What I Saw in Iranian Prisons
“Through my testimony I hope to arise the consciences too complacent to mullahs.”
Sadegh Sistani, a human rights activist, was imprisoned for 17 years in political jails in Iran before fleeing his country. Residing in France since 2012, he strives for democratic change in his country.
As a former political prisoner in Iran, I was astounded to learn that Mrs Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, and diplomats from European countries, are desirely attending the inauguration of Hassan Rouhani.
The president of the mullahs' theocracy begins his second term while his first remains stained by more than 3,000 executions. This feeling of bitterness came to me also when a group of dozens of ambassadors and diplomats stationed in Tehran responded to a guided tour of the authorities of Evin prison, known for its sinister reputation among activists and human rights’ NGOs, organized on the initiative of the theocracy’s judicial system, the operation was relayed with great fanfare by the official media and aimed at restoring the image of the Islamic Republic. The ambassador of Portugal, visibly seduced by the welcome, told the media: "I did not expect the situation to be so favorable here.”
Although most democratic countries have refused to participate in the staging of the mullahs, it is deplorable that some countries may still fall into the trap of this propaganda or yield to purely mercantile calculations. It is even more shocking to overlook Rouhani's disastrous record of human rights and to attend his inauguration.
Personally, I know Evin prison well, having spent most of my seventeen years of incarceration there. I remember memories tinged with suffering and resistance. Torture and deprivation, but also the solidarity and compassion of comrades who remained faithful to their convictions. The prison area in Iran is above all a place of lawlessness where the prisoner of conscience is at the mercy of the torturers, in a total legal abyss.
"The Iranian authorities are playing with the lives of prisoners of conscience by denying them access to adequate health care, which places them at a high risk of death, permanent disability or other irreversible damage to their health," Amnesty International said in a recent report.
Years later one may forget the physical sufferings but not the psychological tortures that remain engraved in your soul. Memories that come back to you without warning. While my body was bruised by torture and my face and jaw had been badly damaged after long interrogation without being able to sleep, I forgot my pain when I witnessed in spite of myself the abuse in the cell of a young woman who was accompanied by her baby. She was tortured from morning to night and when she returned to the cell I could hear her moans and her tears and I was there at a distance of a wall but helpless of helping her. I never knew if she survived, and what happened to her baby, but her cries imploring God to take her life away are still with me.
The Resistance of the Democrats
The first time I was incarcerated for my political views goes back to 1981. I was only 17 years old and like many of my schoolmates I supported the movement for the defense of democratic freedoms in Iran. My country had come to know the "Persian spring," with the revolution that toppled the monarchy, however a despotic system of the fundamentalists who then usurped the popular movement, sought to divert it towards a theocratic dictatorship in the name of Islam.
What they never thought of was the fierce resistance of the forces rooted in the Iranian society and deeply attached to the values of democracy.
They refused the dictates of the founder of the so called "Islamic Republic", Rouhollah Khomeini, who dreamed of applying mullahs’ Sharia by coercion and turning the society back to medieval practices. The extremists rapidly betrayed the ideals of the democratic revolution and refused to submit to the verdict of a universal suffrage worthy of the name.
Practicing a system of massive fraud that continues to this day, they barred the people’s true representatives from entering the parliament. Fearful of the growing popularity of the opposition, including the prominent People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), formed of young intellectuals in favor of a tolerant Islam, the fundamentalists sought no way but yielding to violence.
I was one of the first victims. Most of the members of our association of high school students and teachers of the Andicheh high school in Kordkouy, a municipality on the Caspian Sea in northern Iran, were arrested in June 1981.
The mass arrests of the opponents started after the large and pacific march in respect of the fundamental freedoms which were fading away on daily bases. Khomeini ordered to shoot the crowd, while the firing squads began their macabre task.
The peak of atrocities was reached in 1988 when some 30,000 political prisoners were massacred in three months following a Khomeini’s fatwa who ordered an end to the People's Mojahedin.
FIDH deplored the fact that the Iranian authorities have so far "systematically refused to communicate to families the location of the remains of their relatives" in a massacre that will be described as "a crime against humanity left unpunished".
Recently an audio recording was broadcasted in Iran, recounting the protests of Hossein-Ali Montazeri against these crimes. He was Khomeini’s successor at the time, but dismissed as a result of his protest. Amnesty International has spoken of the infatuation of the younger generation in favor of a movement inside the country to demand the bringing to justice of those perpetrators of this massacre who still occupy key positions of power.
The precursor of Daesh
In his chilling fatwa, Khomeini justified his "final solution": "All those imprisoned throughout the country who persist in their hypocrisy are condemned to death because they are at war with God. With regard to those who have declared their enmity with regard to God."
The Iranian Daesh had just been born and will have emulators who will swarm in the Middle East.
Several of my friends, including Hossein Aghilisabeth and Houchang Mazandarani, who still carried the sequels of their tortures, perished in the massacre. They were serving prison sentences and awaiting their release. But they were one day taken out of their cells and sent to the gallows.
For my part, I escaped this murderous frenzy because I had been released before 1988. Arrested again in 1993, I could only escape in 2005. This time I decided to flee secretly from the country and continue my commitment to regime change in Iran.
Having benefited from the right of asylum in France, a country of human rights, I promised myself to be the voice of my cellmates who remain in Iranian jails. Ali Moezi, Saeed Massouri, Saeed Chaghaleh, Gholam Kalbi, Afchine Ba'imani and Arjang Davoudi have been in prison for more than fifteen years for their sympathy for the opposition. We were tortured to give up our love of freedom and the ideal of a democratic and secular Iran.
But rapes in isolation cells, "cages" where crouching detainees squatted for months and methods of systematic dehumanization, could not break the force of conviction of thousands of activists who remained faithful to their noble convictions.
Through my testimony I hope to awaken the consciences too complacent to the mullahs, both ambassadors and European officials manipulated by the regime, and political decision makers and Western investors who covet business with Tehran. We must remind them of the abject nature of a religious regime destined to disappear and the responsibility of the democrats not to sell human values on the altar of petty economic interests.