translate these writings [into Persian] for them while I was in solitary confinement. This is another Kafkaesque episode from my life.

11. My interrogator in the Intelligence Office was an intelligence agent named Mr. Elhami. Of course these names are never their real names. A man’s family name may be Mahmoudi, but when he comes to Mahabad he calls himself Elhami. This was the individual who initially called me and asked me to go to the Intelligence Office the first time.

12. They assumed that the first time they summoned me I would fear them and start cooperating with them or become their spy or write confessions against my friends that would hurt them and myself. The first time I was detained I remained in detention for five and a half months. It was a very difficult period because I was almost 22 at the time, and didn’t have a lot of experience.

13. Mr. Elhami, the person who was in charge of my case, was originally from Azerbaijan [a region of Iran]. He had green eyes and was thin and tall. He put me in a Peykan (car) in the Intelligence Office and drove me around the city a little bit. He did this deliberately. I complained “I don’t like it that you have put me in the car with you, because people might see me and think I work with the Intelligence Office.” He responded “That is exactly why I am doing this. We have called you numerous times and you have refused to come. You say you don’t want to be seen in the Intelligence Office and make people think that you are cooperating with us.” Then he drove to a dead-end street where I later found out the detention center of the local Intelligence Office [was located]. They took me inside, and the interesting thing was they didn’t blindfold me. They took me to a room and I was still not blindfolded. There he repeated the discussion and threats from the car [ride]. He opened the door and said “You have two choices. You can [cooperate and] go home. The door is open and we will even give you a ride home. Otherwise you will stay in prison and this is the detention center of the Intelligence [Ministry]. We do not joke around here.” That was when I realized I was in the detention center of the [Ministry of] Intelligence of the Islamic Republic. I thought it [the detention center] would be farther from the Intelligence Office proper.

14. I resisted and they put me in solitary confinement, where I remained for 63 days. When they arrested me I had long hair and a beard. When they took me to the public prison after 63 days I looked like an animal. My hair and beard were so long that people were taken aback when they saw me. I had pulled out my mustache hairs as a result of the psychological pressure in the prison. The time I spent [in the Intelligence Office’s detention center] was a very difficult experience. The room [cell] where I was kept for two days didn’t have any windows. There was only a vent in the ceiling. But then they took me to another room [cell] for the rest of the time. It had a window but the glass was broken and snow came in the cell from the window. It was very, very cold. There was a radiator that would work for one day and then not work for four days. They did that intentionally; it was a kind of torture. There were blankets in the room but the blankets smelled like urine. It was clear that the soldiers [guards] had urinated on them. When I pulled the blankets over my head the smell of urine killed me. When I pushed the blanket away the cold tortured me. I didn’t know what to do, pull the blanket over my head or not. There were a lot of cockroaches too, and I hated that at the beginning and wanted to kill them. But after a while they became like friends to me, especially when they [the guards] brought me cheese every morning. I had to walk in my cell for a while because of the cold. They [cockroaches] would gather around my cheese and eat it. I developed a sense of friendship with them.

15. I wasn’t given breaks [to go out and] get fresh air. Or rather, [I did, but only] twice a week for 10 minutes each time! I didn’t have fresh air breaks longer than 10 minutes. They took me for interrogation blindfolded. Interrogation times were not regimented. For example, sometimes it was at 5 AM and sometimes it would be 1 AM and sometimes I was interrogated seven times in a day and sometimes I didn’t have any interrogations for three or four days. It was psychological warfare.

16. The toilet was a catastrophe. There was a place with 8 toilets and two baths, but it was a very dreadful place. The color of the doors and walls was somehow at odds with the mindset of the prisoner. It was a lifeless gray or a very, very jarring yellow that stung the eyes and drained the spirit.

17. I could take a bath once a week or once every two weeks and the interesting thing was that the bathroom had some pipes instead of a ceiling.  There was no ceiling. They had done it intentionally and snow would enter the bathroom. The water was cold too. I had to take a shower with cold water. I felt there was something under my skin. My body was itchy and there were lines on my body. I felt like there were creatures under my skin so I had to wash my body with that cold water. I shivered and my teeth chattered but I tried to wash my body with some simple soap anyway. It was torture.

18. The place was terrifying. They intentionally turned the sound of the radio up from morning to midnight as another means of psychological warfare, or they would subject us to the screams and moans of the people who were being tortured. I spent 63 days there like that and the funny thing that I mentioned was that they forced me to translate the stories that I had written into Farsi, because I had written my stories in Kurdish. This presented one advantage for me: they gave me some paper. At the beginning I refused [to do the translation]. I said “you are the government and have your own paid agents who can translate my stories to Farsi for you. Why are you insisting that I do this?” Their excuse: “We want to know if you are an honest translator or not.” I wrote some of my stories in very small letters on two pieces of paper to preserve them. I wrote some [new] poems and stories there too. I now have those pieces of paper. The time passed much more easily for me when I was translating the stories, because in prison and in solitary confinement [it feels like] time does not pass at all. When one is busy doing something one passes the time more easily than when one has nothing—no clock, no book, nothing! I wrote some stories while I was in solitary confinement. I wrote them in very small letters and put them in my underwear and gave back the rest of the papers.

19. They used my writings against me in court. Most of my stories had a political setting. For example the characters were guerrilla fighters, or the setting of the stories was the political atmosphere of Kurdistan, and they didn’t like that. As a result they asked me questions like “How can you write about the lives of the Kurdish guerrilla fighters with so many specifics? You must have been with them; you must have lived with them!” I responded “Jules Verne had not travelled to the moon when he wrote ‘From the Earth to the Moon.’ Writers can use their imaginations to travel to places and experience them [in their minds]. What’s more, I have not written anything against the government, so you cannot convict me.” But they accused me of absurd things. One of them was having a “father complex” which is nonexistent in the law. They cannot arrest someone on the grounds of having a “father complex!” One of my problems was the fact that my father had been executed by the Islamic Republic and they said, “All of you in that family are counterrevolutionaries.” The most interesting experience there was what the head of the Intelligence Office, a man named Mohammadi, who I think was from Shahindej and was Azeri [from Azerbaijan], told me once in my cell. He came to my cell and said: “Do you know that once your father was detained in the corner of the same cell that you are in now, and I interrogated him?” That was interesting for me. I joked “It is possible that one day my son will come here and you will interrogate him [too].” “Yes, I know all of you are counterrevolutionaries,” he responded.

First Trial

20. Ultimately the Ministry of Intelligence recommended [a sentence of] five years of imprisonment for me to the judge. In fact they first recommended 15 years but the judge told them that based on the charges and the law there was no way [that I could be sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment]. [After that,] based on articles 498 and 499 of the Islamic Penal Code, they recommended a five year sentence. It is also notable that in that very small room (in the courthouse) the representative of the Intelligence Ministry stood behind the judge and they talked and joked. Even Judge Hedayati, who was from the north [of Iran][4] clearly insulted Kurds and said very offensive things. You could see that the [Ministry of] Intelligence and the court were 100% unified. It was clear that the court did not mean anything; the judge is a major piece [cog] of the Intelligence [Ministry]. If a judge says no to the Intelligence [Ministry], he would immediately be removed or transferred.

21. After a number of hearings, one day they called me to the office of the guards in the public prison and they read the ruling for me and asked me to sign it. They didn’t even let me keep a copy of it! They sentenced me to five years’ imprisonment. When I heard the news I reacted very coolly and went and bought a pack of sweets and gave it to prisoners. The prisoners asked me why I did that.[5] They thought I had been released. I said “No, they have sentenced me to 5 years of imprisonment and now I am proud to be a political prisoner.”

22. The court suggested a court-appointed attorney because I didn’t have enough money to hire an attorney. I accepted [the attorney] but nothing came of it in practice. Next my mother hired an attorney but because we didn’t have any money and the attorneys were very expensive, she only hired the attorney to write me a letter of defense for 1500 Tomans (15 USD at the time). So in truth I just had an attorney write my letter of defense [but the attorney did not personally defend me]. I don’t even remember the name of the attorney. The second and the third times that I was arrested, I didn’t have an attorney at all.

23. After the interrogations in solitary confinement were over and they manufactured a case, as they say in their own parlance, they allowed me [to talk] to an attorney. Although even if the attorney comes to the court and defends you, they will sentence the political defendants to whatever the Intelligence [Ministry] desires. In court, the judge is a puppet who does not have the right to have an independent opinion. Whatever the Intelligence [Ministry and/or IRGC Intelligence Division] dictates, the Revolutionary Court does.

24. They sentenced me to five years of imprisonment, but after five and a half months in prison they agreed to let me be bailed until the next hearings [pursuant to an appeal]. For the following hearings the case was sent to Orumiyeh [to the provincial appeals court] and since they didn’t have any evidence against me and I had not confessed to anything, they cleared me of all charges after a number of hearings in Mahabad and Orumiyeh.

25. The legal process took a couple of years and during that time the Intelligence services had their eyes on me all the time. They put everyone who visited me under surveillance. The atmosphere of the prison dominated [my life]. First of all the mental effects of prison affected me whether I was awake or asleep. I still have the same feeling. Then, whenever even a normal car entered our street, even if they had nothing to do with me, my mother told me, “There is a car parked, it might be Intelligence agents!” They kept an eye on me all the time. I had always been under surveillance [for my activities], but that surveillance increased much more after this arrest.

Second Arrest and Blasphemy Charge

26. After that [arrest] I mostly stuck to my literary activities. I concentrated my energy on my literature and my literary interests until I was arrested in 2003 again. Most of my arrests took place in the fall or winter. At the beginning of fall, my mother would start to get worried and say, “This winter you are going to spend the Yalda holiday [Dec. 20-21, the last night of fall, which is celebrated as a holiday in Iranian culture] in the Intelligence [Office].” I was arrested by the same Intelligence agents that arrested me in 2000. Some of them were paid locals. I knew Elhami and Esma’ili. In previous interrogations they had introduced themselves with these names; but these are most probably not their real names.[6] They raided our home and arrested me. This time the Ministry of Intelligence made a case against me based on bogus charges without there being any actual charges against me.

27. The only accusation for which they had any evidence indicating a crime under their laws was a letter I had written to an evangelical radio station called Monte Carlo. I personally do not believe in any religion but I do study mythology and various religions. Since I wanted to progress in my studies, I studied books like the Koran, biographies of the Buddha and other religions [sic]. The book I needed was the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I couldn’t get a hold of that book. I went to churches a few times, but they were afraid to give me [the Bible] because they are under pressure by the government [and are not allowed to give anybody any material related to Christianity]. I found the address of that radio station and wrote them a letter and asked them to send me a Bible. The next week my letter was in the Intelligence Office because they [the Intelligence Office] had apparently filtered the address so that every letter sent to that address would go to them instead. I had written the Monte Carlo address, but the Intelligence Office got the letter. That was the evidence they had against me. They had essentially [set up] an inquisition. The rest of the charges were made up. I hadn’t committed any crime. They said I had cooperated with Kurdish political parties and [marched out] the old charges of counterrevolutionary activities in the literary club, left-wing (socialist) propaganda and now that they had the letter, they added that I had converted from Islam and charged me with muharibih [waging war against God]. In fact, when I was a child I went to mosques [for prayer gatherings] but then I became an atheist and stopped going. The clergyman of our neighborhood knew that I was not [a religious person] at all because I had talked to him many times; we never argued, but we did have friendly chats about religious matters. He was an intellectual. That same clergyman who surmised that there was no faith left in me gathered signatures for a petition saying that I was a religious man who attended the mosque on a regular basis and asked, “Who says he wanted to become a Christian?” I denied the religious conversion and said, “I am a Muslim, who says I wanted to leave Islam?” I was acquitted of this charge this way. Atheism is punishable by death [in Iranian law]. Whoever converts [from Islam] is subject to execution in Iran.

28. They asked me, “What did you want the book for?” “I just wanted to read it. After all, they are people of the book too [adherents of an Abrahamic religion and therefore tolerated in Islam]! I wanted to know what it had to say.” And it was the truth; I wanted to understand religions and philosophy better. The rest of the charges did not stand either, because they didn’t have any evidence. I was released after a month and a half. I got out of prison but the trial went on until I was ultimately acquitted. [After that I was free] until 2006, when I was arrested for a third time.

Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan

29. I had been in touch with Mr. Kaboudvand since when he worked in Payam-i Mardom (The People’s Message) newspaper in Sanandaj. I went and visited him a couple of times and I kept in touch with him by telephone. I distributed his newspaper in Mahabad and sometimes sent him articles for the newspaper under a pseudonym. In 2006, I was a member of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan. When Mr. Kaboudvand announced the beginning of his activities in 2005, I was the first person in the Mahabad and Mukrian region to tell him that I was prepared to cooperate with him. I recruited a large number of people in that area [to HROK]. Later, I became acquainted with people like Farzad Kamangar through the organization. We became friends. I communicated with Farzad using the e-mail [address] he had gotten from the organization under the name Siamand, which I only discovered to be a pseudonym later. [Together], we founded a group composed of Saman Rasoulpour, Zaynab Bayazidi, Serveh Kamkar, myself and two or three other friends with whom we held weekly meetings and sent out the news of the region.

30. The government found out that we were working [on human rights issues] and they sometimes summoned and threatened us on the phone. But we had made a decision not to go to their office if they called and summoned or threatened us. They called numerous times and told us, “Come to the Intelligence Office, we have some questions for you!” We told them that if they had any problems with us, they could apply through the courts and they could sue. “You can even come to our homes and arrest us but we will not come to the Intelligence Office of our own accord,” we said. That made them (the Intelligence agents) angry.

31. Meanwhile some of the Kurdish political parties were very active, and the Intelligence Office wanted to do something so that they could link us to those parties, especially because a few of the members of our group who had been imprisoned went and joined parties like PJAK after being released. They accused us, saying, “You are definitely PJAK members. Otherwise why would [the aforementioned members] directly go and join PJAK after being released from the prison? The rest of you must be members of the same party.” The Intelligence Office wanted to connect us to those parties so that they could arrest and imprison us more easily, but they could not do that in practice, because we didn’t do anything that they could use as evidence against us.

Kidnapping of Serveh Kamkar

32. Showaneh Asfarm, known as Showaneh Seyyed Ghaderi, who was one of the so called “anti-government” youths in the city of Mahabad, had been killed by government forces [not long before Serveh Kamkar’s kidnapping]. [His murder] was followed by protests. This young Kurdish man was surrounded, tortured and killed by 71 government agents.[7] I later read the government files and even in those files they noted that 71 government agents had participated. In the court files, they explained that these agents had surrounded Showaneh under the command of a person called General Oghabi. They got him drunk first, so that he could not defend himself. Then they tortured him in a tragic way and killed him.

33. I distributed the photos of [the body of] Showaneh Ghaderi and I was the first person to go to his home [to pay my respects]. After his death, we (the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan) carried out an investigation. I have cassettes from four eyewitnesses in the neighborhood who explain how Showaneh was killed. In addition, in the file of the case brought by the family before the Court of Mahabad [sic], it says that 71 agents were present there and the sniper commander General Oghabi shot the first bullet to Showaneh’s leg from a 150-meter distance. The second agent was Ali Zavanshiri who shot him in the stomach from two meters’ distance with a handgun. After the first bullet he could not defend himself, in addition, he was drunk, so Ali Zavanshiri could go forward very easily and shoot him. Both General Oghabi and Zavanshiri were acquitted by the government. I heard their names from Showaneh’s brother and other local people. They were infamous because they patrolled the city and harassed people. People even told me that Zavanshiri, a police officer, pepper-sprayed both a girl and a boy who were walking on the street in the eyes. They call him “Ali Khatar” (Dangerous Ali). Apparently Zavanshiri is from the city of Khoy. He is not a Kurd, but an Azeri.

34. They [the government] imprisoned Zavanshiri for a short while [even though he was] their own agent. Months after [the killing of] Showaneh Ghaderi they killed a young boy from Mahabad named Shirku Amini. Amini got into an argument with a government agent and that agent took out his gun and very easily killed him. I had personally met Shirku because his brother was a friend of mine—the same brother who told me the story [about Amini’s death] later. They wanted to begin carrying out the [chain] murders. After the expansion of the activities of the [Human Rights] Organization [of Kurdistan] in the region, they decided to start with civic activists. The plan was to perform chain murders and kill us one-by-one. Serveh Kamkar was the first person targeted.

35. [We know this because] they explained all of this to Serveh on the night they kidnapped her in the city and wanted to kill her. They told her, “Tonight is your turn and the following nights will be [the turns of] others like sherko Jahani, Saman Rasoulpour, Ghafour Mohammadi and others. We know all of you and will deal with you one by one.”

36. On the evening of January 8, 2006, Serveh and I were together in the Mollajami area of Mahabad. It was 6 PM. We were walking and talking but I felt that our surroundings were not normal. There were people walking around us whose clothes looked like the types of clothes that the paid Kurdish [government] agents wear. I sensed that plainclothes government forces were around us. I even told Serveh that something was wrong, but Serveh is a very brave girl and she sometimes is careless because of that bravery. She laughed and said: “Man, why are you so scared?! Take it easy.” When we got to the city hall of Mahabad, I said goodbye to her and told her that I was going to another part of Mahabad called the Azadi intersection. She wanted to go home.

37. [We later discovered that] the agents planned to kidnap Serveh on her way home, but a very small thing occurred [that ruined their plans]. I suddenly remembered that I had bought an internet card from a company called “Sirvan Computer” which was on the other way from Serveh’s home. I accidentally told her, “Serveh, I bought this card two months ago but the card doesn’t work and they won’t give me my money back,” and jokingly added, “You are a rude girl and you don’t have any fear; you’re the only person who can take this card and get my money back from them.” [She took the card] and went towards Sirvan Computer and that ruined the plan of the Intelligence [Ministry] to arrest her on her way home.

38. Thus they were forced to change their plan. It was obvious; I could feel that there were a lot of Intelligence agents around on the street. I went to Azadi intersection and she went to Sirvan Computer, and when she came out of there, the plain clothes Intelligence agents and a number of paid locals working for the Intelligence Ministry stopped [in front of] her with a taxi and a Land Rover and forced her into the back seat of the Land Rover. When people crowded around, they shot their guns in the air and told them that it was a family matter. They made it seem like one of the agents was her fiancé and that it was a family matter in which people should not interfere. They then took her to the Intelligence Office and told her [about their plan]. Later she told us what abusive words they had used and what they had told her. [They told her things] that they say to someone who is not going to see the light of the day. They told her that they were going to kill her. Usually when the Intelligence [Ministry] arrests people, they do it with a warrant, but sometimes they do it without warrants, like when they raid the homes of its suspects to inspect their homes and then take the suspects back [to the Intelligence Office] with them. What is more, it’s not difficult for the Intelligence [Ministry] to arrest a woman in Mahabad. They could very easily get a warrant from the court and go to her home wearing their uniforms and inspect the home and arrest her. But the fact that she was arrested by plainclothes [agents] who told people that it was a family matter effectively showed that they had another plan [beyond simply arresting her].

39. I still have the photos of her foot; she put it in front of the door of the car to stop them from closing the door, but they slammed the door on her foot to make her take her foot in. When they took her to the Intelligence Office they cursed at her. They did not rape her, but they sexually assaulted her, for instance touching her body. It was then that they told her that after she died, it would be her friends’ turns [and they mentioned] me, Ghafur Mohammadi and others in the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan who were labeled by the Intelligence [Ministry] as PJAK members or sympathizers.

40. Serveh says that they would have definitely killed her if we had not found out about the identity of the kidnappers. On my way back home, about 15 or 20 minutes after the kidnapping of Serveh by government forces, I realized a group of people had gathered. I went forward and asked what was going on. “A man and some of his friends just kidnapped his old fiancée here,” they responded. I didn’t think the kidnapped person could be Serveh. One of her shoes was there, but I didn’t even realize that it was her shoe. I wasn’t paying attention, because it was getting dark. Her sister called me the moment I arrived home, “Brother sherko, they kidnapped Serveh!” she cried. I asked when and she told me what she knew. A number of the people who saw the incident knew the Kamkar family and recognized Serveh and called her family and let them know about her kidnapping. “Was it her?” I asked. “Yes.” She responded. “But I was with her!” I said. Zaynab Bayazidi, Saman Rasoulpour and I went to their home immediately and went downtown from there, but almost the entire city was closed. Her shoe was still there. We were very sad. “What should we do? How can we find a lead?” we asked ourselves. We knew [she had been kidnapped by] the government, but we didn’t have any evidence.

41. In a stroke of luck, there was a pool hall that was still open. I went in. My friends told me, “Don’t go in! They don’t know anything. We don’t think they even care. They are busy playing,” but I responded that I thought that we might get lucky and find a lead. A couple of people in the pool hall knew me, although I did not know them, to be honest. They said “How are you, Mr. Sherko? Why are you here?” I told them what had happened. Both of them had witnessed the incident. They said “We know the people who kidnapped Miss Serveh Kamkar. One of them is a Kurdish agent [for the] Intelligence [Office]. They used his Land Rover. The other one was an agent of the IRGC Intelligence Division.” They gave me the names of both and the address of the former. They had even written down the plate number of one of the cars. We immediately called the cell phone of Serveh’s father and asked him where he was. He responded, “I am in the police office. The police deny the arrest and they say that they have called all government agencies and that they too claim not to have arrested anyone named Serveh Kamkar.” When we gave him the plate number and the names of the agents and he gave them to the police, they had said “Let us make a call.” Then they called the IRGC Intelligence Division, which was forced to take responsibility for the arrest. All their plans were ruined and they were forced to return Serveh at midnight. The dropped her off in front of their home with the same Land Rover. She said she had been very close to being murdered, but in the end they were forced to release her because she had not committed any crimes.

Demonstration

42. We decided that it could not go on like this. One day they killed Showaneh Ghaderi, another day they killed Shirku Amini and then when they kidnapped Serveh Kamkar like that, [we realized that] tomorrow could be our turn. Their threats to Serveh that they would go after us later made us very worried, so we decided to stage a protest. We penned a letter from ‘the women of Mahabad’; Serveh had many friends, and many of them came together to write a letter. Zaynab Bayazidi, Serveh Kamkar and I went to the governor’s office and applied for a permit for a peaceful civil protest. We even made [the request] based on the law and articles of the Constitution [of the Islamic Republic]. We wrote that a number of the women in Mahabad wanted to stage a 20-minute peaceful demonstration in a part of the city near city hall without any chanting to simply protest Ms. Kamkar’s kidnapping and demand increased security in the city, especially for women.

43. After the letter was written, on Monday we gave them the letter. The local governor of Mahabad, who was a Kurd from Sanandaj, had gone to Sanandaj. They (in the governor’s office) said that the governor was not there and that we had to wait for him to come back. We left the letter in his office but later found out that the letter had been sent to the Intelligence Office and all of the Intelligence forces had held meetings from Monday to Friday evening to figure out how they should respond. On Friday they called me and said that Governor Samadi wanted to talk to me. They invited me to go to the governor’s office because they were prepared to respond to some of my questions. “I don’t have anything to talk about with the governor and if he [needs something] it has nothing to do with me.” “No, it is about protest that the ladies want to hold tomorrow, on Saturday,” they responded. I said, “Call the ladies. I have got nothing to do with this.” They said “No, you should come because the ladies listen to you.” So I went to the governor’s office. Zaynab Bayazidi, who is currently serving a four-year prison term, was with me too. Before we arrived Zaynab said she wanted to call home because it was getting late and her family would be worried. She went to call from a pay phone. I went in front of the governor’s office and people from two cars [that I knew belonged to Intelligence services] suddenly attacked and arrested me. I protested that I was being arrested without a warrant, which was more akin to kidnapping. They told me to stop talking and get in the car and then they would show me their papers. When they put me in the car, I was hoping that they would not see Zaynab, but since the payphone was near the governor’s office one of them saw and recognized Zaynab and said, “Stop, We should arrest her too.” They put her in the car as well and took us to the Intelligence Office of Mahabad.

44. They threatened us many times in the Intelligence [Office]. “You are disruptive to society. You are prisoners with criminal backgrounds.” I was very frightened. There was a feeling of fear deep in my heart. Since they had warned Serveh that they would kill us, I thought I was going to be killed. There was fear in my heart, but interestingly, Zaynab Bayazidi was not frightened at all. I have seen two very brave girls in my life. One of them was Serveh Kamkar and the other was Zaynab Bayazidi, who both laughed in [the authorities’] faces. We were in the same room. They didn’t take us to a cell; we were in the interrogation room. There were two or three Intelligence agents with us there. Zaynab laughed and said, “I did not expect anything more than kidnapping from you. One day you kidnap Serveh Kamkar, and today you have kidnapped us.” The Intelligence agent said, “The person who said he was calling you from the governor’s office was not from there at all. It was us.” He joked about that. They were very angry that Zaynab was not frightened. We asked what they were going to do. They demanded that we tell the ladies not to protest or otherwise they would imprison [Zaynab and I]. I said, “It has got nothing to do with us. I didn’t write the request; it was the ladies who wrote that. You should talk to them. They might hold a gathering tomorrow. It is their democratic right after all.” They saw that they couldn’t do anything.

45. After an hour they took us to the governor’s office and amusingly, it was full of government forces from the IRGC Intelligence Division, the national Ministry of Intelligence, and from the governor’s office. It was filled with agents. It was surprising. The head of the court and his deputy, the representative of the city in the national parliament and the governor himself, were all waiting for us to arrive. They took me to the office of the governor. In his office the argument started. They told us, “You are elements of PJAK and they have given you orders, otherwise your demands are nonsense.” I had the Constitution of the Islamic Republic in my pocket. I took it out and showed them the articles about the right to [take part in] peaceful demonstrations. I told them, “If you believe in these laws, [you should understand that] we have a legal request. If we were from PJAK we would go to some remote corner of the city, cover our faces, [protest] illegally and light fires and chant anti-government slogans. But we have made a legal request.” I didn’t say “we”, though, I said the ladies had written [the request]. I said, “The ladies wrote that ‘as a group of women who live in Mahabad, we want to stage a 20-minute legal protest in silence.’ Therefore their actions are not illegal. It was a legal request and it has got nothing to do with PJAK. The forces of PJAK have not come from the Qandil Mountains to order us to do these things. You just want to say these things to make yourselves look legitimate in the face of all these murders and kidnappings [that you carry out] and call us terrorists instead, whereas we are only civil rights activists. We have got nothing to do with wars and we believe that the Kurdish political parties are not terrorists because if they had the grounds for dialogue, they would come and voice all of their concerns and you would give them their rights and they would put their guns away. You should look at the root of the problem.”

46. We spoke for a long time. At 1 AM a group of government forces went out and another came in. For example the IRGC Intelligence division went out and others came in. The head of the Revolutionary Court got angry a number of times and told them to take us to prison, but the representative of the city Jafar Ayinparast would say, “No, please sit down. Sir, please take it easy on them.” They kept trying to convince us to stop the next day’s protest.

47. By 1 or 1:30 AM there were 3 people left; the head of the Intelligence [Office], a man named Hedayati, the parliamentary representative of the city, Ayinparast, and Governor Samadi. Meanwhile the intelligence agents were in regular contact with Tehran and Orumiyeh. The phone of the representative rang and he tricked us. He spoke in Farsi and hung up and said “Good news, I have a message from Tehran that you can have your protest tomorrow.” We said happily, “Good, they finally accepted.” The governor said, “Congratulations, it is a very good outcome.” The head of the Intelligence [Office] said “I swear to God, even if Mr. Khamenei orders me, I am not going to let these counter-revolutionaries gather tomorrow. I will arrest them.” We finally said, “Okay, if they are giving us permission, please give it to us in writing. Write it down and sign it for us.” The governor said, “No, my deputy is out of the building now and I don’t have my stamps.” He gave excuses and didn’t give us anything in writing. But he promised us that as long as we did not chant anti-governmental slogans, no one would bother us. We said ok, but Zaynab insisted that the governor must give us the permission in writing. But I said “Zaynab, we finally succeeded. Tomorrow some other people can come and get written permission.”

48. The governor told us that he would give us the protest permit the next day at 8 AM. We sent three or four ladies to the governor’s office and they were insulted. They said, “Who told you that there is any kind of permission?!” The governor had given us his phone number but he didn’t pick up. He had intentionally switched his phone off. The representative played the same trick and didn’t pick up his phone. The ladies who had gone to protest were confronted by something odd. They found nearly 400 plainclothes government forces standing in the city hall [neighborhood] where they were going to hold their rally. People thought there was a pro-government rally going on, not a civic protest. The ladies who had gone there were confronted by the insults of the government forces and they were forced to leave. Hence the protest didn’t take place. [Nonetheless,] they turned this into a public disturbance case against me and Zaynab.

Summons, Third Arrest and Imprisonment

49. In the winter of 2006-2007, the Revolutionary Court of Mahabad summoned me and charged me with planning a protest. They were angrier with Zaynab because I tried to be moderate so that we could come to a conclusion with the government and make the protest happen. But Zaynab was much more radical, so they were much angrier with Zaynab, especially because Zaynab laughed at the Intelligence agents and poked fun at them. She didn’t show any kind of fear and she had even prepared herself for death. Actually that is why the court summoned me. I went there and there was an assistant prosecutor there. He asked questions before the judge. This [assistant prosecutor] had an angry face and he was a hateful racist. He asked his questions in a very disrespectful fashion. He finally told me, “You must author a confession against Miss Bayazidi saying that she planned the protest. You should say that you helped, but if you say she did more, we will acquit you. We will find a way to release you.” I said that I would not accept that, “We didn’t do anything illegal. Those who kidnapped Serveh and killed Showaneh Ghaderi and Shirku Amini must be prosecuted and punished, not me or Zaynab or people like us who made an official and legal request to stage a demonstration.” As a result they told me that they were sending me to the prison and I told them to do whatever they wanted to do.

50. They set a bail of five million Toumans (at the time, roughly $5000) for me. I said, “I will not sign it and I don’t want anyone to bail me out because I have not committed any crimes.” He asked whether I considered myself innocent. I said yes. He said, “Write on this bail letter that ‘I am innocent and I will not sign.’” And I did. He asked, “How can we know that it is you who have written it? You should sign that too.” When I signed it, he said “That is how I get you to sign,” and told the guards to take me to the prison. He tricked me into signing the bail document and sent me to the prison.

51. I was [sent to] Mahabad Central Prison. I went on hunger strike and continued it for 19 days. After a while they got angry and since they had taken me to the court and asked me to break my strike and I refused, they took me to the office of the IRGC Intelligence Division in Orumiyeh for 22 days, after which they took me back to Mahabad. While I was in Orumiyeh the government spread a rumor of my death. They intended to kill me if the public and human rights organizations did not react. Since I had been taken to Orumiyeh and the news of my hunger strike had been widely reported in Kurdish media there was real concern that I could die as a result of the hunger strike. The government had misused this and one of their agents called my home and said “I have seen your son and he died because of the hunger strike or torture.” The news of my death was reflected in the media and Amnesty International released a statement expressing concerns about my well-being. My mother told me later that our phone had been ringing from morning to midnight. People wanted to know what had happened and they wanted to protest if I had really been killed. Since Showaneh Ghaderi had been killed the previous year and protests had subsequently broken out all throughout Kurdistan, [the government] feared that protests like that could pick up again for me. Because of that the Intelligence [Ministry] called my family the next day to let them know that I was alive.

52. I didn’t know what was going on in the outside world. I was in solitary confinement. The Intelligence agent who had previously sent soldiers to blindfold me and take me to his room for interrogation and whom I had therefore not seen during the interrogations came to my cell. I knew that it was him because although I was blindfolded, I could see his legs from under the blindfold and I recognized his voice. He took me out himself this time. He was essentially dragging me and I nearly fell down a couple of times. He led me to the interrogation room and asked me the phone number of our home. He dialed the number and I was worried. Since they wanted me to talk to my family in this way, I thought something might have happened to my family because earlier I had insisted that I should be able to contact my family, but they hadn’t permitted it. My mother was not home. My wife picked up the phone and started to cry and asked me if it was [really] me. I said it was me. “Tell me your ID number if you are telling the truth.” “Don’t you know my voice? It is me!” I told her my ID number. She didn’t tell me about the news of my death. I thought they had heard about the torture or that she was crying because she had not heard my voice for a long time. I said I was fine and she didn’t need to be worried. The agent hung up and said that that was enough. Then they took me back to my cell. After 22 days in the IRGC Intelligence Division’s detention center in Orumiyeh, they took me back to Mahabad Central Prison again. The prisoners looked at me like they were seeing as ghost. “Are you alive?” Even those who had arguments with me in the prison hugged and kissed me like they had seen a living martyr.

53. I didn’t hire an attorney. I didn’t have much money and [I decided that] I could defend myself because I had not done anything wrong. They wanted to associate me with problems related to the [Kurdish] political parties. I worked with a Kurdish-Turkish news agency called “Forat News.” I wrote articles for them, and because this news agency was affiliated with a party called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, they alleged that anyone who had been working with “that political news agency” [Forat News] necessarily followed their ideology too. The Intelligence [Ministry] confiscated my books three times [when I was in Iran] and a fourth time when I was in Sweden. 

Third Trial

54. [As I mentioned before] I was taken to court after 22 days in Orumiyeh. The name of the judge there was Abbaszadeh.[8] Some of the books that they confiscated from me dealt with political subjects and [especially] the Kurdish political parties. They used them as evidence at trial. They had [also] confiscated some books by Abdullah Ocalan[9] from me during my [second] arrest in 2003. The judge put a green book that I had never seen on his desk and told me that the Intelligence [services, Ministry or IRGC] claimed that I had a criminal background. I said that I had been acquitted and that the previous cases had nothing to do with this situation, but the judge responded that when they raided my home years ago they found the party constitution of PJAK among my books. I asked Judge Abbaszadeh if he was sure that the Intelligence [Ministry] had charged me with that. He said yes, and I said, “First of all if they found the statute of PJAK in my possession that year, why didn’t they mention it in my case that year? Next, the year they arrested me there was no political party by the name of PJAK.[10] How can I have the published party constitution of a political party that didn’t even exist in 2003?” The judge got angry and picked up the phone and I could understand that he was arguing with the Intelligence [agent] in Turkish, pillorying them for bringing the wrong charges against me. Their principal goal was to convict me however they could—they were making up a case.

55. I said, “I will not deny that I don’t approve of the Islamic Republic, but I have not taken any actions against it. If [you think] I have done [anything] and you have any evidence, present the evidence. Also, I respect some Kurdish leaders. I cannot call them terrorists as you do, but that cannot be the basis [for conviction]. I have the right to study the books of Abdullah Ocalan and others. I am a writer and I need to know what is going on in Iran, the region and the world. As a result, even if you find a book that was written by a Kurdish leader in my possession, that [book] cannot be used to convict me.” They asked me where I had gotten the books. I said “I am a writer. I have bought some of them from vendors on the street, some of them were left at my doorstep –people rang the bell and when I opened the door I saw that the book was put at the door. I love books, I cannot throw them away or burn them. I take them and put them in my bookcase and I read them to see what they say and then keep them.”

56. The main evidence they wanted to use was the books, but they had miscalculated because as I said the PJAK had been founded in 2004 and they had arrested me in 2003. It was very amusing that the Intelligence apparatus of the Islamic Republic, which considers itself very thorough, had not thought of this, so they could not use it against me. They held other hearings against me until 2008. I refused to leave the deed to my home as bail. I reiterated that I was innocent and that I simply wanted to be released. It went so far that the Intelligence [Ministry], which usually set bail amounts in excess of 100 million Toumans [approximately $100,000] for cases like mine, said they would accept employee [identification] cards.[11] They just wanted to get rid of me. My mother took the employee card of one of our relatives and I was released. After a number of hearings I was acquitted, but this time the assistant prosecutor appealed my acquittal because they wanted to revive the case against me.

Protest Against the Conditions of Farzad Kamangar and Continuation of the Legal Process

57. Up until 2008 I was in touch with Farzad [Kamangar] on a regular basis. Farzad called me from prison. I had a special telephone line which I changed all the time. Kurdish political prisoners from prisons in Orumiyeh, Tehran, Karaj, Zanjan, Ardebil and a couple of other cities would call me and give me the news from the prison, or the news about the conditions of the prisoners who had recently been arrested or the people who had been tortured, and I would pass the news on to the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan and Mr. Keyvan Rafi’i of the Association of Human Rights Activists of Iran on the suggestion of Farzad Kamangar. Farzad told me that there was going to be a protest in his support in Sanandaj and it would be good if we could do something in Mahabad too. The protest in Sanandaj was on a Saturday in summer 2008 and my friends were planning [a companion protest] for the next Saturday in Mahabad. I told Farzad, “I have a history and am under surveillance by the Intelligence [Ministry] and I cannot go [to the protest] but I will supervise from a distance.” I didn’t participate in the protest, but my friends did.

58. Nearly 300 people gathered in the city square—people call it Charshir—and held a protest asking for Farzad’s release. They shot short pieces of video. The next day, the Intelligence [Ministry] attacked the home that I used to live in. After I was released from prison I started building homes with my mother. We built a house in another part of the city called Mukrian town without telling anybody. I hadn’t given my address to anyone except for two or three of my close friends. I previously lived in the Baharestan town area of Mahabad. I had changed my address and my mother rented out my [previous] home. Despite the fact that I was always being watched, I had changed my home in a very clever manner. They [the government] did not know where my new home was. During this time I rarely went to the literary association and I was very careful not to be followed. I wore sunglasses when going out. I didn’t leave home very often and if I did I would go by car and look behind myself in the mirror to make sure I was not being followed. The Intelligence [Ministry] did not found out about my change of residence and attacked my previous home at 6:30 AM one morning. When they failed to arrest me, they went to arrest Saman Rasoulpour at 6:45 AM. Saman is currently here in Sweden. He later told me that most of the pressure they had put on him was because of me. They asked him about me: “Where is Sherko? We know that Sherko had planned the protest!”

59. In truth, though, I was not the main planner of the protest. I didn’t even participate in it. I believe that they mainly wanted to blame it on me because the Intelligence [Ministry] had figured out that I was in touch with Farzad and also that I had a role in planning the previous protest for Serveh Kamkar. The Intelligence [Ministry] had to make a case for any incident in the region and accuse someone and there was no one better than me, since I had previously been prosecuted and had roles in [planning] protests. Who better to blame this [more recent] protest on than me? Then they could write a report to Tehran and sentence me to 10 or 20 years’ imprisonment or death or exile to Yazd or other cities to get rid of me and be cheered on by Tehran. That is why they tried to raid my house. The tenant called the realtor [because he couldn’t find me] and the realtor called my mother and told her [what had happened]. At that point, I asked my mother to go to court [and persuade them] that I had no role [in planning the protest]. My mother went to the court and talked to the head of the court and told him that I had no role and asked them why they wanted to arrest me. They told her, “It has got nothing to do with us; you should go and persuade the Intelligence [Ministry].” When my mother referred to the Intelligence Office, they argued with her and threatened her that, “He should come here himself. If he is innocent he should be responsible and come here.” When my mother exited the Intelligence Office, she didn’t go home directly; instead she visited various homes [of friends] in order to make sure she was not being followed.

Escape from Iran

60. Due to these events I went to the Huramanat area for 8 to 10 days to let things calm down. When I went back, I saw that the Intelligence [Ministry] was still looking for me. They had arrested and harassed some of my friends to find out where I was. It was then that I discovered that they’d decided to convict me regardless of the facts. Saman Rasoulpour sent a message for me through his parents, indicating that I should be careful because they wanted to arrest me. I decided that I had to leave Iran although I had no plan and no money in my pocket. I went to Turkey, then to Italy and then from Italy to Sweden.

Khatami Era

61. In my opinion the system of the Islamic Republic fundamentally cannot be democratic whether its radical or reformist elements [are in power], because it does not have several [competing] political parties and ideologies. “The only party is God’s party,” [as they say].[12] As a result Khatami only implemented minor reforms. By way of metaphor, he cut the tips of a cactus’ needles, but cacti themselves can’t change [into other plants]. I believe that in the Khatami era there was a divide [in Iran]. Some people believed that some actions could be taken, like forming associations or exercising civic rights, but some believed those things were not possible. [They believed] that it was a trap and a conspiracy. They wondered how we could implement these changes in a system so dominated by its security apparatus. People [regularly] see the Intelligence [forces] in Kurdistan. They deal with the Intelligence [Ministry] more [than the rest of the government]. Some people participated in these activities, some formed associations that I think were very positive. And even the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan got started in that period, and Mr. Kaboudvand was optimistic that he was operating in a changed environment and that he could avoid arrest, but unfortunately he was eventually arrested. After Ahmadinejad took power, most of these civic organizations were shut down by the government.

62. From my perspective, Khatami himself did not do anything specific on the Kurdish issue. But as a result of the atmosphere he created, a large group of Kurdish journals or Kurdish books were published. I think that was positive. Many associations and civic organizations like women’s organizations, literature clubs, environmental organizations, [our own] Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan, student journals, and newspapers could be found in the major cities of Kurdistan (like Mahabad, Sanandaj, Orumiyeh or Saqqez). There was a democratic discourse among the people. For example, [during that period] new books were published that featured a discourse on democracy and Freethought[13] and fostered enlightenment. There was a more pluralistic view of political and legal issues. Before that most of the discourse was [purely] political, but in [the Khatami] period the discourse shifted to include civil rights. It can be said that this attitude expanded in Iranian Kurdistan after 1999.

Arrest of Abdullah Ocalan

63. This incident [Ocalan’s arrest] was the first to spark protests again. At the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, when Khomeini returned [to Iran and became the Supreme Leader of what became the Islamic Republic], Kurdish political parties like the Komala were founded. The KDPI, which existed before but had been weakened after 1946, also reformed itself [after the revolution]. They fought [the Islamic Republic] for many years. Then, because of timing and geographical conditions they were forced to live in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and could not do more. Hence their active period lasted just 10 to 20 years. After that 10 to 20 years, and especially after Saddam Hussein was weakened by the US and the US started the First Gulf War, a sort of passivity and lack of activity took root in Iranian Kurdistan. But this stagnation [was created as a] result of negative effects from Iraqi Kurdistan. Despite the claim that Iraqi Kurdistan was autonomous, the acrimony and the infighting between the political parties there had a negative impact on the people of Iranian Kurdistan. That is, at least until Abdullah Ocalan was arrested. The arrest of Ocalan caused people to go to streets en masse all over [Kurdistan] for the first time. It was a beginning. It was the first general protest of people under the Islamic Republic’s government. The people of Iranian Kurdistan protested with one voice in all of its cities from Maku to Sare Pole Zahab, Kermanshah, and Ilam, and that laid the groundwork for later demonstrations with varied goals.

Ahmadinejad

64. In Kurdistan the social class that is dependent on the Islamic Republic—mercenaries are not rare in Kurdistan, unfortunately—is many times more active than opposition forces. They are mercenaries, ultimately; they get money from the government and are [therefore] dependent on it. Besides this section of the population and a limited group of government employees and Basij, it can be said that the majority of people did not vote for Ahmadinejad. I believe that the Kurdish people have feelings of disgust and loathing for the Ahmadinejad administration.

65. I can’t say that the Khatami era was unequivocally positive. During the Khatami era, the chain murders took place, [and there were also] some pre-existing problems. But if one were to look from a positive perspective, the Khatami era was better, especially for Kurds in Iran. A number of organizations were instituted [and] civic discourse took root. From one side, [the number of] Kurdish-language publications increased, and from another side, the Intelligence agents in Kurdistan were more often from the national Intelligence [Ministry] as opposed to the Intelligence Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC]. But in the Ahmadinejad era [which began in 2005], the IRGC Intelligence division has more power than the Intelligence Ministry, to the point that the competition between these two forces has caused an increase in violence towards the people by the Intelligence Ministry.[14] During Khatami’s administration, the Intelligence Ministry attempted to conduct a dialogue with most political prisoners. As they implemented psychological torture, they tried simultaneously to make the prisoner either neutral or dependent on them, either through discussion or threats. Otherwise they would give them a few years’ prison sentence. But in the Ahmadinejad era, the IRGC Intelligence Division has completely seized power. Physical torture has increased a great deal. Most Kurdish-language publications have been shut down. No one can stand up and protest the government openly as a civic activist. They are immediately silenced. In my opinion, the atmosphere is far more suffocating under Ahmadinejad than under Khatami, because although there might have been a closed atmosphere under Khatami, at least on the other hand some relative freedoms had been granted. Mr. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand has left [us] no freedoms and no breathing room, however small.

66. Ahmadinejad’s second election [in 2009] was conducted in the same style as the previous election. This time, people  experienced a more visceral hatred. When he first appeared [on the national stage] Ahmadinejad employed some quasi-socialist slogans. For example, he claimed that he would support the poor—not that he had any faith in socialism. At any rate, this discourse regarding defending the poorer classes existed. But in practice, the economy that he [Ahmadinejad] brought into existence was even worse [than under Khatami], and the political situation more restricted. As a result, Kurdish people—especially the informed classes—are not satisfied with Ahmadinejad, and it can even be said that they hate him.

67. This is from the very beginning of Ahmadinejad’s first term. Kurds have always been fed up, but day-by-day this hatred builds up, because day-by-day their conditions deteriorate, because day-by-day the economy [weakens]. For instance, are you aware that Iran’s exchange rate went down a few days ago? From a political perspective, this puts more pressure [on Kurdish Iranians]. [Ahmadinejad] has imposed wars, shelled [sites] in Kurdistan, accused human rights and environmental activists of planting bombs, [etc]. Mr. Verya Khosravi is an environmental activist in Sanandaj. They arrested him (along with another activist whose name I do not recall) and charged him with planting a bomb and collaborating with PJAK, and after enduring torture, they brought them on television to confess. Two others named Loghman and Zanyar Moradi have been arrested on charges of [collaboration with] the Komala and sentenced to death. Their death sentences may be implemented any moment. There have been many executions in Kurdistan in the Ahmadinejad era. If we are to look at the Islamic Republic as a tree that has been snowed on, when the tree is brittle and inflexible, it breaks under the snow, whereas if the tree is flexible, the snow eventually slides down the branches that have bent downwards [under the weight] and the tree returns to its original form. Khatami created some flexibility for the Islamic Republic. Although this flexibility may have been cosmetic, it gave western nations and some civic activists in Iran hope that some positive steps to the benefit of the people could be taken within the framework of the Islamic Republic. In its place, Ahmadinejad has brought back the original inflexible system of the Islamic Republic, and the people, especially Kurdish people—I am not talking about the mercenary class, but the majority of the Kurdish people, especially intellectuals and freedom-lovers—cannot be content with the system.

68. We can see the public effect of the executions  [by examining as a case study] the execution of Farzad [Kamangar]. When Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Shirin Alamhouli and Farhad Vakili were executed, the people of Kurdistan all closed their shops and set a widespread protest into motion. Because the government knew that people have this power to engage in civil disobedience in this manner, it had the Intelligence forces threaten Kurdish shop owners who had shut down their shops and summoned them numerous times and even sent messages to some shop owners requiring written guarantees that they would not repeat the shutdown. Which is to say that a shopkeeper, who has a right to open and close his or her shop whenever they like, must not close up shop as a means of protesting against the government. But when the majority of the people of Kurdistan close the doors of their shops despite government pressure, it shows how important the people [who were executed] were to the people of Kurdistan. Especially Farzad Kamangar and Ali Heydarian and their friends who were executed; they have a certain charisma. The mythological force of this charisma was so significant that the government was afraid of returning the bodies [of those executed] to their families, and to this day no one knows where their bodies were buried. I think that they had an impact, and that impact will be visible in the future as well.



[1] Friday prayers in Tehran are traditionally held outdoors on the campus of Tehran University, and they tend to be very well-attended. For photos, see http://documentiran.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Friday-Prayers-in-Tehran/G0000Vugt1qlaD8A/I0000PIXHJ0qafpU. For video, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOQ4f2NGi08

[2] Muslims generally pray on small rugs designed specifically for that purpose. See, for example: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/474169/prayer-rug

[3] Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali was the Islamic Republic’s first judiciary chief. Khalkhali was known for the brutality of his modus operandi; he personally boasted that he issued thousands of death sentences. For an account of his persecution of Iran’s Kurdish minority following the 1979 revolution see  http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/publications/reports/3508-haunted-memories-the-islamic-republics-executions-of-kurds-in-1979.html#.UBbx62FAvZc

[4] The witness is indicating that Hedayati himself was not Kurdish. 

[5]Iranians traditionally distribute and eat sweets upon hearing auspicious news.

[6] According to many witnesses who were subjected to interrogation by Iranian officials, interrogators use pseudonyms in interrogation, not their government issued name.

[7] Note: there are varying accounts of the manner of Showaneh Ghaderi’s death, for more detail see IHRDC, On the Margins: Arrest, Imprisonment and Execution of Kurdish Activists in Iran Today (April 2012), section 1.5.1.

[8] Abbaszadeh is the presiding judge of Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court of Mahabad.

[9] A Kurdish-Turkish political activist and PKK leader currently serving a prison term for treason, among other convictions, in Turkey, where he was initially sentenced to death before the abolition of the death penalty in 2002. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/380845.stm. See also http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx#{%22dmdocnumber%22:[%22773602%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-69022%22]}.

[10] While some sources state that PJAK was founded in 2004, some founding members of the group in fact date its foundation to 1997. See http://www.jamestown.org/programs/gta/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=805&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=181&no_cache=1 

[11] The witness is likely referring to the fiche hoghughi, a card without which an employee’s salary may be withheld. This would more likely be used as an alternative bail document.

[12] An oft-repeated line from a Revolutionary political slogan.

[13] Note that the witness uses the word ‘intellectual’ here, which is a byword among many Iranians for a philosophical approach known in Western countries as freethought. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/freethinker

[14] The Intelligence Ministry, which is part of the President’s cabinet, is widely seen by Iranian citizens, among them this witness, as having been less violent towards detainees than the IRGC Intelligence Department [which is part of the IRGC paramilitary command structure] in the past.

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