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Witness Statement of M.M

Name: MM 

Place of Birth:  

Date of Birth:  


Interviewing Organization: Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (IHRDC)

Date of Interview:  27 May 2009

Interviewer: IHRDC Staff

This statement was prepared pursuant to an in-person interview with Ms. M.M. The statement consists of 47 paragraphs and 10 pages. The interview was conducted on May 27, 2009. The statement was approved in Persian by M.M. on November 1, 2009.

My Arrest

1.   I was arrested in May 1983. I was a first cadre member of the Tudeh Party and had great responsibilities in the city where I lived. I spent the next six-and-a-half years in prison.

2.   Many of the leaders of the Tudeh Party were arrested in February of 1983 in a heavily pre-planned operation. The arrest of high-ranking members, like me, was the second major blow the Tudeh Party endured. These arrests occurred as a result of information leaked to the regime after the first wave of arrests.

3.   They took me to the Revolutionary Guard office, which was a terrifying place. I was blindfolded and forced to wear a chador while detained there.

4.   While there, I realized that they had also arrested and detained several other members of our Party. We had lost contact with each other during the recent months, so I did not know what had happened to them. 

5.   They kept me at the Revolutionary Guards facility for nine days. While I was there, they conducted simple and preliminary interrogations. After that, they put me and several other Tudeh members they had arrested on a bus headed towards Gohar Dasht prison. We were first taken to the regional Prosecutor’s Office, and then to Gohar Dasht. There were no more than fifteen of us. All of us were from the same city, and had similar case files.

To Gohar Dasht and Back  

6.   They kept us in solitary confinement for three months in Gohar Dasht. During this time we were continually interrogated, but never tortured. They always questioned me during the day—never at odd hours. They put an organizational chart in front of us that accurately depicted our Party positions and responsibilities at the time. They wanted us to know that they knew who we were and had already gathered lots of information about us. And they did, which is why they did not resort to beating us or putting pressure on us, except for the few times that we did not cooperate with them. Their main goal was to convince us to write a denunciation letter, and pledge that we would not undertake any political activity against the Islamic Republic upon our release. But we refused.  

7.   I was only confronted by one interrogator. I sensed, however, that there were others behind-the-scenes who were assisting him because I could hear the whispers and low voices during the course of my interrogations. While I was interrogated, I was usually forced to sit cross-legged in the corner of the room. They did this to make the prisoner feel as if the walls were closing in on her. It was a very oppressive and lonely feeling. I had a blindfold on and my head was always down. In prison, I usually tried to keep my head up and walk with a sense of pride. Because of this, the guards usually intimidated and threatened me. They wanted to see nothing but fear and obedience in our eyes.

8.   After three months, they transferred us to a public ward in Qezel Hesar prison, which was run by tavvabs[1] who were primarily Mojahedin members. After ten months, my trial finally took place. But before hauling me to court, they summoned me and several others to the main hall of Qezel Hesar prison. One of the tavvabs in charge ordered four of us to put on blindfolds, wear our chadors and stand in one spot. They kept us standing for hours on end. A couple of guards hovered next to us. If we moved even a little bit, they beat us. In the beginning, we had lots of energy and thought we would be able to last. But after several hours, our legs began to swell. I felt as if my body was being cut in two, and a sharp pain started shooting up from my waist. It is as if they were stabbing me in the back with a butcher’s knife. After about eight hours, I thought my brain would explode. A few of the others began to hallucinate. They kept us there for forty-eight hours. During this time, they only allowed us to sit down when they brought us food. I was familiar with this method of torture, and knew the best way to resist was to refuse eating. Eating only increased the pressure on our bodies, because we would eventually be forced to go to the bathroom. I tried to inconspicuously tell the others not to eat as well, but the guard found out and hit me hard.

9.   After they were done with us, they escorted fifteen or sixteen of us to the Qezel Hesar library, which had been turned into a makeshift courtroom. We were allowed to take off our blindfolds. The presiding ju  dge was Hojjatolislam Soltani. My interrogator, Fatehi, was present, along with a few prison officials. The chief interrogator read a collective indictment and accused all of us of attempting to overthrow the government. I was also charged with refusing to pray during my ten months in detention.

10. I spoke out in my defense, and told them that I had not committed any unlawful acts. I was a member of the Tudeh Party. As a cadre member, I had both ideological and logistical responsibilities. At the time I was working with the Tudeh, the Party had not been declared to be illegal. Then, unexpectedly, the regime declared the Party illegal and we were all caught by surprise. We never intended to overthrow the regime. After the revolution, the Tudeh Party defended the Islamic Republic. So at one point during my defense, I made it clear that I no longer considered myself a member of the Tudeh Party because the Party had defended and supported the Islamic Republic. After my arrest, I came to the realization that this regime was simply not defendable. At the conclusion of my defense, however, I declared that I would not condemn the Party and did not believe that it had had betrayed our nation. In response to my defense, my interrogator requested that the judge also indict me for the things I had just said. Despite this, the judge turned to me and said, “My daughter, repent. Admit that you were mistaken. I have heard that you do not pray. Why don’t you pray? Please do so.” I responded that I did not believe in prayer.

11. I finished serving my sentence in 1987. But in the Islamic Republic, finishing one’s sentence was often not enough to release a political prisoner. In fact, sentences were often meaningless. Prisoners had to accept certain pre-conditions before they were released. Many prisoners were forced to write a letter denouncing their political beliefs and parties. Or they had to conduct television interviews wherein they would renounce their parties, pledge allegiance to the Islamic Republic, express remorse for their past activities, and agree to act as informants for the regime. I did not accept any of these pre-conditions for release, and thus became a mellikesh[2] prisoner. It was very common for prisoners to serve out their sentences and continue to be detained in prison as mellikesh.

Gohar Dasht Before Lock-Down

12. We learned about the United Nations-brokered ceasefire with Iraq (UN Resolution 598) through state-run media broadcasts and newspapers such as Etela’at and Kayhan, which were given to us by the prison administrators. Soon after that, we learned about the Mojahedin’s Operation Eternal Light, which was launched from the Iran-Iraq border. We did not receive this news from state-run media. We learned of the attack from family members on the outside. Many of the prisoners inside, as well as some family members outside, mistakenly believed that these events signaled the beginning of the end for the regime.

13. I remember very clearly the prison environment during those days. Many thought that any day, the prison gates would be torn down and we would walk out as heroes. I believe many of the prison authorities were well aware that the prisoners’ beliefs were based on false information and assumptions about what was going on, yet they did not feel a need to disavow us of our beliefs. When they took the prisoners in for interrogations, they knew the psychological condition that we were in based on the news we were receiving from our families. They were just playing with us.

14. Later in 1987, a group of us who were transferred to Qezel Hesar and were from the same city had been sent to Gohar Dasht prison. The prison environment between 1986 and 1987 was relatively relaxed. Many of the prisoners engaged in group strikes, and often openly defied prison authorities. In contrast to the early 1980s, the guards did not respond harshly. Around this time, we began to notice that prison officials would often ask prisoners to come talk to them about various political and ideological issues. For example, I remember Sajjadi (who was a prison administrator at Gohar Dasht and lived there with his family) summoned prisoners in our ward on two consecutive nights, from 2 to 4 a.m. He said things like, “Tell me, what do you think of the war with Iraq?” He asked these questions in a way that suggested he was our friend, so he could trap us. The prisoner would think that he is asking these questions out of a position of weakness. They played their roles very well.   

15. In the summer of 1987 (I think it was July or August), they took me to a solitary cell and told me to use the time to think about whether or not I wanted to cooperate with them. I had only two weeks left in my sentence. They suggested that I write a letter denouncing the Tudeh Party and expressing remorse for my actions. They also handed me a book entitled Kaj Raheh (Crooked Path). The book was written by Ehsan Tabari, a Tudeh founder and theoretician who had repented in prison and thrown his support behind the Islamic Republic after his release. I began to read the book. On the second day, they summoned me and asked me what I thought of it. I told them I thought it was nonsense. They asked if I would give an interview. I refused. They took me to the auxiliary rooms of Gohar Dasht prison. “Auxiliary” was a term used for apartments that had a particular architecture and were located beside the solitary cells. The guards and employees of the prison lived in these apartments. Every apartment had a couple of rooms and a kitchen. They put me in the kitchen of one of the apartments. Aadel and Jaber were the names of two guards who would come for inspection and interrogation at the prison. I had gotten into a fight with them a couple of times. They told me that I was hopeless.

The Executions Begin

16. The calm inside prison in those days was the calm before the storm. Later they instituted very strict laws and the freedoms that existed before were restricted. The first sign of the storm came in late July 1988 with the summoning of Mojahed prisoners from our ward.

17. In July 1988, we were being kept in the auxiliary cells inside Gohar Dasht. In our ward, there were only five or seven leftists. The rest were Mojahed. All of the leftists were uncompromising in their views. Among the Mojahedin, only one held firm on her beliefs. The rest of them were tavvabs. The uncompromising prisoner was a dear girl named Roya, who would constantly argue with prison officials. One day, they summoned Roya. It was the last week of July. The ordered her to “come out with her chador and blindfold on.” She left our ward and was never seen again.

18. Two weeks after Roya was taken, they put pieces of metal on the blinds behind the prison cell windows (which had made it possible for us to send Morse code to the others). We were no longer able to communicate with the other prisoners.

19. The Mojahedin’s executions began in late July, but we were not aware of this until the first or second week of August. Around that time, some vague news reached us from the men’s wards at of Gohar Dasht that they had begun executing male prisoners. This news had, apparently, reached us from the men’s ward at Evin prison. Because all the Mojahedin members in our ward were tavvabs, we were completely oblivious. When they took the last uncompromising tavvab from our ward, we were under the impression that they were taking her to solitary confinement in order to punish her. Later, when I finally realized that they were hanging the Mojahed inmates, I could not believe it! I did not expect this, given the general prison climate in those days. We firmly believed that the situation had changed to our advantage and there was no way they would execute prisoners. I must confess that when I heard the news I was in complete disbelief.

20. Among the women prisoners from our city (who numbered twenty-five or twenty-six and who were all placed in a small ward in the auxiliary wing of Gohar Dasht), five of us were uncompromising in our views. Around August 15 or 16, they separated the five of us from the rest. They took us to the hallway near the amphitheater (also known as the Husseiniyih)—the place where they hanged the prisoners)—and then transferred us to solitary confinement. They had decided to send us to solitary confinement in order to intimidate and break us.

I Go Before the Death Commission

21. Towards the end of August, the second wave of executions began. Again, the executions started in Gohar Dasht. In fact, both waves of executions began in Gohar Dasht—both for the Mojahedin and for the leftists. For some reason, there was a bit of a delay in Evin. On August 25, 1988, they began whipping leftist prisoners. I was summoned to go in front of the Death Commission on August 26. On the day they took me there, I had no idea where I was going. I was blindfolded.

22. We were sitting in the hallway for twenty minutes. It was very crowded and chaotic. There was a lot of hustle and bustle. There were lots of prisoners sitting in the hallway and waiting. I think most of them were men. There were only a few female prisoners—most of the rest of the women had been transferred out of Gohar Dasht, and they did not wish to keep us there anymore.  

23. Then I entered a room. They told me to remove my blindfold. I saw some people sitting there. I realized that I was inside a courtroom. Four people were sitting behind a big table. Nayyeri, Eshraghi, Naserian[3] (the governor of Gohar Dasht), Lashkari (the head of security at Gohar Dasht), and several other people guards and administrators were present in the courtroom. Everything was black, and everyone was seated around the table (except for me). There were lots of files in front of them—files detailing everything about the prisoners who were being summoned. Naserian despised me because I had talked back to him several times. He had slapped me around and made fun of me on several occasions.

24. Nayyeri, the religious judge, picked up a piece of paper and asked me why I had been arrested. I answered him. He asked me if I was firmly holding onto my beliefs. I said I was. Eshraghi, who was the Tehran Prosecutor, attempted to help me out. During the questioning, he often signaled with his eyes in order to guide me toward the correct answer. Despite this, I answered the questions honestly. Next, Nayyeri asked, “Do you not pray?” I said, “No.” He asked, “How about your parents?” I said, “My father doesn’t pray.” Here, Eshraghi again interjected on my behalf and said, “Sir, she is not to blame. Her father does not pray.” I still did not understand the consequences of responding to these questions, and did not realize that my response regarding my father not praying would actually help my case. Nayyeri looked at me, gathered the papers and said, “Very well.” Then he turned to Naserian and said, “Take her. Until she prays and comes to Islam, whip her fifteen times[4] and give her one date to eat. Then he said, “Also, give her something coarse to wear!” Later, I realized that these instructions were made pursuant to Shari’a law.

25. I just stared at him. I did not plead or cry. I cannot really describe how I felt at the time. I was very confused. I was obviously influenced by my desire to resist them, but I was also scared and shocked. I did not know what to do. In any case, this is how I reacted. I think this bothered Nayyeri. He said, “You will be beaten until you die or turn to Islam.” When he said this, Naserian became overjoyed. He kicked me from behind and said, “Get out!” They kicked me out of the room.

26. My court was held in a room located along a long hall. At the end of this hall was the prison’s Husseiniyih, or amphitheater, where they were executing many prisoners. When I exited the courtroom, I waited for a couple of minutes in the hallway. The hallway was very crowded. There was a lot of noise and yelling. The guards were very angry, and dragged and stomped their feet on the ground. I think it was at that moment that I finally realized what was happening, but I was still shell-shocked and confused.


The Punishment for an Apostate

27. After our court sessions, they took each of us to individual cells. These cells were like dungeons and were located on the lower level of the prison. When it was time for our first prayer session, Naserian (who was a strongly built man) came into my cell along with two other people and took me to the torture chamber for a whipping. The torture chamber was in a secluded place that did not allow sound to reverberate. This room had a special bed. They tied our hands and feet to the bed, threw a blanket on our heads, and shoved a dirty piece of cloth in our mouths. They wanted to shut us up. Then they whipped us. For a while, that dirty rag in my mouth caused me more trouble than the lashings. They beat us very badly. I had been beaten many times before, but this time it was different. They struck with intent to kill. They lashed me for five days, five times a day, eight lashes. They beat us with wire hoses that were filled. They were much heavier than the regular cables with which I had been beaten before. One prisoner’s leg broke as a result of the sheer force they applied. Naserian personally whipped us. After the first beating was done and I was untied from the bed, I could not walk. I was crawling on all fours. I remember that Naserian told me: “You wretch! I finally got to see you crawling too!”

28. The next time they beat me, I was wearing a blue skirt. They had tied my hands and placed a blanket over my legs. But when they hit me, I squirmed and struggled. My skirt slipped up and the blanket fell off my legs. Naserian and the soldiers ridiculed and insulted me a lot. The next day when they took me for whipping again, they told some of the guards to bring me a pair of pants so when my legs shot up they would not have to see my underwear.

29. I do not think they wanted others to know what was happening inside the prison. They wanted to conduct their business without anyone noticing. As such, they had taken us two levels down in the basement where no one could hear our screams during the whippings. They carried out their work with the utmost secrecy. Their plan was to kill the prisoners without them knowing what was happening. They wanted the prisoners to trap themselves and march towards their own death. This is why I found what Eshraghi was doing in the death commission interesting. He was the only one among this group of killers who attempted to warn us about the executions.

30. I was always the first one to be taken for whipping. On the fifth day, I could no longer take it. I felt I was close to death. I had noticed blood in my urine during the two previous days. I told Naserian that I can no longer bear the torture. He told me that I had to pray. I had made a promise to myself that I would not pray. So I told him I was on my period and could thus be excused from prayer.[5] After that, they threw me inside an even scarier room. They told me that I could be miserable in this room for a week until my period was over and they would see if I was ready to pray or not.

31. After one week, they came and took me someplace else. It seems that they had forgotten about my situation. After I acknowledged that I can no longer bear torture and implied that I would pray, the other five women prisoners who were whipped along with me also accepted to pray. But I escaped the situation without ever having to pray.

32. Pursuant to Islamic law, the sentence of an apostate woman is not execution. In fact, a woman is not executed because of apostasy under any circumstances. Shari’a law requires that an apostate woman be whipped until she either dies or accepts Islam. As a result, leftist female prisoners were not executed in 1988. On the other hand, Shari’a law required a different punishment for the Mojahedin, whom the Islamic Republic called monafeqin.[6] The Islamic Republic believed that members of the Mojahedin were hypocrites and had created dissent within the Muslim community. Because of the serious nature of their alleged crime, Shari’a punishment does not distinguish between men and women.

33. According to the Shari’a law (as implemented by Twelver Shi’as), punishment of apostate men depends on whether they are murtad-e melli (national apostate) or murtad-e fetri (innate apostate). The punishment for an innate apostate (one whose parents is Muslim but has chosen to abandon Islam) is execution. A national apostate, on the other hand, is someone whose parents is not Muslim and cannot be blamed for not being Muslim.

34. Even now, after twenty years, there is misunderstanding among people regarding this issue. For example, when you inform people that you were uncompromising in your views, they ask you why you were not executed. They did not kill us because, according to Shari’a law, we were not to be executed.

The Aftermath

35. After a week, they returned us to the first wards that were located in the administrative buildings at Gohar Dasht prison. They no longer tortured us. They were very busy and had to tend to other matters. In addition, I think their real goal was to break us. When we broke, they met their goal. By that time, we were aware of the magnitude of the executions, and we expected that at any moment they would round the remaining prisoners up again and kill them. In our wards, we would simply go to a corner and sit there. We would not talk to each other anymore. We had all turned into ghosts. Every person would pick a spot, sit and go to sleep. That is all we did. It was as if we had gotten into a verbal spat and were no longer speaking to each other. I cried a lot during those days. I could not cry in front of the others, so I would cry out loud when it was time for me to take a shower.

36. They took us in for interrogations two or three more times after that. They asked the same old questions from us. I think they simply wanted to prove to us that they could do whatever they pleased. One time, they took all of us (I do not remember the exact date) and placed us in front of a camera. When they took me I was completely broken and disheveled. My previous interrogator, Jaber, was also there there. He told me to remove my blindfold. When I took it off, he was shocked. I had changed so much he no longer recognized me. He asked me whether I still believed in the Tudeh Party. I said I did not. He was very happy, but I explained to him that the reason I did not believe in the Party was because they had defended the Islamic Republic. He asked if I believed in the Islamic Republic? I said that I did not believe in that either. I had no fear. Even if they had killed me, I would not have been afraid. After that, they videotaped us.

37. I think our depression was the result of the final realization that so many of our friends and cellmates had lost their lives. The day I finally said that I believed in Islam was a very painful day for me. I had lost my pride. If the whippings had continued, I would have surely lost my life. But I did not want to die defeated. I did not want to die like that. My urine was bloody and I was not in good physical condition. I remember when they untied me from my bed. I slowly dragged myself up the stairs and was about to enter my room when Naserian saw me and said, “You poor wretch! You are so stupid. If you had given in on the first day you wouldn’t have to crawl on all fours in front of me!” I can’t forget that moment. I was wearing a chador. I was blindfolded and gagged. I was teary-eyed and bloody. Fluids were running from my mouth and nose. I was crying. And on the other end, they were laughing and making fun of me.

38. I had become very withdrawn and would always sit in one spot. After a while, they took me in for questioning again one day and asked me to identify what skills I had, what languages I spoke and what year I attended university. I answered all of these questions in writing. Then they ordered me to leave. I imagined that they would surely kill me. Then I thought of my sister and mother. I wondered what would happen to them if they went ahead and executed me.

39. The next day they called me and said “with all your belongings.” The phrase “with all your belongings” was a very troubling one. It was usually used in connection with inmates who were going to be executed. My cellmates wanted to hand something to me, but I could not take it. My hands were shaking. I wanted to ask them: “Do you think they are going to kill me?” I then gave them all of my mementos, including some of my writings, and exited the room.

40. They took me to an office and asked me to sign a paper. I signed it. In prison, it was customary to sign paperwork without reading it. So, I signed it without reading it first.

41. I had sewn a pretty dress for myself in prison. I thought to myself that if they wanted to hang me, it might as well be in that dress. I changed into the dress as fast as I could.

My Release

42. This procedure took about forty to forty-five minutes. Then put me inside a car. They took me to the second moat of the prison.[7] The second moat was essentially the open desert. They forced me out of the car and told me not to look back. They told me to keep walking forward until I reached a metal gate, which would open for me. They told me I could look back after I had exited the gate. I asked them where I was to go after that. They said, “After that is freedom. You can go wherever you want to.” I could not believe it. They had not signed for my release, but they told me that the next day I was to appear in court and post bail.

43. It was May 2, 1989. I could not believe it. I thought that my whole family and my friends were waiting for me and had come to greet me. The door opened and I walked out. The iron gate of the prison closed, but no one was there waiting for me. All I could see was empty desert before me. (Gohar Dasht prison is located at the foot of the Karaj mountains.)  They had not notified my family. I started walking. I walked for 700 or 800 meters. The first thing I did was to take off my chador and put it in my bag. Then I went and stood next to the road. At that location one could usually find taxis who ferried families to and from the prison. One of them had spotted me from the distance. He stopped in front of me and asked where I was going. I gave the address of my house. He asked if I was in prison. I said yes. He asked if I had money. I said no. He was an extremely gracious individual and decided to take me back home nonetheless. He became extremely distraught when he heard my story. We arrived home. I walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell…

44. I was one of the first prisoners to be freed. In their words, “they had already pulled our teeth.” After my release, Khomeini died. When mourning period for Khomeini came to an end, they began releasing the rest of the prisoners. At first, we were given three weeks of temporary leave, which turned into five weeks, and finally became five months (after which we were supposed to go back to prison). They had reached the conclusion that the prisoners that survived the massacre were not dangerous and it was not necessary to kill them. They had already killed the ones whom they had wanted to kill. It had become a burden to continue imprisoning the survivors. They did not want to keep them anymore, and eventually released them under the guise of “temporary releases.” A couple of my friends are among those who returned to prison after their leaves of absence, but the prison chief had told them to go and not come back.

45. After that, I would go to the Prosecutor’s Office once a week. Each time they would ask what I was doing and where I was going. During the first two or three months after release, I went to the Prosecutor’s Office once a week. After that, it was once every two weeks. It was very tiresome. Every week I had to be there at a certain time and answer their questions and deal with them. They would argue and tease me and say things like “Why aren’t you married—you must be up to something!” They would claim that everyone who had been released from prison would get married soon thereafter. Why hadn’t I done the same? They concentrated on the fact that my situation was different than that of others. One day they kept me there until it was late in the day. My dad came after me and said he would no longer allow me to go back there. But I had no choice but to go, because my bail was the deed to my dad’s land.

46. These comings and goings continued for four years, until 1993. During this time, I was banned from traveling and did not have permission to leave the country. I had truly become weary from all the trouble they had caused me. I wanted to leave the country, but they would not issue me a passport. I attempted several times to get one, but they reminded me that I was banned from traveling. When they asked me why I wanted to leave the country, I told them I was weary, and wanted to leave the country for a while and visit friends so I could experience a change in my mood and spirit. Which was true—I really did not want to leave the country for good. I wanted to travel. Yet they threatened me so much that I finally decided to leave the country and never go back.

47. They prevented me from leaving the country on three separate occasions. This meant that they physically removed me from the airplane on three separate occasions. They did this even after they had issued me a passport. I think they had agreed to issue me a passport so they could monitor my activities. They wanted to see who I was meeting up with and what I was doing. During this time, they did not inform me that I was still banned from travel. They physically removed me from the airplane twice in September 1994, and they once told me that I was banned from traveling in the passport inspection section of the airport. I was finally allowed to leave the country legally, however.

[1] 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.

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

[3] Naserian is a pseudonym. I knew the man’s real name, but I cannot recall it at the moment.

[4] Female apostates were whipped five times for every prayer session. Since there are five prayer sessions throughout the day, they sustained twenty five lashings per day.

[5] Women who are menstruating are considered ritually unclean and may not, therefore, participate in prayer.

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

[7] Gohar Dasht is at the foot of the Karaj mountains. The prison is surrounded by two exterior walls. The two parallel walls gave the prison the appearance of a castle. We heard from our families that the prison officials referred to the distance between these two walls as “moats.”

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Tagged as:

1988 Prison Massacre, Torture, Death Penalty