Yashar Yeganeh Mehr: The Blows Were so Hard That They Tore the Palm of My Hand
My name is Yashar Yeganeh Mehr. I was born on February 24, 1982, in Tehran. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture from Islamic Azad University, Astara Branch. I currently reside in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
I read the news on an internet website of the first ever arrests made, in Esfahan, at a party for homosexuals but didn’t take it seriously, thinking it might not be true. Subsequently, however, I met some of the individuals who had been at the party, who recounted their prison experience to me. At that point, I was but a listener [not having had similar experiences] and was not able to thoroughly comprehend the depth [and the extent] of the torture and persecution they had been subjected to. I did not think that the incident would be repeated and that I, myself, would be caught up in it.
It was the second time I traveled to Esfahan. My friend Kiarash and I had been invited there for the charitable food donation gathering. We were staying with a friend named Mohammad during our trip. Mohammad intended to have a small party to celebrate his birthday and therefore invited us. I was opposed to having this party for two reasons: first, because the incident that had occurred a year earlier in Esfahan had resulted in eighty arrests; and secondly, because the [Islamic] month of Safar [which is traditionally a month of mourning for Shi’a Muslims] had not yet ended. [Despite my opposition,] the party took place on March 8, 2008, which was the 29th of Safar, in the [primarily] Armenian neighborhood of Jolfa. It was a simple party to which 23 people had been invited and where no alcohol was served. The party started, and we were dancing and having fun.
Kiarash and I were supposed to return to Tehran at midnight that same night. We had already purchased our tickets. Kiarash was anxious and very worried. He told me that he was going to the bus terminal and would wait for me there. When Kiarash left, I changed so that I would be ready to leave the party in an hour or two and go to the terminal so we could return to Tehran.
It was past 10 P.M. when Kiarash returned to the party and rang the intercom to the building. We could see him through the security camera and everything seemed normal. The guys buzzed him in. [As soon as] the building door was opened, we saw several plainclothes [security agents] and the Special Unit guards -- wearing special camouflage uniforms and armed with clubs and shields -- come inside and rush to the third floor where the party was.
The guys were screaming: “The Basijis are here, the Basijis are here!” In that instant, the only thing I thought of was to escape. Five or six of us exited the apartment and went [up the stairs] toward the roof [of the building] but, when we got there, the door to the roof was locked. Disappointed [and dispirited], we headed back to Mohammad’s apartment. On the way down, one of the guys was able to escape the building through a small window.
When we reached the third floor, five Basijis twisted our arms and pushed us into the apartments and ordered us to sit down. Inside, two of the guys engaged in a verbal confrontation with the agents, telling them: “We haven’t done anything. You must leave the apartment. Where is your [search or arrest] warrant anyway?” Not only did the agents not show any warrants, they proceeded to beat the two individuals.
I always laugh when I’m stressed out. This is a habit I’ve always had. At that point, I had a smile on my face. One of the agents turned to me and said: “You think you’re in a fun situation? Is that why you’re laughing?” I will never forget that. I said: “I haven’t done anything to be afraid,” to which he replied: “I’ll show you. [That remains to be seen].” That was when I realized that I was in a serious predicament but I still didn’t lose my nerve.
They then ordered us to untie our shoes and give them our shoe strings. We were then handcuffed and taken to the building garage. From that moment on, every second seemed like an entire year and I can’t really express [how I was feeling in] those moments. First it was just pain and stress, but then everything changed.
[The agents] brought their minibus inside the garage and threw us all in there (except for Mohammad who was the host) in a way that we were piled up on top of each other. The vehicle had reached full capacity. We were sitting on top of each other, handcuffed, completely off balance, and we kept falling on each other. Our hands would get tied up to one another and it was very painful. A large crowd had gathered outside the building. The agents told us to lie down on the floor of the minibus in order not to be seen. We did everything they told us at that point, as if we had no will of our own.
Close to sixty Special Unit agents had been brought in to arrest us. I had never experienced such a thing in my life: The atmosphere was one of fear and terror; [the agents acted] as if they were arresting a bunch of criminals, murderers, or dangerous creatures.
The vehicle started to move and none of us knew where we were being taken. Later we found out that we had been taken to the Islamic Republic Police Force Intelligence Quarters, also known as the Rudaki Station.
I remember that some of the guys had left the party to drink [alcohol.] They were arrested and joined us a few days later.
At Rudaki Station, they first kept us standing up for close to 45 minutes, facing the wall. Then they took us inside another room one by one where they put a sign around our necks and took full-faced and profile pictures of us. We were not allowed to look at the sign, and if we did, we would be hit in the head and told: “Keep your head up, you weirdo piece of garbage.” I was, however, able to see the sign for a second: there was a number and the word “homosexual.” They subsequently proceeded to beat us with cables and hoses, starting with the palm of our hands and going up our arms. The blows were so hard that they tore the palm of my hand. But they didn’t care [about the injuries] and continued beating us, this time with their fists. I had severe asthma at the time and therefore became very ill, which prompted them to stop beating me. But they refused to give me my breathing spray.
When the torture was over, they took us to detention, one by one. As far as I can remember, there were four or five other people in the cell [where I was taken] who were accused of drug trafficking. There were two blankets, which the other prisoners had already taken for themselves. The cell was 12 square meters and the floor was covered with filthy carpeting. There was a bathroom at the end of the hallway which did not have a door and was fully open. That’s where we got our drinking water, which was not hygienic at all. There were three other cells adjacent to ours in that hallway, each housing one of three brothers from [the city of] Shiraz who had been arrested for trafficking alcoholic beverages. After a while, the brothers were put in one cell and the other two cells were allotted for us. Some of our guys were taken there after being interrogated. The funny thing was that, during the entire period of detention, they watched our every move through closed-circuit cameras in the cells.
Nothing particular happened the first couple of days. The agents would call on some of the guys and would take them out of the cell separately to [go over and] extract personal information from their cell phones; information such as contact numbers, pictures, and text messages. Everything that was obtained in this fashion from the cell phones [became evidence and] was subsequently used against them in court.
On the third day, they took one of the guys, named Davood, away, while joking and laughing. After ten minutes, we heard this person’s screams of horror and thought that they were breaking his bones. Davood was a tall, well-built [and athletic] man. I cannot understand how such a big and strong person could scream like that and beg [for mercy, unless they were torturing him in the worst possible way]. I never saw Davood again to ask him what they were doing to make him scream like that.
After Davood’s screams stopped, the agents came to our cell again and asked who was willing to confess voluntarily. Mohammad, who had been the one to throw the party, raised his hand, and was taken out to be interrogated. This time around, we heard him crying. We were all scared [and worried]: we heard nothing but yelling and screaming. After Mohammad, it was someone else’s turn. This was how the third day transpired. The people who were interrogated were taken to solitary confinement in order to prevent us from talking to them and finding out what had happened and what they had been asked. The interrogations continued for the following days.
At one point during our detention, they made us submit to a urine test in a very offensive manner. They gave us each a container and made us urinate in front of one another and turn in the containers. If we refused to do this in front of the agents they would insult us by saying: “What’s the matter Missy, are you shy? Aren’t you a man?” All of this just made me [bolder and more unabashed and] very easily urinate in front of them, which made them turn away in shame.
On the seventh day they called my name for interrogation. I was very [frightened and] worried. As soon as I got out of the cell they pulled two smelly and filthy sacks over my head. But since I had asthma and they had already been forced to give me a breathing spray, they allowed me to have my mouth out of the sack.
When I entered the interrogation room, I could see my surroundings to a certain extent. I don’t remember what the interrogator asked me but he was [very offensive and] insulting. I was able to see a child sitting next to the interrogator. I think they start training them very early on. The interrogator left me alone in the room for a while. I didn’t know how long I had been sitting there and I didn’t know what awaited me. Each second seemed like an hour. As soon as I started to snoop around, the interrogator pulled the chair from under me and hit me hard on the head and started cussing me out: “You bastard, didn’t I tell you not to look around?” Then he made me stand up and kept me standing for hours. I was taken back to my own cell after interrogation.
It was during this same period that they took us from Rudaki Station to an outside laboratory for another urine test. That day, they handcuffed us together in groups of three, and moved us around in the lab in that same position. We found out that they were testing us for drug addiction.
It was once during the last days of detention that they took us to the Esfahan Medical Examiner’s Office for a rectal examination. They sent us in, one by one, to a room where there were three physicians, two male and one female.
To perform the rectal exam, they told us to lie down in a prostrate position. They then spread our buttocks, took a look, and scribbled something on a piece of paper. I think it was more for psychological purposes than anything else, but whatever it was, it was offensive and insulting. They then took us to a psychiatrist who, holding a piece of paper, proceeded to tell us: “Your rectal exam is positive. Why don’t you confess?” And I said: “What do you want me to confess to? What does it mean my rectal exam is positive? I’m here because I went to a party and you’ve been keeping me here in detention.”
The people who took us out of Rudaki Station for the urine test and the rectal exam were the interrogators themselves. I recognized their voices. These people were friendly with us when we were on the outside, but inside the interrogation room, they were completely inhuman.
I was not living with my family at the time. I was, however, supposed to go on a trip with my father the day after my return from Esfahan. When I did not come back from Esfahan, and with my cell phone turned off, my family had gotten worried and had gone to my place, where they had accidentally come across a phone number in Esfahan. They had called the number (I don’t know who they called and with whom they spoke) and had found out that I had been arrested. They had then come to Esfahan.
The day we were taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office for the rectal exam, I was able to see my father for a short moment. He told me: “God help you.” That was when I figured out that our families were under pressure and were being given bad news.
Once the interrogations were over, our first trial session was conducted at Rudaki Station itself. We were taken one by one into a room where there was a cleric sitting behind a desk as the judge, and another person sitting next to him. Once I went in, the cleric told me to write down everything I knew. I did not know what to write. I had to write that I did not know those people, that I only knew the person who had thrown the party and that we were relatives. I think they mostly wanted to torment us psychologically.
One of the guys who had been severely beaten during interrogations, and whose entire body was black and blue, had told the judge that he had been beaten and that anything he had said or signed, had been under duress. His situation worsened after this session in that the officials at the detention center treated him even more harshly and severely, [much worse] than before.
On the thirteenth day, our second trial session was conducted in the Esfahan Judiciary Building. We were able to visit our families in the hallway. All the families had gathered around and some of the mothers were sick.
I was able to see my father and my sister, who was crying. I waived at her. They then took us to the Judge’s chambers. It was the same cleric who had conducted the first session at the detention center. There were a number of pictures on his desk that had been obtained from the guys’ cell phones. They charged us with duplication and distribution of unauthorized CD’s and participation in a corruption and prostitution party.
I had not said anything in the course of the interrogations and had not confessed to anything. I had endured [the hardship], and they therefore did not have any evidence against me. That same day, ten of us were released on bail, and the rest were released on bail three or four days later. Out of the second group, there came a third group (who were in a much more difficult situation), composed of those who had participated in the first Esfahan party.
After the session, my father posted his pay slip with the court as bail and was able to obtain my release. Currently I’m free on that basis and if, some day, there is another court session and I’m not present, my father’s salary will be cut off.
During the time we were in detention, different people were transferred to our cell. First there was an underground rap group; then there was a group of four people who had raped a woman. We were released two days after this last group was brought to our cell. The funny thing was that they treated these people better than they treated us. For instance, they would beat us but not them.
We were not allowed to contact our families the entire time we were in prison. The food and water situation was truly awful. We had very little time to go to the bathroom and we never even had a bar of soap or any other hygiene product. A number of the guys got sick because of the filthy environment.
All the while that we were in detention, our families had been told that we would be executed and that they could not visit us. The mother of one of the guys, fearing for her child’s life, had hired an attorney who had told her that there was nothing that could be done so long as we were in detention.
After my release, my father confided to me that they had been told that we would be executed.
Upon release, I returned to Tehran and went back to work at a pharmacy owned by one of my relatives. I worked at the cosmetics department.
Two or three weeks later, they contacted me and told me that there was a mandatory treatment/therapy class that we had to attend. I went to Esfahan with a friend and went to that class. A physician asked me a series of questions to which I answered: “I’m not a homosexual and I don’t even know what that is. I just went to a party.” At the end of the class we signed a paper attesting to our presence there.
I continued to be in contact with many of the guys after being released. I was, however, forced to break off all contact with some of them. One thing that bothered me very much was that many of my closest friends were so afraid of being in touch with me that [for all intents and purposes] they boycotted me. When the ordeal was over, many of the families took their children to psychiatrists for [psychotherapy and further] treatment.
Two years prior to leaving Iran, I decided to open a coffee shop. I could not, however, obtain [the necessary permits and] a business license, due to my criminal record.
I legally entered Germany in September 2010 and then came to England illegally where I applied for asylum. I was granted asylum two weeks later and I currently live in the city of Birmingham.
Finally, I would like to touch upon an important point, and that is the difference between detaining a homosexual as opposed to all others. When a homosexual is [arrested and] detained, there is absolutely no support [from anywhere.] Even if he is executed, they announce that a sexual pervert, a deviant, has been executed. Even that person’s family cannot [and will not] talk about their child’s homosexuality because the subject is taboo and society views it in a completely negative light. They will not admit that their child was executed because he was a homosexual. Some might even be glad [that the person has been executed] and thank God that a sexual pervert is no more and society has been cleansed. That was precisely our case and our families could therefore not ask anyone for help.