My Interrogator Said: You Are An Ass, And Asses Do Not Merit Human Rights
I am Sohrab Karimi. I was born on 25 January 1979, in the town of Qorveh, in Kurdistan. I completed my high school education in Qorveh, and in the year 2000 went to Kamyaran and, subsequently, Kermanshah to do my military service. I continued my studies during military service, in order to prepare for the nationwide university entrance exams. Finally, in 2001, a couple of months before the end of my military service I received offers from Sanandaj State University, to read literature, and Zanjan Azad University, to read political science. I opted for political science at Zanjan University.
the articles I wrote for the journal, one was on sociology, tribal rifts, and a democratic solution
My cultural-academic activities began when I started my courses at Zanjan. From the very start, I sought the company of the university's student activists.
My initial activity as a student was to work for Ashti, the monthly student journal. Until 2005, I worked continuously for the journal in its articles and political analysis section. Among the articles I wrote for the journal, one was on sociology, tribal rifts, and a democratic solution; and another was on democracy in Iran, with emphasis on the rights of ethnic minorities. In fact, through writing such articles, I was seeking to inform the authorities of the demands of the Kurds, such as participation in political power; local self-management; elimination of religious and cultural discrimination, with regards to language and faith within a political or legislative framework. Finally, after receiving my bachelor's degree, I headed for Tehran, as I had been accepted by Tehran's Azad University for a master's degree.
Upon entering Tehran University, I established contact with Kurdish students throughout Iran and began collaborating with them.
Our activities there were mainly academic and research-based...The publication's slant was towards realization of the democratic rights of Iran's Kurdish community
The first congress of the Democratic Union of Kurdish Students was held in the Central Library of Sanandaj, in April 2005. I attended the congress with my friends and began discussions with student activists from Sanandaj, Zanjan, Orumiyeh, and Kermanshah, who were at the congress. As a result, we managed to obtain a permit to form a legal association called the Democratic Union of Kurdish Students. I was one of the founders of that union, which, in fact, became a center for Kurdish students. We wanted to link Kurdish student activists throughout Iran through such centers and unions and to establish a civil society comprising Kurdish students and educated youth where we would coordinate our activities.
After setting up the Union, I returned to Tehran, where I strove to make the Tehran branch active. However, my attempts to that end were unsuccessful.
In that period, I was introduced to the quarterly publication, Rojav, through Mr. Ghasem Ahmadi, a Tehran University Law student. In fact, Rojav was one of the most prominent student publications and quarterlies at that time. I started writing and editing for Rojav quarterly.
Our activities there were mainly academic and research-based and revolved around the rights and issues of the Kurdish community in Iran. The publication's slant was towards realization of the democratic rights of Iran's Kurdish community.
we joined a number of Kurdish activists to stage a peaceful gathering at Tehran University in protest of the killing of the Maku citizens
Toward the middle of February 2006, a large number of people from the towns of Shoot, Poldasht, and Maku staged widespread demonstrations to mark the anniversary of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan's arrest. Some 15 citizens from Maku were killed by the revolutionary guards. After the incident, which was given coverage by several newspapers, we joined a number of Kurdish activists to stage a peaceful gathering at Tehran University in protest of the killing of the Maku citizens. On the occasion, we distributed a statement among the students. In the wake of that protest, the Democratic Union of Kurdish Students decided to attend the 7 December 2006 ceremony, in order to express our demands and issue a statement. Unfortunately, however, the Tahkim office [student organization: Office for Strengthening Unity] turned down our request to participate at the Tehran University ceremony.
On 21 February 2007, there was another gathering at the gate of the Literature Faculty of Tehran University, and I was the keynote speaker. Fortunately, the event ended without any arrests or unpleasant incidents.
It was in 2008 when the Tahkim Office contacted me. They told me, “We could come to a reasonable compromise. We have no problems with you and believe completely in the democratic rights that you are pursuing for the Kurdish community. Would you agree to join us in this year's 7 December gathering?” I told them that we had no problems with that. Consequently, we enjoyed a very well-organized 7 December ceremony.
Since 7 December 2007 was a Friday, we decided to stage the gathering on 9 December instead. The ceremony started at 11:00 a.m. and ended at 4 pm. I was one of the main speakers at the ceremony. In part of my speech, which was about discrimination, I said, "Everyone is being subjected to oppression, owing to the absence of democracy in Iran and, in our case, it is because we are Kurdish." I concluded my speech with the Kurdish national anthem, Ey Reqib.
Another agent beat me up as hard as he could. My head was badly injured; they also broke my nose
After the ceremony, I left the university compound with a few friends. Outside the university, a person approached me and asked, “What is happening inside the university?” I told him to go and see for himself. The person started following us, and so we decided to get into a car and to get away from that area. We had gone some distance from Enqelab Square when I decided to get out of the car and return to the Square. I made the decision because I thought that, if I am to be arrested, I would not want to put my friends in danger. When I got back to Enqelab Square, I noticed that I was being followed by two plainclothes agents. They caught up with me. One of them was slim with blonde hair, and the other was an obese, bald man of about 40 years of age.
The obese one approached me and grabbed my wrist. I responded by punching him and said, "What are you playing at?" Then they both started to scream, accusing me of being a thief and purse snatcher, and proceeded to physically attack me. On hearing their accusations, I shouted out, "I am a student. I am not a purse snatcher. This bag is mine and it contains all my personal documents and books." On hearing my protests, a bunch of their friends also joined them from other areas and, in total, some 15 plainclothes agents proceeded to kick and punch me.
Two of them held my hands from behind while the rest of them punched me. All I could do was to try and resist. Meanwhile, another agent who was on a motor bike dismounted and joined in and beat me up as hard as he could. My head was badly injured; they also broke my nose.
They then proceeded to handcuff me and took my cell phone and bag. They pushed me into a black Peugeot and pulled my jacket over my head. Inside the car, I was put in the back seat with two agents, and another two sat at the front. They started to drive.
I asked the agents in the car to show me an arrest warrant. To my astonishment, they said, “We have no warrant; we are a bunch of thugs from Tehran, and we'll sodomize you.” When I heard that, I said, "Whoever you are, why are you insulting me?" One of them responded, “This is what we are. You want us to address you poetically? This is how it is. Now, wait and see what we are going to subject you to. We are thugs and hoodlums from south Tehran.” In the meantime, one of the agents opened my bag and took out all its contents. Among the documents in my purse was a statement I had written a few months ago in protest of the death sentence meted out to Mr. Adnan Hasanpour and posted on an internet site with the help of a few friends. Upon coming across the statement, the person who was searching my purse said, “You are defending a criminal?” In my bag, there was also a book called Political Analysis. So he added, “You read political stuff?” I responded, "That is my field of study." They then continued to randomly punch me and, after blindfolding me, took the jacket off my head.
They punched the back of my neck and my spinal cord so hard that, for some time, I could not write anything
From the movement of the car, I gathered where we were heading to in Tehran. If I am not wrong, we were heading towards Jomhuri Avenue when the vehicle suddenly changed direction and then stopped. I could hear a gate opening and the car entering and then stopping. They dragged me out of the car.
They punched and kicked me toward a building. Inside, they took me to a room on the ground floor, which had a grey carpet. Later, I found out that it was a prayer hall. Inside the prayer hall I heard voices of other detainees who had clearly also been detained on the same day. Among them, I recognized voices of my friends who were in the car with me earlier.
They put me in a corner of the hall and told me to stand facing the wall. Standing next to me was Mohammad Saleh Aboman. In fact, I recognized him from his Kurdish accent. After a while, an agent asked one of the detainees to give his name, and I realized he was Mr. Javad Alizadeh.
From the voices I could tell that there were some 30 people in that hall and that they were among those arrested at the university. I managed to surreptitiously look around the room from the little gap under my blindfold. I was scanning the hall when the agents noticed and proceeded to punch and kick me. One of them said, “Stay still,” and then asked my name. When I responded, they took me towards a table. They then put a sheet of paper in front of me and said, “You can slightly raise your blindfold to look at the sheet of paper.” On doing so, the first sentence that caught my eye was on top of the page. It read, “Intelligence Ministry. Survival is in Honesty.”
My whole body ached as a result of the beating I had received. I was, therefore, unable to bend over in order to write. Of course, I am also tall. So, I asked the agents to give me a chair to sit on.
They brought a chair and began my interrogation. Their first question was, “Are you a member of PJAK?” I was told to write down my responses on the sheet of paper. I wrote, "By God, I don't know PJAK at all. I have only heard its name, but I don't like them." When the interrogator saw what I had written in my response, he took the sheet of paper and tore it up into little pieces, which he scattered over my head. He then slapped me and again asked, “Are you a member of PJAK? When did you get back from Erbil?” I wrote down, "I have never gone to Erbil. I don't like such kind of ideologies and am, in fact, opposed to them. I am not their enemy but I am opposed to them and do not accept their ideology."
Haj Sa'id stopped beating me and proceeded to cut a red apple into two halves, offering me one half. After I forced myself to eat the apple under duress, he resumed beating me
They continued to swear at me and beat me up, saying, “You are lying, you son of a bitch.” Suddenly, one of them approached me and held me tightly, saying, “'Sohrab, I searched so long to find you. You made me wander around the alleyways until I finally found you.” That man's behaviour was not normal. In fact, I had never come across such abnormal behaviour.
That agent started to question me, “What is your organization? Do you know PJAK?” I responded, "Yes. I do know [PJAK]." He asked me how and I responded, "I have studied political science and, considering I am doing my master's degree, I should know such [organizations]. But I have no contact with them." He asked, “Who among your friends is a PJAK member?” I replied, "I don't know of anyone who is a PJAK member." He said, “You are lying. We have a picture of you that shows you have been in Iraqi Kurdistan. You went to the party’s office and received money from American spies. When did you return from Iraqi Kurdistan? Who sent you? Who did you receive money from? Who is organizing you guys? Where is your weapon? Where have you placed the bombs? You have to tell the truth.” I told them that I was telling them the truth. He replied, “'No. You are not.” At that point, I yelled, "If you want me to lie, tell me, and I will tell you whatever you want." On noticing that I had raised my voice, one of the agents approached and said, “No Sohrab. Write down the truth. There is no need to write lies.”' On seeing that agent, they lessened the pressure, and I wrote whatever I wanted on that sheet of paper.
That interrogation day was a very tough experience. Three persons interrogated me for about seven hours. The interrogations took place in that prayer hall and, from the sounds around me, I could tell that other detainees were also being interrogated there.
The interrogators treated me very harshly. They used foul language, cursing my family members, while constantly beating me up. They punched the back of my neck and my spinal cord so hard that, for some time, my entire arm went totally numb and, as a result, I could not write anything.
They kicked me so much that my entire thigh went blue. My lips were torn, and my nose was bleeding as a result of the punches to my face. They had punched my head so many times that it had become swollen. My arms and shoulders had gone totally blue, owing to the pressure they exerted on them.
For about a week they kept on hassling me, saying that I must go and speak in front of a camera, saying exactly what they wanted me to say
That evening they released everyone except the Kurdish guys. They kept Mr. Aboman, Mr. Farshad Doustipour, Mr. Javad Alizadeh, another person called Kohnehpoush – who had been arrested as the result of mistaken identity – and I, and put a soldier there to guard us in that prayer hall. Once we were left alone, I nodded off as I sat there. It was around midnight that I woke up, because it was freezing cold. I removed my blindfold and saw Farshad lying flat by the door. He had his necktie under his head and his jacket over his body.
At 7:00 a.m. the next day, they came and yelled, “Get up!” They handcuffed and blindfolded us and took us away in a van. When the vehicle got to Vali-e Asr Avenue, they removed the blindfolds. I saw that they had tied my hands to those of Mr. Alizadeh and Kohnepoush with two handcuffs. Mohammad Saleh and Farshad were sitting in the front. There were also three armed plainclothes agents in the van. Two agents, one of whom was the driver, were sitting in the front. A tall guy with a darkish complexion and stubble was sitting by the door in the back. I calmed down when I saw my friends next to me. I said to Mr Alizadeh, "How are you, doctor?" The moment I said that, the agent who was sitting in the back slapped my face and said, “Why did you speak with each other and shake your heads?”
The vehicle was moving toward Seoul Avenue, and, sometime later, it stopped outside Evin Prison, and we were taken inside. An agent, who was quite old and had been sitting on the passenger seat, next to the driver, told us, “Welcome to [Ward] 209. Don't worry. We are not going to do anything to you. You just need to be strip searched.” They blindfolded us before taking us to 209. When I entered, I surreptitiously scanned the area. They were carrying out repair work inside the building. First, we went through a narrow corridor, which contained many rooms. Then they directed us to a room, took away our belongings, and ordered us to wear the prison clothes. I had some 6,000 tomans on me. When I tried to give it to them, they said, “'You don't need to give that to us. Keep it in your pocket. ” The behaviour of those in the room towards us was good; they showed no disrespect. After we handed over our belongings and changed into prison clothes, they took us one-by-one to another room, to be photographed for our files. Farshad was first to have his administration completed. When I left the room, Farshad was standing outside. He said, “Don't be afraid. This is 209.” The moment he uttered those words, a few guards lunged toward him and beat him up. When I protested at their action, they proceeded to slap me in the face a few times.
When the rest of the guys joined us, the officials accompanying us told us to sit facing the wall. It was a very cold season, so I complained, "It's very cold here. We are freezing. Do something about it." No sooner had I said it than one of them came toward me, saying, "You think this is your auntie's house?" and slapped me on the ear. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, they supplied us with blankets.
Another one said, “This is the execution room. We want to execute you and bury your head in the ground.”
I wrapped the blanket around me and fell asleep. I believe I slept for almost two hours, during which I was occasionally woken up by the sound of footsteps. Looking furtively from under the blindfold, I noticed that they were taking several women, handcuffed and wearing chadors, to a room in the corridor. We were left there for some three hours, before they brought us some food.
After a relatively long time they transferred us to the health clinic, which was situated on the same floor. Inside the clinic they undressed us one by one and checked our entire body. When it came to my turn and I undressed, the doctor said, “What happened to you?” I responded, "Honest to God, they beat me up." The doctor jotted everything I told him.
After the medical exam at the clinic, we were transferred to another section on the same floor. They took us one after another to a room, where they read out the charges against us. When my turn came and I entered the room, someone told me that I could remove the blindfold and take a seat. When I removed the blindfold, I saw Mr. Sa'id Mortazavi seated behind a desk with two or three chairs in front of the desk. Until that moment, I had never seen Mr. Mortazavi in person.
He was very cordial toward me. When I entered the room, he said, “Please, take a seat.” To settle my nerves and show that I had done nothing wrong, I calmly took my seat and asked, "What is all this about? Why did they beat us up?" He replied, “Because you had, no doubt, resisted. Otherwise, no one has a right to touch you. I said, "They beat us during the interrogation." Mr. Mortazavi replied, “I will tell them not to beat you.” Then he said, “You are being temporarily detained for 10 days for having spread propaganda against and conspired and acted against the system. Sign here.“When he said ‘10 days in detention,” I responded, "Why are you detaining us? What have we done? If we have done something, then it must be on film, and you should just send me to court. Why are we being detained?" He said, “If you have a complaint, you have the right to write down your complaint, ” and proceeded to put a sheet of paper in front of me, on which I wrote, "What we did was open. Why are you harassing us? You have no right to detain us." In any case, I signed the temporary detention warrant. Then someone came into the room and told me to put my blindfold back on before leaving the room.
After we were formally charged, they took each one of us to a separate cell on the upper floor. My cell number was 74. I was, in fact, in solitary confinement.
The size of the cell was three by four meter. Inside it, there was a wash basin with separate hot and cold water taps. There were two blankets in a corner of the cell. At the end of the cell, there was a radiator, which was covered with an iron sheet with a few holes in it. There were two slots in the cell door, one on top and the other on the bottom. They slid our food to us through the bottom one. A paper, slightly smaller than an A4 size, was pinned on the inside of the cell door, on which written in large letters was, “This is a security ward, and you are in solitary confinement. Prison must be a university. [Signed] Imam Khomeyni.” And a colored card was also attached to the door of the cell. Upon entering the cell, they told me, “Throw [the colored card] out through one of the holes every time you want something or need to go to the toilet. If anyone goes by and sees your card, they will tend to you.” The lighting in the cell was in the form of a lamp hung from very high in the ceiling.
I frequently asked for a lawyer, but, unfortunately, they rejected my requests
Once alone in the cell, I noticed that some prominent personalities had occupied it before me; they had written their names on the wall. For example, Mr. Ali Akbar Musavi-Kho'ini, who was a member of the sixth parliament, had written his name, followed by a brief text that read, “I was here. A government survives blasphemy, but it will not survive oppression.” There were also names of other individuals on the wall. They included Shahram Jazayeri, Adnan Hasanpour, and Farzad Kamangar.
They left me alone for two days; I was not taken for interrogation. It was after breakfast on Thursday, and I was lying on my blanket, when they came for me. They gave me a blindfold to put on and took me to another room for interrogation.
Upon entering that room, they led me to a corner and sat me down on a chair facing the wall. The interrogator started by saying, “Mr Karimi, you are in detention here. Try to be at ease with us. Tell us everything, and cooperate with us.” Their questions mainly revolved around my knowledge of Kurdish community problems and issues.
That interrogation session passed without any disrespect or physical abuse. At the start of the interrogation, I asked for a lawyer, but the interrogator said, “You don't need a lawyer here. You can get a lawyer after you have left this place.” Throughout the interrogation, I only had one interrogator, who constantly walked behind me. From his voice I could tell that he was about 30 years old. He had a northern accent and told me that he had studied psychology at university. All in all, he was a clever interrogator.
After a week, because I refused to give him my email address, he started being abusive and threatening. I told him, "Do whatever you like. Everything I have told you has been the truth." The interrogator said, “No problem.” He then left the room for a short while. Subsequently, another interrogator took over. The new interrogator paced up and down the room, saying in a loud voice, “'Where is the guy refusing to talk? This scrawny wimp?” Then, he brushed past me, making sure that his arms touched my hand.
A few minutes later, he removed my blindfold. He then brought his face within touching distance of mine and said, “You jerk, look into my eyes. They call me Haj Sa'id. I've made people much bigger than you talk, you piece of filth.” Then he started punching and kicking me. After a few minutes, Haj Sa'id stopped beating me and proceeded to cut a red apple into two halves, offering me one half. After I forced myself to eat the apple under duress, he resumed beating me.
Haj Sa'id was an athletic individual. He had the darkish complexion of a southerner, an aquiline nose, and a stubble beard.
Then my interrogator changed. The person who took over constantly swore at me and used foul language. His questions were chiefly about PJAK and Komala. He would say, “You are in PJAK. Tell me about your relationshipwith Komala. Are you in Komala?What is your relationship with Abdullah Öcalan?'
That person interrogated me for almost 15 days. His questions were repetitive. On day 15, the interrogator said, “You are in the Democratic Party. We have found a picture of you entering the Democratic Party office.” I said, "You are mistaken. What do you mean by all this talk? I am not a Democrat. Now you have finished with PJAK and Komala and switched to Democrat?"
On some days, Haj Sa'id would make an appearance during interrogation, beating me with his belt, punching and kicking me. Once Haj Sa'id entered the interrogation room and placed a piece of paper in front of me, saying, “You filth bag. Write down that you are a monafeq [hypocrite: derogatory term for Mujahedin-e Khalq members]. With that I will execute you. Write down: I am a monafeq”. I wrote down that I am a monafeq and, handing him the piece of paper, said, "Take it and execute me. You think I am scared?" On hearing that, Haj Sa'id became enraged. He punched me so hard in the chest that I was thrown onto the floor, my shoulders hitting the ground. He then proceeded to kick me, saying mockingly, “Sohrab, do you have a brain? If so, give it to me, and, if not, then you are an ass, and asses do not merit human rights here.” With presence of mind, I replied, "What about you? Do you have a brain?" To which he responded, “'I do not have a brain. My job here is only to beat people up.” On that day, Haj Sa'id thrashed me for almost two hours. The thrashing resulted in the fracture of my collarbone.
One day, when they did not come to take me for interrogation, I washed my undergarments and shirt inside the cell and placed them in a corner to dry. Just then, a guard came to the cell door and said, “Get ready for interrogation!” I quickly put on my shirt, which was not yet dry. I put on the blindfold and followed.
In the interrogation room, I was waiting for my interrogator when Haj Sa'id suddenly entered the room and started to beat me. He said, “Take off your clothes!” I took off my shirt. He continued, “Take off your undershirt too!” I took that off, too. He finally said, “Take off your trousers and flip-flops too.” Since I was not wearing any underwear, I said, "I am not taking it off. I have my honour and dignity. I will never take off my trousers." The moment I uttered those words, he charged towards me and threw me to the floor. He kicked me in the stomach and tried to remove my trousers. I mustered all my strength and held on tight to my trousers. But after a while, I burst into tears and pleaded with him, saying, "Please do not shame me. I am very ashamed of being seen naked." But he was not giving up and said, “You must take off your trousers. I will send someone in to sort you out. The Tehran pedophiles are all here.” I knew he couldn't do that and put up a fierce resistance. While holding on tight to my trousers I stood up and said, "Shame on you. You have no right to treat me in this way. Iranian law does not allow you." But he did not care and kept saying, “No. That applies to human beings. You are not a human being. Then he kicked me in the testicles, and it was very painful. Then Haj Sa'id again lunged toward me and kicked me about 50 times in the thighs. I pleaded, saying, "I swear to Ali. I was wrong." He said, “Who's Ali?” I replied, "Imam Ali." He said, “You piece of garbage. You are now being blasphemous too?” I said, "No. You are driving me crazy. In the Battle of Siffin, Imam Ali was a step away from Fitna [sedition; reference to the civil war in the Battle of Siffin]. Amr ibn al-As exposed his buttocks and so he did not kill him. He had even taken his sword off him. You claim to be supporters of Ali. Shame on you." On hearing this, he cooled down a little. Then someone entered and took Haj Sa'id out of the interrogation room. Two people were in that room while all this was happening but made no attempts to intervene. In any case, they took me back to my cell that day and did not harass me for a few days. As a result of the severe beating I had been subjected to by Haj Sa'id, my legs were really swollen, to such an extent that I had difficulty sitting or walking for six days. Because of the pain, I could only sleep on my back.
Twenty-one days into my detention, they barged into my cell one night to tell me that I had to go for interrogation. When I entered the interrogation room, I noticed that it was the first interrogator I had had. He said, “Sohrab. Would you like to speak with your family?” I said, "Why not. I know they are now in a bad situation. So why not talk to them?" He said, “You must give us a list of the telephone numbers you have and their [political] tendencies.” On hearing this, I said, "What are you saying?" He said, “You must write them down.” I wrote down several names. Next to one, I wrote, “secular,” another one I described as “religious” and so on and so forth, until he started to hassle me about a few photographs of Kurdistan, Kurdish poets, and Kurdish leaders, on my phone. He said, “Who sent you these?” I replied, "As I was leaving Sanandaj for Tehran, I was playing Bluetooth on the bus, and an anonymous person sent me these." Finally, the interrogator told me that I could speak with my family, provided I spoke in Farsi. I told him that my parents could not understand Farsi. At last, they agreed that I could call my family and speak to them in Kurdish. When I rang home, my sister burst into tears on hearing my voice. I said, "Don't cry my darling. I am fine. Then my mother took the phone from her and said, “Where are you dearest?” I said, "Don't worry. I am well. But you could help me from the outside. I am now in solitary confinement." Then I managed to speak with my father for a few minutes. But he kept weeping. My telephone conversation with my family that day lasted only about four minutes, during which tears were rolling down my face but I had placed the blindfold to make sure the interrogators did not see my tears.
From that day, the manner of interrogations changed. They only subjected me to intense interrogations once a week, and each time they were about different issues. For instance, one of the interrogation sessions was about the email messages I had received from my friends in Europe. The interrogator asked, “Who are they? Are you receiving orders from them?”
The next session was about Kurdistan. The interrogator asked, what do you think of a Greater Kurdistan? Do you believe in an independent Kurdistan? Why did you speak at the university?” I responded, "I have studied political science. I cannot speak about medicine. This subject is about the civil, political society and students' political traits." He said, “Why? Are you the only one?” I said, “Well. Someone has to go and deliver a speech. In your view, anyone who goes there is a criminal?" The next question was, “Why did you pursue these activities at university?” I said, "I do not wish for my children to go and get killed tomorrow. I do not want that. I would like, therefore, to resolve issues now. And, at present, the taboo and nightmare that had been created about the Kurds has already vanished for many Farsi-speaking young people living in the capital. They have now realized that we are just like other human beings. The next question was, “Why did you sing the Ey Reqib anthem during your university speech?” I said, "That's just an anthem composed by a poet. Does it now solely belong to Kurdish parties just because they have decided to use it and the rest of us aren't allowed to?" They then started to hassle me by saying, “Why did you do it when you are a Shi'ite?” to which I responded, "What has my being Shi'ite got to do with it? Had I been born in our neighbour's house, I would have been a Sunni." Two months had passed since the detentions and interrogations when the interrogator came and told me that I had to go and speak in front of a camera. I said fine and that I would do so. The interrogator said, “What are you going to say?” I replied, "I will say that I am innocent. Why have you arrested me? What am I supposed to have done?" The interrogator said, “No. You have to say what we tell you to say: that you had been duped and deceived and recruited. You have no other choice but to say these.” I told him that I would not say those words, even if hell freezes over. Seeing my resistance, the interrogator said, “You must. If you don't say them, then I will imprison you for 10 years.” I told him that 10 years was nothing and he could even imprison me for 15 years. The interrogator said, “You have become really thick skinned,” and then went on to beat me.
For about a week they kept on hassling me, saying that I must go and speak in front of a camera, saying exactly what they wanted me to say. I continued to refuse, and, eventually, they stopped asking.
I also registered as a candidate for the Ninth Parliament. However, on the grounds of non-belief in Islam and the system of the Islamic Republic, as well as contact with – and support for – groups hostile to the system, my candidacy was rejected
Throughout the interrogations, they frequently threatened me. For instance, during one interrogation session, they brought an electric cable, saying, “We want to connect you to the electric cable.” Another one said, “This is the execution room. We want to execute you and bury your head in the ground.”
After the latest interrogation session, they left me alone for a month. Only once in that period did they take me to an interrogator, who came from Sanandaj. When he started speaking, I could tell from his Kurdish accent that he came from a village in Sonqor Koliai, where I originally came from. So I started speaking Kurdish to him and he responded in Kurdish. I told him, "You are from the same town as me. I know the area you come from. You know how our region is being oppressed. You are in the intelligence service, after all, and, naturally, know what they are doing to us in our region." I removed my blindfold. He said, “Why have you removed your blindfold?” I said, "That is how I am. I don't like to speak to you like that. Show some honour. You are an interrogator. You could write a letter and ask them to take me out of solitary confinement." He replied, “No. You did not cooperate with us. I will note in your file that you did not cooperate with us.” I said, "What do you call cooperation?" Then he started questioning me and mentioned names of several individuals, saying, “Do you know them? Which one of them writes well? Which one of them is secular? Which one of them does not believe in God? Tell me who they are in contact with? Which political parties [do they belong to]?” I responded, "I swear to God that they don't tell me such things, because I am a Shi'ite. They are mainly Sunnis and do not trust me."
Finally, he said that the only thing he could do for me was to arrange for me to phone my family. A few days later, three agents came into my cell. They said, “You can come out and call your family.” On that day, they allowed me to speak for one hour with my family. Finally, I became tired, myself, and asked them to return me to my cell.
In the first two months of my detention I was interrogated every day, except on Fridays. Most interrogation sessions began at 9 a.m. and ended around 10 p.m. For meals, I was either taken to my cell for half an hour or given food in the interrogation room. In some sessions there was one interrogator and, in others, some five of them interrogated me all at the same time.
In the course of the interrogations, I frequently asked for a lawyer, but, unfortunately, they rejected my requests. They would tell me, “You have seen too many films. Such things happen in films.”
It was some two-and-a-half months into my detention, and I was sitting in my cell. One of the slots in my cell door was open. Through it I saw that they were taking one of the detainees to the lavatory. My cell was in the middle of the corridor and the lavatory at the end of it. If I am not wrong, the prisoner was Farhad Vakili. I got up when I heard the guards and looked through the slot. One of the guards saw me and came and shut the slot. Sometime later, I asked them to take me to the lavatory. When I left the cell, I noticed a piece of paper attached to its door, on which was written, “Do not open until further notice.” I used the first opportunity to take my hand out of the slot and remove it.
The soldier who had shut the slot and pinned the notice on it was a bearded Basiji youth. When he noticed that it was missing, he said, “What did you do with that piece of paper? Did you remove it?” Then he wrote a report and gave it to the guard. A few minutes later, a few agents entered the cell. They searched the cell and then kicked me all the way to the yard upstairs. The yard was monitored by a CCTV camera, and there were a few plastic balls lying in the corner. It was a cold day, and it was snowing. First, I went to the corner where the camera had been installed and stayed there for a little while. After a few minutes, they came and said, “Don't sit there. Go and lie on the snow.” So, I had no choice but to do so until I fell asleep. I don't know how long I had been asleep when they took me back to my cell. The next day I protested their behaviour. I told every guard who came into the cell, and the guards reported it. On that day, someone from the prison personnel came to see me and asked me to tell him what had happened. Once I told him, he looked at me incredulously and said, ‘‘Well, you should not have done that. Do you think we are handing out sweets and candy here? You are being obnoxious and lying too? If you continue being obnoxious, we'll attach electricity to you ... .
To lessen the pressure of loneliness, I used to sing songs and read books in the cell. I would sing in a loud Kurdish voice, in a bid to make contact with other cells and find out who else was in detention. It worked, and I managed to make contact with a few prisoners. I remember, once, I was singing Baran Baran by Hasan Zirak when one of the prisoners heard it and started singing in Kurdish. Of course, through the song, he was giving me his details. He was singing, “'If you want to know me, I am Bakhtiar Komeleh, from Marivan.” Through singing he gave me all his details: his age, that he has a child, that he is a peshmerga and works with PJAK.
It was late February when, after almost 70 days, they took me and Mohammad Saleh Ayuman, handcuffed, to the Revolutionary Court on Mo'allem Avenue. Two plainclothes officials accompanied us to court, one of whom was armed. On the way to the court, they left us free to talk to each other. When we arrived at the Revolution Court, they took us inside from the back door. There was tight security in the compound, and, as we entered, the officers at the door took away the weapons of the intelligence agent who was accompanying us.
The judge presiding over the court was a mullah named Musavi. When we entered, he said, rudely, “Why did you not cooperate?” I responded, "What do you mean by cooperation? What has it to do with you? You are a judge and must adjudicate." On hearing these words, the judge said, “Your file is not complete. You have to go back until they send your paperwork from Evin.” And without further ado, they took me back to prison. I was taken back to court 10 days later at 9 a.m. This time, Judge Musavi did not question me. He said, “You must put up a surety of 150 million [tomans] to be released. I protested, saying the amount was too high. But he replied, “That's it, come hell or high water.” Finally, without telling me what I had been charged with, he gave me a piece of paper, telling me to sign it. After I signed it, they gave me a phone card, saying, “Contact your family, and tell them to deliver the surety to Judge Musavi in the Revolutionary Court.
When we went back to prison, they said to me, “Pick up your things; you are being transferred to another cell.” On that day, they transferred me to Cell 82, where I spent the last four days of my detention. There was another person in that cell who had been charged with land speculation. That person did not talk to me, because I had a beard and he assumed I was an intelligence agent who had been put in his cell to get him to talk.
Finally, I was released, after submitting a 150-million-toman surety at 1 p.m. in late February. Upon leaving prison, I gave my cell phone to the prison guard at the door and asked him to charge it. Then I called my brother and said, "I am waiting outside Evin Prison. Come and pick me up." After an hour, my family arrived.
Throughout my time in detention, they allowed me to telephone my family four times, but I was never permitted to meet with them. Throughout the interrogations, I was not allowed to have fresh air breaks. It was only toward the end of my detention that I was allowed to have fresh air breaks. The yard was a cell in which they had placed a few plants and flower pots. Its ceiling was made of iron bars on which they had placed glass, through which we could see the sky. They put a blindfold on me every time I was taken to the yard, and I could remove the blindfold upon entering it. In all the time that I spent in the yard, I never saw another prisoner. It was only in the last two days of my detention that I was taken there, with my cellmate.
The quality of the prison food was poor. But I was fed three times a day. Every week, we were permitted to take showers on Sundays and Wednesdays. Whenever my interrogation sessions fell on those two days, they would allow me to shower on those evenings. We were also allowed to go to the lavatory four times a day. And once, when I was suffering from depression, they took me to the health clinic. The doctor prescribed me a tranquilizer, and they gave me one a day. On the day I was taken to the clinic, I managed to see Farzad Kamangar and Kaboudvand from under the blindfold.
While I was in Evin, my family came to Tehran to inquire about my case. My family told me that they once came to the Evin Prison gate and the guards confirmed that I was being held there. On that day, my family gave 50,000 tomans to the guards to pass on to me. Fortunately, I received that money and bought some shampoo and cigarettes with it.
The day after my release, the court contacted me and told me to report to the general court that very same day. When I went there, they gave me a form to sign. It was related to the surety that my father had given to the court to secure my release, and it required my signature, too. After signing it, I returned with my family to my home town, where I stayed until the day of my trial. I should mention that, when I returned to Qorveh, I was once more contacted by the interrogation department of the Revolutionary Court; they asked me to report to the Revolutionary Court in order to provide some explanations. When I reported to the court, they led me to a room in which a man was seated. He only asked me, “Are you a member of the Hekmatist Communist Party?” I said, "No." He gave me a form to sign, and the whole session did not take longer that one minute.
While I was free on bail, I spoke to a few people regarding legal representation, and, finally, I chose one my friends, who had recently qualified as a lawyer, to represent me.
My first official court session was on 29 March 2009. I was with my lawyer on that day. The session was to have been held at Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court under Judge Salavati. However, that did not happen, as they referred my case to Branch 30 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court presided by Judge Khodabandehlu.
The court session began with me, my lawyer, and the judge present. The judge started by reading the charges against me, which were: spreading propaganda and conspiring against the system; demonstrating and conspiring in a bid to disrupt national security; and propaganda activities against the system of the Islamic Republic. Then he turned to me and said, “All these charges must be investigated, and you must be accountable.” I told the judge that I wanted my lawyer to speak for me, but he did not accept, and said, “You must speak yourself. The lawyer can only write the defense statement.” He then gave my file to the lawyer. What is astonishing is that neither I nor my lawyer had had access to the file before the session, and that day was the first time my lawyer could look at the file in the presence of the judge. During the session, the judge also asked a few questions concerning the time I had spent in Qorveh after my release. He said, “Why did they hold a celebration for you when you returned to Qorveh? Why did they sacrifice a sheep at your feet?” I replied, "Well, I had been released, and they had made a religious vow.
After reviewing every charge, I said to the judge, "During the detention, they harassed me a great deal. They beat me harshly and badly mistreated me. You are a judge, and you must report these things." The judge listened and said, “If you have any complaints, you can file a complaint, but I would not do so if I were you.” So, I did not file a complaint. Finally, the judge looked at me and said, “Don't think that I have the clout, but I will do my best to give you a good verdict.”
The judge's conduct toward me at that session was very good. The session lasted almost 35 minutes. After the session ended, I left the court for my home town, pending the actual court session, of which they were to inform me.
After a few days in Qorveh, I was again contacted by Qorveh's intelligence department by phone. They asked me to report to them again to give further explanations, but I ignored the request. A month later, they again telephoned our home saying that they wanted to visit and speak with me. I said no and arranged to meet with them in a park near our home.
That day, I went to the meeting place at 10 a.m. My mother, brothers, and brother-in-law accompanied me. We were sitting in the park when three plainclothes agents approached us. One of them was the Kurdish agent who had interrogated me during my detention in Evin. When he approached me, I said, "Shame on you. You are from our hometown. Why are you doing this?" My mother actually recognized him and said to him in Kurdish, “How can you feed your children with the bread that you have earned from harassing my children? Do you think that I haven't recognized you? You are Za'eri's son, and your father lives here.” His name was Hasan Za'eri.
They wanted to talk to me about the book, The Kurdish National Movement, and the demand for independence. The book was written by a French journalist and translated into Persian. I had used it in my research for the articles I had written. One of my friends had borrowed the book from me and photocopied it, and, lo and behold, they had gotten hold of that copy. Mr. Za'eri said to me, “Did you bring this book with you to Qorveh and give it to your friends?” I replied, "You have come to arrest some poor soul over a book? Even if you search the internet you will find that book. Do you think we are still in that era when you used to execute people over a book?" On hearing this, he said, “You think we can't deal with you? All of you in this town would fit into a bus.” In any case, we encountered no problems on that day. After talking with them for an hour, we returned home. No one contacted me from the intelligence office after that day.
Seven months after my release, I returned to Tehran to continue my education and complete my master's degree. Fortunately, the university officials did not mistreat me, and I was able to enroll again, after paying a fine for my absence of several terms.
It was in that period that they contacted my lawyer, asking him to report to Branch 30 of the Revolutionary Court on 27 January 2009. On that date, my lawyer reported to the court without me, and they verbally communicated to him the sentence they had given me, which was, “[He has been given] two years imprisonment and 100 lashes, but, upon investigation, we noticed that he had not been active in this period, so we want to commute his sentence.” That is what they told my lawyer on that day, who informed me of the conversation after leaving the court.
I remember, in those days, everyone was playing an active part in the 2009 presidential elections. So, I decided to become active again. But this time, covertly, since my case was still open, and they had not yet passed the final verdict.
In late February 2009, I returned to Qorveh for the Noruz vacation. And in that period, I went to Kermanshah to lobby some political activists. I spoke to them in relation to the role of the student branch of Kurdish activists during the elections, and finally we decided to support Mr. Karrubi.
On 4 May 2009, they sent me the written verdict. When I received it I noted that the date of its issue was 29 March 2009, and it was for a cash fine of two million and 100,000 tomans, which my family members paid. They took the receipt of the payment and managed to retrieve the document they had left there as surety for my release.
After the announcement of the election results, I joined the popular protests. One of those protests, and the last one I took part in, was on 4 November. The people were chanting slogans such as “Russian Embassy, the Den of Spies; Musavi, Karrubi, and the Movement will Continue; Death to Russia; Death to Khamene'i.' And the Basijis, bearing chains, were going around on their motorcycles and beating the protestors.
After the 4 November demonstrations, I returned to Qorveh and gave interviews to several Kurdish media. One of those interviews was with Tishk TV and was about the 7 December 2009 protests. In that interview, addressing the Kurdish people, I said, "The movement that has currently taken shape has pro-democracy tendencies. Kurdish students must take to the streets chanting Kurdistan-related demands and symbols and support this movement.
On 6 December 2009, I had gathered with a few friends in one of their houses. We were discussing a journal we were thinking of launching. I was driving home with a friend after the meeting, which ended at 9 p.m., when I noticed that we were being followed by a Peugeot car. I told my friends that they were following me to see if I am going to Tehran tomorrow to participate in the 7 December demonstrations.
When I arrived home that night, my brothers and their families had come to visit. We were sitting together when the door bell rang at 11 p.m. My brother's eldest son went to see who was ringing the bell. He came back within seconds and said in a trembling voice, “Uncle, two Fars people have come for you.” On hearing that, I got up and looked out through the bathroom window, which faced the front garden of the house. I saw that two plainclothes agents had entered the garden. I decided to leave the house through the backdoor. With my Kurdish trousers, I opened the backdoor and found myself face-to-face with two more agents. One of them said, “Mr Karimi. Where are you off to?” The other grabbed my wrist, telling me that I had to go with them. I said, "Let go of my wrist. Show me your warrant, and then I will go and change my clothes." Without showing me a warrant, they came into the house with me. I changed from my Kurdish trousers into ordinary ones. There were four agents all wearing plainclothes.
My parents had become frightened and were pleading with them. I said to my father, "Why are you pleading with them? Go outside and make a noise and yell that they are taking away my son and I don't know who they are." After I said that, my parents rushed out of the house and started to shout and yell. My two brothers, their respective wives and my sister also started contacting other family members on their cell phones asking them to come to our house right away. Meanwhile, one of the agents went towards my sister, twisted her arm and took her cell phone. But, in any case, we managed to resist the four agents until the other family members arrived.
Thanks to all the noise, practically the entire neighbourhood of some 200 people headed towards our house, while some 50 relatives had already arrived in our house. After an hour, four police cars arrived, but instead of dealing with our problem, they took the side of the four plainclothes agents, which led to clashes between my family members on one side and the police and four agents on the other. When the clashes erupted, my family took me to a room and locked the door. A few female relatives stood guard behind the door to keep the police from breaking it down. In the course of the clashes, my mother was thrown to the floor, and her head was badly hurt. They beat up my eight-year-old nephew and punched my sister in the ear. They also used batons to hit my brothers and other family members, while also kicking and punching them.
Finally, at 3 a.m., when they encountered the fierce resistance of my family and were unable to arrest me, they instead arrested my father, brother, uncle, and cousins, which numbered around twenty. They took them to the Police Station in Precinct 13, situated in Parvin Etesami Street. At 4 a.m., they released them from police custody after obtaining a pledge from them. Fortunately, thanks to my family's resistance, the officers were unable to arrest me.
After releasing them, they put my father and older brother inside a car,and told them, “You have to surrender Sohrab. Sohrab has spoken on television and intends to bring the movement to Kurdistan.”
When the men in the family returned home, my older brother said to me, “Sohrab, they have put guards around the house and will eventually catch you and make your life a misery. The atmosphere is tense. They give heavy sentences. You must leave here as soon as possible.” Our home was close to the Sanandaj-Hamedan Highway. My brother said, “I will head towards the Sanandaj highway and wait in the car. I will ring my wife's cell phone once and you must quickly get into the car.'
When my brother rang his wife's cell phone, I quickly ran out. The moment we left in the car, we noticed that a dark Peugeot vehicle was tailing us. On noticing that, my brother switched off the car lights and rapidly changed course taking a shortcut route and we sped away from the scene. We could no longer see that vehicle. After two hours of driving on dirt roads, we reached the town of Sanghar, where my brother dropped me off at the home of one of my mother's relatives before returning to Qorveh.
On 7 December, the intelligence agents went to our home again and took my father and brothers to the intelligence office. They were told, “You must deliver Sohrab to us.” They were so offensive to my father that he ended up spitting on one of the agents, saying, “Shame on you. I could be your father. Why are you speaking to an old man in such an offensive manner? Who says I gave a pledge? What could I have signed when I am illiterate with very weak eyesight?” And my brothers told them, “We swear to God, we have no clue where Sohrab is. He left saying he is heading for Tehran.” In any case, they detained my father and brothers at the intelligence office the whole day, before releasing them at dusk.
After that incident, I hid in the house of an acquaintance of ours, and then, after a while, I left for Tehran and stayed at a friend's house. I constantly changed my location, and no one knew my exact whereabouts. At the same time, my university thesis was due. So, one day I contacted my professor and told him everything that had happened. Thanks to my professor's guidance, I managed to complete my thesis, until one day the professor contacted me and told me to go quickly to defend my thesis. So I went quickly to defend my thesis before a committee. I did well and, after some time, returned to university and, upon settling my fees, succeeded in obtaining my degree.
After a while, I decided to come out of hiding. And so, in the summer of 2011, I returned to Qorveh. At home, I asked my family to tell me what had happened while I was away. I discovered that they had frequently taken my sister and brothers from their work place to the Vigilance Office, where they were subjected to threats. I wrote a letter to the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan about the way they had treated my family and me on 7 December 2009.
In early fall of 2011, I began working with Sarasht NGO, which is a literary association. I was teaching philosophy and critical thinking skills. Around the same time, candidates for the Ninth Parliament had started their election campaigns. I also registered as a candidate for the Ninth Parliament. However, based on Note 1, Article 35, of the Election Law regulations, on the grounds of non-belief in Islam and the system of the Islamic Republic, as well as contact with – and support for – groups hostile to the system, my candidacy was rejected, in accordance with Clause 3, Article 30; and Clause 1, Article 28
I protested at my disqualification. To that end, I went to Sanandaj several times, where I met with the Guardian Council representative for Sanandaj. Unfortunately, however, it was to no avail. Finally, on 11 February 2012, I took my complaint to the governor of Qorveh, Mr. Soltani. He told me very politely, “Mr Karimi, you have nieces and nephews. If you care for them, do not do anything that may jeopardize their safety. Stop these activities. This time you were disqualified, but you have a chance to prove yourself to us.” I replied, "If you had a shred of honour, you would not have threatened my family. By [Imam] Ali, in whom you believe and who always stood for justice, your threats and actions are inhuman. If you don't write your letter of resignation here and now, you have no honour whatsoever." After uttering those words, I left his office and headed home.
When I arrived home that day, I noticed that my sister-in-law looked flustered and was unwell. She said, “Intelligence rang, saying that Sohrab must report to the intelligence office.” I phoned the intelligence office and said, "I am Sohrab's brother. Did you phone me? He has gone to Tehran." They responded, “Yes. He must come here, or else we will come and arrest him.”' A few minutes after I had ended the conversation and put the phone down, they used a personal phone to contact me. I told them, "Yes. They just rang me from home and said that you had called me. I am in Tehran and am filing a complaint. Don't worry. I will come to you straight away." My words convinced them. On that very day, I gathered a few belongings and went with a suitcase first to Tehran and then to Orumiyeh. Finally, on 14 February 2012, I legally entered Turkey and reported to the UNHCR.
After I had left the country, in contact with family members, I found out that they had been contacted by the intelligence office several times to enquire about my whereabouts. And once they had taken my sister and brothers, separately, to the intelligence office. They were threatened and told, “We know where Sohrab is. He is in Turkey. Tell him to stop working against us.” The intelligence agents even knew of the financial help my sister had been sending me to Turkey. They told her, “We know that you send Sohrab money every month.”'