He Was 17, She Was 15, Love Was their Crime and Flogging Their Punishment
My name is Siavash. I was born in August-September 1979 in [the town of] Gonbad-e-Kavus. We were forced to move around [Iran] a number of times because of my family’s [past] political affiliations. My grandfather was the spokesman for the Rastakhiz Party [the Shah’s single party in the last years of his reign] in the region encompassing Gonbad, [the cities of] Gorgan, and Rasht.
In 1979, my grandfather found out that several of his friends had been arrested. In order to save his life and the lives of his family members, he fled to [the city of] Bandar Anzali and began a life in hiding. My father (along with my mother and I. I was two months old at the time) remained in Gonbad-e-Kavus to protect the family’s properties and real estate holdings. It wasn’t long, however, before my father got into a scuffle with [Islamic Revolution] Committee agents and was arrested. I later heard from my mother that his arrest was, in effect, a sort of hostage taking to lure my grandfather back to Gonbad-e-Kavus and arrest him, which did not happen.
My father was ultimately sentenced to four years imprisonment in the Gorgan jail for physically engaging Committee forces and on several other charges. It must be noted that all of my grandfather’s property, which consisted of around 240 hectars [600 acres] of agricultural land, a large garden and several combines and tractor trailers, were expropriated.
Subsequent to my father’s arrest, my uncle returned to Gonbad-e-Kavus to take my mother and me to Anzali to be with the rest of the family.
We lived in hiding in Bandar Anzali for nearly two years. Before long, however, my youngest aunt, who was 11 years old, was arrested with two of her classmates for possessing MKO leaflets. That same day, a Committee member who was a friend of my youngest uncle, informed him that they had “arrested [his] sister for possession of the leaflet. The situation is very bad these days and nobody knows what they do with the people they arrest and where they send them.” In any event, that very night, my uncle gave a Committee commander an Arya [a brand of car] as a bribe, and got her out.
That same night, the entire family left Anzali and fled to Tehran for fear that my grandfather might have been recognized.
I was four years old when my father was released from prison and came to Tehran. During his incarceration, my mother and I visited him two or three times.
My father had become addicted to heroin in prison (which he was fortunately able to quit) and had contracted hepatitis, which eventually killed him a few years later.
My father started to work for a private taxi service. My mother, who had been a college instructor before the Revolution, started teaching at a school in Tehran. Before long, however, my parents decided to return to Gonbad-e-Kavus. I was 11 years old.
Life in Gonbad was different and bothered me to a certain extent, for two reasons. One was my family history. At school, some of the teachers who knew my father and my grandfather and had somehow suffered under the Shah, or held grudges against my family [for one reason or another], would call me out in class in front of the other students, and, naming my grandfather, would say: “You’re his grandson, aren’t you? Do you know what crimes your grandfather committed in this town? Do you know how many people’s lands he took away from them and what misery he brought them?”
The other reason was that, because I had moved from the big city to a small town, my lifestyle and the way I dressed were different from my peers. In fact, I was more fearless than other kids my age. For instance, I wore jeans and put gel on my hair.
In those days, if you stood around in the street, committee forces would come at you and say: “Why are you standing here? What is this you’re wearing? Why are your sleeves so short? Why is your hair so long? Why did you put gel on it? Why is your face so smooth?” I was 13 or 14 when I was arrested twice for those very reasons. One time I was wearing jeans and a bright colored t-shirt with writing in English. My hair was long and had gel on it. They arrested and took me to the station and made me sign a pledge [not to do it again].
I was 16 when I met a girl, and in less than a year, we had a very close relationship. My mother was aware of this and since I had been arrested by the Committee on several occasions, she decided that my girlfriend and I should meet at our home in order to avoid any problems. We had known each other for two years and we had sexual relations. In May 1997, while I was preparing for high school final exams and entrance to university, an awful event changed the course of our lives.
Ours was a gated single family house where you had to go through a small courtyard to get to the front door. We had a neighbor who was known for being an informant. I was therefore very careful not to let this man know about my girlfriend coming to our house. On May 25, 1997, my girlfriend, who was only 15, came to our house as usual at 10 AM, before going to school. My mother and my sisters were also home.
I asked my girlfriend if she had seen anyone when she was coming into the house. She said she hadn’t but that she had noticed a woman standing at the door. I thought nothing of it, but that woman was the informant’s wife, and had apparently told her husband of my girlfriend’s arrival at our home.
We were together until 12:30 PM, and then she went to school. About an hour later, I was getting ready to go to school myself when the door bell rang and someone told me to go to the door for a second. I did. There was a plainclothes man standing there with handcuffs.
I had heard that agents went to people’s homes for alcoholic beverages, videotapes, and banned books. I therefore instinctively slammed the door, but before I could go back inside, he had climbed the wall and caught me. He lay me down on the ground, cuffed my hands, and opened the door for the other agents; they came in without a warrant. My mother came to the yard and asked: “What are you doing?” “Nothing. And don’t say anything and go back inside, please,” he replied. But my mother kept asking: “But I have to know what’s going on.” “We’ll explain everything later. Come to court and we will explain it to you,” he answered. “What court?” my mother asked.
At that point, I too asked: “What’s happened? What’s going on?” “Be quiet. Just stay quiet and let’s go,” he said. I thought a thousand thoughts: “What’s going on? Is it my girlfriend? Is it the videotapes? The movies? What?” Without blindfolding me, they took me to the Prohibitions Administration of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, located at North Imam Khomeini Street, across from Shariati Street, that was run back then by Mr. Zolfaqari. They threw me in a very small cell where you could only sit, and left.
The cell had no windows and there was carpeting on floor. It was lit by a strong light bulb that was always on. There were five cells adjacent to each other, all of which were empty but mine.
They didn’t bother me that day from 2 to 10 PM. They didn’t give me anything to eat and didn’t let me go to the bathroom. At 10 PM, they took me to the interrogation room, prior to which they let me use the bathroom.
The interrogator, named Majid Forqani, put a piece of paper in front of me and told me to start writing. “Write what?” I asked. “Whatever crime you’ve committed. Write why we’ve brought you here,” he said. “But I don’t know why you’ve brought me here,” I responded. “I said write!” he yelled. “I don’t know what to write.” “Oh, so you’re pretending you don’t know. OK, you asked for it,” he retorted. He then told the officers to take me back to the cell. In order to prevent me from sleeping, they would send a soldier to my cell every hour for 24 hours, to take me out and ask if I was ready to write yet or not. From the second they threw me in the cell until 10 PM the next night, I was not allowed to go to the bathroom.
They came for me after 24 hours, and took me to the interrogation room. The interrogator told me to start writing, to which I replied: “I don’t know what to write.” He then blindfolded and took me to another room and told me to sit. A few moments later I felt several people approaching me. They took me to the interrogation room and removed my blindfold. “Look, the girl you deceived and raped, we’ve brought her here” they said. “What girl” I asked. “We know that this is what you do. You deceive these poor unfortunate girls,” they replied. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was my reply. The interrogator then said: “Pretend all you want. We have the girl [naming my girlfriend] and she’s in that room right now. She has confessed to everything and has told us what you’ve done to her. So write in your own words what you’ve done to her. We will destroy you. How dare you rape people’s daughters?”
At that moment, I was thinking “how do I know they’ve actually arrested her, maybe they’re playing me.” So I told them I didn’t know what they were talking about and that they had mistaken me for someone else. As soon as I said that, the interrogator attacked me, stood me up and held my head against an iron bar that was in the corner of the room, put a club against my throat and started to apply pressure.
He pushed so hard I couldn’t breathe. I don’t know how long it lasted. All I remember was I couldn’t stand up anymore and fell to the ground. Tears were rolling down my face, I could hardly breathe and I started coughing. The interrogator ordered that the girl be brought in.
A female officer brought my girlfriend in. She was still wearing her school uniform and head covering, and was crying. The interrogator looked at her and said: “Is this the guy who took your virginity, who raped you? Is this the guy you claim you love? Is this the guy that you said you did it with because you love him, that you are in love with each other? You poor sap! He’s denying everything. He’s saying he doesn’t even know you. Look who you trusted, who you gave yourself to. Shame on you. Why the hell are you girls like this?” My girlfriend lunged at me and started hitting me gently: “Hossein, why did you do this to me? I thought you loved me. Tell me they’re lying. They say you don’t love me, that you’ve done this to a lot of girls, and that they knew you from before.” I became very emotional and said: “I swear they’re lying. I do love you, and I stand by what I said to you. Everything I told you was true. I’m still with you and we truly love each other.”
The interrogator then said: “If you’re telling the truth, then write down what you just said. You claim you love her, then write it down!” “All right, I will. No problem,” I said.
The female officer who had brought my girlfriend in, and the interrogator, sat across from us and said: “You have to tell us whatever went on between you too. We will ask questions, you give us the answer, and we will write it down. Where did you meet? What happened …” They started asking questions about our sexual relations. In a way they wanted to know what we did in bed. They would ask things like “How many times? Why did you do it? What did you do after you had sex,” and similar questions.
The female officer was asking my girlfriend questions like: “Weren’t you afraid of ending up at the hospital? What if you bled? Weren’t you afraid your parents would find out when you went home?” They would ask me: “Weren’t you worried that your mother or your sisters would open the door when you were in your room? What if your mother walked in and saw you in that state?” I got angry. This was psychological torture and they wanted to hurt us emotionally. I screamed: “This is none of your business. You wanted to get a confession that we were together. What do you care about the details?” My girlfriend was crying the entire time. She said to them: “But you’ve asked all this before and I’ve already told you everything.” Still, they continued: “If you give a complete confession, and admit that you’re guilty, then we can write down that you love each other and you’ll get you a lighter sentence.”
The interrogation session lasted about two hours and they wrote down our answers. Then they presented us with the papers and said: “Write down that you accept all of the above,” which we did; we signed the document. They took me back to the cell, and took my girlfriend to the women’s prayer room, since they didn’t have a specific place for women detainees. They didn’t bother me until morning, and gave me the same food as the soldiers.
At 7 AM the next day, May 27, 1997, they came to get me: “Get up. You have to be in court at 8 AM.” At 8 o’clock, they took us both in a car that belonged to the Guards Corps, to Gonbad-e-Kavus General Court, Branch 4, before Judge Asgarnejadi. I was handcuffed and my girlfriend was cuffed to a female officer.
When we got to court, we realized that our families were waiting for us there. In fact, after I had been arrested, my family had gone everywhere, to the court and to various police stations, to find out where I was, without success. They had ultimately gone to the Prohibitions Administration and had learned from the soldiers that we were there. But they had not gotten a straight answer about our situation and were simply told: “Court.”
The interrogators had contacted my girlfriend’s family after the second interrogation upon her insistence, and had informed them of their daughter’s situation and the court date.
In any event, we were able to meet with our families after the Prohibitions Administration had contacted the families on the second night. We waited in the hallway for two hours. Once inside the courtroom, Judge Asgarnejadi looked at us both and said: “Are you the fornicators?” I said: “What are you talking about, sir?” “You’ll learn your lesson, and you’ll learn not to do such things again. Do you accept what you have written here,” the judge asked. “We don’t know what’s written there, sir. We have things we need to say,” we said. My girlfriend stated: “Sir, we love each other and we want to get married. There is no fornication here.” “Be quiet, you fornicator. Do you know that you have violated God’s law? You must answer to God’s Messenger. You must answer to the Koran. You, girl, you must model yourself after Fatima [the Prophet Mohammad’s daughter]. Sign these papers that you have already signed and get out.”
We signed the papers again and asked the judge what would happen to us. “Jail,” he said.
Up until that moment, we thought that the judge would rule that we were to get married because of what we had done. So we were extremely surprised and asked: “What does that mean?” “You go to jail and you will await your sentence there,” he replied.
The trial was over in fifteen minutes and neither one of us had an attorney.
Before being transferred to the Gonbad prison complex at 2 PM, we had an opportunity to talk to our families. When my father learned that we were being taken to jail, he told me to ask for Shirzad once I got there. Shirzad is my uncle, married to my mother’s sister. He had been sentenced to jail because of an accident he had had seven years earlier.
When we got to prison at 2 PM, they took my girlfriend to the women’s ward and I was taken to the quarantine in the men’s ward. They took detainees to the quarantine on the first day.
When I entered the quarantine, I told someone that Shirzad was my uncle, and as luck would have it, one of his friends was there. Shirzad came to the quarantine door and I told him my story. He told his friend to look out for me. I spent the night in the quarantine and was taken to the youth ward the next day.
The youth ward was crowded. The ones who had been there longer slept on beds and the new arrivals slept on the floor. There were six bunk beds in each cell. In our cell, twelve people slept on the floor. I was given only a blanket. The guys used their clothes as pillows. The food was normal.
At 7 AM the next day, May 29, 1997, I was called to go to court. They took the two of us to court along with several others. Our families were waiting for us there. They took us straight to the Sentence Implementation Bureau. There, they showed us the court ruling. We had been sentenced to 99 lashes, for fornication and religiously unlawful relations.
They had added a penalty of 100,000 Tumans to my sentence for the bottles of alcohol and videotapes they had found at our house. What had happened was that half an hour after my arrest, they had gone there, shown my mother a search warrant, and confiscated and brought back to the Prohibitions Administration four videotapes and several empty bottles that smelled of alcohol.
After we were handed the sentence, our families asked if we could appeal. The person in charge said: “You don’t have the right to appeal. The sentence is binding.”
We were taken to jail again. This time, however, they fingerprinted us, put a sign around our necks and took our picture, and took us to the ward. Two hours later, I was taken to the place where they implemented the sentences: in the courtyard and by the prison administration building.
When we got to the courtyard, the officers told me to run around. After I broke a sweat, they told me it was time to be flogged. Other prison guards and employees had gathered in the courtyard to watch. I asked the person who was to carry out the sentence: “Why did you make me run if you were going to flog me?” His reply was: “So that it would stick to your body for your further enjoyment! Now take your clothes off, face the wall, and spread your arms.” I took my clothes off down to my underwear and faced the wall. There were two persons in charge, and they both flogged me.
The Koran was recited before the sentence was implemented. Then they proceeded to flog me with a whip that was made of four interwoven leather strands. The lashes started at my neck and went all the way down to my shin; they went up and down. From the 80th lash on, they only hit the buttocks, which was less painful.
In the process, they kept saying: “Say you’re sorry, say you messed up, say you’ll never do it again.” The pain was so great that I kept turning toward the man whipping me, jumping from one side to another. As a result, one of the lashes hit me in the chest, inflicting a laceration. When it was over, they told me to put my clothes back on.
I was in a deplorable state. I put my clothes back on. I didn’t know what had happened to me; I just knew that I had been flogged and I was in great pain. They stamped my hand with a stamp that said “free” and told me to get out.
My father was waiting for me outside the prison, having been told by the court that the sentence would be carried out inside and that I would then be freed. I was so weak that I was about to pass out. My father lifted my shirt and realized I was in really bad shape. He immediately took me to the hospital. I was treated and released that night. The wounds on my back did not heal for an entire month. I had to put egg yolks on them so that they would heal faster. Those days were like nightmares. I kept asking myself: “Was she whipped the same way too?” I later found out that they had not flogged her the same way and that they had put a cloth on her and then inflicted the lashes. I was sad for my parents for having caused them so much trouble and heartache.
Later on, I was able to talk to my girlfriend on the phone. She recounted the story: She had been arrested a few yards from my house when she had just left, and was taken to the Prohibitions Administration. She did not confess to anything the first day. The next day, she had been taken to the Medical Examiner’s office to be checked out. There, she was declared not to be a virgin. They had told her: “You’re not a virgin, you’re a whore. We have had Siavash under watch and he’s done this to a lot of girls. We’ve tapped his phone. He has deceived you. Confess, tell us what he’s done to you and how he wanted to derail you from the path [of righteousness].” They had then brought her to the room I was in, and by doing so, had been able to get her to talk about everything that had happened between us.
This episode left its mark on us and changed both our lives tremendously. My girlfriend was from a well known family and her father owned a hospital in Gonbad. For fear of sullying their good name, her family sort of kept her under house arrest for a year, and she had to study at home.
Two months after the event, I moved to Tehran and lived with my father’s family. Because of the pressure I had endured, I failed the college entrance exams that year. The following year, when I was taking steps to enter college, I realized that I could not enroll in my intended field of study (physical education) because of my record. The reason was that certain fields required going through a selection process and they surely would have been able to find out about my record.
For two years, the memories of the events at the detention center and the prison, what I heard at interrogation, and the things I saw and endured inside jail, strongly tormented me.
About five years ago, I wanted to obtain a permit to start a business and I was asked to do a background check. The 1997 sentence and all the charges came up in my record and unfortunately I was not able to obtain the permit.