Criminalization of Civil Rights Activism in the Iranian Kurdistan : A Victim’s Account
My name is Ahmad Bab. I was born in 1971-72 in [the town of] Marivan. I was a student at the Tarbiat Moallem Institute (for “Teacher Training”) for a year, but left, due to [student] selection issues. I then started working at a cartography company. I come from a family of ten children: seven sisters and three brothers. One of my sisters teaches at Marivan’s Payam-e-Noor University, another is a teacher, another a high school teacher, and one is a student. One of my brothers spent three years in jail. My father owns a store in the bazaar and is a businessman. He was familiar with politics and had been imprisoned in 1971 and 1972, under the previous regime. His views were closer to those of Komala because the latter had more social influence in the south of Kurdistan, Marivan, Sanandaj, and Kamiaran than the Democrat Party and other [political] parties. But he never became a member of Komala or a Peshmerga. There were two people in our family who were members of Komala, including my uncle, who was killed in skirmishes with Islamic Republic agents. My father was arrested about eleven times in the Islamic Republic but was released every time, due to lack of evidence, after being detained anywhere between two days and one month. The last time he was arrested was in 1983, where he was detained by the Marivan Information Administration for 2 days.
I was against armed struggle and was involved in civil society activities
My involvement in politics is rooted in my family. We would discuss the Islamic Republic regime, lack of freedom, wages, etc., at home and with our family; some of our youth were curious and would get involved in political issues. I, however, was against armed struggle and was involved in civil society activities. There are women’s unions, labor unions, and other people-based [grass roots] institutions in Kurdistan, such as Marivan’s Green Society for the Protection of the Environment, and the Addicts Society; assistance is needed in order to organize these groups. I believed that our civil activities had to be based on the people’s wishes, that we had to talk about freedom and women’s issues [such as] Hijab, and forced marriages, with emphasis on freedom, that we had to protect the country’s environment. For instance, on Fridays, when people would go spend time in the mountains, we would distribute plastic bags and ask everyone to pick up the trash and put them in trash cans. Later, I was active in street demonstrations in Marivan.
I was arrested four times by the Islamic Republic forces: in 2003, 2005, 2008 and, finally, on August 27, 2009.
First Arrest Related to the Change of Rafsanjani Square's name
As I mentioned, I was active in a number of organizations in Marivan. The first popular movement that was organized by these NGO’s in Marivan was for the purpose of changing the name of Hashemi Rafsanjani Square.
With the help of the head of the Marivan City Council, we were able to change the name to Noruz Square, which angered the Islamic Republic authorities
In fact, with the help of Mr. Sa’id Sa’idi, the head of the Marivan City Council, we were able to change the name to Noruz Square, which angered the Islamic Republic authorities.
Toward the end of winter 2003, agents came to our home at 5:00 a.m. and arrested me. I spent 29 days in a one-by-two-meter solitary confinement cell at the Information Administration, also known as the Marivan Cells. I was then transferred to the Central Prison, where I spent 40 days. I did not have visitations during the first 29 days, until I was taken to the general prison. In Kurdistan, you’re not allowed to retain counsel, so long as you are held by the Information Administration. But when you’re taken to Central Prison, they say you can retain a lawyer. I did not, because I hadn’t done anything that required me hiring a lawyer.
During interrogations, they would ask questions such as, “What do you talk about in your meetings and get togethers? Who supports you? Who gives you money? Who organizes you?” They attributed these things to opposition groups or to countries like the United States and Britain and were very sensitive about them and were looking for the real roots of these organizations and civil activities. Torture was carried out with blindfolds on, slapping, and insults. They would tie us up to a pole in the yard early in the morning in five or six below zero in Celsius (or 21-23 degrees Fahrenheit). At times, an individual would come and tell us things like, “You’re a good kid, a revolutionary. The Revolution belongs to you, the country belongs to you, don’t give it away to foreigners. Kurdistan resisted for eight years during the Iran-Iraq war.” Then another one would come and slap us in the face, hurling insults, and being nasty toward our families, wives, and mothers.
They would ask "What do you talk about in your meetings and get togethers? Who supports you? Who gives you money? Who organizes you?”... They accused us of participation in popular movements against the Islamic Republic, or civil activities in NGO’s.
The charges were that we had participated in popular movements against the Islamic Republic, or that we were conducting civil activities in NGO’s.
After a few days at the Information Administration, they took me to the Prosecutor’s Office and read me the charges, which were: cooperation with anti-revolutionary groups, disrupting public order, and having a satellite dish at my residence. The case was sent to the Revolutionary Court.
After two trial sessions, I was cleared of the charges. The judge was Mr. Heidarizadeh. The charge they were able to prove was having the satellite dish. I was released by paying a 40,000 Tuman penalty and a pledge not to do it again.
Second Arrest Related to 2005 Popular Protests Against State Violence
(Kamal Asfarm [known as Shwaneh Qaderi] was a construction worker and political activist in Kurdistan who was killed by the Police Force on July 9, 2005.) After Shwaneh Qaderi was killed in 2005, Komala, The Democratic Party of Iranian Kordestan, and other non-party organizations called for a widespread strike, which took place in Marivan, Sanandaj, Kamiaran, Saqez, and Bukan. We encouraged everyone to strike. One day, I received a call from the Information Administration, summoning me to go there, which I did and was promptly arrested. I spent eleven days in solitary confinement there. Every night, the interrogator would slap and insult me. They wanted me to cooperate and tell them who was behind these activities. On the morning of the twelfth day, they blindfolded me, put me in a car, and let me out on some street, telling me to wait a few minutes after they were gone before taking my blindfold off. They had also arrested a few other people, who had been detained for between five days and one month and were released, as well.
Regarding the killing of Shwaneh Qaderi, they said, “It wasn’t us. This was a scenario prepared by the anti-revolutionaries. It was a conspiracy to start protests, demonstrations, and unrest. The Islamic Republic has laws.”
Third Arrest and Intensifed Torture Related to "Soft Political Activities"
Nothing particular was going on in Marivan in 2007-2008, but there were daily arrests. I was arrested at 6:00 a.m. on February 12, 2008, at my home. The agents turned my house upside down but couldn’t find anything, only fifty books in Kurdish and Farsi, as well as an old newspaper archive containing dailies such as Ayandegan and Hamshahri, which they took away.
Four of my friends were arrested simultaneously at their own homes.
I spent one day in Marivan in a solitary cell and was then transferred to the Information Administration in [the city of] Sanandaj, where I spent one month. I was taken to Marivan Central Prison on March 14. In Sanadaj they told me: “You must be somebody [important] to have been arrested so many times.”
During interrogations they would say, “You cooperate with anti-revolutionary groups. (Kurdish parties have several specific dates where they give speeches and distribute fliers promoting their cause, all of which are in the months of January and February. For instance, January 22 is the The Democratic Party of Iranian Kordestan’s occasion, and February 15, the Komala’s.) You cooperate with these people and other people abroad.”
The torture I endured in 2008 was more severe than the one in 2005. They would put me on and tie me to a bed and would hit the bottom of my feet with electric cables. They would hang me from my feet, handcuffed, and would keep me like that; I felt like my eyes were going to pop out. I would pass out after half-an-hour or an hour. When they brought me down, they would tell me to get on all fours and imitate a donkey. Once, I received 30 or 32 lashes by electric cables; the pain was tremendous, and my feet would get all black. Some nights, they would knock on the door at 2:00 or 4:00 a.m. while I was sleeping, and would tell me to get up and would take me for interrogations. Two or three interrogators would show up, one of whom would say, “Kill him.” “The other would say “Don’t kill him,” and another one would say “He’s a good kid.” This was their psychological war on me.
I was deprived of my right to an attorney this entire time. When I was transferred to Marivan Central Prison, my family was informed by the court and came to visit me.
One day, someone came to my cell and said he was the court representative and needed my fingerprint. He put my finger on an ink stamp, while I was blindfolded, and then on a piece of paper, on which I have no idea what was written.
In court, they told me the charges against me were, “espionage, cooperating with Kurdistan’s political parties, organizing to create insecurity in the Islamic Republic, conducting “soft” political activities to overthrow the Islamic Republic, disrupting public order, and organizing and calling for protests.”
In those 40 days I spent at Marivan Central Prison, my father, my mother, and other friends and relatives would go to the court and tell them that their son was innocent. I was finally taken to court and released on bail for 50 million Tumans. They gave us a court summons for [a session in] September 2008. [The procedure is that] when they release you on bail, they set a date for investigation; then the file is completed at the Prosecutor’s Office, and cases that are deemed to be political are sent to the Revolutionary Court.
First Trial: Not Guilty
“We brought you here so that, if you turn out to be guilty, it would reduce your guilt; and if you’re not, well, then you will enjoy more of God's mercy
At the Revolutionary Court, the judge said, “The Information Administration has lodged a complaint against you,” and he proceeded to read the charges. I said, “This is a [made-up] scenario and I do not accept any of it. I live my own life and have nothing to do with these things.”
I was acquitted. Regarding the time I spent in jail, innocent, they would say, “We brought you here so that, if you turn out to be guilty, it would reduce your guilt; and if you’re not, well, then you will enjoy more of God's mercy.
You have to make this an educational process, a university, if you will. You learned a lot here. You have to be loyal to the regime. We arrested you so that you would not be caught up in the anti-revolutionary cesspool. If we hadn’t, you might have gone astray. This was a divine blessing.”
Fourth Arrest Related to 2009 Elections and Unbearable Torture
For the 2009 [presidential] elections, we held meetings and discussions to assess what we should do, for whom we should vote, believing that Ahmadinejad had to go, and a reform-minded person should be elected, so that we could have a free environment in which we could conduct civil activities. I believed [and argued] that the Islamic Republic, under the absolute rule of the Religious Expert (“Velayat-e-Faqih”) cannot be changed [and reformed] and that we should fight the Islamic Republic through raising people’s political awareness.
For the 2009 [presidential] elections, we held meetings and discussions to assess what we should do, for whom we should vote, believing that Ahmadinejad had to go, and a reform-minded person should be elected
On August 27, 2009, at 8:00 p.m., I had just gotten home from work, and we were about to have tea with two of my friends when the doorbell rang. I was able to see one of the individuals at the door, a revolutionary guard. I flushed my cell phone’s SIM card down the toilet so that they wouldn’t have access to a bunch of innocent people’s phone numbers. The agents climbed up the wall. Some had masks on, and only their eyes could be seen. Others were wearing plainclothes. As soon as I slightly opened the door, they punched their way in. The entire house was surrounded. My friends and I were arrested. I was blindfolded and was taken to Marivan Information Administration.
They Pulled My Teeth Out
This time, I spent 195 days in jail. I was interrogated and tortured until morning on the very night I was arrested. “You have to cooperate with us. You have to identify the people who cooperate with Komala in Marivan. You people are cooperating with them,” they said. “My political beliefs differ from theirs. I’m not like that. I’m a civil society activist, and I work with women’s groups, drug addiction groups, and literary societies and have nothing to do with that party. What kind of proof do you have -- what evidence -- to arrest and bring me here?” I retorted. That night, they pulled out three of my front teeth. They would loosen them up with pliers and then pull them out. When they pulled out the third one, I passed out. When I regained consciousness, in the cell, my entire body was covered in blood. My gums and my hands were swollen. I couldn’t eat or drink anything.
I was arrested on Thursday. On Saturday, around 10:00 or 11;00 a.m., they conducted a short interrogation and then took me to the revolutionary court in those same bloodied clothes and in that same condition. They put me in a car; another car followed us. Courts are very busy in Iran on Saturday. They took me to the second floor, where the revolutionary court was located, parading me in front of everyone.
The judge didn’t bother to ask me why I was there, why my clothes were bloody and my eyes black and blue. He just asked my name and told me to put my fingerprint on a piece of paper. I couldn’t talk at all, couldn’t ask what that piece of paper was
The judge didn’t bother to ask me why I was there, why my clothes were bloody and my eyes black and blue. He just asked my name and told me to put my fingerprint on a piece of paper. I couldn’t talk at all, couldn’t ask what that piece of paper was.
They Broke My Ribs And Threatened Me With Rape
Then I was taken back to solitary in the Information Administration, where the daily torture sessions were resumed. I won’t bother talking about the small torture. One day they broke my ribs; I was blindfolded and they were kicking and punching me and banging my head against the wall. I was bleeding profusely. On the 27th day of the arrest, they took me outside. I had blindfolds on, and they kept me standing for 24 hours. Then the interrogator told me to lift the blindfold off one eye. He showed me a weapon and said, “Which would you like me to cut off, your finger or your toe?” He would throw pliers at me. The blindfold was back on, and the pliers kept hitting my fingers, injuring them. Then they brought a person over and said, “This soldier has not gone on leave for forty days. If you don’t cooperate, we will tell him to rape you, just like we did in Kahrizak.”
One time they said, “We will take you to the street and shoot you from behind and say that you wanted to escape.” Another time, they brought a hand-drawn map, showing all of the town’s military and security centers. They said, “This is your doing. You drew this for the American and British intelligence services. You’re cooperating with them.” I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They were just making up stories.
I was tortured for 33 days in summer heat. I sweat profusely, but they wouldn’t give me water when they brought food. I was taken to the bathroom three times in a 24-hour period and could drink there. I hadn’t taken a shower that entire time.
On the 34th day, I was taken to Sanandaj Information Administration to be turned over to them. They said that I had a skin disease and that they wouldn’t take me until I was cured. I was taken to the Central Prison quarantine. A doctor saw me and prescribed a cream. I was able to take a shower after 37 days. There was a soldier standing guard outside the shower. After I dried myself off, he gave me the cream and told me to put it on five minutes after I had dried off. That was the first and last time I was able to use that cream in the entire time I was detained. Fifteen days later, I was taken to Sanandaj Information Administration and put in solitary confinement. Conditions were better in Sanandaj than in Marivan, The cell was a bit bigger and had a toilet.
Interrogation, Torture and Mock Execution in Sanandaj Prison
In Sanandaj, they told me they would interrogate me. Then the torture started again: psychological torture, insults to our family and religious beliefs, and threats. They said I had to confess on television and say that I was a spy and had cooperated with [political] parties. Then they would make sexual threats. They wanted to destroy my political and family prestige. I received a total of 320 lashes on the bottom of my feet during 8 separate sessions. I would lose consciousness.
They said I had to confess on television and say that I was a spy and had cooperated with [political] parties... I received a total of 320 lashes on the bottom of my feet during 8 separate sessions
They would first lay me down on a bed, blindfolded, then tie my hands to the edge of the bed and my feet to the bottom. Then they would start. After ten lashes, they would bring up a subject and ask me to explain. At times I would be so hurt that I would ask them to allow me to sit and explain, at which point they would untie my hands and feet and start questioning me. After ten minutes, I would tell them that I didn’t know anything, which would then cause them to tie me to the bed and resume the flogging. Flogging sessions would last about an hour.
At the end of the sessions, they would pour cold water on my feet and take me back to my cell through the hallway. Once I asked the person accompanying me why they did that. “So that your feet don’t get too bruised and you don’t have a stroke. We’re not taking pity on you, we’re just looking out for ourselves,” he replied.
I remember the first time I was flogged, one of the people there told the other, “Haji, that letter from the court, how many is it?” “Eighty,” Haji replied. “Let’s do fifty, Ahmad is a good kid,” the first man said. The first time, I was conscious until the 27th lash, then I passed out. The last session, someone said: “Ahmad, sign this paper. I’m the court’s representative. We gave you 320 lashings and you still haven’t confessed yet.” These lashings were meant to make me confess, and they said it was coming from the court.
Hanging from the ceiling and putting cigarettes out on the body was another method of torture. Every ten days, they would take the blindfold off and take me outside in the yard. I felt like I would never leave there. I didn’t want to die like that. If you want to survive in jail, you have to come up with a philosophy. [Mine was] a strong spirit, courage, resistance, belief in my goals and ideals, belief in freedom, and belief in the fact that these people are criminals and must go.
someone said: “Ahmad, sign this paper. I’m the court’s representative. We gave you 320 lashings and you still haven’t confessed yet.”
I spent four months and twenty days in solitary. When I would ask for a lawyer, they would say, “We are the judge and the jury. Haven’t you heard of the Ministry of Information? You’ll be here for as long as we want you to be, unless you cooperate.”
One day they said, “You’ll be executed today.” They took me to the lower level, gave me a piece of paper and told me to write my will. I wrote to my father, “I know I’ve caused you a great deal of trouble. Please look out for the kids.” When I handed it to the interrogator, he asked, “Why haven’t you asked us to forgive you?” “I haven’t done anything to ask forgiveness for,” I replied. “What’s your last wish?” “I want you to shave my head, and I want to be allowed to shave my face.” They took me to take a shower. I saw Mokhtar Hakimi, who was from Sanandaj and had been arrested and charged with being a Salafi.
When I would ask for a lawyer, they would say, “We are the judge and the jury. Haven’t you heard of the Ministry of Information?
They took me to the execution room in the afternoon. They told me to get on a chair and to raise my arms. They put the rope around my neck and tied my hands from behind. Then they said, “Now is your chance to cooperate with us.” They were interrogating me in the gallows. Death is no joke, and you have to make choices. I had made my choice. I was sweating, and my legs were numb. I said, “I want to see my child.” “If you cooperate with us, you’ll see him tomorrow.” “I’m innocent, I will not cooperate.” Someone opened the door and said, “Ahmad Bab is a good kid. Don’t execute him.”
Sent Back to Marivan Prison
They brought me down, untied my arms and legs, and told me to take my blindfold off. I was taken back to the cell. Then they asked if I wanted to see my child. They dialed my number, and I talked to my mother. They had told me to say that I was doing well, that they had done me a favor and were allowing me to see my child. “Please come for visitation on Sunday,” I said. On the day of visitation they arrested my wife who was nine months pregnant. “We’ve arrested your wife and kid, and they will stay here until you confess. Your child will be born in jail,” they said. The psychological torture was thus increased a hundredfold. “Do what you want,” I said. They had released my wife. After five months and five days, they said, “You’re no good here. We’re taking you to Tehran. They took the blindfold off, and we went to Marivan in a car with three other individuals. When I saw myself in the mirror in the car, I got scared. I looked awful. I had lost 33 kilograms. They blindfolded me before we got to Marivan and took me to the Information Administration. After seven days, I was turned over to Marivan Central Prison. Finally, after 195 days, I got access to a lawyer. I met my attorney, Khalil Bahramian, in the prison yard and briefly told him what had happened.
They took me to the Prosecutor’s office and divided the case into two parts: One for the Marivan Revolutionary Court, Branch One, and the other for the Marivan General Criminal Court, Branch 101.
Twenty Minute Long Trial at the Marivan's Islamic Revolutionary Court
The trial at the Revolutionary Court was presided by Judge Lotfi, who was a young man of about thirty. I was able to talk to my attorney for half an hour prior to trial.
In court, I declared that I had been tortured, that my teeth had been pulled out, my ribs broken, and that I had been insulted. I had received 320 lashes, that there were two holes on the bottom of my feet and that I couldn’t walk. “All this time, they haven’t shown me any evidence that would justify the renewal of my detention. Isn’t it the court that orders an individual to be detained at the Information Administration?” I asked. “We sent you a paper, and you put your fingerprint on it,” the judge said. The trial took twenty minutes, and I was returned to jail. I was in very bad physical condition. I was sick; I was bleeding; and I couldn’t eat. I spent forty days in the Central Prison.
The General Court: Accused of Illegally Leaving the Country
The General Court session regarding illegal exit from the border was presided by Judge Sadeqi. During the interrogations, I had been asked how many times I had gone to Iraq and I had answered “Three times.” But my passport had only been stamped twice. Therefore, the interrogators had declared that, “Mr. Ahmad Bab has confessed to having travelled three times to Iraqi Kurdistan, whereas his passport only shows two trips.” Illegal exit was a charge that was adjudicated in the General Court. On January 27, 2010, I was sentenced by that court to pay a monetary penalty of 40,000 Tumans.
Marivan Information Administration appealed the decision, stating that “Mr. Ahmad Bab has travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan for the purpose of espionage and, in order to cooperate with anti-revolutionary groups. The charge against him is acting against national security, and he must receive the harshest possible sentence.” The Appeals Court, Branch 4, presided by Judge Shafi’i, then modified the sentence from 40,000 Tumans monetary penalty to four months imprisonment.
Ultimately, I was released by posting a 70 million Tuman property deed, and the final trial date at the Revolutionary Court was set for August 21, 2010. I had just been released when they executed Farzad Kamangar. Mr. Khalil Bahramian was his attorney, as well. When I heard the news, I said to myself that I had to do something. Otherwise they will arrest and kill me. The situation was just awful. My attorney, Mr. Bahramian, who had been able to see parts of the file, told me that the Information Administration was the plaintiff and that the charges against me were very serious, that I might even be charged with Moharebeh (“waging war with God”). After 195 days of interrogations, my file was so thick that the court secretary told me I needed a wheelbarrow to carry it.
I fled the country before the final trial date and went to Iraqi Kurdistan. I went to the United Nations, and a short while later I was authorized to enter Germany.
I fled the country before the final trial date and went to Iraqi Kurdistan. I went to the United Nations, and a short while later I was authorized to enter Germany.
On the day of the trial, my attorney went to court alone. Ultimately, on September 2, 2010, my attorney was served with the court’s sentence in my case: 14 years imprisonment.
The first psychological blow I received was to my family. When the armed men came to arrest me, my son Karo was 6 years old. He began to stutter and passed out. He was hospitalized for 15 days. He still stutters, and they have not been able to treat him yet, even in Germany. One day, he said: “Dad, if I could speak without stuttering, I could learn German really well. But I can’t talk well, and I’m ashamed to talk to my classmates.” The day my wife came to visit me in Central Prison, my son Jiar was three months old, and my wife had aged tremendously.