"What right did you have to protest a death sentence?": Witness Statement of Atena Daemi
On November 28, 2016, Atena Daemi was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and taken to Evin Prison to serve her seven-year sentence. After submitting a mistreatment complaint against the IRGC for her violent arrest – a complaint so far ignored by Iran’s judiciary - Branch 1163 of Qods Criminal Court convicted Daemi and her two sisters on charges of “resisting agents carrying out their duty” and “insulting agents while on duty” in March of 2017. All three were sentenced to three months and one day of imprisonment. Though the sisters’ sentence was suspended on condition of good behavior for a period of one year, the same sentence was added to Atena’s prison term without the possibility of suspension. Daemi began a hunger strike on April 8, 2017. At the time of this publication, she was still on hunger strike and in urgent need of hospitalization.
Interview Date: November 16, 2016
(Note: Individuals mentioned in this interview are all civil and political activists who were sentenced at some point and spent time in jail or are currently in jail.)
My name is Atena Daemi. My first name in my birth certificate is Fatemeh. Prior to my arrest, it had been a while since I had started my activities with news agencies, since around 2011-12. I would send them news items and reports; [these were activities that] were not out in the open. Then I started to oppose the death penalty. The first activity I [participated in] was the gathering in front of the Prosecutor’s Office to prevent Reyhaneh Jabbari’s execution. We drafted and submitted a letter, and then we tried to obtain the next of kin’s forgiveness.
Then I participated in the gathering for the Kurds that were executed in 2014-15, Hamed Ahmadi, Jamshid Jahangir, Dehghani, and Kamal Molai. They had executed them before my arrest. They were not supposed to be put to death. They had taken them to solitary [to prepare them] for execution when we went with their families for a protest gathering; I was there as well. I got a lawyer for them who postponed their execution, and the case was to be reconsidered. But I went to jail and I heard that they had been executed. Then I started to be active again in Reyhaneh Jabbari’s case.
At some point, there was a gathering in front of Rajaishahr Prison to protest Arjang Davudi’s execution who, they said, had been issued a death sentence. We started writing graffiti on walls and distributing leaflets. That was why we were arrested. We organized a protest for Kobani and Syrian Kurds who had come under ISIS attack, and to protest the events in Gaza [where the Palestinians] had come under Israeli attack. This gathering was in front of the United Nations office in Tehran; we asked the U.N. to intervene and stop the war and bloodshed.
I had some minor activities for child laborers along with Atena Farghadani, Omid Alishenass, Ali Nuri, Assu Rostami, Saeed Hosseinzadeh, and Saeed Jokar. We had decided to collectively act on behalf of child laborers. I did these graffiti writing and leaflet production and distribution with them. For child laborers, they would draw paintings and we would sell them. I had decided to rent a booth at my place of work; I coordinated for them to go on [a sort of] excursion to my place of work, the Enghelab Sports Complex. They were supposed to come there and play for free but the security forces had somehow infiltrated these children and had told one of them that the program had been cancelled and not to go. As for the booth at Enghelab Sports Complex, I had taken care of everything but I was told at the very last minute that the head of the Complex had opposed it on security grounds. I later learned that it was the Revolutionary Guards who had stopped it. And then I was arrested. My friends were arrested first. Atena Farghadani was arrested before anybody else, then Omid Alishenass, then Ali Nuri and Assu Rostami. Saeed Hosseinzadeh was arrested next. I was the last one, and Saeed Jokar was arrested a year after I was. I don’t know the exact date Atena Farghadani was arrested but it was at her home. I think it was in late August.
I was arrested on October 15, 2014. I was home. I was going to work when they closed our alley on both sides and ordered me us stop and for me to get out of the car. They took me to another car and started to search our car. They took my father’s cell phone and our identification documents. They also took my cell phone. They did not have a warrant to search the house; they [got authorization] on the phone and went inside the house and searched it. They didn’t find anything. The only things the confiscated at our house was a satellite [TV] receiver and three cell phones: mine, my sister’s and my father’s. They also took my internet modem. I didn’t even have books or a laptop, or anything else in the house for them to take away. When they realized there was nothing in the house, they said: “Well, let’s go search her sister’s house.” My sister lived two streets over. They went in and searched it without a warrant as well, but didn’t find anything there either. Then they took me to my place of work, handcuffed and blindfolded. They didn’t have a warrant there either but they coordinated with Herassat, which allowed the search. They searched my office and my computer, and they confiscated an external hard drive I had put there. They also took the computer case and hard drive for inspection but didn’t find anything there; they had returned them two days later to my place of work, broken into pieces and useless. They took me to Evin Prison Ward 2A on that very first day, handcuffed and blindfolded, and put me in solitary confinement. During the first four days of detention I was in a cell that had a toilet. Then they took me to a much smaller cell that didn’t have one and I had to leave a note under the door [as a sign of the need to use the bathroom] which was very hard on me.
The agents who first arrested me were from the Revolutionary Guards, Sarallah Army. There were eleven of them, ten men and one woman. Two of my interrogators were from among these same people; I realized that they had come into our home when they interrogated me. It was even said in our house that they had gone to my father’s barber shop and had even had him [cut their hair] just to get things out of him. And they had followed my sister. They knew where my two sisters worked and what days they went to the university. They knew everything; they had had everybody under surveillance. They had had me under constant surveillance for a week.
I was at Ward 2A for a total of 86 days, 51 of which were spent in absolute solitary. There was nobody with me. I was in a small cell without a door and without a window; there was a window but it was completely covered. I had blindfolds on everywhere I went: in the yard, for interrogations, or even when they wanted to take us for a shower. In the yard, they would let us lift the blindfold and put it on our forehead and walk. We were allowed to go into the yard twice a day, one of which was mandatory. We had to go. Every other day, or every two days, we had to take a shower; it was mandatory and we had to go. They gave us three meals a day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And they would give us tea twice a day. And they would also give us, for example, milk and fruit; they did that every other day. It was customary to allow TV and newspapers after a week for people who were detained at 2A but they didn’t do that for me for 40 days. I became cellmates with Mahdieh Golru after 51 days.
Interrogation started every morning until lunch time. Then they would return me to my cell for an hour or two and then back to interrogations until 7 or 8 in the evening. I was taken to the Evin Prosecutor’s Office Branch 2 on the second day of detention, where Mr. Khorshidi was the Investigating Judge. He explained the charges against me: [illegal] assembly and collusion, propaganda against the regime, relations with the Monafeqin (MKO), insulting the sacred, insulting the Leader, hiding evidence of crime, and two or three other charges regarding insulting the President and the Revolutionary Guards and things like that. I protested and said: “I have neither been interrogated yet, nor have they found anything at our home. Where do all these charges come from?” They said: “We bring the charges and then during investigations, it will become clear which ones apply to you and which ones don’t.” I understood right then and there that this was a made up case against me: How can they charge someone when they haven’t even questioned them?
I asked: "Where do all these charges come from?” They said: “We bring the charges and then during investigations, it will become clear which ones apply to you and which ones don’t.”
On the fourth day of detention they told me they had good news for me. When I asked what it was, they said: “We executed Reyhaneh Jabbari.” One time during interrogations they said: “Do you know that rape is Halal (permitted)?” I started screaming and said: “So long as you insult and cuss, I will not answer any questions.” I kept completely silent and didn’t say a word anymore until their superior came and apologized and told the interrogators: “You have no right to insult her; you have no right to threaten her. If she talks, that’s fine; if not, we have enough evidence and documentation and we will attach those to the case file.”
There had been about eight interrogation sessions when I was confronted with my co-defendants in my case. [The interrogators] accepted whatever they had said against me and that became the evidence of my crime. Their statements became evidence to bring made up charges against me, since they had found nothing in my home.
Investigating Judge’s Office and Trial
The interrogations ended after about a month, a month and a half, and they took me to the Investigating Judge’s Office again, Branch Two, Mr. Khorshidi. They gave me a 250 or 260-page long account of the interrogations and told me to read it and defend myself. I read it; the interrogator had used such language as “it seems that” or “it appears that” and the like: everything was ridden with doubt. They had no proof for what they were saying, and they had brought a bunch of charges against me.
At the end of the report, there was an expert opinion which stated: “Since Fatemeh (Atena Daemi) has insulted the holy regime of the Islamic Republic and the holy religion of Islam with the utmost impudence and insolence, and shamelessly keeps maintaining on her position, we ask that she be punished to the fullest extent of the law and be exiled to Gharchak Prison until her trial.”
I read that. It stated in the last paragraph that it was the expert’s opinion, and it was signed and there was the seal of the Revolutionary Guards Sarallah Army. The Investigating Judge gave me only 5 minutes to defend myself. I said: “I do not accept any of these charges because they are all based on the interrogators’ personal opinions. I ask that this case be investigated in the presence of a lawyer. I ask to retain a lawyer.”
My family had already acted and Mr. Peyman… took on my case. I retained him, but unfortunately, he dropped the case after he was threatened by the Revolutionary Guards. First he said: “This is a big case and I need 18 million Tumans.” We learned later that he had come up with that sum because he knew we could not afford to pay such a heavy fee. But later he said that he had been threatened and could not take on the case. That was why I did not have an attorney. I had been in detention for 86 days when I was told that a branch had been assigned for my case, that I would be tried by Judge Moghisseh. The latter had told my family: “Bring a deed (for bail purposes) so that I can release her if I determine that she is a good girl.” He had told my family to bring a deed on two previous occasions as well. My family had taken a deed to Evin Prosecutor’s Office and they had not accepted it there. That day, they took me to Judge Moghisseh who said: “What right did you have to protest a sentence of death? Did you insult the Koran?” He insulted me a little and didn’t let me speak at all. Then he said: “I will exile you to Gharchak. This is my opinion as well as that of the interrogators. Everything will be taken care of today and you’ll be taken to Gharchak.” I said thank you and they took me back to my cell in 2A. This trial session was conducted on January 14, 2015. There was no one in the Judge’s chamber, just me and the Judge. And the whole thing only lasted 5 minutes in which he hurled insults at me and said the interrogators had asked that I be taken to Gharchak in exile until my trial. In actuality, this was not a court session; it seems they just wanted to see me, and see whether I would apologize or not, whether I would express regret or not, so they could release me on bail.
Judge Moghisseh said: “What right did you have to protest a sentence of death? Did you insult the Koran?”
They brought my clothes that same day and said: “Get ready, we’re going to Gharchak,” and put me in a car. It took an hour or two for them to return my personal effects, my earrings, and to take my finger print, and go the prison gate. Every time I asked the agents where they were taking me in the course of those two hours, they would say to Gharchak Prison. And they took me to Evin Prison’s big gate. The men’s and women’s [body] inspection office was in a single place. They took me to the inspection office and proceeded to search me. They took my clothes off. I protested. They said:”It’s the law. If you don’t take your clothes off, we’ll take them off for you.” They acted in an extremely offensive manner. They searched me and said: “Today is Wednesday. You will go to Evin’s Women’s Ward until Saturday when the administrative processing will be done. Then you’ll go to Gharchak on Saturday.” They had already taken Atena Farghadani and Hakimeh Shokri to Gharchak at the time, and I thought I would be taken there too. They said my processing would be done by Saturday and I would go to Gharchak. They took me to Evin’s Women’s Ward and I stayed there for an entire month, which was, in actuality, psychological torture for me. Every day, when they called on the intercom, I thought they had come to take me to Gharchak. But I was never taken there.
My trial took place on March 17, 2015. It was only one session. In addition to me, Omid Alishenass, Ali Nuri, and Assu Rostami were also there. Omid Alishenass was taken in first. His trial lasted approximately 15 minutes. Then he came out and I went in. the Judge started speaking and insulting: “Why did you oppose the death penalty? You were a loose girl, a street girl crawling among a bunch of boys. How would you feel if they killed your father? Wouldn’t you want the death penalty for the killer?” to which I said “no, I wouldn’t.” “How is it any of your business anyway that you talk about Reyhaneh Jabbari’s execution? What does Arjang Davudi have to do with you?” he said. “What do the people from Kobani have to do with you? They can defend themselves.” That was the kind of things he said, and he kept insulting me. Then when my lawyer got up to defend me, the judge said: “You’re not allowed to defend because we don’t have time. There are others waiting outside. Go and write a brief. You have 48 hours to submit your brief. You cannot defend right now in court.”
“Why did you oppose the death penalty? You were a loose girl, a street girl crawling among a bunch of boys."
They didn’t allow either myself or my attorney to mount a defense. We left the court. Assu Rostami was next, then Ali Nuri. When they were trying Ali Nuri, the Judge called me in again. He said: “You took these guys to protest gatherings by force. You duped these kids,” to which I responded I hadn’t forced anybody. He started insulting me again: “Shut up, shut your mouth. Get out of here and close the door.” And I left.
The judge was Judge Moghisseh, Revolutionary Court Branch 28, and my attorney was Mr. Mirsaidi. My sentence was served on May 14. They summoned me again. My co-defendants, Omid Alishenass, Ali Nuri, And Assu Rostami, had gone on a [hunger] strike to protest wearing prison clothes [to court]. They had said they would not go anywhere in prison uniform. They weren’t there that day for the service of the sentence. I was the only one there. They said Judge Moghisseh was not in Iran, that he had gone to Karnbala, and that they would not serve our sentence because my co-defendants were not there. I said: “You have released one of my co-defendants, Ali Nuri, with a deed [he posted as bail]. If everything is supposed to be the same for everyone, then you should release us too. This is unacceptable. You have to serve my sentence right now. That’s why I have come here.” They served me orally. They had written the sentence on a piece of paper and they read it to me: 14 years, 7 of which were for [illegal] assembly and collusion and propaganda against the regime; 3 years for insulting the Leader, and 4 years for hiding evidence. I left the court and I did not feel well at all. I was in the Ward and the sentence was for 14 years. The guys were still on a [hunger] strike and didn’t go anywhere. They served the sentence in jail on other guys which was [contained] in the court decision. Those guys had been able to mail out a copy of the court decision containing the judge’s own signature, which is now available in various media and websites. The guys signed it from inside prison.
In July-August 2015, they said the case had gone to the appellate court, Revolutionary Court Branch 36, presided by Judge Zargar. Every time my family or my attorney went to court to find out [what was happening], when the session was, for instance, they would be given various excuses, such as the judge is sick, the judge is not here, it’s not possible now, the case load is heavy, and the like. That was why it dragged on until January-February 2016, when we saw the release of Omid Alishenass on January 17, 2016. Ali Nuri had already been released, and they had asked Assu Rostami’s family to provide a deed. I was the only one who was left. My family followed up and protested, saying “you have released everybody, why aren’t you releasing Atena?” and they had heard “we’ll talk.” It took two weeks for them to convince the judge to accept a deed for me [and release me on bail] as well. They asked for collateral [worth] one billion 400 million Tumans which my family could absolutely not provide. Then they reduced it to 700 million Tumans. We put together two deeds that totaled 550 million based on an expert’s evaluation, and could not do more. Revolutionary Court Branch 36 summoned me and said they would accept the 550 million for the sake of my parents: “You are released until the appellate court convenes.” I was released on 550 million Tumans bail on February 16, 2016. They called us on the phone on April 21, 2016 and told us to go to court.
We went there and they served us with the trial date, which was set for July 8. Exactly two weeks before trial, my lawyer resigned from the case. He brought up money as an excuse and said: “This case has had a negative effect [on my life] and they’re bugging me at the university.” He indirectly said that he had been threatened and resigned from the case.
It was two weeks before the hearing and I did not have a lawyer. I was able to retain Mr. Behzadi after a week. There was literally one week left until the court date and we asked for a postponement. The response was: “We cannot close the mosque because of a single infidel. There are other people too. We’re not going to postpone the session.” Mr. Qomizadeh, a member judge, had said this. He said that this was our problem and that the court would go on as planned. My attorney asked to read the case file, and he was only allowed to read it one day. The other times when he wanted to read the file, they would say the judge had the file and he could not have access to it. I briefly wrote down whatever I knew about the case and give it to him, in addition to the Court Decision that had been published [in the media]. My attorney had only written a general brief to submit to the judge on the court date. We went to court on the specified date but they postponed the hearing for a month because Ali Nuri was not present and one of the judges was also absent. They had not postponed when we had asked, but they delayed the hearing for a month because of these two people. We went to court on August 3, 2016. My lawyer had had the opportunity to read the file. At the August 3 appellate court session, there were two judges, judge Qomizadeh and another judge whose name I don’t remember (his name is in the court decision) and the Prosecutor’s representative (three people). We went in and sat down. Assu Rostami was not present; he had not shown up due to his mother’s surgery. So it was me, Omid Alishenass, and Ali Nuri. They asked us absolutely nothing. They just gave us some papers. They told the lawyers: “Write down your objections to the ruling.” That was it: No questions, no answers. They said everything was in accordance with the law. I protested and said: “If it’s in accordance with the law, then in accordance with Principle 27 of the Constitution, gatherings where there are no weapons and are not concerned with the principles of Islam are also legal and do not require a permit. But you have sentenced me to 7 years imprisonment for this very reason, for assembly and collusion. We ask that everything be in accordance with the law.” They said: “Yes, everything is in accordance with the law. Rest assured.”
They served our lawyers with the decision on September 28, 2016. My sentence was declared as 7 years imprisonment, for [illegal] assembly, collusion, and insulting the Leader. I was acquitted on the charge of hiding evidence. The 14-year sentence had been issued based on Article 134 of the law: Since I had more than 3 charges against me, I was sentenced to the maximum punishment plus one half, and that Article no longer applied to me when I was acquitted of one of the charges. Therefore, half of the sentence was cancelled. So, for instance, in the total 14 years imprisonment, 7 was for [illegal] assembly and collusion, which was the maximum plus half [or two years], and when they reduced the half, the sentence was reduced to 5 years. Insulting the Leader carries a maximum punishment of 2 years imprisonment, but they had sentenced me to the maximum 2 years plus half, for a total of 3 years; at the appellate level, they cancelled the extra one year and I got 2 years. So I got 7 years for [illegal] assembly, collusion, and insulting the Leader.
The charge of Insulting the Leader was for tweets I had made in 2012 or 2013.
The sentence I received for assembly and collusion was for the gatherings I explained earlier. Insulting the Leader was for tweets I had made in 2012 or 2013. Mr. Khamenei had published a poster on his own website entitled “22 Unforgivable [Acts] from the 2009 events” which included, for example, burning trash cans, giving an excuse to the enemies, providing the media with fuel, [acts] that were [considered] unforgivable. Then a whole wave of responses happened in Twitter, each declaring as unforgivable the things the regime had done that they considered unforgivable, using the hash tag #unforgivable. I had 80 instances myself, for example, the murder of Neda Agha Soltan, the execution of Farzad Kamangar, [other] executions that had taken place, the crimes at Kahrizak [Detention center], [Judge] Mortazavi, and Babak Zanjani. I noted all of that with #unforgivable. He considered these 80 tweets as instances of insulting the Leader.
Right now my case remains open and we’re awaiting implementation of the sentence.