"You Arabs Don't Have Much of an Education to Speak of - And You Want Your Rights?"
My name is Karim Dahimi.
The contents of this Witness Statement, as far as I know and believe and except for instances which I have explicitly pointed out, are based on actual events and my own personal knowledge. I have mentioned the source or sources of the data and content, which are not based on my own personal knowledge but which I am convinced to be true and correct.
I, Karim Dahimi, was born in 1972 in the outskirts of Khafajiyeh (Susangerd). I received my primary education in Ahvaz. I was in fourth grade when the Iran-Iraq War started. Upon finishing high school, I took the university entrance exam and was accepted into the Teachers Training program. I started working in September 1992.
In our region, you never find Arabs in high-ranking positions. We still do not have any Arab governors or mayors. Key positions are never available to Arabs.
I followed political issues since high school. Young people in our region were very active. I remember, when I was in the last year of middle school, they used to throw political leaflets in [front of] our homes, and even though I did not know Arabic too well, I would make a hundred carbon copies and distribute them to people first thing in the morning. I was influenced by the atmosphere of the region. For instance, at that time, most of the traders in the Ahvaz Bazaar were non-Arabs. This changed, to some extent, later, of course, and people from Shushtar and Dezful started investing there, too. In our region, you never find Arabs in high-ranking positions. We still do not have any Arab governors or mayors. Key positions are never available to Arabs. I saw this discrimination. The representative of the people of Susangerd once wrote in the Karun newspaper, "They say they don't hire our youth because of lack of qualifications, but they hire them readily as minesweepers and send them to their death. If our youth lack qualifications, how do they operate the minesweeping machines so well?" Many young people have high degrees, but none of them work in high ranks. In a society where 33% of students do not finish primary school, the families, usually with many kids, try hard to get their sons an education and a good job, but unfortunately these discriminations and deprivations stand in the way of their progress.
Activities Leading to First Arrest
In 1992, in response to the deprivation and discrimination in our region, I and several others were actively involved in an association called the "National Movement of the People of Ahvaz." We published statements concerning discrimination against Arab men and women. We distributed historical and political books secretly among the people, in the form of leaflets. For every occasion, we published a leaflet to awaken and inform people of their legal rights. At that time, the authorities planned to implement the Sugarcane Project by offering a very high price to some landowners in villages near the river Karun, between Ahvaz and Khorramshahr, to sell their lands, forcing others whose lands were now in between these purchased lands to sell theirs for a very low price. What we did was to destroy the work that their engineers had started to do on these lands.
In those days, I spent a lot of time on political activities. Sometimes I would take the leaflets to other cities in the middle of the night. Where there were checkpoints on the road, I would take detours on foot. I typed some of these leaflets myself, and sometimes when my mother came to check on me in my room, she would hear the typewriter, but she never said anything to stop me.
Late in the summer of 1992, they arrested some of my friends who were active in the same organization as me. I went to Qom and stayed there for a while to see whether they would follow me there or not. When I saw that nothing happened, I returned and started to work. It was my first year as a teacher. On December 15, 1992, one of my friends came over to take me to go to another friend's. I was busy filling in a form for the university, as I planned to continue my education in the field of Agricultural Engineering. I told my friend that we could go as soon as I finished filling out the form. It was around 11:00 p.m. when my mother came and said that some people had come for me. She was really frightened. I came out of my room and saw plainclothes and security forces in our backyard. Three patrol cars were also parked in front of our house. Later, I learned that there had been forces and patrol cars in the street behind our house, too. They showed me the warrant in the backyard and told me that it was issued by the court. I saw my name on the warrant but did not read it to see whether it was issued by the court or not. The warrant was for a house search; not for an arrest. Fifteen people entered the house. One of them went to the room where my mother and sisters were. Another went to check the guest room. There were six of us family members around. My niece was in my arms, frightened and crying. All through the search, one of the agents would escort me. They wouldn't let me be alone with my mother and sisters. They searched everywhere, even in the ladies' closets, and this was very disturbing. They found some papers related to the university entrance exam, some sample questions, and a few books in my room. One of the books was about the Old and New Testaments. Or maybe about the Torah. I told them I had found the book three or four years ago on the side of the road and read its stories, but could not understand anything. They said the book was forbidden and that they would take it with them. They found some pages of an Arabic translation of the Kayhan newspaper for the Iraqi opposition, which I read to practice my Arabic. All through the hour and a half of searching the house, they were in touch with someone via a wireless device. Anyway, they took all of these.
During interrogations, the detainee is always blindfolded and cannot tell how many people are there
The agents also talked to my friend and got his name and address. But my friend gave them a wrong address deliberately. When they took me outside, they told me that they also had a warrant for this friend of mine but had not brought it with them. One month later, they arrested him, too. Around the corner from our house, they gave me a blindfold, and I put it on.
When we got in the car, I told them that with all their claimed adherence to Islam, they shouldn't have searched the ladies' closets. The person who was driving said that they had orders and that I had things they were yet to find. Later, I realized that they were looking for the typewriter and the archive, which they thought I kept. Five minutes into driving, they told the person they had been in touch with through the wireless device, "We have brought the individual." One of the officers got off, and this guy got on. I could see from under my blindfold that he was not wearing security force uniform pants. He was plainclothes. As we drove along, they said things like, what a quiet kid I was, what a nice kid I was, and why, then, I was making trouble. Their intension was to distract me so I wouldn't make out where we were going. We were on the road for more than half an hour; it was not a smooth ride. It was a bumpy road, and I could tell that we were passing over the Chaharshir Bridge. This bridge is built on an old railroad and the tracks are still there. They took me to the intelligence office and into the detention center. By December 1992, about 70 people were arrested. The rest had tried to go to other cities or leave the country.
Interrogation and Torture
On the night of the arrest, they took me to the intelligence detention center, which I later learned was in Chaharshir, behind Abuzar Hospital, and started the initial interrogation right away: name, family name, address, etc. All my clothes and personal belongings, even my glasses, were taken away, and I was taken to a tiny cell, about one and a half meters large. I was hungry on that first night. I asked for food. It was Wednesday. On Friday, someone came and said he was my interrogator, and he interrogated me for a long time. He said they had been gathering information about me for several days before making the arrest. His voice was familiar to me. I suspected who he was and even tried to get it across to him in our conversation that I knew him. But later, they sent a different interrogator to me. I could tell right away that they did not have any precise information about me, and this made me very happy. During interrogations, the detainee is always blindfolded and cannot tell how many people are there. I remember one time they asked me something and someone hit me in the head. In situations like this, one doesn't know where the blow might come from.
There were many interrogation sessions. The first few were one-after-another, but then I was not interrogated for 20 days. I don’t know whether my interrogator was away on a mission or what. When he came back, he told me he couldn't come because he had been busy. After that, I was interrogated three or four times a week, from morning to evening. During the interrogation, they would take me to use the bathroom once or twice. When they went out of the room, they would leave me alone there.
They beat me on my back with a stick or a metal bar, and you can still see the scars on my back
At the time of my arrest, my mother told me in Arabic not to mention the names of my friends to them. What she had said kept my spirit up during the interrogations. When they asked me to give them the names of my friends, I tried to give the names of the people I had known at the Teachers Training College. But the interrogators laughed and said, "So you have more non-Arab friends than Arab ones? We know you have other friends."
There were different kinds of torture: beating, hitting in the head, insult and humiliation. They beat me on my back with a stick or a metal bar, and you can still see the scars on my back. They would hit me on the top of my foot which made it bruise and hurt. I asked for pain killers several times, which they gave me. I also tried to improve my condition by drinking water in the bathroom.
They humiliated me by asking, for example, if I was adequately literate. They would say, "You Arabs, not much of an education to speak of, and you want your rights? What have we not given you?" By these they meant to tell me that I was nobody and talking out of line. In addition, there were sexual insults and threats to harass my family members, too. One time they said that if you don't tell the truth right now, we will bring your mother and sisters here to the detention center. When they asked me to write down my biography, I wrote my name, my address, my primary and high-school education, and how I became a teacher. When my interrogator saw this, he started beating and torturing and insulting me, once again. He said I had lied and that he would bring such and such a friend of mine there to talk to me. They do this with the activists that they detain. They bring someone who says, for instance, that we went to such and such a place together or you had a meeting with such and such a person, and things like that. You are blindfolded and don't know who this person is. The voice is familiar. One of these times, they brought someone and said that he was my friend. But my friend told me later that he hadn't been there. This affects the detainee's spirit very badly. It went so far that I even started to suspect my mother, because no one knew that I typed at night, except for her. She was the only one who knew. Later, I learned that, when they write something and give it to someone, this person gives it to someone else to make copies, and the interrogators lie and say that so and so has confessed, and this keeps going on. They wanted to know whether I had contacts outside the country. They told me that my friend, Hassan, had said that I had been to Iraq. I said, “Bring him here, so I can see him. They didn't and said that he was being interrogated. I realized that these were all lies.
I was detained for four months. They charged me with affiliation with the "Ahvazi Arab Ethnic Movement" group. The interrogations concerned our activities. They had found the publishing apparatus for the leaflets, but the main bulk of our work was on the Sugarcane Project, which we viewed as a political project. We were in touch with other cities such as Fallahiyeh, Shadegan, Abadan and others and tried to unify the organization. I believe this was one of the reasons for my arrest. For example, we wrote letters to threaten the sheikhs, who encouraged people to sell or give away their land and to warn them against cooperating with the regime and the government. This was one of my charges. I told them I could not type fast, and one needed to type fast to write books, magazines, and leaflets. I asked them what movement they believed the leaflets belonged to. They said The Democracy Front … . I said our motto was very different from the motto of this organization they were accusing me of being affiliated with. I really didn't know this other organization. Later the interrogator himself told me that they were convinced this hadn't been my doing and that they had identified the person who had done it. Another charge had to do with a list that we had created for our archives and which they had found with one of my friends. The list contained the complete names and information of intelligence service collaborators among the Arabs in different cities. I had created this list, but I did not admit to it. When the interrogator asked me about it, I said that was not my handwriting and that I was not familiar with other areas in the region. They accused us of planning to assassinate these people. They meant to charge us with armed activity, but they had no evidence beyond the identification of intelligence service collaborators. My other charge was "investigation," but since I had never been to Iraq, they could not accuse me of connections with foreign powers. The interrogator himself told me, "You are lucky. If you did have any connection to foreign powers, you would be executed."
Later we learned that an agent of theirs, who was also a cleric, had tried to get in touch with one of our friends and exchange some things, and this is how they had found the means we used. They arrested many of my friends in the first round, and some in the second round.
Conditions of Detention
I even told my interrogator a few times that it is not right that you arrest and torture me but do not let me talk to my family
I asked to contact my mother within a few minutes after my detention. I told them it would be unfair to keep her in the dark, as she was old and ill, but they said that my file was still under investigation. I even told my interrogator a few times that it is not right that you arrest and torture me but do not let me talk to my family. He responded that you can contact them once the processing of your file in the court is complete. As for food, I remember one day they gave me rice and kabob and another day eggplant and split-pea stew, but I didn't see any meat in it. For breakfast, they gave bread and cheese and tea. My family did not know where I was in the first few days, but later they would sometimes send me things like fruit and dates. For three months, I was taken from my cell to the interrogation room; they never took me out for a break even for five minutes.
One day, I asked for a newspaper. They didn't give me any. I said, “Surely, you have a Quran then; at least I can learn something while I'm sitting here alone.” They said this was not possible during the interrogations. I remember my family had sent me a box of sweets. I used to draw on the box once it was emptied. They took it away from me and said I was drawing my escape plan. When you need to use the bathroom there, they tend to take their time before opening the door for you. I remember one time at 2:00 a.m., I really needed to use the bathroom. I started making noise. All of a sudden, the door burst open and someone started hitting me in my face and chest and stomach and insulting me for waking them up, and he didn't take me to the bathroom. I had to relieve myself in the plastic water pitcher. The next morning when this guy found out [what I had done], he started beating and insulting me again. Later, when I was transferred to the public section of the detention center, I was there with a few other inmates, and we had a bathroom and a shower in the room. There were also newspapers, and we could see each other without blindfolds. But every once in a while, they would take one of us and the others wouldn't know what he had been asked. For this reason, I preferred to keep to myself, so that neither I could hurt others nor could they hurt me. Once the processing of my file was completed by my interrogator, I was able to receive a visit from my family in the Information Office (Setad-e Khabari) in the presence of an intelligence officer.
Three months after my arrest, I was taken to the Revolutionary Court several times.
When I entered the room, the judge himself and a court clerk were there. The trial, from start to finish, lasted less than ten minutes
They would remove the blindfold at the court and take me to a corner inside the courtroom and then put the blindfold back on. We would go up a couple of stairs. The investigator would come, and someone would ask me questions. Apparently, this guy investigated the case through intelligence interrogation. My case was presided over by two judges, named Razavi and Taqavi. One of them looked like an Afghan individual. Maybe he was from Khorasan or thereabouts. When I entered the room, the judge himself and a court clerk were there. The trial, from start to finish, lasted less than ten minutes. He asked my name and occupation. Then he mentioned the charges brought against me, all fabricated: "attempt against national security, membership in a mini-group, and being in possession of a typewriter." The typewriter was not mine. Before starting to speak, I asked if I could have an attorney. The judge responded, "But what is the attorney going to say? He is going to say what you are already saying. There is no need for an attorney." Then he asked, "How are you going to hire an attorney?" I said I had seen my family only once since my detention and, because I didn't know when my trial would be, I hadn't had a chance to talk to them about an attorney. The judge said that, if I hired an attorney, the process would just take longer and that my own words would be enough. "What do you have to say in your own defense?" I said that I had not published a leaflet and that there was no evidence that proved I had; that if the accusation was solely based on the confessions of one of the detainees, then it did not count, as it did not prove anything. As for membership in an organization, I said, "What organization are you talking about? Does it have a leadership? We did not have such a group. I have not been a member of such a group. And the people you name, I do not know them." The Judge did not believe me and said that they would issue the verdict later.
After about twenty days, they said that the verdict had been issued, and so we went back to court. When they announced the verdict, I heard “20 years,” and I become very upset. They said, “Do you accept, and will you sign it?” I said, “No. I want an attorney.” The court clerk explained to me, quietly, that my sentence was conditional; that is, I was sentenced to a four-year prison term, suspended for 20 years. If I committed a similar offense during the next 20 years, then I would have to serve the full prison term.
Five days after the announcement of the verdict, they asked me to put on my blindfold and gather my belongings. They said they were going to take me to prison. Then, in a place called Chaharshir, they let me get out and asked me to turn around. They pulled the blindfold off my eyes and the car took off. I don't remember what day it was; it was after the [Persian] New Year, maybe in mid-April.
After two or three days, I contacted the school [where I worked] and was told by the principal to report to the local office of the Ministry of Education. When I went there and told them that I had been detained, they said to bring a letter from the court. I gave them the letter without opening it. They told me to express my readiness for work in writing and to go back to work while my file was under consideration at the committee in charge of violations among government employees. They then placed the charges brought upon me in the court into my job records and fired me. I had not managed to send the forms for the university entrance exam the first time around, so I filled them out again. I got the required score in the multiple-choice exam to study Agriculture at the Azad University of Abadan, also at the Public University of Abadan, but they rejected me at the next step, which is the ideological and political selection of students. Finally, I was accepted in the Azad University of Abadan to study Arabic, but I was not able to secure a military service certificate, and I could not get a recommendation letter from the Ministry of Education, which had fired me. In 1997, I was able to return to teaching with the help of someone I knew in the system and by bribing the authorities. The argument for my innocence was that, had I been guilty, I would have been sent to jail and not released on a suspended sentence, and, therefore, they had no reason to fire me in the first place.
I returned to work, but a few months later the authorities in Tehran decided that I needed to change my geographical location and go to Yazd, which is basically exile. I had just gotten married, and it was very difficult for me and my wife to move to Yazd, but we finally did it. The Zoroastrians were very nice people and helped us with our day-to-day challenges. I saw that everything they said against Zoroastrians was nothing but lies. I stayed in Yazd for more than a year. I would go back home at every holiday and pursue the exile issue and, once my file made it to the national employment office, I filed a complaint, and it was accepted, and I returned to our province. Again, there came a letter from Tehran, stating that I could not stay in the same town and had to be relocated within the province. They sent me to a mountainous and disagreeable place called Lali. I said to the local office of the Ministry of Education that I would resign and not go there. I suggested a few towns that I could go to instead, but they said they wouldn't send anyone to border towns for exile. Therefore, I worked in Dezful, Shush, and thereabouts for three years. My wife did not move with me, and I would work three days a week and come home for the rest. At the end of this period, I was able to obtain my military service certificate.
Activities Leading to Second Arrest
During Khatami's presidency, an ethnic association was formed in the minority-dominant regions, first as a group, called Vefaq, and later transformed into a party.
Ethnic associations were formed in the minority-dominant regions, their demands ranged from having newspapers and TV programs in Arabic to the right to teach in their mother tongue
They were active during the [city and village] councils and parliament elections, and their demands ranged from having newspapers and TV programs in Arabic to the right to teach in their mother tongue. About 23 cultural institutions and non-governmental organizations were also formed, of which only one or two were given permits. They would hold poetry recitals or recite poetry for different occasions, such as weddings or music, and some of these poems emphasized ethnic identity. I collaborated with these cultural institutions. The intelligence agents would summon someone in relation to these activities every once in a while and release them after a few hours of interrogation.
How the Demonstrations Began and Continued on April 15, 2005
A week before April 15, 2005, an official statement was widely distributed in the region, with Arabic on one side and a letter on the other. [The letter, dated July 2, 1998, was supposedly from Mohammad Ali Abtahi, advisor to the office of the then-president of Iran, in which he had talked about reducing the number of Arab residents in Khuzestan and moving other Iranian ethnic communities to the region.] I was one of the individuals participating in the distribution of the letter. In this statement, reference was made to Mohammad Ali Abtahi's letter, as well as to a continuation of Pahlavi-era policies by the Islamic Republic concerning changing the demographic texture of the region and reducing the number of Arab-speaking residents. This statement was not put together by a particular group. A large spectrum of Arabs had gotten together and decided on the time and place of the demonstration against this letter. Apparently, the letter had somehow made it into the hands of one of the Arab activists in Tehran. Some said the letter might be forged. At any rate, the statement was widely distributed.
On Friday, April 15th, people started moving towards the governor's office and demanded an apology from the governor or from President Khatami. The demonstration was peaceful; no one chanted slogans, other than demanding an apology; no banks were set on fire, and no shop windows were broken. But they had barely proceeded for two kilometers when the Basijis and plainclothes agents came on motorcycles bearing the words “Ya Sarallah” and “Ya Fatemeh,” and they started shooting and firing teargas. The security forces showed up, as well. At the time, they arrested between 100 and 120 individuals.
I went home and searched to find out whether the people I knew had been arrested or not. They had arrested the young people who were in the front line of the demonstration; and I knew many of them. The next day, we tried to ask people, through a statement, not to let some radical elements sabotage the situation in a way that the regime could use against us.
They transferred forces from Tehran and Khorramabad and put checkpoints on all the roads: anyone trying to pass through would be searched. The people's protests lasted 20 days; there were demonstrations in Ahvaz, Fallahiyeh, Shadegan, Hamidiyeh, and other cities. The security forces divided the region into two parts: from the river Karun to the north was watched by the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards; and from Karun towards Hamidiyeh was watched by security forces and those transferred from Khorramabad.
The authorities tried to calm the region down a bit, through certain sheikhs and clergymen. They sent Shamkhani to the region, because he is an Arab, but people attacked him with rotten tomatoes. During these 20 days, many people were injured or killed. I remember there came a statement, which I am still sure, to this day, was fabricated by the intelligence agents themselves. The statement asked people to start demonstrating from such and such town and so forth; they had provided a map for the demonstrations. On that day, there were hundreds of security agents in those areas, and whoever passed through was arrested. People took to the streets in large numbers in those areas. They were frightened. There were 30 or 40 cars belonging to the various forces in each street, with rifles on top of each one. They were arresting everyone but women.
I opened the school doors to the ladies, so they could pick up their children, and I witnessed an awful scene, which really disturbed me: a ten-year-old kid had apparently thrown a rock, and the officials had followed him to catch him. His mother had come out in her long Arabic robe to take the child back inside. She tried to pull the kid out of the officials' hands, but they pulled him back towards themselves. This lady fell on the ground, and her robe was removed. Since she had just come from inside the house, she was not wearing anything else underneath. A man came out and gave her a robe to cover herself. Scenes like this make one very upset, because you see that even people's honor has been violated. A young guy named Razi Bayatin, who was not even 16, was killed in the city of Hamidiyeh, and he is now known as the first martyr of this uprising. The officials did not speak of their casualties and did not disclose how many of their side were killed, but we know that more than 150 among the forces were also killed, because the nature of the protests changed. Twenty days of demonstrations and crisis is not a small thing. There were people from our region, among the Revolutionary Guards, who killed the  officials because their honor had been violated, and I don't think anybody has talked about this to this day.
The day after the demonstrations, on Saturday evening, I and a friend were on our way back from Lashgarabad, where we had gone to distribute some statements that we had printed and to pick up some more. On the way back, we encountered nine security agents stopping the cars and searching them. They also stopped us. When we objected, they said that there was no problem, except that there was something wrong with the number on our license plate (the last digit was 3, but one of the dents was missing and it looked like a 2). But we know that this was only a cover. They blindfolded us and one military conscript and one Basij member got in the car with us and another car started following us. All they could find in the car was an empty box of A4 paper, which they took as evidence. They took us to the Basij headquarters called the Malek-e Ashtar Basij Center. In the courtyard, they handcuffed us and left us in a room blindfolded. One of them came and took my photo ID and then brought it back. We could hear the sounds of beating and crying. I told my friend that these were our last moments. He asked why? I said, "Don't you hear? I cannot tolerate these strikes." Then I shouted: "I want to talk to the supervisor! We were on our way to visit my grandmother in the hospital when we were arrested!" Someone said in Farsi: "Damn right! Shut your trap!" The conscript who had come with us in the car was apparently sitting on the chair next to us. My legs had gone numb from sitting and were hurting badly. When he learned, he massaged my legs and let me stretch them. I really want to know who he was. During this time, they insulted us, but they did not beat us; they examined my photo ID but did not touch the phonebook I had in my pocket.
We had spent two hours at the Basij Center [Malek-e Ashtar in the Lashgarabad region] when people stormed the headquarters. A security guy shouted, "Haj Aqa! They are burning down the Center!" The response was to take away those in custody and to only shoot in the air for the time being. They blindfolded us and loaded us onto two cars. I could sense there were others with us. To get me into the car, two people pushed me inside and my anus was compressed, and I have been having backaches since then. There is a problem with my spine that the doctor says is a bulging disc. On the way, my friend said that he had a heart condition and asked them to take him home so he could pick up his pills. They said they would get him some pills. He gave them some money and they bought him pills, but not the same pills as those he wanted. When we arrived, I couldn't tell where we were. I thought it was the intelligence office, but later I found that it had been the Revolutionary Guards intelligence branch. I felt right away that they photographed and filmed us. The person who spoke to me did not speak Farsi well. He asked me in Arabic whether the "note" was mine, referring to my phonebook. We don't use the word "note" for phonebook; this is what they say in Lebanon and the Gulf countries. This person was not from Iran and his Arabic accent was different from ours. Apparently these people belonged to the extraterritorial forces that were employed only in times of necessity.
There were many numbers in my phonebook, but none of them had foreign country codes. I told them these were my cousins' and relatives' numbers, or the numbers of friends I had among the Revolutionary Guards or elsewhere. When I gave them my name and said that I was a teacher, teaching at such and such a school and being the vice principal there, I had the feeling that I was talking to Revolutionary Guards and not intelligence agents, because they had no information about me. We were there for two nights and they couldn't find anything. They said,"We have investigated, and you are indeed a teacher, and your friend here organizes caravans for pilgrimage to the holy shrines, so you are free, but your friend must bring his car's deed." My friend swore by Imam Hosein that there was nothing wrong with his car. Since he was an Arab swearing by Imam Hosein, they said he was lying and had to stay. I said I would not leave unless my friend could leave too. They said he would be leaving in a different car. They had sent him to the intelligence office from there and, since he had two old files there, he had to spend a few days there, too. I was not tortured during the second detention, only interrogated, insulted, and threatened. The Basij members tended to insult more, and the Revolutionary Guards threatened more.
They took me to a city square and released me. Because I was the vice principal of my school, I went there and told the principal, who was my friend, about what had happened. I told him that when they come from the state security office (Herasat) of the Ministry of Education to follow up on my case, he should tell them that they had made a mistake and that I had been on my way to the hospital when arrested. Later they sent after me from the local branch of the Ministry of Education and the state security office and asked a few questions about my file. When the situation in the region calmed down a little bit, I was summoned to the intelligence office to answer some questions about my arrest. I was also questioned by the Ministry of Education once then and once during the Assembly of Experts election. I had talked about how they nominate and pick the candidates themselves. The intelligence office summoned me to the state security office via a phone call. The person in charge of the state security office was apparently one of my colleagues, and he told me that I had said these things. I responded, "Since you talk about freedom, is this a free election, when I have to vote for an 80-year-old man to just go and sit in the Assembly? I have not insulted the system."
Situation of the Region after the 2005 Demonstrations
On Eid al-Fitr [end of Ramadan] 2006, a group of people went to visit the families whose children had been executed in 2005 and 2006. There was a large number of people. They chanted slogans about the Eid on the way. I didn't walk with them, myself, but I did see that the security forces surrounded the crowd on the fifth bridge of Ahvaz. A number of people threw themselves in the river. Those who knew how to swim could escape, but a few people died, and some were arrested.
There were many cultural activities of Arab music and culture and poetry recitation nights at that time, as well. They took several singers and poets to the intelligence office. These individuals were charged with mini-group activities. Some of them were detained for a few hours, some up to eight months, and some for a year.
I had a friend in a facility rented from the municipality. There was a library there, and young people would buy scientific books and books on social issues in Arabic from the book fair in Tehran, for instance, and donate them to this library to encourage people to read. There were no forbidden books among these, but the officials came and confiscated the books.
Reasons to Leave Iran
In 2006, a bunch of us young people were discussing the situation in the region. I said, “If someone is against the regime and has guts, he should harm the economy or blow up the parliament or a ministry in Tehran.” My brother and a few other young people had heard of my comments. Then they had sat together and planned to carry out what I had suggested. Of course, these were all talk. My brother used to stay overnight at our place sometimes. One time he had a meeting on the street with someone who was being followed by intelligence agents. Anyway, one day, they arrested my brother on the street. It took us eight months to find him. We searched for him everywhere, even at the Evin Prison. Finally, they told us that the intelligence office had him, and they were charging him with everything that had been done in the region, including the explosions, and they had arrested no one else for these charges either. When I went to visit him after eight months, I saw that he was not the large and strong-bodied man that he used to be. He had lost a lot of weight and had become very weak. Even though there was a guard there, he told me that he was tortured heavily, and most of the tortures had been because of me. He said they had taken me to him in the detention center, and I had told him to "confess, because they want to kill you." He said they had played my voice and the voice of our other brother, who is paralyzed and lives in Syria, for him. No matter how much I pleaded to him that it wasn't me and it couldn't be so, he didn't believe me. The whole family told him that he was making a mistake. He said that he had been thirsty, and the authorities had brought him a glass of water, which had felt like some kind of oil, as he had realized after drinking it. After that, he couldn't understand what was going on, and he had just told them what they had asked him to say.
He was initially charged with waging war, but the attorney that we hired for him was able to prove that the last pages of his confessions had his finger prints, instead of his signature, on them, and he himself said that they had given him something, after which he couldn't recall what he had said. Most of the tortures had been because of me; they had told him that his brother had had a role in the explosions that they were planning to carry out. He had first denied that I was his brother. I told him that when the intelligence office arrests someone, they already have all the information there is about him. The only evidence they had was a video which showed me sitting with a few others, talking (I have no idea how they had managed to get this on tape). They had issued the verdict for my brother based on the "waging war" charge and they planned to execute him. But at the same time they arrested a few people, who had actually had a hand in the explosions, and the intelligence officers had themselves told my brother that "you used to be a Benz but now you are a Peykan [a low-class Iranian car], because they have arrested others." At any rate, they ended up sentencing him to 15 years in jail. We appealed to the High Court and it was reduced to six years. They didn't count the eight months that he had already spent in detention as part of his term, either. Plus, they gave him five years in exile too. He was in jail for six years and, when he was released on bail, he did a blood test and it became clear that he had a problem. He is spending his five years of exile in a village near Hamedan, where he has to report to the authorities every morning and every evening. He has gotten married, but he cannot bear children.
After being released from jail, my brother told me that he had seen someone on top of the awning above the entrance to our house one time, when he had been there. The person had said that he had come to repair the neighbor's telephone line, but apparently he had installed a tapping device on our telephone line that could record conversations in up to a several-meter radius.
Leaving the Country
What my brother said about the tortures and the things they had told him about me forced me to leave Iran, because the danger was not for me alone, but for the whole family. I left Iran towards the end of 2006, and I arrived in London in January 2007.
I have trouble sleeping since my detention. As soon as I am about to fall asleep, many thoughts rush to my mind and disturb me. I have been to the doctor, and I do take sleeping pills, but I cannot distance myself from these issues, nor forget them.
Inmates I Met during the First Detention
One of the people that I got to know in jail was Dr. Saliqezadeh. He was about 40 and a sympathizer of the People's Mojahedin Organization. As soon as they transferred me to the public section, he asked me what my name was and why I was arrested. I told him that I had been in a fight with a cleric, whom I had beaten with a stick. He laughed and said the place where they had brought me was not for those who had been in fights. He was the only non-Arab inmate among us, and he was sentenced to death. He said he knew me and that I taught at such and such a school; he said he had seen me several times. Apparently he used to live in the Kampulu neighborhood and worked in the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Ahvaz. We spent a few days together. We would talk and laugh, and he would recite passages from the Quran for us. When his wife sent him food, he would first offer it to us. He said he was not afraid of death, but he was only worried about his family. Before they took me to court, the manager of the detention center came and told me: "Karim, I want to ask your opinion. Do you know Mr. Saliqezadeh? We first arrested him several years ago. He spent five years in jail and some time in exile after that. He contacted the Mujahedin organization yet again, and he was arrested yet again, and this time he was sentenced to death. Now what is your judgment?" I said, “Well, I'm not a judge, but everyone can make a mistake.” He said, "I just wanted you to realize this." Doctor Saliqezadeh was executed during the time that I was in the public section of the detention center, but I do not know the exact date.
There was another guy who used to work in Kuwait. His story, as he told it, was that, apparently, during the war, when people escaped their homes, some people did not stay in Iran and fled to Iraq. This guy, who had a Kuwaiti wife, too, had been in Kuwait, but his other wife, who was also his cousin, had been in Iraq with her family and the kids. One time he goes from Kuwait to Iraq to visit his wife. It was during the Gulf war, and his wife and kids had returned to Iran, and so he returns to Iran to visit them, and this is when he was arrested. He said he was not involved in politics; he said his crime was that he had come to visit his wife and kids. This person spent a year in detention.