Iran July 2009: A Witness to State Crimes in Kahrizak Detention Center
ABF Note: This testimony was obtained in December 2009 through an ABF interview with a former Kahrizak detainee at a location outside of Iran, and was completed with follow-up phone interviews. The identity of the witness will not be disclosed in order to avoid retaliation against his family. Sa’id was arrested on July 9, 2009, the day of commemoration of the July 1999 students protest in Tehran.
Interview’s Date : December 12th, 2009
Arrest during the protests on July 9th, 2009
I am 23 years old. I was arrested on July 9, 2009 in Sohrevardi Shomali. Three plainclothes agents arrested me and another person and threw us in a car. It was a Sierra. We kept turning around. Several times, they contacted others through their walkie-talkies to figure out where to take us. Many people were arrested and they couldn’t find space [in the detention facilities]. They were repeatedly told that there was no space. We drove around the city for an hour, and each time the agents were turned away, they would beat us up in the car.
Finally, they took us to the Police Amniat onEnqelab Avenue. They kept us there for one day and forced us to sign the charges raised against us. If we refused to sign, they beat us with a cable or a hose
The judge who dealt with our cases directly and sent us to Kahrizak was judge Heydarifar. He distributed copies of a form printed on A4 paper. We all had to fill out the form. There were two pages. One had questions, and we had to complete it, and on the other page, charges were already printed. Everyone had the same charges. People who were arrested [elsewhere], such as in a supermarket or on the Hemat Sharq highway were also charged with the same offenses.
Their questions concerned our professions or occupations, whether or not we had previous records or tattoos, if we were married or single, our address, etc. We also had to say whether we had travelled abroad and, if yes, what country and for what reason. On the second page, the charges were all alike: “acting against national security, refusing to obey police orders, publicity against the Islamic Republic, being recruited by foreign media such as the BBC and VOA.” We had to respond to all the questions, and then we were called one by one before Heydarifar.
I tried to protest and refused to sign, but I was beaten. There was an officer of the security forces watching over the process and when we said we don’t accept these charges, he told us to sign with our fingerprint. The soldiers were beating us. Even sometime Heydarifar himself would come down from where he sat and would slap and kick people. I had to sign. Everyone did.
We were given neither food nor water while held in the Police Amniat station.
They didn’t say anything about taking students to Evin. Someone came with a list and read some names. It was a soldier. He called a number of people. They didn’t ask whether or not we were students, but those who were had already mentioned that they were students on the forms they had filled out. A minibus took them to Evin. I don’t know how they selected people. Maybe they looked at their faces. There were also girls who were taken away in another bus but I don’t know to where.
We (about 168 of us) were then taken to Kahrizak: the age range was between 15 to 75 years old. Maybe 15 people were old people. The average age of the others was 22 or 23.
We were in three buses. These were maybe 40-to-50-year-old buses, the size of Vahed company intercity buses, with curtains. There were people everywhere. Three people occupied two seats [on each row]. People were also sitting in the isle. We had blindfolds and plastic handcuffs on. Once we passed Behesht Zahra [cemetery], they told us to take the blindfolds off.Kahrizak Detention Center
Kahrizak [detention center/prison] is somewhere in the middle of the desert. Prisoners are kept in three different spaces that prison authorities call connexes. They are like storage places. They are not meant to house people. The courtyard has two levels. Two of these spaces are on the lower level. They are partially buried and below the ground. They are called Qaran [short name for quarantine] 1 and Qaran 2. The third, Qafas (the Cage) is above ground on the higher part of the courtyard. These are 30 or 40 individual cages that house prisoners. A wall surrounds the area and there is barbed wire on top of the wall, where armed soldiers are protecting it. We could also see some construction and it seems that they were expanding the prison.
We had heard that the place [Kahrizak] was terrible. When we entered, they sat us on the ground. We were surrounded by soldiers. A second lieutenant gave a speech. He told us:
“This place is called Kahrizak.
Kahrizak means the end of the world.
Here, bestiality will soon become for you a second nature. No one leaves this place alive.”
They searched us, and then we entered the courtyard. They took our names and made us take all our clothes off. We were all naked. They forced us to throw our clothes in a garbage bin. After keeping us naked for 30 minutes in the courtyard, they started beating us. They had thick hoses and batons. Some hoses were flexible and some were not. It hurt a lot.
Around six or seven p.m., they took us to Qaran 1. We were able to grab a piece of clothing, anything we could put our hands on, and put it around our waists. There were already people there. Some of them looked like people [who had starved in] Biafra. They were thin and hungry. There were so many of us. The place was [for about] 20 people, and we were about 160. So we couldn’t sit down. We had to sleep standing up. Half of us sat, and half of us stood. We were not allowed to go to the toilet. Each of us passed out numerous times. It was very hot. There was a very small air vent, and at night the smell of gasoline came in. There were no windows. We banged on the door to get air, and instead, we had gasoline through the vent.
We were very thirsty, which was a very big problem. Detainees asked for water, but we only got one or two glasses of water every day. There was a tanker on the roof, and they filled it once a day. The water was warm and very dirty. We had no glasses but shared one bottle around. We got a little piece of bread and less than a quarter of a potato, once each day.
During the time we were in Kahrizak, they would storm in sometimes at 4:00 a.m. and push us to the courtyard and beat us with the hoses. They would line us up and the 2nd lieutenant would scream at us and ask:
2nd lieutenant: “Where are we?”
2nd lieutenant: “Where is Kahrizak?”
Prisoners: “The end of the world.”
2nd lieutenant: “Is the food good?”
Prisoners: “Yes, sir.”
2nd lieutenant: “Is the atmosphere good?”
Prisoners: “Yes, sir.”
2nd lieutenant: “Do you enjoy the atmosphere?”
Prisoners: “Yes, sir”.
2nd lieutenant: “You have to speak loud enough for the whole of Tehran to hear you!”
We were hungry and thirsty. People were tortured inside, and some were also taken out. For example, if someone walked slowly, he would be punished. One time, they hanged me from my feet. A cellmate, Javadifar, was thirsty, and I took the bottle and tried to get him some water. It was time for the headcount and we were standing in rows. 10 rows. There were headcounts at any time of the day or night. I left the row to ask for water. So one of the former prisoners called me. These had been arrested as hooligans, and now some worked for them [the prison authorities] and slept in the cages. They had names like Mammad Tifil and Taghi King Kong. They worked for the officers. There were three officers who worked 48 hours each.
Me and another person were punished that day. They cuffed our feet. We were sweating profusely. It was very hot. They lifted us and threw the chain attached to the cuffs on the Qaran’s door. They hung us from the door from our feet. They started to beat us up with the hose. It hurt so much our flesh was swollen. They kept telling me: “Say that you apologize [literally: say that you eat shit]!” And I immediately said it, but they wouldn’t let go. The prisoners kept saying salavat [prayers] to get the guards to bring us down. They finally dropped me down and I landed on my side. I felt as if I had broken a rib. I was all black and bruised.
The third or fourth day [July 13th or 14th], around 12 p.m., they took us to the courtyard. They made half of us crawl on our hands and knees around the courtyard while carrying the other prisoners on our backs. We had to carry them in a circle around the courtyard. The ground was so hot, we were burning. After five minutes, I only saw blood on the ground from other people’s knees and hands. I carried an old man on my back. We circled the courtyard maybe twenty or twenty five times. If we stopped, they beat us. Everyone had fractured bones and injuries in different parts of their bodies. The environment was so dirty and hot that any injury got infected immediately. Everyone had infections.
They took us to Evin prison five days after being kept at Kahrizak for five days. Several people were unconscious. They [Kahrizak authorities] could see that we might not survive.
I want to say that I did not see any rape cases in Kahrizak except for one person: Baba Ali. He was there for a drug offense. I heard from other prisoners who were later transferred with us to Evin that the ordinary prisoners who were with us raped him. They did it in the little area that was supposed to be used as a toilet. It was separated from the rest of the room with a wall. It had no door and was basically a whole in the ground. It was a disgusting place but a few people slept there because there was a vent and some air came in through the vent. In Kahrizak, the guards did not come near us. They had to use masks because of the smell. We were disgusting. Prisoners had no strength except those who worked for the officers. Prisoners were weak and very thin. I saw that in Kahrizak and Evin, they used bottles to rape people. This happened to maybe three or four of our friends. In Evin, a person who had protested was tied to a tree and raped with a bottle. He was bleeding when he came back. He was 23 or 24 years old. Some of the prisoners who were assigned to clean the courtyard had seen it happen. A doctor came and visited him. You could get a doctor at Evin if you asked for one. There was no X-Ray or such thing. He was still in prison when I was released.
Evin was cleaner. They brought a doctor and said no one would be released, as long as they had traces of bruises. They gave us medication and creams. For me it took a few weeks to heal.
In Evin, we were interrogated many times. Sometimes, we were kept waiting for hours. They asked many questions, and then they would leave for many hours. We had to sit on a chair facing the walls. Sometimes we did not know if the interrogators were behind us or not. We could hear screams and shouting. They wanted to know which party we belonged to. They wanted to know which media we had been interviewing with. They even offered to help us.
They had taken my computer and had found Musavi’s picture. They also found my photograph at a demonstration. They wanted to know if I was a Communist, a Mojahed, or a Monarchist. I told them I did not even know what Communism was. They asked me whom I voted for and why. They asked me why I thought that there was fraud. I said to them that I was peaceful and I did not know anything. But because of what they did in Kahrizak, three of our friends died. They threatened us not to talk about Kahrizak, if we did not want to go back [to Khahrizak].
We had not been allowed to call home. My family did not know if I was dead or alive. When we were in Evin, maybe a day after we heard the order about the closure of Kahrizak, Boroujerdi from the parliament’s national security commission came to visit on behalf of Khamene’i. He came along with four or five other people. They gathered us in a few rooms and talked to us in each room. They tried to calm us down. They said that “Agha” [Khamene’i] did not know about Kahrizak. That Kahrizak was not for prisoners like us. They said that they were sorry and that we will be released. They said that mistakes have happened and that they will try and punish Heydarifar, the judge who sent us to Kahrizak. They interviewed some of us. They were also accompanied by some cameramen and photographers who took pictures.
Then about twelve days after our arrest, judges from the citizenship rights office of the judiciary (Hoquqe Sharvandi) came to visit us. They saw us in pitiful shape. They looked very sad and moved by the situation. They gave us paper to describe what had happened to us. We wrote the truth of what they had done to us [in Kahrizak]. They said they would let us call home.
The next day, Heydarifar came in very angry. He said why have you talked? He even persuaded two or three of the prisoners to confess that they had been treated well. And they had to confirm their confession by fingerprints. He took prisoners to the guards’ room outside the Andarzgah. We could not hear them talk, but we could when he shouted. He told the rest of us who didn’t give in that we would stay there until the return of the twelve Imam, “Enghelab Mahdi.” Heydarifar was the judge who came to the first detention place, the Police Amniat station. He sent us to Kahrizak.
I saw Mortazavi [former Tehran prosecutor] in Evin once. He was there with seven or eight bodyguards. The guards had told us to be prepared and to sit properly, because Mortazavi was visiting. And that he wanted to see us. But Mortazavi never came in. He looked at us from behind the bars and he left.
The ordeal continues outside prison
When I was released, I was in bed for a month. After the first 5 days, I felt very weak. I could not stand any more. I was psychologically and physically exhausted. I kept remembering Kahrizak. I had a serious infection. I was in the hospital for [a few days] and then in bed in my house. My ribs and shoulders were tied in bandage. I had penicillin shots as well as an IV. After a month, I felt better.
When we were released, the officials from the military court (Sazman-e Qaza’i Niruhaye Mosalah) summoned us. They said they wanted to console us. They asked us to file complaints against those who had beaten us in Kahrizak. We didn’t know what to do. We discussed this among ourselves and decided finally to go. They had brought pictures of Kahrizak employees. They had also brought some of them in. Maybe 90 or 100 of us filed complaints.
The governor also called us and told us to go to his office. He also wanted to make it up to us. He told us not to do interviews with the media and not to harm the regime’s image. They had also brought a doctor who was in a room. There was a television crew there. They said, in front of the cameras, that they ‘are taking care of’ these kids. That anyone among them who has a problem can be tested and treated for free. They also asked us if we wanted to give interviews, and they said that they wanted the film for the Leader’s office (Beyte Rahbari). They said that it would not be broadcast on television, but later they showed bits of pieces of it after censoring parts of the interviews on television.
During that month, several times, people came from the Sepah [the Revolutionary Guards Corps], Ettela’at [the Ministry of Information], and Police Amminyat [the Information and Security Police]. They took us with them to convince us to withdraw our complaints. The military court told us not to listen to them and not to withdraw our complaints. They came for me five or six times. They handcuffed me using the Ghapani style. A couple of times they talked to me in the car. Sometimes, they beat me up. One time, they talked nicely to me and told me that I could not file a complaint against the regime. Another time, they took me to a place blind-folded. Then they released me into the streets.
I told them that I would withdraw my complaint. When I went to the military court, they told me not to withdraw my complaint. We were confused and didn’t know what they wanted from us. Finally, they got everyone to withdraw their complaints. I think everyone withdrew his or her complaints. It was the security forces who convinced everyone to withdraw their complaints. The officers at the police station in every prisoner’s neighborhood dealt with us. The plainclothes agents took us to our neighborhood police stations, where we withdrew our complaints. We could not keep our complaints and feel safe in the streets. Each time that a demonstration took place, they would take us in. They wanted us to report and make sure that we were not involved. Sometimes they took our computers. I felt unsafe. It had become unbearable.
About those who died
A father and son were held with us. They were in Kahrizak before us. They said they had been there for a month. They had been arrested after the [election results] protests. The father died while we were in Kahrizak. He was around 50 or 55 years old. We only realized three days after he died. His son had not said anything about his father’s death, so that he could have his father’s food. I don’t know much about them. When we were in Qaran 1, there was so much pressure that we couldn’t really think or talk to each other. All we could think of mostly was where to stand and we didn’t really know much about each other until later when we were taken to Evin.
Amir Javadifar was with us. He was a tall, good-looking guy. His jaw was broken and he had trouble eating. We put bread in his mouth in very small pieces to help him eat. He was very weak and couldn’t walk fast. So, they kept beating him. He told me that he couldn’t see with his right eye. This was on the third day we were in Kahrizak. His eye was infected. We tried to take care of him and to put him near the door, where he could get some air. The day we were sent to Evin Javadifar had lost consciousness, we had to carry them [Javadifar and other detainees] to the buses. Javadifar was in another bus with my friend. He died on the bus. We saw his body in the courtyard.
Mohsen Ruholamini was also with us. He was dizzy. He had been beaten on the head. He said that he had been arrested in the demonstration. But he did not understand why he was there. He was tortured so much that his back was infected and had flared up. We were all more or less naked. His skin on his back had broken out in an infected rash. Mohsen was arrested on the street. We were all beaten but Mohsen had been beaten significantly at the time of his arrest. It looked liked like he had several broken bones. Mohsen told me who he was [the son of a high ranking official] and was wondering if he should tell them or not. I thought he was teasing me. We were all in the courtyard. I told him that I did not know if he should tell them or not. I do not know if he told them. But sometimes they called him out. Others were also called and beaten. He was among those who were called more often. The last time I saw him was when they took us to Evin, he was almost unconscious. Mohsen died when we got to Evin. He was very thirsty, and we kept asking for water, but we did not get any. When he got out of the bus he vomited. We checked and saw that he was dead. He died in Evin’s courtyard. The head of the prison didn’t want him there and sent him back to Kahrizak.
Mohammad Kamrani was our cellmate in Evin. He died two days after we were taken to Evin. We were all in the Andarzgah, Section 1. Kamrani was in room 5 and slept on the second bed. He was nauseous. He felt sick every day. He lost consciousness a couple of days after we were brought to Evin. You could see bruises on his body. His hands, forearms, and shoulder were injured and infected. They took him to Evin’s infirmary. Afterwards, we asked about him and they said that he was in the infirmary. They had taken him to the hospital where he died. Kamrani was very quiet and polite. He was about 19 years old.