Flogged At 19 For Walking With a Girl, Arrested And Tortured At 27 For Student Activism
My name is Siavash Safavi. I was born on September 11, 1982, in Tehran. We moved from Tehran to [the city of ] Sari when I was a child. We lived there for about fifteen years and then moved to [the city of] Amol. I obtained my high school diploma [with a concentration] in accounting and, in 2000, I started studying for my associate degree in accounting at Mahmudabad University’s Technical and Professional Institute.
The judge asked us, “What were you doing?” We said, “Nothing, we were just walking on the beach and had no [physical] contact with each other”
I was arrested during the month of Ramadan (November) 2001 on the beach in Mahmudabad with two younger girls. I was a nineteen-year-old university student.
The three of us and another male friend had gone to the beach in Mahmudabad. My male friend had left us to make a call to his family who was supposed to join us, when a Peykan (Iranian made car) with two occupants, bearing the emblem of the Revolutionary Guards, approached us. An old man wearing a turtleneck and dress pants got out and asked me, “How are you related to these girls?” Even though I was not particularly acquainted with those girls, I lied and said, “They’re my cousins. If you wait a moment, our families will be here any second.” Not paying any attention to what I had said, the old man said, “Get in the car, or I’ll kick you in.” They then took all three of us to the police station, located at the Mahmudabad intersection near the beach, without handcuffing us.
My friend had just gotten back to the beach with his family and had witnessed our arrest. They followed us to the station and got in touch with my father [to let him know what had happened] so he could come and get us out.
Once we arrived at the police station, they separated us. They took me to a separate detention cell where there was no one else around. It was a four-by-five-meter room, with a carpeted floor and about eight blankets in one of the corners. When I walked in, my feet got wet up to my ankles: the carpet was wet, due to the station’s proximity to the beach. In any event, I got to the blankets and sat on them until the next morning. At night, they gave me some bread and halva [a type of sweet] and nothing else.
When my father had gotten there, he had told them that the girls and I were not related, thus contradicting me. Also, that same evening, the father of one of the girls, who did not want his daughter to spend the night at the station,
“Sir, what does anti-Shari’a mean?” “It could mean any [unlawful conduct] ranging from walking on the street to going into a house. Anything other than adultery can be anti-Shari’a”
came over and obtained a report from the authorities there, took it to the judge’s home to obtain his signature for her release, which he did. But we spent the night there in detention anyway.
The next day, before being taken to court, my father arrived with a person with connections at the police station to pull some strings and have me released. He was told that the arrest report had already been sent to the judge, that the latter had signed it, and that they could not release me while [I was] in court proceedings.
They took me and the girls to Babolsar General Court, separately. I was not handcuffed, but the girls were handcuffed together, and a female police officer who was angry at them accompanied them.
We were taken before the judge, without the benefit of legal representation. The judge asked us, “What were you doing?” We said, “Nothing, we were just walking on the beach and had no [physical] contact with each other.” “No, they have reported that you were engaged in unlawful [anti-Shari’a] conduct,” he stated. We didn’t know what was going on and what we were supposed to say. That’s why I asked him, “Sir, what does anti-Shari’a mean?” He explained: “It could mean any [unlawful conduct] ranging from walking on the street to going into a house. Anything other than adultery can be anti-Shari’a.” The session lasted less than ten minutes, and we then waited outside until a judgment [could be] issued.
In the hallway, my father asked the soldier who had accompanied us, “What kind of a person is this judge?” The soldier made a gesture of counting money with his hand and said, “He’s a good judge.”
My father asked the soldier “What kind of a person is this judge?” The soldier made a gesture of counting money with his hand and said, “He’s a good judge”
A short while later, the judge called us back in and read the decision: 80 lashes for having engaged in unlawful [anti-Shari’a] conduct. He then gave the decision to the soldier, who was to accompany us to the Judgment Implementation Section for the sentence to be carried out.
When we left the courtroom, my father took the decision from the soldier, went back inside, and came out a few minutes later. The sentence had been reduced to 30 lashes.
We were then taken into a car to be taken to the Babolsar Judgment Implementation Section, which was a hundred feet away from the police station.
Once we went inside, the female officer accompanying the girls said to the colonel there, “I want to whip these two girls myself, because I had a lot of work today, and they wasted my time and made me angry.” The colonel replied, “That’s all the more reason for you not to whip them. We don’t flog people for our enjoyment or to get our frustrations out; we do it because we have a duty to carry out. It’s best that you don’t do it. There is another lady here who will carry out the sentence.” They then took those two girls, 15- and 18-years-old, respectively, behind a short wall and made me lie down on a stone platform in the middle of the administrative sector of the Judgment Implementation Section.
They first pulled my shirt up and then pulled my pants down under my underwear. Then they proceeded to give me 30 lashes from my shoulders to just above my knees. They used a whip made of woven leather. They did not raise their hands too high, if I’m not mistaken, and I think they each had a copy of the Koran under their arms. Although the lashes came down very fast, it still hurt. Only a few minor injuries were caused on my back, though, and I was released after the sentence was carried out.
When they were carrying out the sentence, I felt humiliated. But when I left that place, I felt proud. I must note that this episode made me fearful of initiating any relationship.
After leaving the Judgment Implementation Section, I realized there was another person being flogged outside, in public, for having consumed alcohol.
My father recounted what had happened that changed the sentence: “When I went in, the judge was by himself. I told him ‘Your Honor, these kids are young. If you go easy on them, I assure you it won’t happen again. The whole family will come here later and we’ll make it up to you for bothering you.’ He said, ‘Why later? Why with the family?’ and proceeded to open his drawer, and I put a 50,000 Tuman bill in it. He took the order and reduced the number of lashes to 30.”
I returned to college and continued my studies without a problem. After a while, however, because of the monotonous nature of accounting and the hatred I had developed for it, I dropped out of school. I then completed two years of studies in the field of social sciences at the pre-college level and was able to enroll at the Bachelor’s Degree program in English Literature at Mazandaran University’s main campus in Babolsar in September 2006.
When I entered the university, [President] Ahmadinejad had been in office for a year, and the university Islamic Associations had been shut down. In the fall of 2007, four other friends and I -- who were also interested in political activities -- were able to re-open the Islamic Association. I was the public information officer who, in the absence of the head of the Association, was in charge of the decision makings.
Our first act was to oppose the installation of cameras on the university campus, which was strongly welcomed by the students. We were able to gather hundreds of signatures and turn them over to the university president. As a result, we were summoned to the disciplinary committee for the first time and were given a verbal warning, just to frighten us.
In 2008, two female students died of asphyxiation caused by a gas leak in the girls’ dormitory. Something similar had happened in the past, but the authorities had not addressed the issue. We therefore organized an open forum that was attended by hundreds of students and a number of lecturers. I was summoned to the disciplinary committee again and, this time, the verbal warning went into my record.
The third time I was summoned to the disciplinary committee, I was given a “written warning to be recorded in my academic record.” We had organized a meeting to protest the actions of a university official who made indecent proposals to female students, and we had demanded his ouster.
Two days after the presidential elections of 2009, our association’s political secretary, Mr. Alireza Kiani, was kidnapped in Babol. On June 15, we distributed his pictures at the university and asked the students to join us. Around a thousand students showed up for the demonstrations. We marched peacefully on the university campus, chanting slogans and demanding that the university president, who was a member of the Province Security Council, be responsive and follow up on the status of one of his own students. Around noon the next day, June 16, 2009, the number of students present at the meeting increased to about three thousand. It was the end of the semester exam period, so we all marched and entered the exam hall and started chanting the slogans: “Death to the Dictator,” “The University is not a military barracks,” “Death to the Taliban, whether in Kabul or Tehran,” and [the demonstration] prevented the exams from taking place.
Around 2:00 p.m., we noticed a large number of plainclothes people who had covered their faces with keffiehs, getting out of 4-by-4 trucks in front of the university, holding bats, sticks, and daggers. A short while later, they were joined by police cars, Revolutionary Guards cars, and some bikers; and by 5:00 p.m. they had completely surrounded that large campus. The university officials had disappeared, and there was only the campus security who had closed all the doors and were not letting those people come in.
During this time, we were trying to get the students out, on university buses, without creating any problems. When the buses returned, however, the windows were broken. Apparently, they had attacked the buses at University Junction.
The campus was still surrounded, and it was getting dark. We were close to four hundred students still on campus, and we had no way out. We decided to talk to the chief of police and the head of state security. We told them we would surrender, provided the police and Basij forces stepped back to allow the girls to go to their dorms across the campus without any problems.
The Basij forces then stepped back, and we quickly sent the girls out to the dorms. The agents then told the rest of us, around two hundred boys, to “get on the buses. We’ll take you to your dorms.” But we knew they wanted to arrest us. That’s why I called my father before getting on the bus and told him, “They’re taking us. They’re saying they’re going to take us to our dorms, but the guy is a colonel in the detective forces, and it’s clear that they’re taking us to detention. Just don’t worry about me.”
The buses went on their way, with two or three agents on each bus. When we got to University Junction, they stopped because of the large number of Basijis who had blocked the road. A group of Basijis got on the bus, insulting everyone, and took three students out and took them away, beating them. The Police colonel on our bus was pleading with them to get off, kissing their faces, and telling them, “We have orders from higher up to take these guys away. Please, I’m begging you, don’t do anything and just get off.” When the Basijis got off, the buses took us to Babolsar’s central police station, located at the main city square.
We got there at 9:30 p.m. We were ordered to get off and to get in line. Inside the station, there were people such as the police representative, the Revolutionary Guards representative, the Basij representative, the university’s head of student Basij, and the chief of campus security. They separated thirty of us from the rest, put thin, plastic handcuffs on us, took us out into the station yard and had us sit on the ground in a corner. They fingerprinted the rest of the students, got written pledges from them and sent them to their dorms on the same buses we had come with.
It was awful. If anyone made a noise, they would start kicking and punching him
The thirty of us sat there for about two hours, during which agents would occasionally come by, kick us, insult us, and leave. Two of our guys were severely beaten with sticks and were punched and kicked.
It was awful. If anyone made a noise, they would start kicking and punching him. For instance, when one of the guys told the agents that the plastic handcuffs were puncturing his skin and causing injury and asked if they could loosen it a bit, the result was that one of the agents came over and tightened the handcuffs even more. The conditions were abnormal and inhumane.
After two hours, and upon consulting with the student Basij representative and the chief of campus security, they kept ten of us and released the rest, upon obtaining a written pledge. At midnight, they took our fingerprints, took our cell phones, and transferred us to the detective squad in a small van for that purpose, with five agents.
An ethnic Kurd had been arrested simply for his ethnicity
We got there at 12:30 a.m. On the way there, they kept scaring us by saying that there was a [guy there by the name of] Seyyed Javad who would really give it to us.
We got out inside the detective squad building, where they removed our handcuffs, searched our pockets, and seized whatever was in them. Then they lined us up two by two and put metal police handcuffs on us and tied one person’s foot to the other person’s foot. We stood like that for about half an hour and were then taken to detention.
The detention center was like an L-shaped hallway with two cells to the left, one large, and one small, the doors of which had been removed and the entire hallway had then taken the shape of a very dirty detention center. At the end of the hallway there was a big metal door that opened into the yard. Inside the detention center, there was a bathroom, the door to which had also been removed, and the stench coming out of it was just unbearable. There was no light and the floor was covered with carpeting.
We spent the night there without any food, handcuffed and shackled. They came for us the next morning, around 9:00, if I’m not mistaken. Two by two, we were taken out of detention and taken to the Ministry of Information representative, who had come there to interrogate us. Before sending us into the interrogation room, they removed our handcuffs and shackles.
Inside, there were two desks. The interrogator, as well as Seyyed Javad and three regular soldiers were there as well. One would sit on a chair in front of the interrogation desk, and the others had to just stand there. The interrogator first took a look at the videos and pictures they had taken of us during the demonstrations and said, “This is what is available against you. What justifications do you have regarding these films and pictures? Who are you? What was your role in these events? Who are you in touch with outside the country?” In the meantime, Seyyed Javad would occasionally punch, kick, or hit the guys with a stick, in the leg or in the groin. I was lucky that I wasn’t beaten there, but he kept hitting one of the guys who had a metal rod in his leg. Our friend kept saying that he had a metal rod in his leg but the more he complained, the harder Seyyed Javad would hit him. It was during that same interrogation session that Seyyed Javad started severely beating one of the guys and ultimately pulled his underwear up, tore it with a key, and took it out of his pants by force. The interrogation of all ten of us took close to three hours.
We were then taken to Babolsar General Court, Branch 101, in a prison transfer car, along with three agents. We sat there until we were given permission to enter the courtroom. Inside, there was a police officer, the assistant prosecutor, and the judge, who was sitting behind a desk. One of them was a cleric. The judge said, “I want each of you to tell me what has happened from your own perspective.” In fact, they wanted us to testify. We would go in two by two and testify, and the testimony was transcribed. After two hours, we were charged with destruction of public property, creating an atmosphere of fear, and insulting the officials and the Supreme Leader. They made everyone leave and come back inside a short while. There were the ten of us and the assistant prosecutor. He said “I was a student in Tehran when they attacked Tehran University [dormitory, ten years earlier]. The Ministry of Information has told us they want the harshest sentence for you, but I go by the law. I will send you to the detention center for 2-3 days until a decision is made in your case.”
We were then transferred to [the city of] Babol’s Matikola Prison with the same three soldiers and in the same van. They made a stop on the way and got each of us a sandwich.
When we got to the prison, we waited about thirty minutes for someone to come and take delivery of us. Then we were taken to a room with a bunch of bookcases, a bed, a chair, and a person to do a body search. We first took our clothes off so they could do a thorough body search. Then they took our personal belongings, put them separately in a box, and put the box in one of the shelves in the bookcase. The person who was there made a note of whose belongings were in which shelf. We were subsequently taken to the Special Ward.
Matikola Prison is a new prison. When we were taken there, it had only been open six months. The Special Ward was one of the wards that was reserved for clerics and political prisoners. The entrance to the Special Ward was a large gate, behind which there was a short hallway. At the end of that hallway, there was a door that opened into a small, separate yard reserved for the Special Ward, which was normally kept closed. To the right, there was a door that led to the bathrooms which had three showers and three toilets or two showers and two toilets. To the left, there was a room with a capacity of sixteen, which had two two-level bunk beds and a number of three-level bunk beds. There was also a window overlooking the yard and an air canal system that was supposed to be a cooling system but did not work properly. The door to the yard would be open for one hour during evening hours. There was a public phone in the Special Ward which, unfortunately, didn’t work, and we could not inform our families of our whereabouts.
According to the assistant prosecutor, we were supposed to be in prison for 2-3 days, but we stayed there for three weeks
When we got into the Special Ward, we saw our Association’s political secretary, who had been kidnapped two days earlier, as well as another inmate who had apparently broken windows. Alireza Kiani was very happy to see us.
According to the assistant prosecutor, we were supposed to be in prison for 2-3 days, but we stayed there for three weeks. During that time, on average, we were each interrogated three times. There were also friends who had been interrogated five times.
I was first interrogated four days after arriving at the prison. They came to the Special Ward and read our names in groups of three, then took us separately to interrogation rooms that were obviously meant for other things. For instance, one time, they took me to the infirmary, another time to the medical examination room, and the last time to the doctor’s office.
I was always interrogated without blindfolds or handcuffs on, and I was able to see my interrogator. There were different questions in different sessions. Close to thirty questions were asked in various ways and their intention was to prove that we were lying. I constantly played dumb and pretended to be the inexperienced [kid]. The order of the questions they asked was as follows: First session: “What happened on the campus? Who was at fault? Who attacked? Who broke the windows? Who were the student leaders of this movement?” Second Session: “What were your other activities? What is your political viewpoint? Were you active in the elections or not? How do you define yourself [politically]? What newspapers do you read? Have you ever been active in party politics? Which candidate did you support?” Third session: “What foreign groups are you in contact with, and which of them do you cooperate with? Whose [politics and] viewpoints is yours closest to? Who supports you?”
The first interrogation session was conducted by an old interrogator, about my height, with a white beard and frizzy hair; the second and third sessions by an old interrogator with some stubble, who was shorter than me. The sessions lasted about an hour, during which the interrogators would write the question on a piece of paper and would instruct me to answer. They would then look at my answer and would ask the next question on that basis.
One night, during the first week in jail, it got so hot that we took our clothes off around 11:00 p.m. and slept in our underwear. That night, the prison social worker named Bijan would constantly come into the ward and would force us to put our clothes back on (even though “lights out” was already in place) and then leave. The third time he came in, I didn’t listen to him and went around in my underwear. He asked me why I had taken my clothes off. I said, “It’s hot, my dear friend.” “So? I’m hot, too, but look at how many clothes I’m wearing,” he said. “You get paid for what you do. If you don’t wear [your clothes] they’ll fire you. I’m not here of my own volition,” I retorted. He got angry and left and came back with a soldier. They handcuffed me from behind and took me out of the ward. They pushed me to the ground and started punching and kicking me hard. They smashed my head against the ground and asked me, “Where are you from? You have some nerve. You want to mess with me?” As a result of that beating, my wrists and my forehead were injured. Fearful that we report the incident, they subsequently kept bringing us cold water and leaving the door to the yard open [for us to use].
None of us were allowed to contact our families for the first ten days
None of us were allowed to contact our families for the first ten days. Later, when visitation was allowed, they took all of us to the visitation hall. We were separated from our families by glass walls. We each stood in front of one glass wall and were able to use the phone to talk to our family on the other side. My parents had come, and I was able to talk to them for about ten minutes. I had two visitations during my detention, if I’m not mistaken.
Prison food was low quality and tasted like camphor. We were free to use the toilet and the shower whenever we wanted to, because there were bathrooms and showers in the ward itself. Also, our families were allowed to deposit money into a debit account for which we had been issued a card two days after arrival, and we could buy things inside the prison. We were not allowed to hire an attorney the entire time we were detained.
Majid Aqai, the person whose underwear was torn away, was a Master’s Degree student in law. He told us that the process we were going through was not in our books on criminal law at all.
On July 6, 2009, agents came to the Special Ward, put handcuffs on us, put us in a car, and took us to the same court as before. We entered the courtroom all at once. The judge wanted to help us: “We want to get rid of the charges against you, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to, because [the Ministry of] Information is putting pressure on us,” he said. He said we could be released by posting a 10 or 15 million Tuman bail or a salary stub.
That session lasted approximately one hour, and then our families (who were present there that day) were called in to post bail. We were all released that day on bail.
for eight of us: six months imprisonment; 15 lashes, suspended for 3 years for destruction of public property, causing public apprehension, and creating an atmosphere of fear
On October 12, 2009, our final trial session took place at Babolsar General Court - Criminal Branch 101, presided by Judge Rezania Moalem. The decision was communicated to us on November 18, 2009, for eight of us: six months imprisonment; 15 lashes, suspended for 3 years for destruction of public property, causing public apprehension, and creating an atmosphere of fear. The other two were acquitted.
One of the guys was an ethnic Kurd who had been arrested simply for his ethnicity. In fact, one of the officers had asked his name at the police station and, when he realized Semko was a Sunni Kurd, added him to our group.
After receiving notification of the court decision, we retained Mr. Mojtahedzadeh to appeal the case, which he did; unfortunately, no changes occurred. We went to Babolsar General Court, Branch 101, with two of the guys to pick up the appellate decision, but they wouldn’t give us anything.
Three months after I left Iran, all of the guys who had remained behind were arrested and sent to jail
Subsequently, two of the Association guys and I decided to leave Iran. On December 20, 2010, we illegally entered the city of Van, Turkey, and applied for asylum to the UNHCR.
Three months after I left Iran, all of the guys who had remained behind were arrested and sent to jail.