SEYED ALI KHAN DETENTION CENTER (ESFAHAN), 1985
A Chapter from And Here Virgins Don't Die
A Few Points in Regards to the Second Edition
The publishing of the first edition of this book coincided with some very difficult moments of my life, the first year of life in a foreign country with all the difficulties that that entails for the exiled newcomers. Yet I couldn't suppress the screams in my head or defer them to an unknown future occasion. And so, this undertaking turned out to be an introduction of sorts to my life in Canada and even though I was not familiar with the process of printing and publishing in this country, nevertheless with the help of Mr. Saa 'ed Sepaasi (Forugh Publishing House) the first edition of this book came to be published, be it in small numbers and with all manner of unavoidable limitations. Here in the first place I would like to thank Mr. Sepassi.
The book was available in Vancouver for those who wished to obtain it, and from there it found its way to other places in the world and put me in touch with other free thinking human beings and human rights activists. This provided me with the opportunity to come to find other dearly cherished friends, who would later endeavor to reissue my book. It is now my pleasure to be able to thank wholeheartedly my dear friends Mohammad Pezeshki and Shahram Qanbari, who through their material and moral support brought about the second edition of this book.
Another matter that I must mention here, is that because of the circumstances of my own family and Amir's - a dear friend who was a part of my life, and was executed, - I was forced to censor myself, cutting out the parts that I thought would lead to the discovery of my and his true identity by the Islamic regime. This is also the reason for my usage of a pseudonym.
All the travails of the publishing and copy writing of this second edition were taken on by my dear friend Shahram Qanbari and since the rereading of the book would inevitably force me into reliving of the traumatic events described in it yet again, I was unable to assist these dear friends in the task of reediting the manuscript, and no doubt Shahram Qanbari has had to endure much hardship and inconvenience in preparing it. And so, here, I would like to again offer the most heartfelt gratitude together with my warmest regards to him and other friends.
[Shahrzad,] Vancouver, June 1998
Preface to the First Edition
It is only now that I can at last rest with some comfort, now that I have finally managed to deliver the message of my fellow inmates to those willing to listen. This is not only the story of those women from many different places who had ended up together in Dastgerd prison in Esfahan; it also seeks to address my experiences in some other prisons in Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz between the years 1982 and 1989. While working on it, I was as if in constant dialogue with my fellow inmates. No matter where I was, my days were spent in conversation with these women and my nights in nightmares about those terrifying times. In putting down each word of every line, I had to struggle against the choking tears and the fear that my heart would give up bearing the pain.
The singular memories of any one of those men or women incarcerated if they attempted to document them into a book would show but a small part of the overall conditions of existence in a prison and only from the point of view of the subjective author. Prison for me is the heart of an immediate and yet unfair battle between the chained and blindfolded prisoner on the one hand, and the regime and its armed wardens on the other. And this unequal battle goes on not only until the last day of the prisoner's incarceration, but also continues to challenge her in various ways until her very dying day. Tyrannical regimes, especially the Islamic variation of them, try to rehabilitate the imprisoned person, so that she would lose her independent identity and come to see the world from their perspective. Staying devoted to one's principles in the prisons of the Islamic regime always amounts to toying with one's very life.
This testament is written in the memory of all the freedom loving men and women who by existing and dying in the dungeons of the regime defended liberty; it is dedicated to the memory of all the free souls whose resistance came to be imprinted on the very canvass of my being for a whole lifetime; to every one of those, whom I encountered perhaps in but a fleeting glance, say in the courtyard of this or that prison, in one or another cell or during the countless interrogations. They defined liberty against the backdrop of all the ugliness and cruelty of both heaven and earth.
In their honor I now look at the rose and the bush and the endless sapphire of the sky, spell liberty in the sand, and hand my love to the care of the unruly heart of the so-called Pacific Ocean, eternally in concert with the holler of their relentless beating hearts.
[Shahrzad] Vancouver, March 1996
Seyed Ali Khan Detention Center:
On the Fence
When I opened my eyes there were no recognizable faces and this added to my confusion even more. Everything was lusterless and confusing. Furious eyes of a face wrapped in a black fabric were upon me. The face was calling my name. Then I was suddenly frightened by the voice emanating from the middle of this black circle:
- Get up; you have to account for your deeds!
The tone was still very faint. With eyes squinting from pain I focused on the face. Perhaps the whole heaven and hell story was really true. Perhaps I had died and was repaying for my sins in hell. The owner of the angry face shook me and continued:
- I said get up; you have to talk!
I was beginning to be aware of my circumstances. Two pasdars [revolutionary guards] were standing next to me; one straightening my blindfold while the other pulled it down some. A rough voice emerged out of a throat somewhere:
- Take this pen and paper and write down whatever you have in your head, the names of everyone you know. I want names from you, names, names!
Then he hit me with the interrogation papers several times on the head and finally threw them onto my hands:
I ignored him, he repeated:
- I said take it if you wanna get outta here.
I continued my silence; he went on:
- I said take it, it's in your own best interest!
- I am not here for my own best interest.
He got up wrathfully as his chair was thrown to one side and screamed:
- These words are too big for your mouth, if you dare say it again; I'll skin you alive.
I repeated: I am not here for my good health.
He started circling around me and cursing me. As passed me, I could hear his breath. He repeated himself again and again and got the same answers. From this repetition his blood had begun to boil, he turned to a female warden next to me and said:
- Sister, hold her head up!
The female pasdar hit me under the chin, pushed my head up and with her other hand pulled my head back.
The interrogator quickly escaped from in front of me, so that I wouldn't be able to identify him from underneath the blindfold. I wiggled myself free quickly. He couldn't take it any longer and started to pummel me. Soon blood started to stream down my face and from my nose. Seeing the blood, he stopped, turned to the guard and said:
- Sister, "Behind the Curtain"!
Two guards were holding and dragging me out of the torture chamber. I pulled my hand away from one of them and wiped my bleeding nose with the dirty veil they had pulled over my head. I was barefoot. The heat of my feet was masked by the coldness of the November ground. They pushed me towards a car surrounded by pasdars. They were threatening me:
- We are all armed, if you move, we will scatter your brain all over the place.
What a laughable threat. How strong and dangerous would I have to be, to fight my way out in that condition? I was proud of myself for having instilled that much fear in them. Once we had exited the yard they pulled at my chador so that I would come to a halt. Then they took my blinds off and we got into the car. There were five of us in a Peykan [Iranian-made sedan automobile] three women wrapped in chadors in the back and two men in the front. We would appear quite normal to anyone seeing us from the outside, I thought to myself, just like any other Peykan on the road. Once we had reached an unknown open parking lot and stopped, they put my blindfolds on my face again and we continued by foot. Then they threw me into a room and one of the guards said:
- Now you can take off your blindfold.
I took it off; everything was dark. Rubbed my eyes several times; couldn't see anything. I was looking for a blanket in the dark and finally found something, then tried to stretch my body out. My foot hit the cold wall of the cell. An intense pain took hold of me. I crouched. I was hot; I didn't need a blanket.
The cell was in depths of darkness. After a short while, the door opened. The light from the corridor shone in, a female guard said:
- Where are you?
Then she went out again and this time turned on a light before coming in again, then put my interrogation papers next to me and threw a pen on top of them:
- Until tomorrow after lunch.
Our eyes met: a young woman who appeared very tired and angry. Then with an aggravated move she turned away, walked out and locked the door behind her. I was transfixed on the locked door for a bit. What a horrible afternoon. After picking me up, they had taken me straight to the torture chamber. What a stupid interrogation. The interrogator had said:
- Introduce yourself and say with which little group you used to work.
- I worked with no organization.
A heavy slap in my face, and again:
- I said: introduce yourself!
I told him my alias. Another slap and again:
- I said I want your real name. When your mom gave birth to you, what did she call you?
I repeated my alias. He got really angry and screamed:
- This name is your name in your little group. Do you want me to pull your name out of your throat forcefully? I know your name. Just want to hear you say it, you, yourself.
I said my alias again.
- How about your husband? Don't know his name either?
- My husband is not political.
- Really? Of course we also agree that you people are not political. You are members of little groups. Now, tell me, why did you come from Shiraz to Esfahan?
- I got married.
- Came just for that?
- Why did you have so many books at home?
- I like reading.
- Why only Marxist books and so-called revolutionary and anti-religious novels?
- I read all kinds of books.
- Now, what did you say was your name?
- I have said it three times already.
- Who was your superior in your organization?
- I didn't work with an organization.
- These responses are good for yourself. There are many things that you should say, and I will pull them all out of you one by one.
- I have no other answers.
He proceeded to slap me repeatedly, reiterated the same questions again, and finally said:
- Cable. Cable would open your mouth. But before that tell me, who were your guests last night?
- What business is that of yours?
- I'll show you what business.
Called in a pasdar. They took me to another room, where several of them jumped on me and wrestled me, who was standing there defenseless, to the ground. Then they tied me to a crossbar, which I would later learn was known as "The T". It was a terrifying situation. Then they threw a dirty blanket over my head and my head and face were covered with dust. It was all happening very quickly and before I knew it my feet were up in the air and under the nonstop assault of the "cable". The first hit of the cable, together with their exclamation, "Allah," sent shockwaves through my body. I wanted to cry out political slogans instead of screaming, but didn't know what to say, what to chant that would make me feel good. The regime had abused "death to America" so much that I didn't want to chant that one anymore. Because of my weak position in this encounter with the regime, I started to weep and cry. They pushed the blanket away from my face. The interrogator was right above me. He put his dirty boots on my forehead:
- Are you political or not?
With all my might I screamed:
- Being political is my right.
- Now that you have confessed, give us your superior as well.
- Hit her brother!
In the middle of the beatings he put his boots on my forehead again and said:
- If you hear about yourself from others, will you write?
- Very well then Sister Najmeh, turn on the tape player.
A masculine voice that I could not make out clearly was introducing me. When it got to the information about my husband, they stopped the tape.
Again with a smack:
- Is this right?
- Why were you denying it?
- I had to know what you know about me.
- Free her brothers, and bring her closer so I can tell her!
They took me closer to the interrogator who continued to hit me. With every slap he would also curse me. The last one was very hard; my head hit the wall and started spinning.
Behind the Curtain
The cell "Behind the Curtain" was a strange cell: one meter by three meters with a very high ceiling and without a window. It appeared to me that it might have been part of a corridor at some point. Its door, like the old fashion French doors would open in the middle, and wouldn't close all the way, forming a triangle on the bottom of it whence a tired breeze would drag itself through. Behind the door a thick and heavy blanket was hung. This was "the curtain". The silver walls had obviously been painted over several times, and still were covered with signs, signatures, codes, drawings, dates of arrest and executions etc. I still didn't know where I was being detained.
I tried the Morse code on the wall. There came no reply. Started moving on my knees, reading the writings on the wall. A prisoner who was suffering from being away from her little daughter had written: "My little daughter, you know that I would never lie, but they don't believe me here." Another had underlined "I never lie" and had commented: "Not even to the interrogator?" And then there were other comments also: "Frankness with the enemy?"
Upon the four walls of the cell, so far as it was within reach, there were markings. The cell was a book, reading of which would neutralize pain to some degree. Among the bits of poetry and political and personal messages written, one could find: "Here is the Seyed Ali Khan Detention Center, located in Kamal Esmail street;" "This cell is known as Behind the Curtain;" "When they are giving it to you, think about freedom;" "Comrade, don't betray;" "The fox-spirited do not kill the defiant;" "The interrogator is nothing but an illiterate idiot;" "Prison is a battlefield;" "Don't bury yourself alive through your treachery;" "A human being must die with her head raised high;" "The interrogator dupes;" "The birth of fascism in Iran;" "Islam is a capitalist religion;" "It smells like revolution;" "Dear Zary, I 'll see you next to Imam Hossein; I will be executed tonight;" "Happy New Year [spring];" "How nice it would be if this experience would count for something;" "Workers of the world unite;" "Shame on you, executioner;" "Hit me torturer, and make me happy;" "Life is beautiful for the aesthete;" "At night if I turn to Yemen, you would turn up" ...
The call to prayer was being broadcasted. I crawled under the dirty cover and as I was stretching myself the guard opened the door and said:
- Wash-up for prayer!
- I'll go to the toilet.
The distance between Behind the Curtain and the toilet was long. One had to cut straight across the entire courtyard of the detention center. The fresh air together with the washing of the dried blood under my nose and throat helped to refresh me, but by the time I got back to The Curtain my feet were hurting a lot. To vanquish the pain, I began reading the writings on the wall again, this time the descriptions of the guards, such as: "Pasdar Farzaneh is here known as the 'Gestapo, ' Zahra, as 'truncheon-swinger, ' Najmeh, famous as 'the executor, ' Safa, 'the wicked owl, '..." Together with this, a description of four repentants with their distinguishing outward characteristics and their political lines were given.
I had not yet left the cell, and yet had already been somewhat acquainted with the goings-on of the detention center. Just as the noise of the guards bringing the breakfast was being heard, I was beginning to feel extremely tired, and crawled once again towards the cover and tried to lie down a bit. But before I could do that, the curtain was moved and the door was opened. A hand threw a piece of thin bread wrapped around some feta cheese inside the dirty cell. I ignored it, hoping in vain to sleep a bit. A moment later pasdar Farzaneh came in, -just as described on the wall in the pasdar uniform comprised of a green overcoat and pants and a big black veil covering everything but her long and angry face and her single thick and connected uni-brow. Trying to pose as something more important than an ordinary pasdar, she marched in placing her boots directly next to my head on the blanket, and with her hands on her hips and glancing at the white pieces of interrogation papers next to me said:
- Why haven't you written anything?
Without moving I looked at her. One of the characteristics of her matching the descriptions on the wall was her long boots up to just below the knee. I said:
- Move your feet.
She screamed back:
- I won't. I asked why haven't you written anything.
- You are not to ask these questions. Your sole duty is to bring me my food, and take me to the toilet.
Angrily she took the papers and while walking out turned and said:
- You will see him.
She returned in the evening and in a threatening voice and a smile said:
- Get up, let 's go!
As I was standing up with difficulty and waiting for her to tie my blindfold I said to her:
- How come you haven't learned anything from the revolution and have become a jailer?
She pulled her face together and replied:
- But this is not a jail.
- So, where is this place then?
- A university.
- What Gross Anatomy!
Out of spite she tightened the blindfold extra tight. I objected:
- I have to be able to see in front of my feet.
- No you shouldn't.
- Yes I should.
Then all of a sudden the director of the detention center turned up and adjusted the blindfold, so that I could see in front of my feet. The large men 's slipper that they had brought for me was bothering me. I could barely lift my feet. The women pasdars pushed me from behind into a Peykan. There was also an armed pasdar in front next to the driver. As we were leaving the main gate of the center, they opened my blindfold, adjusted my Chador and said:
- Just look ahead straight in front of yourself and don't react to people. If you try something we will spread your brains all over the place. We are all armed.
This joke was not funny anymore. The dirty chador on my head was disgusting me. Its smell was bothering me. We crossed a few busy streets and alleyways. The Esfahan fall and the sounds of the Zaayandeh River were making me feel like going for a stroll along the riverbanks and feeling the breeze through my hair. Years ago I had traveled to Esfahan in this season, but at the time of my arrest I had only been there, in this city known as "half of all the world" for just a short while.
We arrived at the main gate of the central headquarters of the pasdaran. The mothers of a few of my friends were standing there together with their grand children. Seeing that, I deduced that the rest of my friends had also been captured. Once inside, they quickly pulled the Chador over my face and blindfolded me again. Then they took me out of the car and towards the right hand side. There was a lot of commotion and comings and goings. A guard said:
- Take her in; the Shari'a judge wants to have a talk with her.
They took me to a corner. I felt like I was standing next to a window. A guard gave me a telephone receiver and said:
- Speak with Haajaaqaa Shari'a judge.
The Shari'a judge coughed on the other end of the line and started:
- Well, sister ... In the name of God, the merciful the compassionate [A]. Well, sister, what is this game you are playing? Don't you have a husband? Why are you playing with your own and your husband's lives? Don't you want to be with your husband? What does all of this have to do with you? Your husband has confessed everything and is sitting there comfortably and will be released in just a few days. Do you really want to remain here? You know he will just go on and get another woman. A woman is not a rarity, you know. There are plenty of women out there. You speak your mind. It is just so that your file would be complete, but we already have all the information anyway. Your husband has already said everything and is very disappointed with you. You just write something and we will speak with him for you. Who knows, he might accept you back. Don't force a divorce. We don't want anything from you.
I cut him off:
- You don't want anything from me? Then what's all this torture for?
- It 's your own fault. You are hardheaded. Give us the info and go back to your cell. We will even set you free, how's that? Now what do you say?
- Very well then, you have chosen your own verdict.
Then someone grabbed the phone out of my hand and took me towards the left hand side of the window. Then we crossed a dirt road. The dirt road would lead to the torture chamber. They sat me down on a metal chair and two guards stood to the side of me for a moment. With my head down, I could see the torture instruments that were placed on the sides of the chair and below my feet. A thick cable, different kinds of wristbands, a cross-shaped metal bar known as The T, a carpet-cutter, a flatiron, several kinds of ropes, a few syringes, cigarettes and lighters. My eyes were fixed on the torture instruments while listening to the sound of the interrogator screaming in the next room:
- Tell me, tell me that you think I am an ass, and I won't hit you...
The screams of the prisoner, the sound of the cable and other torture instruments that I could see below my seat, all in all created precisely the horrific atmosphere that they were aiming for. They are experts in creating fear and terror. The placing of those instruments under my seat and within my sight had a particular psychological effect. They were showing off for me. I was wondering if I would be able to take it or not. Fear had taken hold of me. The thought of cracking down had my hair stand on ends and I was feeling cold. Then I thought about a scene... what uncanny resemblance... I felt like I had been there before. I could even remember the wetness of the walls as in the scene that was conjured up in my head. Where was it? The inquisition courts of the middle ages! I had read a description of them:
All around the uneven walls of the cave, from the crevices of which water was dripping, hung various instruments of torture. These were the inventions of inquisition priests, the very sight of whom would lead to the trembling of the viewer. In one corner there were the tripods, and next to them the special torture shoes, thick nails, ropes in different sizes, and in the other corner, the heated metal poles...
I had been sitting there for quite a while, my head down and with no choice but to stare at the tools and instruments. The cries and screams that I was hearing from every corner were driving me out of my mind. I was beginning to feel like those screams were emanating from my own throat. I had heard that there are ways of avoiding the feeling of pains inflicted, but I was not aware of these methods. I was disappointed with myself for my lack of knowledge. Why did I not know...?
The only way I could think of was to distance my mind from my body, to take my mind amidst other people. But I also was aware that they would put my flesh and skin in a meat-grinder in order to bring back my mind back to the torture chamber in a hurry. There were people going in and out of other rooms connected to the one I was in. They were taking newly arrested prisoners to their cells. Then suddenly the voice of the interrogator brought me back:
- What are you waiting for, sister? Tie her up, God will Insha 'allah give you back multiple in return.
Then they attacked me. They took my hands to spread me wide. I tried to free my hands. I knew that all my resistance would be futile, but didn't want to give up without a fight. They brought me to the cross-like pole. Pasdar Najmeh, the director of the detention center, sat on my chest and forced my hands to the ground. Then they raised my swollen and wounded feet up and tied them to the metal pole. My toes were pointing to the roof and my heels were on the crossbar. I was bound all the way to my behind. Then they threw a dirty blanket on my head. The guards, while preparing me for torture, were whispering "Allah-Akbar" quietly to themselves together with this sentence: "We do this for the sake of closeness to you, oh almighty." They had tied my mouth and eyes very tightly. My feet wrapped with a rope all the way to my behind, and someone was sitting on my chest. Then came the voice of the interrogator again:
- In the name of Allah.
The cable lashings were fused together with the name of Allah and became one. After a while my brain seemed to have stopped working. I was unable to count. But I could still hear the screams of other prisoners and so I knew that I was still alive. The barking of the interrogator was more barbaric than the hits of the cable that was coming down on my body.
- Whenever you decided to talk, waive your hands, you Marxist bitch!
My nerves were being pulled with each fast and heavy hit. As all who have been through this would tell you, the coming down of the cable seems to break the sound barrier and would shake one 's whole being. There was nothing in the world other than pain. Everything was pain and only pain. Under that machine I was turned into a fireball. And I was suffocating. I felt like my brain was about to explode. I was very sorry that I was dying so early. Finally, the interrogator with his heavy weight got up off my chest. Then they left me in that state for a while, with my head down and feet up. According to the consensus of the prisoners, the reasoning behind leaving the prisoner in this state was twofold:
The foot would get rested and in repeating the procedure would again feel pain. Because if they kept hitting nonstop, at some point everything would be numb and one wouldn't feel anything any more.
This state would allow for the distribution of pain and pressure on the whole being of the prisoner and not just the feet.
I don't know how long I was in that state. My head was too heavy and I was nauseated. My eyes, behind the blindfold that was tied too tightly, were coming out of their sockets. The screams of the prisoner from the room adjacent to mine were making me crazy. Had she heard my screams as well? My brain was being drowned in a flood of blood. Then they took my hand and shook me and untied me quickly.
- Take her feet down, her head up.
I puked. My feet were wet with blood.
Then I found myself in the same cell again, but this time in a much-worse state, with an unbearable amount of pain, weak and hungry. The guard came back with the papers. She put them down like the Holy Scripture, and threw the pen at me.
Turn on the lights, I said to her.
- Only if you want to write.
- I'll write.
- Do you need anything else?
Only the reading of the writings on the walls could alleviate my pain some. I got up on my knees and began to read with the utmost concentration. The voice of a male guard could be heard from behind the curtain. He was calling to a woman:
- Sister, dinner!
I got myself to my blanket. A plate of food was held inside from above the door, and half of it was spilled. The writings were drawing me. I had to keep on reading. In an angle there was written: "Farzaneh Soltani from down south was executed." At the bottom, close to the Mosaics of the floor other names could be seen: Akbar Samimi, Alireza Rostami, Gholam Salehi, Hossein Mozeram, Heidar Tahmasebi, Farkhondeh, Esmail Hassanvand, Parvin Behdarvand.
Before my arrest I had heard the news of the arrest of many revolutionaries. Siamak Kuhi, Ramezan Galleh, Said Soleimani, Baniollah Khosravi, Ziba Dastan - these were all high school students, whose execution had tormented me gravely. Hamid Salahshur was a very active high schooler, who in the first years of the regime's coming to power, was ran over by a revolutionary guard vehicle as he was cycling home after school.
I lied down on the cold mosaics. My eyes were still fixed on the wall. Then I got up on all fours. At the end of the wall the names of Soleiman 'Azizi, Issa Saleh-Ebrahimi and Hassan (Mistaken Hassan) caught my eye. I had heard about Hassan. He was a teacher. After his execution some Pasdars together with one of their superiors had gone to his house and had told his family that Hassan had been executed by mistake, but not to worry, for Hassan would surely be next to Emam Hossein in heaven at this moment.
I got sick of the writings. I am not sure when I finally passed out and when the morning broke. Pasdars opened the door and wanted the writing that I was supposed to have done. Upon seeing no reaction from me, they grabbed my hands and lifted me up. It was as if two hundred-kilo weights were tied to my feet.
Hotel... Slate of Mind and the Pain of Every Moment
Two guards were holding me under my armpits and were pushing me forward. A pain beyond what a human being could possibly endure had gripped my being. We exited past the curtains of the detention center. They put me on a lorry. Getting on was painful. I could see three pairs of brown slippers from under my blindfold. Big slippers for tiny feet! Someone coughed. A male guard said angrily:
- Coughing forbidden!
The prisoner said with a loud voice:
- Warden, my blindfold is too tight.
- If you talk too much, I'll tighten it even more.
- Where are you taking us?
- You'll find out soon enough, now cut your rattle.
Another one just coughed several times more. I didn't recognize any of them. I joined in:
- Guard, I wanna puke.
- Angel of death is awaiting you. Just wait till we get there.
My anxiety subsided to a degree with the realization that I was not alone. We were leaving the commotion of the city. The potholes were telling us that we had entered an unpaved road. It smelled like earth. I thought to myself, we are nearing Baagh-e Abrisham [Silk Gardens]. I wished I had also written my name on the wall of the cell. I was sorry I hadn't. The sounds coming from the car were raising my curiosity. I played a little with my blindfold. There were some big pots of food in the car with us. We had been on the dirt road for quite a while, before finally arriving. They pulled down our blindfolds especially low, so that we couldn't even see as much in front of us, as we could normally. Then they queued up in a row. We grabbed onto each other 's chadors. The one holding my chador from behind poked me and I repeated this with the one in front of me. We entered an unpaved yard. I don't know why I thought this must be a military compound. They walked us four through a cold, humid and stinking corridor. The smell was so bad that I imagined the guard was holding his nose. We entered another corridor. There they separated us and took each towards another coffin.
The vertical cement coffin into which I was to fit myself was too short and I had to kneel down to fit in it. It was cold and wet and had a door made out of metal. The act of kneeling inside it was too painful and difficult for me, but they whipped me so much over the head until I was forced to assume the necessary position. There was no feeling in my feet. I put my head on my lap. I don't know how long passed before there was a hit on the metal door of my coffin. A guard said:
- Out with you!
I got up, but was unable to move my feet at first. My knees were not taking orders from my head. I felt paralyzed. With much difficulty I bent and released my legs and finally stepped out of the coffin.
They took me to a different room where a pasdar told me:
- Turn to your right, and lift up your blindfold. But you are not allowed to look behind your back.
A relatively large hall was in front of me. There were many bags pilled up on top of each other in front of me. On one of them was written: Gholam [slave]. Moments later the door opened and they pushed someone in with such force that he fell to the ground, and couldn't lift himself up. Then two pasdars each grabbed hold of one of his feet and started to drag him, so that his head was bouncing on the cold and dirty mosaics on the floor of the hall. His shirt had been lifted up and his torso was showing. Cussing and cursing, they finally threw him near my feet. I was watching the scene without any reaction. His feet were bandaged and his pants were ripped on the sides. On the bottom of both his feet, two red flower buds were visible. Dirty and disheveled, his eyelids were opening and closing within two black circular holes. One of the pasdars kicked him with his boots on the bottom of his feet. The bud opened and his feet were covered in blood.
The prisoner pulled his feet back and twisted around himself. Another pasdar kicked him in his bandaged shins and said:
- While you're still alive say something so she hears your voice.
The voice of the interrogator was heard from behind us:
- Open your eyes and see who's standing above you.
His tired eyelids opened and closed quickly like the wings of a butterfly. His eye met mine, and was transfixed. I felt like he couldn't recognize me in the chador and the veil. I smiled. With a faint voice that was more like a moan he said:
- Shahrzad, all of us are here. Don't bother yourself. I am not aware of the last notes.
The pasdar kicked him in his side and said:
- Say what you need to, admit, your salvation is in your confession.
The prisoner didn't say anything.
The voice of the interrogator was heard again:
- Admit you were giving info to America and the Soviet Union.
The prisoner was in excruciating pain. Put his hand on the wound, where the boot had hit him, but didn't take away his glance from me. The same glance that I loved so much. Like always his eyes gave me power.
- Shahrzad, you know everything yourself.
The interrogator screamed:
- Did you hear what he said? That means you know that you have given sensitive information to America, the Soviets and the Israelis while our country is in a war against them all. Go on say it. Say you heard what he said.
I answered: no.
- What does that mean, "no"?
- That means you people would love something like this to be said, and want to get such a confession from us under torture. You know full well that he hasn't said anything to that effect.
The interrogator screamed:
- Underground with him!
They took him out in the same fashion they had brought him in. It was as if it was my heart that they were dragging on the floor. The pain of this dragging of my heart upon the black-and-brown checkered floor of the interrogation-room still does not leave me alone.
The guard tightened my blindfold again. The interrogator came near me and said: tomorrow morning I want the last notes from you.
Once he was a few paces away from me, the guards came to take me back to the coffin. I would much rather be dragged around like Amir, than be placed in the coffin. Bending over in the coffin with all the excruciating pain that it would cause was more than what any human being could bare. Once I was inside again, I decided to turn upside down and slowly brought my waist down putting my weight on my shoulders and lifting my feet up. I still had to bend my knees. My legs were heavy, but once I raised them up, I felt better, although there was much too much pressure on my waist and back, but my feet were given a rest. I had to create a situation for myself in which I would be able to reflect upon what Amir had said. I had to keep shifting my position, first resting my feet on the metal door of the coffin, and when this position would get unbearable, I would bring my feet back down and would kneel.
I had to keep changing positions constantly. All my thoughts were with Amir. And at some point decided to close my eyes and tried projecting myself out of the coffin. The pressures of the prison appeared to be much more than what I could handle. The answer was to raise my morale to a higher level according to the strains demanded of me by the situation.
I felt all the love and compassion of my whole life to be exiting my being via my tears, which hitting the ground, would drop by drop empty my soul. If it continues like this, I thought, I would end up being a part of the coffin. What did it mean that I had handled seeing the cruel scene of the torture of someone that I loved so much, so coolly, so calmly? What kind of a creature had I been turned into?
In any case, one ought not show the enemy any weakness. What meaning could the keeping of old burnt-out information have? What did it mean that Amir did not know of those notes?
Pain would not allow for reflection. I was in a very bad physical state. I needed sleep more than usual, and it seemed that I felt no hunger for food.
Two days later they took me to a different room. One of my hands was twisted from above my shoulder, and was tied to the other from behind my side. They brought in Amir as well, together with three other prisoners. Then they brought the wives of the prisoners who were together with Amir. They had tied everyone's hands in the same fashion. Then they placed us in front of each other. Four guards behind the men and four behind us women, controlling our conversations and glances.
My gaze met the face and the eyes of Amir that were speaking volumes. Then a thought brightened my consciousness like a lamp. His not being aware of the notes that had come after the burnt information meant in effect the insurance of their secrecy.
Something turned upside down inside me. I was not at all cognizant of any possible exchange between the other couples.
Then suddenly I wasn't able to handle it anymore, everything lost focus, my head turned and I fell to the ground. My body was not playing along. I felt I was getting weaker and weaker. They took me back to the coffin. Again, feet up, head down, and backwards. My hands were without any feeling and heavy. My feet were wounded, in pain, and death... was that feeling that was closer to me than my own breath.
A guard came to me in the middle of the night. As he was opening the door of my coffin, my feet were up and leaning against the door. I didn't have time to change positions and return to the kneeling posture. The door opened and my feet, losing their resting place, hit the guard in the face. The guard fell backwards to the ground. Gripped with fear, he pointed the barrel of his gun towards me screaming:
- You attacked me!
I, who had fallen to the ground following the contact of my feet with his head, got up and started to look around myself. Meanwhile, the guard had taken out the blindfold, and while continuing to point his gun towards me, proceeded to put it on me and while tightening it repeated:
- You attacked me.
Listlessly I replied:
- How can I attack you, when I can barely stand up on my own two feet?
- Then what was that?
- What do I know? You suddenly opened the door and I fell over on you. Why do you fear me so much? You are armed and I am in bondage? What part of me do you fear?
- You better shut up.
- You are scared of yourself and the work that you are doing.
They took me to the same room and tied me to a bench with arms stretched wide. I was happy that they weren't going to hit my feet with a cable this time. But what part of me were they going to hit this time? My face? My stomach?
I was pondering these things when the sound of a cane tapping against the floor brought me back. A cane?
The sound of the cane was coming closer to me. I was all-ears. What could this mean? Were they capturing old men now?
But, as far as I knew, there were no old men who required a cane to walk in mine or any other organization, for them to come and visit me in prison now... The cane stopped for a bit. It seemed like the old man was having difficulty walking.
- Hurry up! You haven't yet taken a cable on this side, have you?
The old man leaning on the cane was coming towards me. The sound of the cane was just upon me. I was quite anxious to finally see the owner of the cane. They raised my blindfold a bit. The old man bent over me. It was Amir. "Shahrzad," he said. I was taken aback and my reflex shook the bench. All my being was filled with love and all my love was concentrated in my glance from under the blindfold. The old man continued:
- We are all here. Your burnt information is a small part of our information. But I really don't know where those notes are.
The interrogator screamed:
- It 's enough of hints and innuendos. You were both a part of the organization and have lots of information. You must know that you are no force to be reckoned with against the forces of Allah. If you were real men, you wouldn't allow your women to be taken prisoner by us. Now watch and see how she will take the cable. If you 're a man, try and save her!
The cable landed on the back of my fingers. Amir screamed:
- Everything was my doing. I was the organizational superior of my wife.
The interrogator replied:
- Tie up this damned soul!
They tied Amir to a bench next to me and went on to hit us simultaneously. Without knowing what I was doing, and quite uncontrollably, I tried to reach out to him, but my hands were tied. Only my fingers were raised and were stretching towards him. The interrogator gave an order to a guard:
- Bring Shahrzad over here!
They took me to him. While hitting his fisted hand on his thighs, he spoke to me anxiously:
- Well, go on. What is it? If you want to live with your husband again speak up!
- I thought you were trying to raise your hand, if you have something to say, now 's the time to speak up.
Now he was punching with one fist the palm of his other hand, working himself up. He was sweaty and red in the face. I thought he might choke at any moment. He shrieked again:
- Speak! Now!
- I was only trying to reach out for Amir.
- Raised your hand for Amir's sake then, huh? There will not be an Amir to be worried about after this. I will murder him myself.
- Shame on you, murderer!
He stepped with his big, black and dirty boots on my bare feet and started to press down. The blisters on my feet burst. I screamed: my feet are burning!
- What foot?
He lifted his boots from on top of my feet and the stench of his body backed away from me. Then he went on to cut open my foot from my big toe all the way to my anklebone using a carpet-cutter that he had seen him carry with him at all times and with which I had heard him threaten the other prisoners: pain and nothing but all the pain in the world.
- Death to you, your leader, and your God!
They brought back The T, tied my blood-dripping feet to it and turned me upside down again. I was coming apart at the seams more and more with every passing moment. I thought my back was broken. At some point I heard a distant, barely audible voice of a guard:
- Brother, blood!
And this was followed by a faint and slow sentence that I hadn't heard until that moment:
- Take her to the clinic.
The Detention Center Again
Once again "Behind the Curtain." For saving the burnt information that they couldn't use anymore anyway, I had lost the last of my physical ability. The infection of my feet continued to trouble me. A yellowish bone was visible from the infected cut, and the excruciating pain that would come with every attempt at walking made me think that the bone was broken. I told the guard that I wanted to see the director of the detention center. He smiled and said he had thought I had given up. I replied that he had been badly mistaken. Moments later the director opened the door slightly and asked:
- Wanted to see me?
He came in and stood in the doorway. I continued:
- I object to the condition that I have been made to endure. I am ill and need a doctor, medicine, some fresh air and some medical supplies.
- You're not allowed fresh air yet. For medical supply interrogator must say.
- I have been denied my basic needs for existence in prison. I have recognized rights.
- What are you talking about?
- I am a political prisoner and according to international conventions must be granted some minimum rights, which you are obligated to recognize.
- We don't take political prisoners. You're all criminals here.
- We are criminals? Do you even know what crime, criminal, law, court, lawyers and rights of prisoners and such things mean? I must be given an attorney.
- We work for God here.
- Your God is a criminal.
He got mad and as he was pacing to one end of the cell barked:
- Astaghforellah [may Allah forgive]! We are compassionate towards you, but according to the rules of holy Qur'an, a death sentence is required for all of you.
Then he exited and as he was locking the door mumbled under his breath:
- God knows the more they eat, the longer their tongues get.
The next day he came to me personally again, and tried to show another side of himself, a compassionate side, a sort of deviation from the standard "pasdar procedure". He had brought my breakfast personally: A tiny amount of feta cheese wrapped in thin bread. He reached it towards me, saying:
- Come, eat and get ready for interrogation.
Then he focused on my lips. His eyes were green with red streaks in them. Every time I would look into his eyes, all I would see were two green bowls of blood. His lack of success in pretending benevolence was because cruelty had become his second nature, his ultimate default response. While he was looking at me, I was shivering from the cold, but was trying to hide my weakness from him. I was trying to hold straight my body, which was by now bent from sheer pain and bone chilling coldness. Then he went out and came back with a dirty plastic cup of tea and gave it to me saying:
- 'Ain it a shame, you'll destroy yourself this way?
The smell issuing from the cup was turning my stomach. I couldn't drink the tea; was just holding it in my hands to get some warmth from it. I said:
- You are the ones destroying me.
- We do all we do for God.
- I need a blanket.
A cheeky smile flashed across his face:
- What is it, you cold?
- No, it's just that there is only one blanket here.
He burst out laughing:
- You don't even want to admit that you're cold and shivering?
- Can you, yourself, handle even one hour in this dark and cold place?
- Why should I? You're the guilty.
- I know that for you all free thought is a crime.
Then I took my foot out from under the cover and continued:
- For what crime is this punishment justified? You don't even bandage my wounds. Which God has said you must cut my foot with a Carpet-cutter? What God has said not to give tampons to a female prisoner?
He raised his gaze from my foot and looked me in the eye:
- If the likes of you were in power, instead of feet, you would cut our heads off.
- Are you saying there is no difference between you and me? I am being tortured so that there would not be a torturing regime in my country. If I wanted to do the same to you, why would I go through with all of this? For what am I killing myself? You are the one who wants to force me to pray to your God and do things the same way you do.
- As I said before we're compassionate towards you, otherwise a death sentence is required according to the Qur'an for all of you.
- Either your God is a criminal, or you are committing crimes in His name.
- Astaghforellah [God forbid]! Don't increase your sins. Come, let's go for interrogation.
To the right of The Curtain, there was a thin corridor that was created using curtains. The corridor would lead to a small room used by the interrogator for the purposes of agonizing and breaking the will of prisoners. The questions that day were repetitious and the interrogation was long and pointless as usual, but there was surprisingly no beating and torture this time. It just lasted until midnight when they took me back. The next day before the noon call to prayer, the same thing again. Now they wanted me to make a list of all politically active persons that I had ever gotten to know, ever since high school. Only in complying with this, according to them, I could make my peace with God and show my acceptance of Islam. I went on to list all the people I knew who had been executed, and under it wrote: The crimes of Islamic Republic.
It was past midnight when I got up with the sound of some commotion. The noise was coming from The Kitchen-cell. I heard the door to The Kitchen open and they threw someone in there. Just as I heard the sounds from next door, I quickly got in the crouching position ready for what may come. The prisoner kept knocking her fists at the door of her cell and sometimes at the wall of my cell. This went on for another two days and nights. She wouldn't take any food and kept screaming and chanting slogans. One night as I was coming back from the toilet I saw her. She was tied to a metal chair and was constantly about to fall asleep with her head bent to one side, but the guard standing next to her was making sure that she wouldn't pass out. They were depriving her of sleep. She was a darkish young woman whose straight black hair was strewn on her shoulders. Her headscarf was thrown under her chair. Her feet were wounded and her green shirt had been ripped to shreds. For the following two days she was next to the watch-guard station in the courtyard in more or less the same state. One day after she had made a lot of noise, they took her away and she was not heard from again.
My days were passing in absolute isolation from the rest of the world. I didn't have any news of my family or husband. During this time I took a shower once, and once my wounds were bandaged.
One day there was a knock on the cell-door and a prisoner entered. She hadn't taken one step before turning to the guard and saying:
- Sister, please leave the door open.
Then she sat next to me and tried to show herself as calm and composed. With a fake smile she tried to introduce herself:
- Hi, I...
I cut her off without moving from my position, saying:
- Are you Haajer or Maki?
She leaned on the wall, hugging her knees. She was wearing very thick glasses that were connected to a thick chain around her neck. She was taken aback at what I had said and replied:
- Do you know me?
I put my hands slowly behind my head, raised my head a bit, and from the position of power and quite calmly said:
- Of course. All families know you. As you can tell I recognize you even in this dungeon, without even having been introduced to you. On the outside everyone has your number. I recommend you, for your own good, to stay in prison as long as they let you, helping your interrogating brothers and sisters.
She was blushing and didn't know what to do with her hands. Her sleeves were rolled in Hezbollahi fashion all the way up, so as to be constantly ready for vozu [washing-up before prayers]. She finally circled her arms around her knees again and went on with the pretense that none of this mattered to her:
- I help the likes of you and the prisoners lie to the families.
- Your help is for the purposes of "repentance" and this is exactly what the prisoners tell the families.
- The interrogator has sent me to help direct you to the right path.
- To ask for forgiveness?
- I don't know, but at a time when even our great leader has come to the right conclusion and has recanted, who are we to do otherwise?
- First of all, if your leader after a quarter of century has come to some conclusion for some reason and has repented, it has nothing to do with me. And secondly, the defection of a weak leader has no bearing for the active forces of the organization and the party.
- You don't even allow me to tell you about my experiences as a political prisoner.
- You don't have the status of a political prisoner. You are the assistant to the interrogator. Your experiences have no value for me. The only favor you can do for me is to exit my cell as soon as possible.
- I have come for help...
I cut her off:
- I don't want to listen to you anymore. If you won't leave, I will exit the door that they have left open in your honor.
Then as I crouched to get up, she got up and stopped me:
- No, No, I will leave, but what do you want me to tell the interrogator?
- Whatever your heart desires.
I spent that night in another cell, which was the exactly the size of my own body. The sound of tortured prisoners was heard from every side. Then I spent another month in the "Behind the Curtain". I would put a line on the wall for each day so as to not lose track of time. Sometimes I would forget whether or not I had put a line for a particular day. Sometimes I would put two lines to compensate for possible oversight. All the while, "The Kitchen" next door kept getting full and empty.
My "Behind the Curtain" was the one of three cells with the same name. Just outside it, there was a corridor to the left, which would lead to the courtyard of the detention center and on the other side were other cells in some of which groups of prisoners were being held. All the cells would lead to interrogation rooms.
They would give us food usually three times a day, but sometimes they would forget to give food to the solitary prisoners. The dishes were always dirty, and the quality of the food was low. Finding snails in the food was quite a usual thing. And when they would hand us the bowls of food, quite often the curtain would be dipped into the bowl and some of it would spill. For breakfast they would usually throw a piece of feta wrapped in some thin bread at us. The prisoners, who would have visitors, would be transferred to the headquarters of the pasdaran or to the police station or to the upper prisons (The Dastgerd Prison) to meet their parties.
After the initial interrogations another wave of interrogations would start. The prisoner had to read the religious books that were recommended to her by the interrogator, write an summary of what she had read and then explain the effect that the books had had on her in the numerous ensuing interrogations. One day as I was sitting in the interrogator's room, I heard him conversing with a prisoner in the next room:
- Now, tell me, what have you read lately?
- The Way of the Struggle by Dr. Soroush.
- And how was it?
- Excellent. This book affected me a lot.
- Aren't you mistaking about the title of the book?
The prisoner stopped briefly and the reassured the interrogator:
- No, that 's it.
- You 're telling me, you have become a Moslem?
- Did you write a summary?
- No because it is very concise and everything has been said in it rather precisely, it can't easily be summarized.
- How can you prove that you are a Moslem then?
- I pray.
- Just that?
- I go to the Kamil prayers.
- These are not enough. I 'll tell you later what you must do to take away your sins. A Moslem person has responsibility toward the Imam that he has to do. Now that the Imam is fighting with the anti-revolutionaries, one must support the Imam. Now, no amount of prayer and bending up and down and asking for forgiveness is enough. Remember that only in following the orders of the directors of the prison diligently, you can prove your return to Islam.
After some three and a half months, they transferred me to another cell in the courtyard of the detention center, where they would try using their innovative psychological pressure-techniques in order to add me to the list of conscripts in the army of Ruhollah [Khomeini, literally: "Spirit of God"]. Below I will give a brief description of that part of the Seyed Ali Khan Detention Center, as I came to know it:
Apart from the three "Behind the Curtain" cells and the cells around them, there were in the courtyard of the detention center some nine other makeshift cells. These cells made an L along the two sides of the trapezoid that was the courtyard. The first cell, (number 1,) was located right adjacent to the main gate of the courtyard of the detention center. Then came the kitchen of the detention center, which held within it a very small, wet and dark cell, called accordingly "The Kitchen," which was inside and to the left of the actual kitchen with its door opening inside the actual kitchen. This cell shared a wall with the last of the "Behind the Curtain" cells. Then came the watch-guard room with the main checkpoint station right in front of it. After that came the cells 2,3,4, and 5, one after the other, the last of which shared a wall with the lavatories and the shower. This last cell was one step lower than the lavatories and the shower. After these, another area of the prison would start, comprising of the cell number 6 followed by the library, (which itself would also be used as a cell,) and finally the cell number 7, which was next to the tall wall of the detention center. The western wall was made up of a canvass curtain, apparently dividing the area into two. There was also a tiny flower garden there.
I was taken to the cell number 2. This cell was recently painted and was capable of holding up to four prisoners. In it, two blankets were spread on the ground side by side, which functioned as mattresses. There was also one extra blanket per person for cover.
By that time I had physically been made extremely unwell and weak and the only thing keeping me somewhat together was my psychological verve. I realized full well that only one step backwards could lead me down the path of complete collapse, disintegration and ultimately defection. The Islamic Republic prisons are quite without comparison in the world. After enduring the most horrifying of interrogations when any and every method of torture has already been used to bring the prisoner to her knees, she only would find herself having to go through the most difficult period of her incarceration and that is: having to bear the pressures and tortures designed to turn one into a born-again Moslem. In this stage the prisoner would be forced to study closely, and write synopsis of ancient and decaying remnants of erroneous thought patterns of bygone centuries covered in the dust of millennia, and this under the most intense pressures, tortures and death-threats. The intended result of this exercise is for the prisoner to finally accept wholeheartedly these falsehoods as holy truths. And once she had done so, the truly painful period of her decay and collapse would only begin...
At the next stage the prisoner would enter a terrifying period where she has to prove her allegiance to the regime and her true Moslemhood, time and again and through accomplishing special missions: hand in hand with the interrogator, the prisoner would have to go through all the stages of her downfall until she would herself be turned into an interrogator. This process would begin in the first instance with her having to report on the behaviors and deeds of other prisoners, and continue with her working together with the interrogator on preparing the other prisoners for their respective downfalls, from whence she would be asked to force these others to recant and lament, and in the most advanced stages, she would have to show ultimate allegiance by firing the point blank final shots after the firing squads were done executing a prisoner. The type of deeds required from the each new convert would depend firstly on the level of her initial resistance, but more importantly on her previous ranking in her respective organization on the outside.
During my time I witnessed many who would only pray and partake in religious ceremonies, resisting the collaboration with the interrogator. But this was only acceptable from those with lower ranks in their respective organizations before their arrest. It was not acceptable from the higher-ups, because ultimately the goal was the breaking of the political character of those in positions of responsibility in front of their sometime foot soldiers. The overall aim was the absolute destruction of the political character of the prisoner.
The light of the cell was still on, and I was writing something on the wall, when the door opened and a fat and short prisoner with short yellow hair entered the cell. From the watch-guard-station the sound of a special lamentation-prayer in Arabic, sang by someone who was apparently constantly in a state of wailing and crying was being heard, and upon opening the door to my cell this funeral hymn came to permeate the atmosphere of my cell as well. I had recently been awarded the right to get some fresh air some twenty minutes a day, during which time I also had to wash my dishes, and use the lavatory.
I remember when for the first time after over three months I was allowed to experience sunshine on my skin. I had uncontrollably broken into laughter. This was the most uncanny experience I had had up to that point: the lazy breeze together with the pouring of the disturbingly kind and beautiful sunrays onto my eyes. White clouds with various shapes were shifting in the sky like interpretations of life. I wished I could caress the green buds in the small garden by the side of the courtyard. I wanted to be a green stem able to give all the cells of my body over to the loving caresses of the breeze. After that how truly difficult it was for a free soul to breathe in the filthy atmosphere of such mendacity that permeated the inside! I opened my arms and started to spin, grabbing for all and nothing, in love with every iota of everything that existed in that imprisoned courtyard within those tall walls. I was dancing, grasping at everything with my great human yearning, singing accompanied by a mysterious grand orchestra of light, color, earth and heaven. How good it was that no scarf was hiding my hair in this spinning prison, so that my bare tresses would not be deprived of the kindness of the breeze.
Then the scream of the guard tried to bring me back to myself. I didn't want to return to the cell. I let myself go again in that loving feeling, facing the quiet of the blue sky, with all the green disquiet within, with eyes on the run from light and with a smile parting my lips. This time the sound of the guard was heard much louder:
- I said enough!
I turned around myself one last time and headed towards the building. Two black crows being fed by a guard took off for the sky. The evergreens around the detention center were full of crows. They would sometimes carelessly land in the fresh-air-area and sometimes take off again. I had never before seen so many crows all at once. I passed by the watch guard station. The mournful voice of Ahangaran [a religious-revolutionary singer] had brought tears to the eyes of the guard. He was beating his chest to the rhythms. It dawned on me that although I had been right next to this watch-guard-station the whole time, and although this pain-ridden dirge had permeated the whole of the detention center, I had spun myself out of the depressing requiem. The only voice I had heard for those few moments that day, sweet and strong in my soul, had been the song of the finches. All my being was like a thirsty pasture that had drawn air, nature and life like drops of water to itself, giving joy to my existence. I returned to my cell. My cellmate was awaiting me. No surprise that she hadn't come out with me, she could get fresh air any time she wanted and not only that, she could sit in the yard and drink tea. She was lying on the bed with her feet on top of one another and her hands holding the back of her head, facing the door of the cell. As I was being pushed back into the cell, I noticed my cellmate smiling at the warden. Minutes later, I was called in for interrogation. It was a new interrogator and he was trying to start off on the right foot and without belligerence.
- Well, you went to the yard, how 's your condition?
- What condition?
- Come, you know better than me what I 'm talking about. I am being nice to you, but you are still aggressive. I am trying to help you to save your own life. Did you spend any time in Shah 's prisons?
- Well, if you get out of here alive, make sure you ask around about how they treated their prisoners back then. As a woman in those prisons, you would not be able to sit and just converse face-to-face with any of those interrogators.
- Are we supposed to be "conversing" now?
- I want to give you a chance of coming into the fold. Do you think all who pray have been converted? No. We know the truth. We know who has truly cut off from her past and who is just faking it. But even she, who lies, is in effect, helping herself. Now it 's up to you. All of your comrades have more or less reached the ultimate truth. You will also Insha 'allah [God willing].
When I got back to my cell there was no sign of my cellmate. Around sundown covered in a white maqna 'e [a tight veil that leaves only the face showing], all washed-up and ready for prayer, she entered the cell, repeating under her breath: "Greetings to Montazeri, the hope of the Imam and the Ummat [the Islamic Nation]." Her prayer took quite a while, and finally when she finished the ritual and raised her head, she turned to me and said:
- Do you have your own sajjadeh [prayer-rug] or should I leave you this one?
- Don't need one.
- You 're not praying?
- Because you're sick now, or out of principle?
- I don't pray out of principle.
- You 're telling me you haven't converted to Islam yet?
- Do I have to?
- Of course?
- Why of course?
- Oh, you haven't yet realized your mistakes.
- What mistakes?
- Mistakes in thinking.
- Why do you think my manner of thinking is wrong?
- I know because I used to think the same way.
- You never thought the same way; it was a jest all along.
She removed her flowery chador and showed me the bottom of her feet.
On the bottom of both her feet there were big black marks. She sighed: "I was on the T six times." Then pointed to the sajjadeh, and continued: "I didn't convert for nothing. After much research I came to this conclusion."
- How long did you study?
- Six months or so. On the outside I had read everything from Marx, Engels and Lenin. How about you?
- I didn't read everything, just that which was designated.
- So, you can't defend well.
- Problems that exist in our society correspond directly with what Marx and others have said. One can't ignore the society.
She folded the sajjadeh quite carefully, took off her maqna'e, ran her hand through her short hair and said:
- You are one of those who insist on repeating historical mistakes and leading others astray as well. There have been many like you here. Now they all have turned into extremist Moslems. You also will eventually pray. I recommend you start on it sooner rather than later.
- There is no need for your advice. I will do no such thing.
Then she smiled a malicious smile:
- I 'll be seeing you in chains.
- Yes, Madam Pari Sima (Goli)
She was taken aback. She focused on my face for a bit and then asked:
- How do you know me?
- From the outside. From the families. I know everything about you.
- From what current are you?
- What's a "current"?
- I mean what's your "line"?
- What difference does that make?
- Well, one must know with whom one is sharing a cell.
- My name is Shahrzad. You know everything about me.
- How would I? Do you think I am a spy?
- I don't think, I know.
- I am proud to be in the service of Islam.
From that day on Pari Sima (Goli) would take her food together with the prisoners and would say aloud that she doesn't like eating together with communists, kicking my food when she knew the guards were watching, adding: Najes! [(religiously) dirty]
Each of the cells had a small window that opened towards the yard. Most of the window would be covered by plaster except for some ten centimeters of its upper area. There were more than six prisoners in each cell. At this particular time, the majority of the prisoners were members of my organization. Pari Sima, one of the most famous collaborators in the detention center, was according to herself also at one time a high-ranking official of the political party. When speaking of her past, she would hold her head high with all her being filled with pride, and when she would speak specifically about her responsibilities, her eyes would shine and her face would get color. She would say: "Working within a political current, despite its fundamental problems, was very pleasant. How many books we 'd read, on how many trips we 'd go on! We never wanted anything for ourselves, only for the movement." After these words however, she 'd quickly turn, shake her head in disapproval and continue, "and this was precisely the problem. We are just now beginning to learn about life. First comes the self, then others. Now we are recognizing how much we have wasted our lives."
It was the third day of my cohabitation with Pari Sima, whom the other prisoners knew and referred to as "Goli". One cold winter 's evening, she was lying on the bed with her legs crossed and her hands holding her head from behind, in her usual pose, when suddenly a crumpled piece of napkin that was thrown into our cell from the window above, got our attention. Both of us crouched ready to grab for the piece of napkin. She managed to get to it before me and started to read what was written on it. Then she turned cross, crumpled the paper back up, put one of her fists on her forehead and while laying back down, said:
- It 's for you. Someone has thought of the end of fall in the beginning of winter!
- If it is for me then how come you read it?
- I thought it was for me.
- Were you awaiting something from someone?
- Then why did you think it was for you?
- I thought maybe someone had wanted to send me an unsolicited message.
- Well, now let me see what it says, and afterwards I 'll give it back to you so that you can turn it in to your superiors.
- I wasn't thinking of turning it in to anyone. You are struggling against you're the demons in your own head. Here you go.
She handed me the napkin. On it there were 16 stars, referring to 16th of Azar [in honor of the events of 7 December 1953: The Students' -Day in Iran]. I immediately recognized the handwriting. What courage! It was thrown in from right next to the watch-guard-station. I took the part of the napkin with writing on it, chewed and swallowed it and gave the rest back to Goli.
- Now you can show this to the interrogator.
She couldn't bare it. Moments later she knocked on the door for the guard to come, exited and never returned. She would become the director of the library in the Dastgerd prison sometime later.
That night as a matter of reaction I would assume, they took me again for an interrogation. After cursing at me a bit and slapping me in the face several time, the interrogator turned to the guard and said:
- This prisoner must remain standing for 24 hours. God repay you, Insha'allah.
The sound of his footsteps, as he was walking away, was still being heard, as two guards were whispering to each other, when I dropped down and sat down with my legs crossed. They tried to lift me up saying:
- You are not allowed to sit!
- I will sit.
- The interrogator has said you have to stand. Sister Farzaneh, please call back the interrogator.
- The interrogator is nothing but a murderer.
- Well, we'll see about that.
Then the sound of the interrogator who was screaming like a wild beast was heard from the end of the hall:
- This one is mutinous. Her neck must be broken. Something must be done to her so that she begs for her life. I won't let her off this easily.
He continued yelling until he was right next to me:
- Who told you to sit?
- I did it on my own free will.
- I will show you a version of you that would stay in your memory until your dying day, making you tremble every time you think of it. I said get up now!
They loaded me on back of a pickup truck. I was tired, tired and hungry. I was feeling weak and frail. I didn't know what would be awaiting me, but was so tired and weak that I thought no matter what it would be, I couldn't bear it. Once we got where we were going, the noise and the commotion took my mind off of my hunger. We passed a corridor with the stench of medicine coming from one side, and the smell of food from the other. I think we passed through two more corridors before going down a set of stairs and entering a basement. The guard took a keychain out and started fumbling with a lock. Then pushed back a lock, opened the big door, pushed me in and locked the door back up. The stench of decomposition, of something rotting reached high heavens. It was so strong that I thought I would puke my insides out. I was holding my nose from under my chador. The sound of someone 's moaning and the flying of a whip was being heard. Then from a tired throat: "I want to speak." It was a strange guttural sound of a broken man. I called for the guard, with no reply, and quickly moved my blindfolds up higher a bit. There was a guard behind me fumbling with the chains of a prisoner. He had his hand through the loop at the end of a whip and the whip was dangling from his elbow. For the very first time from the beginning of my arrest, I was trembling with fear. It was only a sense of responsibility that would ensure my resistance. I quickly looked around. On three corners of this torture dungeon, prisoners where hung by their wrists and their feet would barely and only occasionally touch the ground. The guard was making sure to whip them on their head if they would doze off. Some of them appeared to be unconscious, because their head would only move to the other side upon each lashing and they didn't seem to have any control over it. Their cloths were all ripped, and the marks of whippings were visible all over their bodies. At that moment as I was awaiting to be hung myself, I promised to myself that if I would get out of there alive, I would have to tell the story of all of them to the people on the outside.
A guard tightened the chains on the wrist of one of the prisoners and hit her on her back quite vehemently. I burst out crying. The tears soaked the blindfold and were dripping from under it. There was a whirlwind in my stomach. The guard was now standing right in front of me, and I could see his whip from under my blindfold. He was playing with it. The sound of my wailing was rising louder and louder. He hit me with his whip on my head and cracked up laughing:
- You haven't taken the beating for which you are crying yet, you stubborn ass. Resistance is over. Those higher than you couldn't resist, who do you think you are? Do you know anything of your husband? Despite all that pretense he couldn't handle it for more than an hour. And then you... ha-ha... you are no more than a woman! If I only hold your nose long enough life will exit your body...
The door opened at that moment and a guard entered. His mouth was full of food, and while chewing he said:
- Brother interrogator has said to let her go for now.
It was a Wednesday morning. The guards attacked the cells, took us all, blindfolded us, and queued us up heading towards a hall. We sat there waiting. Then the sound of the interrogator was heard from behind our heads, starting the proceedings "in the name of God":
- You are all prisoners here in the detention center. Some of you don't realize your situation and go on with your evil deeds, such as calling the brothers and sisters who have repented or are Pasdars, names. These sorts of things will only add weight to your files of wrongdoing. We know everything that goes on here. Just now that you are surrounded by armed personnel, and in front of you there is a table with a tape-recorder on it, which will record your words. If you don't speak the truth, you will not be spared. This is a general interrogation, for the measurement of the degree of your truthfulness. One from your own rank and file will here tell you things that will shake you. Each and every one of you will then introduce herself and say all she can of herself, before hearing the whole truth from someone else, by which time those who have hidden things will have lost their last chance. If you admit to your own deeds yourselves, it will be easier on you. All of your interactions and relations inside the prison must be recorded.
We all introduced ourselves, but had nothing further to add.
The interrogator went on:
- Now sister Nasrin J. will confess to shocking facts.
What he had meant by "evil deeds" were the names that the prisoners had made-up for various Pasdars and the prisoners who had fessed up. These names had been transmitted through writings on the wall, and were common knowledge and cause for entertainment for the rest of the prisoners.
Finally Nasrin J. came to word. Apparently someone who had repented, she started thus:
- I confess. Of course completely according to my own free will. Until this moment, my confessions and repentances had been all lies, but today I have truly turned and now see the light. Kids, I have said everything...
Apparently Nasrin had transmitted two secret messages for other prisoners. She continued: "Kids, let it go. Everyone knows that you don't read the writings that you are supposed to study diligently and instead simply relay the information for each other only to pass tests. Everyone knows that you make-up names for our caring brothers and sisters in charge. Leave it. How long do you want to remain here? If your interactions improve, each and every one of you will be freed soon. Kids, know that I have been rehabilitated."
Then she wrapped it up with apologies and asking for forgiveness of the interrogator and the Pasdars. Then they gave each one a bundle of interrogation-papers so that we could write the information that we hadn't up to then, and admit to all our wrongdoings within the prison, repeating that the interrogations will not cease until we have said everything. This special interrogation ended around dinnertime. We had been sitting there the whole day blindfolded. Our eyes had begun to hurt beneath the blindfolds. The transfer and shuffling of prisoners started the following day, and all visitation rights were taken away from everyone, of course except for Nasrin. Because of what we had endured that day, the prisoners called that day the Black Wednesday.
Although Nasrin was promised a speedy release that day by the interrogator, I would encounter her again some two years later in the Dastgerd prison, in the communal room. I heard that the interrogator had screamed at her: "How should I know that this time you are telling the truth?"
...And Here [Virgin] Girls Don't Die
After the reshuffle and the acquaintance with my new cellmate, I was allowed to take a shower. I couldn't remember the last time I had taken a shower. I think it was the second time that I would take a shower during my incarceration. My hair was stuck together and stank. My skin was itching. I wasn't allowed visits or sanitary supplies. My new cellmate gave me one of her dresses. After a long while I was enjoying some comfort. My new cellmate was a kind and beautiful woman, who had finished her education with a degree in literature. She had been arrested three years before, when one night Pasdars had invaded her house, and picked her up, while her husband had escaped out of the window. She hadn't heard anything of him since then. She didn't like talking about her political activities on the outside saying that in prison only the prisoners and wardens matter. She said she was 39, but looked much older. Her face was cracked but her spirit was strong. She would give others hope, but would not advocate anything. About a week after we became cellmates she asked me:
- What do you want to do with yourself? I mean as far as the court goes.
- I have written a statement of defense, which I will read in the court.
She was lying down facing the window, with her hands holding her head up. There was a single ray of light protruding through the crack that was the window. Deep in thought she was focused on that tiny line of light. Then upon hearing my reply she leapt up quickly, sat in front of me and looked me directly in the eye:
- You are mad!
Quite surprised I asked why she thought so. She shook her head sadly and some minutes passed in silence. Then:
- I am really sorry for you youngsters.
- Why is that?
- You ask why? Where did you say you would read your statement of defense?
- In the court.
- By court you mean that anti-justice place where they'll take you, right?
She put her hands behind her head again, moved her feet slightly. I felt that my words had irritated her. I had felt right, she continued:
- You are a little kid. Excuse my frankness, but do you seriously think these are times when defense is possible?
- What are these times then?
- I don't know. But these are not times, in which defense is at all possible. You must find a better way.
- What would that be?
- You'd have to find it for yourself.
Then she pulled herself back and leaned against the wall. The line of light was directly in her eyes now. I said:
- I don't understand what you mean. When you reject some thing, you must suggest an alternative. What is your suggestion?
She squinted, and focused on my face. I felt like she wanted to penetrate my brains. I stared into her eyes. They were green, and in that tight and humid cell, they reminded me of the forests of north, I could even smell the sea and the wet sandy beaches of the Caspian. Then she signaled to me to speak more quietly and brought her face closer to mine. This reminded me of my mother. Every time my mother wanted to share a secret with me, she would bring her face so close to mine that our noses would touch, and then both of us would burst into laughter. Then suddenly the voice of my cellmate brought me back from my reverie and into reality. She was speaking quite directly and assertively:
- Where do you think you would be little girl, in a court of justice? You are going to be faced with a medieval inquisition that tries to purge your thoughts. You think for one moment that if a court of justice were at all possible in this regime you would be here now? Do you think you will be faced with a judge and a jury of your peers where, together with your attorney at law, you could read your statement of defense? Dear girl, here, in this regime and in this period in history, the court that prosecutes you is a medieval court of inquisition, and he who judges you is not an honest judge after some justice, but your enemy. This court is commenced for the purposes of destroying you, not to prove your guilt or innocence. If you should ever be able to leave this place alive, you should go and read up on it and see how similar these proceedings are to the witch-hunts in medieval times. They will take you to a room half the size of this cell, will lock the door lest you, in your handcuffs, should throw yourself from the fifth story window, and you will be faced with an old stupid mullah like a scarecrow, who is the Shari'a judge, together with his clerk who is much worse than the judge, and who sits there waiting to execute the will of Allah. This and nothing besides! For your life and death, they have already made decisions according to their own benefits. No matter what you say in that room, it would have no relevance whatsoever. The only thing that remains and will come out of that room is their judgment, which is already made, the judgment that the old illiterate man will issue, and that will decide your fate. No one will ever know what you might have said, and what they might have heard. Even they will not have understood what you will have told them. If that idiot was capable of understanding it, he would not have prosecuted you because of what should be your social right.
I was staring at her perplexed and not knowing what to say. She went on:
- And on top of that, they have spread rumors on the outside that all prisoners have repented and have seen the light and the truth in Islam. And their television shows prove this point repeatedly. They say that the Imam issues death sentences for the prisoners because confession and repentance alone would not ensure this. Do you get it? They will quite easily doctor your files and make whatever they want and whatever adds to their claims out of you, and will not allow anyone to know of your resistance and refusal to give up your ideals. After they are done with you, you will not have defended anything other than Islam.
I wanted to say something, but she waived her hands and invited me to remain quiet, continuing:
- Wait, I 'm not done yet. There is another important matter that remains. Know this, they have made plans for your afterlife as well, and should you be sentenced to death, you must enter your grave dirty. Apparently according to Islam, capital punishment cannot be issued for virgin girls, and should a virgin girl be executed, she would go to heaven. But they have other plans for girls and rest assured here girls don't die. First they will be raped and then killed. For these people terms like law, guilt, crime, defendant etc. are measured according to their own benefits. Crime is what threatens the status quo, and the criminal is he, who doesn't accept this. This is precisely like the medieval inquisitions. In those proceedings also, there was no one other than the executioner, the clerk and the victim. The executioner wanted the victim to come back to God only to have a place in afterlife. He would say: "All apostates must burn in fire," and do you have any idea how many free souls were burned then? They called those who repented, the forces of Christ, and our friends here call them the forces of Ruhollah [Khomeini, Spirit of God]. The similarities are undeniable. And there is something constant between the two. This regime here does not perform the exact rituals like they did, but it doesn't make a difference, when they kill someone because of their beliefs, the method of killings does not make any difference.
Then suddenly we heard footsteps and quickly separated from one another. The door opened and a guard looked us up and down. We pretended not to care and each of us started busying ourselves with something else in a different corner. He asked inquisitively:
- Do you want something?
Soraya, my cellmate shook her head in negation. The guard exited, but waited a bit on the other side of the door. Soraya began pacing up and down the cell. Once we were sure that the guard had left, she sat back down and continued:
- In any case, do what you must, but know this: with every word that you utter, your case will get heavier and you will add to your own incarceration with your own hands. Politics is trickery. If you should get ten years, in ten years time they will be saying that they have released you through their benevolence.
- I will never accept conditional release.
- What does that mean? What condition? Do you mean to tell me that if they gave you ten years, you will through your stupidity remain here even longer? Is your goal perpetual incarceration?
- The condition for release is the writing and reading of a renunciation of my old organization, a videotaped confession and a promise of future collaboration.
- I am of the opinion that political organizations must deal with the Islamic regime more cleverly. I don't know what their strategy in prison is, or if they at all have a strategy or not. But it is not always as you think. Sometimes they release you and tell you to go, of course according to some plan, because the Islamic Republic is expert at what it does. But I think that if there weren't for the forces of the repentants, the regime would not be successful in what it does.
Then she focused on the solitary ray of sun that was getting fainter. Her hand was playing with the gold necklace that she had around her neck. Every once in a while, she'd put it in her mouth and sigh. The evening call to prayer was sounding. We cut short our conversation. The next day they transferred me out of that cell and I never saw Soraya again.
After the separation from Soraya I was interrogated several nights in a row. The interrogator would usually come for me in the middle of the night. One night he told me;
- Still haven't decided to read?
- Read what?
- Islamic books.
- Why should I read Islamic books?
- So that you'd be informed, so that an iota of sense would enter your empty head, in order for you to finally turn into a human being. A human being!
- I am here because I am an informed human being. It is therefore that I am being tortured.
- You think you've been tortured?
- What, do you have another name for what you do to me?
- That which happens to you is not torture. You haven't experienced torture yet, that 's why you talk like that.
- It doesn't make a difference to me.
- What you want, to become a mythical hero?
- I want to be myself.
- And who'd that be?
- A communist woman.
- No such thing exists in the system of Allah. How about your organization?
- I reject the organization because of the weak politics that they pursued towards you. I reject them, because you are all alike, and Imam's line is the Islamic Republic.
- So, you don't think that the political organizations that supported us in order to secure a base for themselves among the populace implemented the right strategy?
- From my position here, in this torture chamber, I scream against the organizations that supported you.
- So what is your position now?
- I must study. I am a political individual.
- First of all we don't have any political individuals here. And secondly we will provide for you.
- Provide what for me?
- Those kinds of publications that you used to like to read.
- If you don't have political individuals here, then what are the publications for, and why would you give them to me?
- We don't recognize them as political. We hold them to be nonsensical rags.
- Were they nonsense back when they supported you as well?
- You are talking too much now. Take care not to say too much nonsense.
I repeated myself.
- I said shut your trap, or I'll cut off your tongue.
- You can't bear to hear your own words from someone else's mouth?
- So what's the deal? Had these little groups come to recognize the truth of the regime, or supported us strategically?
- I will only respond once you have recognized my political identity.
- You are nothing but a criminal gangster.
- Since you hold the political organizations that supported you to be gangs, then I must conclude that they had not seen the truth in your regime. They had made a mistake. The truth of your regime is criminality and that is my personal belief.
- You are too small to express any beliefs. You must remain in this detention center. We don't have a proper prison for the likes of you.
- It doesn't matter: a prison is a prison.
- Your opinions are destructive. You must be treated like war booty in order for your will to be broken.
- You cannot tolerate others' views, and that is fascism.
Now he had had it and was pacing the room up and down. I was sitting facing the wall with my eyes tied.
- You don't deserve the right to speak. You can only understand the language of boots.
Then he hit me in my back. My head hit the wall and my vertebra began to burn. I could barely speak because of the excruciating pain, but managed:
- Because you understand no other language.
Then kicked me again. I screamed. He went out. I got up and screamed after him:
- You have no right to hit me.
My scream echoes down the hall. A metal door opened. The sound of his boots that he was stomping ever stronger on the ground could be heard.
- What are you saying? Your voice gets louder everyday.
I had had it. I decided to make my situation clear right then and there and screamed:
- Death to fascism.
Then suddenly I felt some repeated digs in my mouth and his voice saying:
- I want to suffocate you forever.
- Death to the executioner.
Then I went on to scream and chant slogans. He said:
- Scream all you want. Don't say we won't let you. Yell, scream, and chant slogans. You say nothing rational; you just chant slogans. Go right ahead, you have the right of seven governments. Go on then, say there is no freedom of speech here. I'll let you say whatever you want till tomorrow. This is the freedom of speech for you.
- Who are you to decide on my freedom? What freedom? You are armed, and I am blindfolded and in chains. Open my eyes and give me a weapon, if you mean it.
- So now you want to declare armed struggle against us. Go on, say it, I'll show you. I will never allow you to get out of here in one piece. I will hold you until your hair has turned as white as your teeth; that is if your teeth remain in place that long.
Then they tied me to The T once more. The guard said:
- Apparently you enjoy this! Don't you ever think to yourself why those who have an ounce of brains try to avoid this? Because they understand its repercussions! I will tell you some of what will happen to you: your liver and pancreas will stop working and give out under pressure, you will lose your eyelids, and once you get older, walking will become an excruciating affair for you; and not to mention all the psychological illnesses that will plague you. The rest you can ask someone on the outside if you ever get out...
I held fast and was transferred to another small cell under horrendous conditions once again. Now I had the right to go to the toilet twice a day, but quite often they would forget about it. My food continued to be little and of bad quality. Once I went on a hunger strike for two days to get a bar of soap. But at the end of the week my life would change again. After a long interrogation session they transferred me again.
 And Here Virgins Don't Die was published in Paris in 1998. The present chapter was translated from Persian by AIT for ABF.