The Story of Ramin Haqju, A Victim of Iran's Security Forces in June 2009
Ramin Haqju is one of the young people in Iran who was shot and injured by government forces in Tehran as he participated in last year's post-election street protests. The bullet entered his stomach and came out of his hip, resulting in a large crack in the hip and severing a nerve in his leg. Ramin's interview with Abdolrahman Boromand Foundation accounts some of what he has witnessed and personally experienced. Ramin recently fled to Turkey to save his life and, like thousands of Iranian refugees in Turkey, is awaiting asylum in a safe country.
Iran was no longer a place for me to live... The likes of me are strangers in their own land. It is very hard to be a stranger in one's own country. I was prepared to leave Iran and live in a foreign land rather than endure repression and risk losing more body organs. I had already been paralyzed as a result of being shot in the post-election clashes. During my last days in Iran, I heard that they intended to raid private hospitals on the anniversary of the elections, to seize the files of those who had been operated on in that specific period, and arrest any suspects. Well, such a prospect left me no choice other than to leave Iran because they would most certainly track me down and I would face trouble.
In Iran, any news spreads from mouth to mouth. I was scared and my family would never take any risks that would result in my dead body.
I was shot on 20 June 2009 in Zinalian road off Shademan Street. On that day, I and a few of my friends had planned to go and voice our demands and protest about the rigged elections. As it has become widely known, we wrote 'Mir Hoseyn Musavi' and they read 'Ahmadinezhad.' That was everyone's demand. Everyone demanded an investigation into the massive election fraud. But that did not happen.
Of course, I had many demands. I am a person of truth. Since the day he took office, Mr Ahmadinezhad has become a big opponent of the Dervishes and has dealt harshly with the Ahl-e Haq [People of Truth]. The Gonabad Dervishes are an example of this. They demolished their places of worship, and many of them were imprisoned. Moreover, I am a homosexual. Mr Ahmadinezhad has denied the existence of homosexuals in Iran, where as in Iran, homosexuals are exempted from military service. But, well, they put us under the category of transsexual or transgendered, while we are homosexuals and are only attracted to people of the same sex, hence different from transsexuals. In any case, I was going to join the street protests because they had denied our existence in Iran and because of Mr Ahmadinezhad's lies.
On that day, my friends and I had arranged to meet around 12:30 at Azadi metro station.
Two of my friends turned up. The rest were lost in the crowd. It became jam-packed from 1 pm.
When my friends arrived, we heard sounds of loud cries and screams. It was around 1:30 pm when the Basij militia forces came from the direction of Enqelab Square and began to attack the people and disperse the protesters. That is why we decided to stay put around Shademan Street and could not leave. To our right was Behboudi Street, where special guard forces were deployed. The special guard forces and plain clothes Basij militia were also deployed on the main street from Azadi towards Enqelab. To the left of Shademan, where we were, there were Basiji militia. And straight ahead, toward Sattar Khan, there were forces known as the Feda'iyan-e Rahbar [Devotees of the Leader].
The special guards' uniforms are quite conspicuous. As for the Basij, they generally wear their usual outfits: some of them wear dark gray or navy vests. The Feda'iyan-e Rahbar are those whom they had brought in from the nearby towns and villages and who claimed to be ready to sacrifice their lives for their leader. We had become totally stuck and there was no way of getting out. The crowd stuck in Shademan was huge.
The people were resisting. They sought to attack and arrest the people, but the crowd had blocked their passage and were throwing stones, or whatever they could get their hands on, at them. Shademan remained jam-packed until about 7:30 pm.
The protesters were singing anthems and chanting slogans to such an extent that they managed to drive away the guards. There were a huge crowd. But they were not harming the guards and government forces. They were not even damaging any of the government buildings or shops in the area. But whenever the guards picked up a piece of stone, they would throw it at the cars and people ...
In the chaos, I lost my friends. I spotted one of my friend's aunts in the crowd. Suddenly I heard shouts that one person had been killed. Everyone became frightened. Girls were screaming and crying. At first I was afraid, thinking that something had happened to one of my friends because I hadn't heard from him for an hour or so. After some 10 minutes of worrying and looking for him with my friend's aunt, he suddenly turned up. He looked upset and perturbed. I asked him what was wrong. He replied: 'They killed someone right in front of me about 10 minutes ago. He was shot in the chest. His dead body was passed on from one person to another and vanished within five minutes. No-one saw his body again.'
It was around 7:45 pm when the noise died down, because the Basijis had charged toward the people. To the right of Shademan, where we were standing, there were the Basijis and to the left the guards. The guards did not harass the people too much. They just headed toward the crowd on their motorcycles to disperse them.
Then we heard shots. The shots were being fired at the crowd. Since Mr Khamene'i had announced a day earlier, in the Friday prayers, that anyone who took to the streets would be confronted and would have to pay the consequences. I took [Khamene'i's remarks] seriously. But I never could not sit quietly because they had lied to us. They stole our votes. Well, everyone knew that Mr Musavi should be president.
The crowd gradually dispersed onto the nearby roads and streets. We were standing at the entrance of one of these roads. Suddenly, I noticed an elderly woman coming down the road. She was carrying a few shopping bags. I noticed one of the Basijis sitting on the ground. From where we were standing, we had a clear view of them. Their boss was a smart looking guy in a suit with a walkie talkie. The Basiji sat down and aimed his rifle at the woman. He was about to shoot her when I yelled : "Be careful, lady." The woman dropped her bags and ran fast. I turned my head toward the Basiji for just a few seconds and noticed that he had turned the rifle toward me. My friend's aunt was standing to my right and my friend to my left. The moment I saw the rifle turned toward me, I pulled my friend's aunt back and we both fell at the same time. My friend's aunt got up and my friend told me to get up. He said they were coming toward us and we had to run away. I realized that I couldn't as my feet felt as heavy as rocks. I raised my hand to say that I couldn't. But as I raised my hand I heard my friend's aunt scream: 'Blood.'. It was then that I realized I had been shot. The bullet had hit my stomach.
I don't know [with what kind of weapon he had shot me], but it was a large weapon. If you look at the photographs [of my wounds] from close up, the bullet which entered my body has made a hole the size of a finger, but there is a crack of 10 centimetres in my hip. In other words, it has cracked and totally torn my hip from the back. It has created a three by three hole in my body.
Then the people quickly held me up and passed me from hand to hand to a nearby building. The Basijis had now entered the road. The road was a dead end, but there was a small passage way leading to the entrance of a house. The Basijis were now half way down the road. They thought that the passage way was another road; that the road was not a dead end and led to other roads and that I had been helped to escape. Yet all the time I was staying in one of the houses there. They kept me in that house for some half hour. The girls in the building were really scared... They thought I was going to die. Well. I had thought the same myself. I believed I was experiencing my final hours and that I was about to die.
I lifted my shirt for a second to see what had happened. I saw that part of my stomach had been torn and my intestines were protruding. To lift my mood, my friend tried to tease me a bit, and pulled my shirt down. There was not much external bleeding. In other words, the blood in my stomach was clotting. Since the bullet had entered the front of my body and come out the back of my hip. But, well, the intestines were stopping the blood from flowing out of my body.
I had been in that building for half an hour when someone knocked on the door. At first, everyone became frightened, thinking that it could be a security guard. Someone went to look from the upstairs window and noted that it was an ordinary civilian. He was saying that he had a car - a van. The van cars in Iran are taxis that resemble the old minibuses, but smaller in size... He said: 'I have a car. I can take him in my van'. Then, with the help of a couple of friends and my friend's aunt, I was put into the car to be taken to hospital.
I was shot at about 7:30-7:45 pm. By then it was about 8:15 pm. They closed all the curtains in the van so that no-one could look inside. They laid me down on one of the seats. There was heavy traffic in the area because the guards were still in Behboudi Street through which I was being driven. As we were driving away, a few people saw me. The first person who saw me was a doctor in an ambulance, but he did not do much. We were still in Zinalian Street when I was spotted by the ambulance. They asked [the doctor] to take me since they would open the way for ambulances. He responded: 'I will examine him and take him with me. But he will not return.' . So the driver responded, 'No! We will take him to hospital ourselves.'
A lady examined me who I think was a nurse. She immediately rubbed something onto my stomach, saying that it would prevent infection. I don't remember what it was exactly. She ordered them to quickly bring a clean sheet. My body had gone cold. I could hardly breathe. I only kept telling myself that I should not fall asleep; that I must stay awake. They quickly brought a sheet from a house and wrapped it around me. In that moment I felt that everything was coming to an end. Time was passing very quickly. ... In the meantime, a young guy turned up and said, 'I am in my last term at medical school. Let me examine him.' He then examined me and said, 'His blood pressure has gone down. He is very poorly. Bring him something sweet like sherbet.' They brought a sweet sherbet and a spoon and handed it to my friend. I think it was saffron sherbet. They had mixed saffron with water and sugar. By then we were safely out of Behboudi and Sattarkhan, but every hospital or clinic we passed had a guard standing outside.
I have no idea what hospitals or clinics there were in the area or where they took me to because my condition was deteriorating and I was getting closer to death.
We arrive at [...] Hospital. They admitted me into the hospital and asked me what had happened. The driver had told me, 'If they ask you what has happened, tell them that you had fallen off your bicycle and the bicycle's metal bar had entered your stomach.' They put me on a drip. I was lucky. I was examined by a young female doctor ... to whom I shall be eternally grateful. Within that time, she operated on me, put me on a drip, dealt with all the forms and paperwork ... I don't know how many hours went by. It was two or two-and-a-half hours after I was shot that I was admitted into the hospital. I found that out following my recovery and after they gave me my medical file. I was shot at about a quarter to eight but did not arrive at the hospital until 10 pm.
During that time, one of my friends telephoned my home and my brother answered the phone. They talked and he asked my friend, 'Tell me the truth. What has happened?' He told them what had happened to me. He said Ramin has 'been shot and his condition is very bad.' My brother asked, 'What hospital is he at?' and then he quickly put the phone down and headed for the hospital.
It was some half hour before my family arrived. But you will not believe that in a blink of an eye I saw my mother standing next to me; that is how quickly the time passed for me. I was conscious. I did not completely close my eyes until I was in the operating theater. When my family arrived, all I could do was put my hand to my face to kind of tell my mother not to say anything. I was not aware of anything else. They quickly prepared me for the operating theater.
I was in the operating theater for about two-and-a-half hours. Then they took me to the Intensive Care Unit. When the doctor came out of the operating theater, he said to my family, 'We have done the operation and removed some 40 centimetres from his small intestine. Then we suctioned about four liters of blood from his stomach. There is a three by three hole in his stomach. His hip bone is punctured. We have done whatever we could. You must have hope in God. There is only a 40 percent chance that he will survive.' They told me all this later on.
I don't know how many days I was unconscious. The doctors had said that they would have some idea of my survival chances once I regained consciousness. When I came to, a man came to my bedside and asked me questions: 'What is it? What happened?' Well, I wasn't feeling too good. I was scared. He looked like a policeman. I told him that I fell off my bicycle and the bar had pierced my stomach. He said, 'Son. I know exactly what has happened to you. So it would be better that you do not lie to me.'
Since I was really scared, I said, 'I was coming home from my class with a friend. We were approaching the house of my friend's aunt, when the incident happened.' He said, 'It would be better if you did not say anything to anyone here.' I said okay.
That gentleman was a medical coroner. There is one of them at every hospital. He said, 'Don't tell anyone what has happened. I won't tell either.' Then my doctor came. I was still feeling poorly and my condition kept deteriorating. A few hours went by. They had tied my hands during the few days I was unconscious and in the few hours after I regained consciousness. The doctor said, 'Untie his hands.' I lifted my gown for a second and saw... Well, until they took me to the operating theater I thought that I would live and nothing would happen to me. A bullet had entered from the front and came out the back, but I did not know that it had come out of my back. I thought it had entered from the front; that they would take it out, stitch it and that would be all. When I lifted the gown, I realized what had happened. I noticed that the whole of my stomach had been bandaged. It was then that I realized I would never be the old Ramin again.
My doctor said to my family, 'Ramin must walk. If he doesn't walk, he will become paralyzed in his left leg.'
When they transferred me to the hospital ward, my friends came to visit. They had come with their families at night. They were all scared lest something happened to them. Well, everyone is afraid for their lives. And I accept that. It would get them into trouble and they would be arrested. So they visited at night. Three of my friends helped me because I had two tubes attached to me. One from my nose to my stomach to remove the infections from my body ... One friend helped to hold the tubes, one held the right and the other the left side of my body to help me walk. It was very hard... I would get tired and unable to walk after a couple of steps.
They kept injecting me with local anaesthetic to stop the pain and prevent me from pressing my stomach (they no longer tied my hands). I was in the hospital for a whole week. On the last day, the medical coroner came to visit (my father was also with me). He said, 'Do you recognize me?' I replied, 'No. I don't recognize you.' He explained who he was. I remembered. I understood that I should not let him realize that my father has also learnt of what has happened. He led my father out of the room. My friends had told my father: 'Don't tell anyone what has happened to Ramin. Say you don't know and that you had come to the hospital on receiving a phone call. But no-one has told you anything, except that you think a metal bar had pierced his stomach'. He asked me, 'Have you said anything to your father?' I replied, 'No. My father doesn't know anything.' That gentleman was indeed a good man. He said, 'I have not told anything to your father either. Just take care of yourself.'
A few hours later, around noon, my doctor came to do a check up. He seemed to know that someone had been to see me... He said, 'Has something happened? Has anyone been here?' at which point my father said that yes, that gentleman had visited. The doctor said, 'Then, I will sign his discharge papers. Take him away from the hospital, and do not take him to your home.'
At the hospital many people knew what had happened to me. You could say that all the nurses had heard. My medical bill came to around 6.5-7 million. The hospital gave me a discount and charged me six million. From the hospital, they took me to my grandfather's house.
That week my left leg felt strange. I said to my sister, 'I can feel my leg but I have no sensation in my thigh. I feel no pain even when I stick a pin in it.' The day I went to have my stitches removed, my doctor said, 'Thank God you have managed to stay alive so far. We had lost hope in you. That is the reason for the problem in your left leg. Had the bullet been a centimeter higher it would have damaged your spinal cord. And had it been a few centimeters lower, we would have had to amputate your legs' ... For a while I also felt a deep pain in my stomach. I went to the doctor, who said, 'Your intestines have glued together. We could control that now. Don't worry about it now. If it gets worse, you will need an operation as otherwise it will develop into intestinal cancer.' I was under the doctor's supervision for six months.
It was a terrible feeling when he said to me, 'You may never be able to recover the nerve in your leg. The operation you need is not available in Iran.' It was a terrible feeling. My intestines had glued together, and it could develop into cancer. I had damaged the nerve in my leg. And I could not have the necessary operation unless I left Iran... I can walk [now] but after a short while my legs feel very tired. Sometimes if I walk for too long, the muscle in my leg hardens and cramps. The nerve has not recovered yet and I feel intense pain even when my leg is lightly touched. Later, the doctor told me that the nerve was at risk of being totally damaged and that I had to do something about it fast.
After they removed the stitches, I had to use a walking stick. A week later they took me to my own home. My friends visited me. They took care of me. They would wash me, comb my hair and dress me. They would take me for drives. After a few outings, I would suddenly feel very sick and rush home to take my medicine. I would be in pain, unable to walk or breathe properly.
I kept thinking that they would burst into my home and arrest me any minute. A year after the event (it will be a year on 20 June), I was still scared of being arrested. Afterwards, I tried very hard to leave Iran but was not able to. My relatives abroad did their best and I went to many embassies but was unsuccessful. We even considered seeking the help of people smugglers as a way of leaving Iran. But no-one would accept. They said I had to wait another four or five months. My family were, naturally, afraid.
After what happened to me, my friends no longer took part in demonstrations. But when I managed to stand on my feet, I felt that I could run and continue with my running. With the exception of 4 November, I took part in every demonstration. I was at the demonstrations on Quds Day, 7 December [Student Day], Moharram, and 11 February. I still had my wishes and I wanted them realized.
When they took me to the hospital's emergency ward, they brought in a man who died later. He was in very bad shape and the doctors said that there was nothing they could do. I was not fully conscious then. I only turned my head round for a second and heard the doctor asking him for details of someone to contact. He was unable to respond. Later I learnt that he had been beaten with a baton and that his body was crushed in the process. If I am not mistaken he was over ??? of age. In other words, he was probably married with children. I remember he was big built with short hair.
In the photographs of the clashes, there was a photo of a young man being taken on the back of a taxi. He was shot in the leg. He was in the bed next to mine at the emergency ward.
When they took him to the ward, his condition deteriorated. He was then taken to the ICU. I will never forget; the doctors were urging him to breathe, but he could not... They were begging him. I can still hear the sound of his wheezing as he tried hard to breathe. He was suffering from **embolism. During that period, my father became friends with his brother. They were not so well [off] financially. They had sold his car. His medical bills had already reached 12 million.
There are three things I never forget about that period. The taste of the sherbet they gave me after I was shot to make me feel better. The sound of the pleas of young people as I was being driven to the hospital, the wheezing sound of the young man who had been shot in the leg and was suffering from embolism, and the pleas of his doctors who were pleading with him to breathe. I went through a terrible time. They were terrible nightmares. Sadly, that young man died. I was told of that by one of the hospital guards later.
In the next demonstration, I again went to the area in the direction of Enqelab and Azadi. I would flee the scene every time the forces attacked... I would escape to avoid arrest. Whenever I reached the spot where I was shot, my body would freeze and I suffered from palpitation. I would feel my stomach going up and down and my feet weaken. I went [there] every time except on the February day when I went toward Aryanshahr where Mr Karrubi was scheduled to speak, but he was stopped. Otherwise, on every occasion, on 7 December, Quds Day, etc... I would go pass the area where I was shot. On Ashura day, I saw them arresting two young men. They had handcuffed them. Four of them had arrested one man. Four big built guys had handcuffed a young man of about 22 and were taking him away. The Basijis were attacking and shouting, 'See how your Karrubi got scared and didn't turn up?'
On the last Thursday of the Iranian year, it is customary for people to visit the graves of their friends and relatives. I went to Behesht-e Zahra [cemetery]. I really wanted to visit Neda's grave. The innocent Neda Aghasoltan who was killed. As was Sohrab. What had the 20 year old boy done to deserve death? What had Neda done to deserve death? Later, they claimed that Neda's teacher and the doctor who had come to her aid had killed her, and that they were members of Mojahedin-e Khalq. They made a fabricated film saying that Neda was killed later and her death then was for show. Some people believed that. And some, who had sense and intelligence, said. 'how could Neda's death be a show? What girl would possibly be willing to sacrifice her life for propaganda?' Had I not been shot myself, perhaps I too would have believed that they were telling the truth. Neda, too, was someone like me. I was lucky and survived. Sadly, she was not.
From the moment we entered Behesht-e Zahra, we were told of the presence of many security forces. I did not believe it. My friends and I had bought a wreath to put on the grave. I was approaching the grave with three friends when we saw some 200 police officers standing there. They had surrounded the grave. There were also many plain clothes officers there. It was impossible to get close to Neda's grave. Neither Neda's nor Sohrab's! To avoid being harassed, we sat by another grave and prayed for Neda's soul from a distance. We prayed for both Neda and Sohrab. Their families were not there. The plot where they were buried was under supervision.
All we could do was to thank Neda and her family, but we could not even place a flower on her grave. Neda and Sohrab lost their lives for us. But there have been many Nedas and Sohrabs who have died and no-one knows of them. It is not only Neda for whom we should act. There have been many... The lives of many young men and women, whose families had many hopes for them, have been lost in this period. These young people's parents are crying their eyes out night and day. All these events have been very hard for us.
I hope the day will come when I will be able to sleep at night knowing that I am free. I am Iranian, and I want peace and democracy. I want to see Iranian people of any tendency and belief to be accepted, and I want to see no more executions.
**Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot or piece of fat blocking an artery that transports blood to the lungs. Clots initially develop in the deep veins of the pelvis. Fatty embolism is often a result of a broken bone. The blood clot or fatty embolism is transported through the blood stream. It passes the heart and makes its way to one of the arteries that supply blood to the kidney, and becomes lodged there. This phenomenon causes the blockage of the said artery, causing breathing difficulty and sometimes renal damage.