A Witness Account of Police Brutality Against Demonstrators, June-December 2009
I was born in Tehran in 1971. I had studied trade management and set up a trading company. I was not a political activist. But when the elections took place and they used all sorts of ploys to draw people to the ballot box, I realized that what we wanted had not happened and the outcome was the opposite. I decided not to remain silent and take to the streets like all the other people. I was present at every street rally and demonstration. There were those like me who were not political. But we had voted and wanted to see the true election results.
It was Saturday 13 June, the day after the elections. My wife and I were protesting on the streets around Jahan Kudak Junction and Vanak Square. We were subjected to attacks with clubs and batons at every demonstration. Even when protestors held silent rallies, government forces would do something to initiate clashes. I believe it was wrong to urge people to stage peaceful and silent rallies because government forces would attack them irrespective of whether their rallies were peaceful or violent; it made no difference to them.
I was surprised when I saw that even on Ashura Day the Law-Enforcement Force [LEF] were using violence, because there were far fewer people on the streets than in the first post-election days and the LEF could have easily controlled the crowd. Yet they had dispatched special anti-riot units to ride into the crowd on their motorbikes in a bid to raise the number of casualties on both sides - in fact, I believe they wanted to have casualties among their own forces too to give them a pretext for intensifying the crackdown.
I was present in the silent rally on 15 June 2009, the day the killings started. When the shooting began, however, I was in Azadi Square. So when some people said that shots had been fired at some people on Azadi Street, killing a few, my companions and I took it as a rumour aimed at frightening the people in a bid to disperse them from Azadi Square. But a few minutes later, we saw people coming from Azadi Street toward Azadi Square in tears. Meanwhile, the LEF had started to fire tear gas and attack the crowd in order to disperse them.
On 16 June, there was a rally in front of the Voice and Vision [state-owned radio and television]. Again, I was on Vanak Square with my wife. We could not make our way to the Voice and Vision because special anti-riot units had blocked access to the street from the north and the Basij militia forces from the south of the square.
As the clashes escalated on Gandhi Street at dusk, they started to fire shots into the crowd, one of which hit a young man in the leg. It appeared that government forces had been ordered from that day to fire shots into the crowds on the streets and side roads to sow panic and deter people from taking to the streets.
The crowd at the beginning of Gandhi Street was made up of families who had come to voice their protest; to the south of Gandhi Street, protestors had burnt piles of rubbish and tyres in the middle of the street to prevent government forces from approaching. As we headed toward Jahan Kudak Junction, we noticed that the clashes had reached there too. With some difficulty, we managed to get to our car, which we had parked there, and drive home. To protect my wife, I did not really take part in clashes on the days she was accompanying me, but went out on the streets to be present at the rallies.
On Qods Day, I joined the rally from Haft-e Tir to Vali-e Asr Square. At Vali-e Asr, the LEF had blocked the streets and would not let the crowd toward Keshavarz Boulevard. On that day, a police sergeant kicked me really hard with his boots. The pain was so intense that I thought my leg had broken. But, fortunately, there was no serious damage and it was only bleeding. On the whole, I did not sustain any serious harm in the protests I took part in. I always got away with being beaten up a bit with fists, kicks, clubs and batons.
On Ashura Day, I set off from Imam Husayn Square toward Enqelab Square with a friend. My friend was very strong and big built. On one of the sidewalks, the special anti-riot units attacked the crowd. I fled but my friend stayed until the special units got to where he was standing and beat his legs with electric batons so that he could no longer move. I had fled into a blind alley and someone let me into his house. The back door of that house opened onto Gorgan Street. So from there I returned to Enqelab Street via Gorgan Street and Pol-e Chubi. I did not encounter any problems between Pol-e Chubi and Ferdowsi Square. To avoid clashes, the people were beating their chests. The government forces were on the streets but they were not attacking the people. From the sound of their walkie talkies it appeared that there were no particular scuffles anywhere at the time. When I reached College Street, I saw that Basiji forces and plainclothes security were deployed there. There was also a large pile of stones. People were saying that the stones had been deposited by a government truck moments earlier to be thrown at the people from over the bridge.
When I arrived under Hafez Bridge, I saw plainclothes forces throwing stones at the people. The crowd were being bombarded with stones thrown from the top of the bridge.
Many people were beating their chests so as not to give government forces an excuse. As I arrived under Hafez Bridge, the special units had embarked on attacking the crowd from the direction of Vali-e Asr Junction, while the plainclothes forces were hurling stones at the crowd from over the bridge. I fled. I went to Alborz High School road and Hafez Street. The protestors' slogans at that moment were all directly targeted at the leader of the Islamic Republic. They were all chanting 'Death to Khamene'i.' I believe that the slogans really irritated the plainclothes forces. Later on, when I saw the Ashura Day pictures on the internet, I recognized images of some of the well-known armed forces of Lebanese Hezbollah among the plainclothes forces deployed on Hafez Bridge. The name of one of the Lebanese is Hussein Manif Ashmar.
Again I was forced to return to Alborz High School road. However the special unit motorcyclists charged toward the road. They hit an old woman on the head with a baton; it fractured her head and she fell to the ground. The crowd were really angered by the incident and turned on the motorcyclists. Meanwhile, I did not notice whether it was the guard forces or the plainclothes ones that started to fire shotgun pellets. I suddenly felt a stone hitting my head and made my way to a bench under Hafez Bridge and sat down. I realized that I was on the verge of losing consciousness. I believe I slept on that bench for some 10 minutes until people came toward me and helped me into a car while I was bleeding heavily. I remember blood covering the car seat. The driver took me to an ambulance, which transported me to Sina Hospital. At the hospital, I was approached by one of the security forces who asked my name. He took my cell phone, which he answered every time it rang. When my family rang he told them that I was at Sina Hospital. At the hospital, they put me on a stretcher because I was bleeding so much. The ambulance driver was told by the hospital staff to take me to another hospital because they had no spaces left and, owing to the large number of fatalities, even the hospital morgue was full. They thought I was also going to die.
They subsequently took me to Loqman Hospital. Then my friends and sister arrived, and since my sister worked at the Military Hospital, she arranged for me to be transferred to that hospital.
On the way to the Military Hospital, they covered me with a chador because they were stopping and searching cars. At the hospital, the doctor asked me to move my left hand and leg. I could not. My body had been hit with 150 shotgun pellets, and since several of these bullets had entered my brain tissue, the left side of my body had shut down. Subsequently, they transferred me to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where I was kept for 15 days, before being taken back to the ward.
I was unconscious for a week out of the 15 days in ICU. Once I was taken back to the ward, I remained in hospital for a month. I had no way whatsoever of leaving the hospital because the LEF had directed the hospital staff to prevent me from doing so. Visitors had to give their name and details and their belongings were searched. My physiotherapy sessions started once I was back on the ward to help me regain some movement in my left side. While in hospital, I was interrogated twice by the LEF intelligence unit and security police. They asked me questions such as, 'Why were you on the street on Ashura Day?' 'At which areas were you present?' 'What is your job?', 'Where do you work?' I told them that I was heading toward my sister's house and was not part of the protest. Meanwhile, they went to visit my work place and my home. They had even interrogated my colleagues. They took away my laptop, which was never returned.
In the first month, I had problems with my short term memory. There are still 140 shotgun pellets in my body. Doctors have told me that there is no need for surgery as they will eventually pass through the body on their own. The main problem, however, is the two pellets lodged in my brain. To date, the doctors have advised against surgery.
When I decided to discharge myself from the hospital, my family had to give a pledge that I would report to the security police the following day. When the LEF intelligence agents came to interrogate me at the hospital, they told me that if I had any complaints I should make them there and then. I told them that I wanted to complain about the LEF for having fired pellets at me on the street for no reason. So they opened a case file for me and left.
I went to the security police in a wheelchair to give my fingerprints. I made the official in charge of fingerprinting angry because I could not lift myself from the wheelchair. The soldiers helped me up and I was fingerprinted.
From the security police, two soldiers took me to the Revolution Court. On the way to Bench 10 of the court, the soldiers twice pushed me from the wheelchair to the ground. When the Revolution Court interrogator saw the state I was in, he contacted the security police and said, 'Why have you sent him to the court in such a physical condition? It is not as though he can escape in such a condition?'
When they told me to go to the Revolution Court, I assumed that they wanted me to go there to lodge a complaint against the LEF. When I arrived at the Revolution Court, however, I noticed that I was being treated like a criminal. I told them that I believed there had been a mistake because I had actually come to complain about the LEF. But they proceeded to tell me that it was the LEF that had filed a complaint against me.
When I asked them what my offence was, they told me that it was my presence on the streets on Ashura Day. I asked them, 'Had you announced that no one was allowed to be on the streets, or that the streets were your exclusive domain?'
At the court, they had a newspaper which carried pictures of protestors. But as hard as they tried to find my picture there, they could not. I told them, 'Your guards shot me with pellets. You must tell me why they fired at me?' The interrogator responded, 'The fact that you were on the streets was the best reason for firing the shots. You are charged.'
It should be noted that in that period the LEF was denying that its forces carried shotguns, and blamed plainclothes forces for shooting at the people. Consequently, when I told the Revolution Court that I wished to file a complaint against the person who had fired at me, they said, 'Neither the LEF nor the Basij carry such weapons, so you need to identify the offender, otherwise the only complaint you can make is against the monafeqin [Hypocrites; reference to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization], in which case we may be able to help you later.' However, I have now compiled a complete set of films and photographs of these forces in which they are using their shotguns, so that, if presented with an opportunity, I may submit them to the relevant international authorities, because I have no hope of pursuing the matter inside the country.
When I heard that they were planning to deal harshly with Ashura Day detainees*[i], and that they were expected to receive long sentences, I became frightened and contacted someone who I knew worked in the Leader's Office. I gave him 15 million tomans to help take my name off the list of those banned from leaving the country. I left t Iran, and since my sister lived in Sweden, I managed to obtain a visa for that country.
Since I was the managing director of our company, they created all sorts of problems for us. For instance, the Tax Office said that the taxes paid by the company were not adequate, and they increased them by tenfold. They also cut off the company's telephone lines and refused to reconnect them. Then the Guild Association said that a complaint had been filed against the company. And the Monkarat Office also harassed the company regularly every week. Ultimately, I was forced to dissolve the company. Our company was the sales representative of an Italian company for automatic doors.
Following these developments, I contacted [pro-Mir Hoseyn Musavi] Kaleme website and Mr Karrubi's website. But they did not respond or give any kind of support. To date, I have paid almost 30 million tomans in medical bills.
Currently, the left side of my body is paralyzed. After many physiotherapy sessions, I manage to walk with difficulty. I also have to take four anticonvulsant pills every day. I intend to file a complaint against the Islamic Republic's authorities. I was even threatened by the security police not to speak to any media. They were also sending me threatening SMS messages during my final days in the country.
The day Neda Aqasultan was killed I was on that street. My wife and I were heading toward south Amirabad to join other protestors, when we noticed that the street had been cordoned off. I parked the car in one of the side roads. As we approached an area close to where Neda was killed, we saw people in tears. They had lifted a girl up and were taking her toward a car. There were also two Basijis there, one of whom was being so badly assaulted by the crowd that his shirt had come off. Later on, when I saw his picture on the internet, I noticed that he was that very Mr Abbas Kargar Javid. He was sobbing and saying, 'I did not shoot!' The other Basiji had entered a four-storey building and the people were saying that he had taken a family hostage. I think that by saying, 'I did not shoot,' Abbas Kargar Javid meant that the second Basiji who had entered the building had shot Neda.
Then the people went inside that building and caught the second Basiji and brought him down while they were beating him up. Meanwhile, the police forces arrived and were confronted by the crowd of protestors who were shouting, 'why are you firing at the people. You have killed someone's daughter.' One of the policemen responded, 'We will investigate the incident personally, and if we find that they had fired the shots, we will punish them.' They put the second Basiji in an ambulance and drove him and Abbas Kargar Javid away. The LEF itself had witnessed the capture of the two Basijis by the people. Yet they had rescued them from the scene of the crime and are now denying it.
Abbas Kargar Javid was swearing that he had not fired the shot; the people, who were there before us, also said that the second Basiji had shot Neda. An ambulance, police and special unit forces arrived at the scene. The day Neda was killed, the Sarallah base had been put in charge of Tehran's security, and among them there were some who spoke Arabic because they did not know any Persian. It is said that they belonged to Lebanon's Hezbollah. There are also pictures of them on Hafez Bridge on Ashura Day, and a few of them have been identified.
There would not have been any problems had government forces not attacked the people. In the past year's protests, it was always the government forces that initiated the violence. Even on Ashura Day, had the plainclothes forces not thrown stones from the top of the bridge and the LEF not fired teargas, the people would never have resorted to violence.
Even at the College Junction, where the people had ambushed the LEF, it seemed to me that the LEF had deliberately and premeditatedly sent its forces into the crowd so that they also sustain casualties, which they would be able to exploit at a later stage. Moreover, the shots they fired were directed at the people and aimed at the upper parts of their bodies to ensure that they killed the people. They were not even firing shots in the air.
At the Revolution Court, too, they were searching through the photographs to find pictures of those they had detained. Anyone whose picture was identified faced a dark prospect. When they took me for fingerprinting, one of the LEF sergeants was sitting with a few soldiers; they were telling each other jokes, and the sergeant was using crude swearwords. They were in fits of laughter and when they saw I was not feeling well, they started to poke fun at me. They said, 'Why are you so upset. At the worst, you will be aborted. That's nothing to be upset about. You should not have joined the protests. Perhaps you had done something very bad in past Ashura days and you are paying for them now. '
A friend of mine who lives in Shahryar told me that the day after Ashura, there was an electricity blackout in the whole of Shahryar District. Later on we heard that they had buried the body of a protestor, who had been thrown off the Hafez Bridge by plainclothes forces, in one of the suburbs of Shahryar under the cover of darkness. Moreover, they had put an old headstone on the grave and told his family that they were not allowed to hold a funeral service or even say anything about their child.
As for my wife, she has been unwell since that Ashura Day, because of that entire episode with the Revolution Court, Security Police and so on. She has been regularly taking tranquilizers. Sometimes I believe that the government had formed the security police force by recruiting former prisoners who were thugs and hooligans.
I went out on the streets again on 12 June of this year. It was totally evident that they had deployed several divisions of forces from Imam Husayn Square to Enqelab Square, because throughout the route, there were LEF and plainclothes forces sitting on the ground. On 14 June, my wife received a summons to report to the local police station. It was this chain of events and feelings of insecurity that made us decide to leave Iran.
[i] Clarification by Boroumand Foundation: Statements by Islamic Republic's authorities do substantiate remarks by Mohammad Yeganeh-Tabrizi concerning the harsh treatment of those arrested on Ashura Day: "Abbas Ja'fari-Dowlatabadi, Tehran's Public and Revolution Courts Prosecutor, stated publicly yesterday: We have adopted a stern policy in the wake of Ashura and in view of the attack by certain individuals on people's beliefs. This conduct has made those who were arrested in the course of that day's events to realize that they would be seriously dealt with. (Keyhan newspaper - 1 March 2010).