An Afghan Immigrant: I Have Never Felt Like I’m Living Like a Human Being in Iran
Immigration to Iran
My name is Ali M. I was born on March 26, 1993 in Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan. I was about six years old when my father was killed by the Taliban and I was forced to go to Iran along with my uncle, my mother, my brother, and my younger sister. We went to live in Kheirabad which was part of [the town of] Varamin. I was seven years old when I started to work at the glass factory for three thousand Tumans a week. I worked during the day, and at night, as much as I was physically able to, I would attend a school in the village of Puinak that had been started by a group of educated Afghans. Because of numerous difficulties we had in our lives, I wasn’t able to study past sixth grade, even though I was a good student.
It was in the year 2001 or 2002 when the Iranian government decided to issue cards to illegal Afghans, called Green Cards. This was a temporary residence permit which allowed us only to stay and move about in the city where we were [already]; we were not allowed to leave town without proper authorization.
In order to obtain a Green Card, we had to go to Asgarabad Camp at three o’ clock in the morning whenever they made an announcement to that effect. During the time we waited for our turn, the soldiers would constantly disrespect [and insult] us. If an immigrant stepped over the line they had drawn, they would treat him in the worst way, throwing him/her out of line kicking and slapping him, saying “you came here illegally; we didn’t send you an invitation letter.” They didn’t care whether that person was a pregnant woman or an old man; they would just beat us. And if we objected, Special Unit agents would go at us with clubs and tasers in order to throw us out.
I started working at a welding and molding shop in 2011-12. The shop was some distance from our home, and I bought a motorcycle to go to and from work, even though Afghans were not allowed to obtain a driver’s license for cars and motorcycles. I paid for the bike myself but I had to register the title to an Iranian because Afghans are not allowed to purchase and own anything in their own name.
Six months later, my employer hired three Iranian workers. One of them had a motorcycle and, like me, all three lived in Kheirabad. We would all go to Kheirabad together after work. I had to give one of them a ride home every night so that they wouldn’t become my enemies.
Arrest, Humiliation, Beating
I was taking my co-worker home [on my bike] on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at 5:30 PM, when I got into an accident with a Peugeot RD, breaking my co-worker’s right leg [as a result]. The driver of the car was at fault. My co-workers contacted the police. Before their arrival, however, they told me to go home because I didn’t have a driver’s license. My co-workers further told me: “Go home. We’ll bring someone who has a driver’s license and [say it was him riding the bike]; then we get Dieh (damages in accordance with Islamic Shari’a) from this gentleman’s insurance [company], and we’ll bring your bike back to you.” The driver of the car reached an agreement with them and told me: “That’s fine. My car is insured and I was at fault.” Thinking everything was over, I agreed and went home.
It was around midnight when three police officers wearing green police uniforms came to our house with one of my co-workers, in a Samand (Iranian made automobile), on the green line of which was written “Police Patrol”. I went to the door and one of the officers asked: “Are you Ali?” “Yes, I am. What’s going on?” I said. “Shut up and be quiet,” he replied. They started slapping and kicking me and hitting me with their clubs, forcefully handcuffing me. I kept asking: “What have I done? What’s the problem? Have I killed somebody? What have I done to deserve to be treated this way?” Their only response was: “Shut up and don’t say a word. We’re going to the police station and then we will teach you a lesson.” The beating lasted about five minutes. They forcefully threw me in the car and took me to Varamin Police Station 14, all the while mistreating me.
It was a ten-minute drive from our house to the police station. I kept asking my co-worker: “What have I done? You guys were supposed to take care of it, so what happened? What’s the problem?” And he would say that he would explain at the police station.
As soon as we got to the station, the duty officer, who was holding a club, asked the arresting officers: “Is this the Afghani? Is he the driver of the motorcycle?” As soon as they said yes, he laid me down on the ground and started beating me with the club and with the boots he was wearing. He kept hitting me in the face. He would put his boot on my nose and push. He treated me like a punching bag and just kept hitting me and saying: “Why did you run away?” And just when I wanted to respond, he would say: “Don’t say a word. I’ll kill you myself right here, without your family ever finding out.” And then he would continue to beat me.
My frightened co-workers weren’t saying anything and were just watching. The duty officer beat me for about an hour, so badly that my face and head were all bloodied. When he got tired, they took the co-worker who had come to my house and me to a [holding] cell. Another co-worker was released pending the court date because one of his relatives worked at the police station. The one whose leg had been broken in the accident had [already] been hospitalized.
When you entered the station, there was a hallway where they had built a cell out of steel that looked like a cage. They had put a torn rug on the floor. A soldier was sitting at the end of the hallway to answer people’s questions. When we entered the detention cell, I asked my co-worker: “What did you do? Why have they brought me here? Weren’t you supposed to not bring charges and somehow take care of things so I wouldn’t be in trouble?” My co-worker replied: “When we got to the police station, the driver of the car gave everything up and said the person riding the motorcycle was Afghani. Then the duty officer forced us to give them your address.” Less than ten minutes later a soldier came and took me to another room and said: “I’ll take care of you shortly,” and left. A few moments later I heard him say to another soldier: “Warm up the [electro] shock [prod] and I’ll be right there.” I thought to myself that it didn’t have anything to do with me and they were taking the electroshock weapon for someone else. A few minutes later, however, he walked in, electric prod in hand, and proceeded to tie my hands to a rope that was hanging from the ceiling. I could neither move nor bend down. The soldier started to use the prod on my feet and said: “So you’re trying to run away from us? We have very strong information.” I said: “What is my crime? Why do you beat me?” “Not a word or we’ll kill you right here. Not only are you Afghani but you also run away? You shouldn’t have run away,” he said. I said: “When did I run away? It was an accident. Should I be sentenced to jail? Then send me to jail. What is my crime that you keep beating me like this?” Regardless of anything I said, they would find an excuse to beat me, and every word I uttered, I would be hit with the electric prod. He used it to such a great extent on my right knee that I lost feeling in my right leg. He waited a little, then used it on my left knee. I was tortured like this for about half an hour, then I was taken back to the cell. This time, they took my co-worker separately to another cell. When I went into detention, they took the rug away and turned the cold air conditioning device on. It was very cold and I kept saying I was cold, that I was dying, which fell on deaf ears. They said: “Die quickly so we can be rid of you.” Around 5 AM they finally turned it off.
Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, one of my Iranian friends who had some business at the station saw me as soon as he walked in. He came toward me and said: “Ali, what are you doing here?” I told him the story and he asked if I needed anything. I hadn’t had any food or water since I had been at the police station. So he got me some cakes and fruit juice and gave them to me after he asked the duty officer for permission. I was kept in that cell for three days without anyone attending to me. The duty officer treated me very badly: as soon as I said something, he would approach me and forcefully hit my hand with a club. My hands and face had bled very badly but they did not bring a doctor to check on my condition. I was allowed to use the bathroom only once for two minutes in a 24-hour period. These things were particular to me: they didn’t treat my co-worker that way. For instance, his cell was close to mine and I could see that he would be taken to the bathroom without any problems. Also, when his family would come to visit, they were allowed to bring him food, whereas my family, who came to the station every day, were not even allowed inside, nor was I permitted to call them and tell them how I was doing.
Trial and Freedom
On Sunday, September 25, 2011, at 8:30 AM, my co-worker and I were taken to the Amrabad Court on Resalat Avenue; my head and face were still bloody. They handcuffed us together, got the money for the gas from us, threw us in the car and sent us to Amrabad Court along with a driver and a soldier. After three days [in jail], I was able to meet my family outside the courtroom, but I was not allowed to talk to them. When my mother saw me all bloody, she hit herself on the head and started crying: “Just tell me what sin has this boy committed? What has my son done? He doesn’t smoke and he’s not into any type of illegal things.” I signaled to my mother to be calm and not cry.
My other co-workers had also been summoned to court. My friend with the broken leg and I were the first ones to go inside, while the other two waited outside the courtroom. The driver of the car was also present. The judge wasn’t a bad person; he was wearing a suit and did not have a beard.
The judge asked me the first question: “What’s happened and what’s your problem?” I started to cry right then and said: “Judge, I am young, and at such a young age, my only crime was that I got on a motorcycle and had an accident. [But] they beat me for an hour and a half, two hours. And this is what my head and face look like now.” The judge didn’t say anything and simply asked: “How did you have an accident? Who was at fault?” I told the entire story the way it had happened. The session lasted 45 minutes. Ultimately the judge said: “The bike goes to the government parking lot forever. You are penalized in the amount of 260,000 Tumans. Call your family right now to tell them to deposit 260,000 Tumans into the government account so that you can be released. You will go to jail for two weeks if they don’t pay the penalty.” I asked how long my bike would have to be impounded. “The motorcycle is gone, it doesn’t belong to you anymore; it belongs to the government because you are Afghani and don’t have the right to ride a bike,” he replied. I asked for the judge’s permission to talk to my mother, who was waiting outside the courtroom, and tell her to quickly deposit the money into the government account, which he granted. I gave my mother the account number the judge had given me and she quickly went to the Bank Melli [branch] near the court, paid the sum, and obtained the receipt which was given to the judge.
My co-workers were ordered to pay only one a hundred or two hundred thousand Tuman penalty each, if I’m not mistaken. It was 10 AM on Sunday morning that I was released after having paid the penalty. I then went to Fifteenth of Khordad Hospital to bandage my wounds. I got stitches for a laceration under my right eye caused by the duty officer’s severe beatings on the first day of my arrest.
During the entire three days I was in detention, and while I was being beaten, I was saying to myself “I wish my father hadn’t died so I would never have come to Iran and could have lived in my own country.” But what’s the use: I have never been happy in Iran, not even for a single day, I have never felt like I’m living like a human being in Iran.