BEING A POLITICAL PRISONER IN THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN
Magazine: Human Rights News
An interview with Roya Toloui : regarding her experience as a prisoner of the Islamic Republic
Roya Toloui: I was arrested at 10:30 in the evening of 10 Mordad (August 1, 2005). Seven people from the Disciplinary Force came to our house. They were armed and had a warrant. Three women and four men thoroughly searched the house while the children were crying and were very upset. They took my computer and my documents. They arrested me and took to me to a prison. I must add that they I had been subpoenaed to the court because of the case of the KurdishWomenCenter for the Defense of the Peace [and] the Human Rights. Accidentally, on the clerk's desk, I briefly saw the confidential letter the Information had written to the court. In that letter it was written that "you should investigate this case, we, in the guise of national security, are bringing a case against her". From that time on, I had information that these people are looking for an excuse, and they found this excuse on the tenth of Mordad (August 1, 2006). Given that we talked more courageously about these issues, they wanted to somehow get their revenge against some of my friends and myself.
M. A.: where did they take you?
Roya Toloui: The night I was arrested, they took me to a prison associated with the Disciplinary Force. I was interrogated until four in the morning. There were approximately ten people present during the questioning. The two principle people were a colonel, assistant to the Intelligence of the Disciplinary Force, and the second person who later introduced himself as Rezvani. But these people do not have fixed names; they have different name in each place. Rezvani was very rough and authoritarian. They forced me to confess, until four in the morning, that [I was leading] the protests and I am connected to the groups. They wanted me to confess to the things they intended to relate to me. I did not confess that night and. I was not harmed physically, that night.
The following day, they transferred me to Branch 4 of the Interrogation. Judge Johari, the presiding judge of that branch, sent me to the Intelligence jail. Blindfolded and in handcuffs, they took me to the Information Unit and then to a solitary prison. The cell had a carpet, three blankets, and a toothbrush. I was kept completely isolated from the world outside. There was a narrow window near the ceiling with an opaque glass. If the glass was dark, I knew it was night, otherwise, I knew it was daytime. There were two lamps which were lit 24 hours/day. I was interrogated under these conditions for 17 days, while I had no news of the outside world. I was interrogated usually at nights and was under heavy psychological pressure. From the tenth until the fifteenth of Mordad, the only physical torture was the slapping.
M. A.: What did they want from you?
Roya Toloui: They insisted I confess that I had the leadership of the protest. My response was that in a male chauvinist society, how could I, a woman, arrange for thousands to come to the streets? They wanted me to confess I am connected to the foreigners and other areas of their choosing. I resisted and always said that I will not talk unless I had an attorney present. They laughed at me and said that under the Iranian law, in the first stages of interrogation, there is no such a thing. I emphasized that we have signed the Human Rights Declaration and this is a procedural requirement in that document. They found that humorous.
When they saw that my continued resistance and unwillingness to confess as they desired, on the sixth night, that is, on the fifteenth of Mordad (August 6th), they took me to a formal interrogation chaired as usual by Hatefi and someone else whose name I never found out. As usual, they wanted me to confess but found out that it is useless. They signaled each other and left the room. After a while two other people entered the room. One was Rezvani, the same person who was present during the interrogations the first few nights and who was very rough, and the second person was Amiri, the Assistant to the Prosecutor. Amiri threatened that if I did not co-operate, I would be executed. He was talking to me in a bad and threatening tone and I was really upset. I screamed at him they might as well kill me once and for all, I can not confess to some crime I have not committed.
This person suddenly attacked me and started to kick and hit me. To protect my face, I turned to the wall with my back to him. He continued. Instead of asking him to stop, I heard Rezvani telling him to be careful not to leave any mark on my face. Then, he treated me in such a way, and tortured me in a manner which I am incapable of describing. From all the bleedings and black and blue bruises, the only mark left now, is a nail scratch mark on my right side. I can only say that the only missing part in what happened to me compared to what happened to Zahra Kazemi, is the part with the shoe. I regret that the activists and the defenders of the women's rights have to hear these stories.
During this period, I always reminded myself of the things the women endured in these cells when the mass communication was not so extensive; I must keep my strength, I owe it to them. Even now I believe that with all these difficulties, struggle requires bravery and courage. I hope to have enough courage to make this violation of human rights heard around the world.
They took me to the Intelligence physician. I am in the medical profession myself, so I told him to prescribe me medications to reduce the bleeding and other difficulties. After I was released, I went to the Official Physician and tried contacting other authorities so that I could get a document recording what had transpired. They all said that I have to file a formal complaint and write a letter so that they can certify the time of my injury. I had been so threatened that I did not dare file a complaint.
The following night when I was called, I repeated my demand for an attorney to represent me. This brought the prosecutor's nerves to the edge. Hatefi said now that you are not co-operating, you can see your child. The worst thing that can happen to a mother is to see the lives of her children threatened. These people, who had done those frightening things to me the night before, asked for my children to be brought in. The prosecutor threatened to burn my children in front of me. I threw myself to their feet and begged them not to involve my children. I would sign whatever they wanted. Just don't bring my children to the jail. The thought that they would bring my children to the prison petrified me, let alone if they wanted to hurt them. When they realized that this strike was effective, they asked for the copies of my e-mails which I had refused to give them until that time. I surrendered my e-mails and at last, they could get one response from me.
From then on, [I was] constantly under pressure. They were always telling me to say certain things, write certain things, or sign some documents. They told me to write that I had not been subjected to any torture. Several times they took these written documents from me. Even after several weeks, when they allowed my husband to visit me in the presence of the prosecutor, the condition was that I should not cry in front of my husband. He should be told not to have any interview under any circumstance. I must say that I am doing well and have no problems. He should know nothing about my physical condition.
When my husband came, they quickly obtained a letter form him that I have no problems and I am healthy, physically and emotionally. He was in no position to argue. They were very concerned about my husband giving an interview and giving out information about my physical condition. At any event, from then on, they forced me to write whatever they wished. If I resisted, they slapped and hit me. It was very difficult, but much better than if they brought my children and hurt them in front of me.
In Iran, an unacceptable photo or voice is not considered a crime and can not be presented as evidence, unless there is a confession. They had some photos of me from my lectures abroad in various prison conferences. Naturally, I had visited various people. They said that in their judgment, "so and so is anti-revolutionary and you must write that you met the said anti-revolutionary in such and such a place". I said that I only met so and so briefly and took a picture. To add to my case, they would insist that I must confess I had relationships with anti-revolutionaries.
When I was alone in my cell, I would think, "how I can get rid of these people without causing trouble for anybody else?" What helped was that their minds were set on my visits abroad. I was careful not to give unnecessary confessions against the activists inside the country. I think I was successful to a great extent, because fortunately I did not cause the arrest of anybody else. Today, that is my only pride. Sometimes they would give me the telephone and dictate certain conversations I should have on the phone. I did not understand the meaning of this act.
They threatened me repeatedly, even in the case of my being considered by some friends in France for the Thousand Peace Women who were elected in 2005. I was not elected, but they kept on telling me that even if I had been elected they would have accused me of unethical behavior. By the time I would have fought the accusations and redeemed myself, I would have lost my reputation. It is easy in our society to accuse women, and they threatened they would do just that. They wanted me to give their dictated answers to their questions in front of a camera. I resisted and told them that this is an old trick and does not work; everyone knows it is a forced interview.
Their answers were more beatings and slappings. For a period of three days, they did not even open the door to my cell so that I could go to the bathroom. I had to urinate in a tea cup once. At last I had to give in. I told them I will do anything they wanted, as long as I could go [to the bathroom]. They prepared an interview for me with their text. Hatefi would even tell me from behind the camera when to smile and when to look sad in front of the camera. As if they were making a movie. First they said they would release me, and then they said they would transfer me to the public prison, provided that I do not go the Official Physician; otherwise, I would be brought back to the solitary prison. Had the Official Physician examined me, he would have seen the many bruises on my body, and not being an Intelligence physician suppressing the information, would have reported them. They took me to the public prison of Sanandaj. I passed that period with many difficulties.
M. A.: The filming of your confessions has not yet been shown, has it?
Roya Toloui: For all I know, it has not yet been used. When I start protesting, they will naturally use it to their advantage. I want to mention here that I have left a letter with my dear attorneys about the tortures I have endured so that they can follow up. I regret the fact that in Iran, when an attorney pursues these matters, he himself is put in prison. Plus, would the prison authorities and prosecutors testify against Amiri and describe what happened to the prisoners? It is not to their advantage. If they wanted witnesses or any evidence, naturally I would not be able to produce them. I am a sole woman among many who have no notion of humanly behavior. How can I produce evidence from people with animal-like behavior? They told me I would have to file a formal complaint and then I would have to go to the Official Physician. I wonder if it has ever happened that these people pursue one of their own and sentence them. These people have even exonerated and liberated their most vicious murderers.
I only want the women who are politically active not to be scared. For us, to have human rights, democracy, liberty, and other things that we need in our country, we need to struggle together, under these, and even tougher conditions. Many men and women have sacrificed their lives this way.
M. A.: You said that many people who were questioning you have assumed names. Mr. Amiri is the Assistant to the Prosecutor, is this name assumed or real?
Roya Toloui: It must be his real name. There are Intelligence Interrogators with assumed names. For example, after I was released, several friends told me Mr. Hatefi's name is really Haj Mehdi Molavali, but I am not sure. These people have different names in different cities where they are assigned.
A remaining point I would like to mention is that when they called me from prison to the court, during the first session my attorneys had gone into the trouble of coming [to the hearing]. I was sitting with my attorney when the prosecutor asked her for the power of attorney. My attorney said that she had sent the power of attorney at the beginning. Under the excuse of bringing the power of attorney, which had come at the start of the arrest, prosecutor Hatefi came to the court and signaled me with his eyes that I must not say anything, and right there must comply with whatever they wanted. I must particularly not mention my tortures and difficulties.
Now, the so called "People of Party of God" have issued a circular in the city and have called us Corrupt of the Earth and have claimed they must eliminate us and clean the earth from our existence.
M. A.: What do you think now, Ms. Toloui?
Roya Toloui: My main point to the powers of the world is that our issue is not limited to atomic energy. Violation of human rights is the biggest problem in Iran. If Iran ('s case) is really going to the Security Council, it must be for violation of human rights. Couldn't the Security Council put these people under pressure so that our nation can have the right to a free election and choose its desired government? Or could it not help us have a democratic government? Is the value of the human rights less than the issue of atomic energy? If we have a democratic government which protects human rights, then our nuclear energy would not present a problem to the world.
 Zahra Kazemi, a free lance photo journalist, was severely beaten, tortured and raped while in detention. She received a blow to her head, reportedly with a shoe, that resulted in her death. In her testimony, Ms. Toloui is implying that she had been through the same ordeal (torture and rape) except for the blow that caused the death of Ms. Kazemi.