Victims and Witnesses
“Now, In My Heart, I Miss My Brother’s Scent”: A Sister Bears Witness to a Brother Put to Death
Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation
August 7, 2017
Note: Names of some of the inviduals featured in this story have been changed in order to safeguard the identity of the victim’s family.
We were seven kids, two boys and five girls. My mother was a housewife and my father a building construction worker. I was the second child and Hossein was the fifth. He was born in [the town of] Khalkhal. He was still very little when we moved to [the city of] Karaj. I was always watching over Hossein, ever since childhood, and I loved him more than my other siblings. He was a meek, funny, kind, and generous boy. He quit school because he wasn’t interested in studying and got into construction work with my father and my older brother. He also became a street vendor for a while until he was able to save some money and open a store with one of his friends.
One December day in 2012, Hossein’s old friend, Nader, went to my brother’s store to leave the alcoholic beverages [the consumption and possession of which are illegal for Muslims in Iran] he had bought for his sister’s wedding there until that night. Hossein gave him the key to our house and his car key and told him: “Go put it in the storage space at my sister’s house.” Hossein came to our home that night and stayed over. The next morning, around 10 AM, my brother opened the door to leave the house when suddenly eight armed agents swarmed our home. I was in shorts and had a top on and was changing my seven-month-old daughter’s diaper; my husband was also home. I went to put a chador on when one of the agents violently pushed me. I said: “Sir, where do you think I can go from the sixth floor? What do you think I want to do?” “You want to destroy the evidence,” he replied. “I don’t even know why you are here for me to be wanting to destroy evidence. Wait a second and let me put something on,” I said. “Oh, so now you’re a virtuous Moslem?! How come this stuff wasn’t important to you when you used to go and f--- for money?” he exclaimed. “Hey, speak properly. What are you talking about? Do you even know what kind of person I am? Do you speak like that to your own sister too? You know what, how do I even know that you guys are agents?” I asked. “Shut up,” he replied, “shut your mouth and sit down right here. Who do you think you are, asking for a warrant?” He put the blanket that was on the floor over my head and said: “Cover yourself with this.” They handcuffed my brother and my husband, put guns to their heads, and wouldn’t even let them stand up. And they kept kicking and punching them non-stop, asking “where is such and such thing?” My husband said: “What are you looking for? We don’t have anything here.” The agents asked their names and as soon as my brother said his name was Hossein, the guy said: “Aha! This is the main guy. He runs the whole thing.” Hossein said: “Run what thing? What are you even talking about? Tell me so I can understand what this is all about.” My daughter had recently started crawling on the floor and these agents kept kicking her. My brother was telling them not to do that and with every word he uttered, they would punch him in the head. I was telling him not to say anything: “Let them beat my daughter, you just don’t say a word, don’t speak”. One of the agents was a tall, somewhat chubby man around sixty years old, who was searching the kitchen, looking into the cabinets, the refrigerator, the garbage can, and the food I was cooking on the stove. He was swearing constantly, saying awful words: “You f…… pimps, you think you’re actually somebody now? Who the hell were you when your parents brought you into the world?” “Why don’t you tell us what’s going on, why you’re here?” I said. “Whose car is that downstairs?” they asked. “The Pride [brand of car] is my husband’s and the other one belongs to my sister and Hossein,” I responded. Since my brother’s car was in the parking garage, we thought his friend had come over the previous night and taken his things and left the car in the garage. One of the agents who was talking on his cell phone suddenly handed it to Hossein and told him that it was Haji on the phone. My brother took the phone and kept saying “yes Haji, OK Haji”. I asked him who the guy on the phone was that he’d be calling him Haji? The agents said: “It’s none of your business. Shut up.” I yelled: “No more shutting up. Who is this guy? Why are you holding guns to our heads and why do you call this guy Haji? Tell us what’s going on. We have a good reputation in this neighborhood; tell us what the heck you want so we can understand what’s going on and why you’re yelling at us.” But all they did was insult us using really awful language. I asked Hossein: “You keep saying Haji, Haji; do you know who this person is?” “No, he said he was Haji and for me to call him Haji,” he answered. They took my husband and my brother away at around 11:30 AM without taking their handcuffs off. They pushed my brother’s head down and took him away very violently ahead of my husband; he only had a t-shirt and slippers on. I begged them: “Please let me say goodbye, let me kiss him; Sir, please tell me where you’re taking them. Where should I come? What precinct?” “No need. You’ll see them hanging from a rope and you can take their dead bodies,” he replied.
My husband had brought about eight cell phones home to repair. They took every cell phone we had in the house except mine, and said mockingly: “Look how large your gang is that you need so many cell phones.” There was about seven hundred thousand Tumans (roughly 200 hundred US Dollars) in the house and I begged them not to take it. One of the agents threw it on the floor and said: “Here, stop selling your body for a while. Spend this money a few days and think of this kid.” I said: “I’m not like that. If you think that’s how I make money, take it.” They gave my husband a piece of paper to sign, and one of the agents slapped him in the face when he tried to read it: “I told you to sign it; it’s none of your business what we’ve written in there.” They took my husband away too after he signed the paper but when he got to the elevator, they told him to go back and kiss his daughter and say goodbye to his wife “because you won’t see them again”. He returned and told me: “I haven’t done anything. Please take care of our daughter.” One of the agents said: “[All our people] are at your mother’s place now. They have arrested your older brother, your mother, and your father.” “Please let me call my mother,” I said, “she has high blood pressure and she will have a heart attack. She’s not well.” “You can’t call her, and heaven help you if you turn your cell phone off or if the battery dies. We’ll come back and take your child and you’ll never see her again,” they said, and left. My husband came back around twenty minutes later. I asked him where Hossein was. He said: “They took us to the garage and kept us standing, separately, and searched the cars and the storage room. They got a plastic bag out of the storage. We didn’t see what was in it; they just told us that they got it out of storage. Then they let me go, got Hossein into a car and left along with the other cars.” The agents’ cars were L90s and Samands [brands of car]. They took my brother and there was nowhere we could go [to find out about him]. Hossein’s friends who had learned of his arrest kept calling me non-stop. When the agents left, someone called and said: “You write down the phone numbers of whoever calls you. Then we’ll call you and get the numbers from you. If you don’t do as you’re told, we will harm Hossein.” They had turned our house upside down that day and I couldn’t even go in the room. I had put most of our stuff in boxes because our place was small; they had opened all the boxes and spread everything in the middle of the apartment; they broke everything.
I went everywhere, to every police precinct, to look for my brother after his arrest. I once begged one of the officers at Karaj’s Asbi Square precinct so much that he asked how he had been taken away. When I told him that they were in L90 and Samand cars, he said: “These were security people and they may have taken him off for drugs.” Another time, one of his friends who was Nader’s neighbor said: “I saw Hossein at the revolutionary court.”
We had no news of my brother. These people just kept calling me, and they called in such a way that I couldn’t record our conversation. They threatened me, tortured me: one person would call and tell me that they had taken out one of [Hossein’s] eyes, that they had broken his arm, that they had amputated his leg. One time Haji called me around 3 o’clock in the morning and said: “Go to the home of this person named Omid and see what kind of cars come and go and tell us everything you see. See how many cars they have, write down their tag numbers.” I said: “Haji, I’m a woman, I can’t do these things.” Then Haji would threaten me: “You either do as I say or we will take your daughter away, or we will torture Hossein.” Omid was Nader’s friend and was financially doing very well. Haji said that Milad, a friend of my brother’s, was the manufacturer, and the drugs belonged to Omid. But they never went after him and never arrested him. They said to call them whenever we saw him [with drugs] and they would go and arrest him.
Haji called twelve days after they had taken Hossein away and said: “You have to somehow lure Milad toward your house; we want to arrest him.” I said I wouldn’t do it unless I heard my brother’s voice. Haji called again two hours later and said they had taken Hossein hostage. “What for,” I asked, “why have you taken him hostage?” “We wanted drugs, he didn’t come up with what we wanted; he’s cost us damages and we want five pieces of collateral for them,” he responded. I said: “Please Sir, I swear to God we only have two cars; they have already taken one away, and the other one is this Pride, and they have taken the key.” I was not in a situation to remember that they were controlling my calls and I immediately called Milad and told him that they wanted five pieces of collateral from us and asked if he would give his car if they asked for it. “Of course I would,” he replied, “but you’re so naïve, sister. By collateral they mean something else.” Then Haji called again and I told him that I had arranged for other collateral. He said: “By five pieces of collateral, we mean five kilos.” “Sir, what do you mean five kilos?” I asked, “I neither know what collateral you’re talking about, nor how to get these five kilos. And I won’t talk anymore unless I hear my brother’s voice.” He said he would call again in half an hour. Half an hour later, Hossein called. It was as if we had been given the entire world. Everyone in the house was praising the Imam of the Ages (the messianic figure of Twelver Shi’a Islam). My mother passed out when he said “hello”. I couldn’t speak. I asked him if he was doing well, to which he responded “yes sister.” “Please tell me, will we see you or will they never let us see you again?” I asked, “because Haji said things to me. For the love of God, just tell us if they took you to court or not.” “Sister, could they not take anyone to court?” he said, “but don’t worry about it, let it go.” “Are you coming back?” I asked. “Yes, I swear to you that I will come back. I just want you to know that I’m fine,” he responded. “Do they bother you? Do they beat you? Do they torture you?” I asked. “Never mind that stuff, sister,” he said. Then Haji said: “Tell your sister that either she cooperates or we’ll deal with her.” Hossein said: “Sister, this Haji is a good guy, cooperate with him.” “Fine, but have you done anything wrong, or has something happened to you?” I asked. He said: “Don’t worry about it; forget about your friends. They wouldn’t have tried to get rid of me if they were true friends.” And our conversation was ended. Then we had no news of him again until he called us exactly forty days later. “They’re taking me to prison on Sunday and it will be a relief,” he said. My mother said: “What is tougher than prison, my beloved son? How you must have suffered there to wish to go to prison.”
Anyway, a while later, one of my older brother’s former classmates, who was in jail unbeknownst to us, called and informed us that Hossein was in quarantine at Karaj’s Central Prison. When we asked him how he knew, he said: “In prison, when they catch someone, they announce it to us to scare us; they say ‘we caught your friend in such and such place and he has confessed and given all of you up.’” We were all overcome with joy when we heard the news that he had finally gone to prison. He was in quarantine for three or four days and then we went to visit him. Visitations were every other week. We were not able to go the first week but we went the following week for a booth visitation. All this time, I had not said to anyone that they had told me that Hossein had lost an eye and that they had cut off one of his legs and broken his arms. He had lost weight. When he came closer I asked him if his eyes could see. “Of course,” he said. “Back up and let me see if your leg is still there,” I told him. When he noticed my hands shaking, he brought his leg up and said: “Sister, my arm and leg are here.” “They told me that they had cut off your leg and taken your eye out and done all sorts of things to you,” I said, “did they hurt you a lot?” He started to cry uncontrollably. He just told my mom that it was a relief coming to prison: “We didn’t know if it was day or night. For an entire week the power was out; they would give us Gheimeh (an Iranian dish) and tell us it was night time. Then they would give us [bread and] butter and jam and say it was day time.” “What else did they do to you?” I asked. “Why do you want to know what they did to me? You’ve been hurt badly enough,” he responded. He never told us what else they had done to him and whether he had been tortured or not.
Hossein had recently been transferred to prison when someone called us one night and said: “Deposit two and a half million to my account so I can switch Hossein to a different hall before my shift is over, otherwise he won’t survive the night: Omid, who was the owner of the drugs, has paid five million to have Hossein killed tonight so he won’t give him up.” My brother called me too and said: “Sister, I’m in a very bad situation; there’s someone following me wherever I go.” God knows we had no money. We called whoever we could. It took until three o’clock in the morning to deposit the money so they could move my brother.
During this entire time, no matter where we went to follow up on the case, like the investigative judge’s office, Hossein was defendant number two and Omid was designated defendant number one [as the principal] and they had issued an order for him to be under surveillance. But then they dropped the order and didn’t go after him at all. A short while later, they dropped [the charges against him] and removed his name from the case completely. The government would not provide an attorney, saying that they had a death sentence and did not need a lawyer. But I contacted [any attorney] I could: One would take a million, another 200 thousand, and go look at the file, and any lawyer who read the file would say: “This file does not need a lawyer. He’s going to be kept [in prison]. Also, the principal defendant is another person; Hossein won’t get the death penalty.” I paid fifteen million Tumans to the first attorney we hired. He told us that Nader had given up Hossein at the Information [Ministry]. Nader had left the drugs in the storage room and had been arrested the night prior to my brother’s arrest.
We met someone named Davud Aliabadi around the same time that we were going back and forth to the court and to the Investigative Judge’s office. Aliabadi told us in our first meeting: “I’m Abedi, a security agent for the Information Ministry’s biometric office. Give me two hundred million Tumans and I will reduce Hossein’s sentence to 14 years, then I will reduce the 14 years and [dispense with] the sentence… But you have to act before he is sentenced and we will take care of the sentence at the investigative judge’s office. Fire your lawyer and we will hire a lawyer for you because if your attorney and mine are both there, the judge will think that Hossein is rich and will give him the death penalty.” Aliabadi introduced a woman as the lawyer and said that the judge himself had said to hire the woman. We paid him seven million for the lawyer. He would not let us meet her at all. We even went to the revolutionary court a couple of times to see her but were not able to. No matter how many times we told Aliabadi to give us the lawyer’s office address [so we could meet with her], he wouldn’t, saying “these people won’t give us their address since they work on behalf of the judges, and the judge doesn’t want the lawyer to know that we are in cahoots with the judge.”
My brother was saying not to do any of this, that they were all charlatans. But we sold everything of value that we had, including our house and gold. We even asked the attorney that we had hired to give us our money back: he returned a portion of it and stopped doing anything for us after that. We came up with 120 million and gave it to that man so that he could pay the judge on the day of the trial so that my brother would not get the death sentence. And every time we went to court, Aliabadi would say “I’m going to the judge to take him some flowers,” by which he meant [gold] coins. He would get 15 gold coins from us each time, as well as my mom’s birth certificate, and according to him, he’d put a flower in between the pages of the birth certificate and would go in, pretending he was going to the judge.
Nader, Hossein’s co-defendant, also spent 130 million Tumans at the Investigative Judge’s office and was acquitted. He was released on Chahar Shanbeh Suri (celebration of the last Wednesday of the year on the Iranian calendar, a pre-cursor to ushering in the Iranian New Year) of that same year. I had gone to visit Nader’s mother one time and she told me: “Our son’s gone [to prison] but he will be out. We have a very powerful acquaintance, a judge.” Nader had told my brother in prison that he would get him out once he was out himself. I ran into Nader on the street one day and asked him how he had been acquitted: “You called Hossein and told him to put the stuff in storage. Everything you said is there. How come you’re out and he’s not?” He replied: “You’ll see Hossein when hell freezes over.” After that, I would cry every time I saw Nader on the street and I would just say “why did you do this to Hossein?” Three months after his release, Nader was arrested again with ten kilos of drugs.
According to the documents, my brother’s trial took place on April 10, 2012, at Karaj Revolutionary Court Branch One, and the judge’s name was Assefalhosseini. They did not allow anyone inside the courtroom but Aliabadi, our connection, took my mother inside before the trial started. Inside, my mom had told the judge: “I swear to God that my son is innocent. I am at your feet, I will bring the other person in here myself to prove to you that my son is innocent.” The judge had said: “I know, I am aware of everything. Rest assured I will not do any injustice.” They had shackled Hossein at trial, and the shackles were so short that he could hardly take a step. My brother went inside and came out. That was it. “Is it over?” I asked. “Yes, sister, I got my sentence. This guy is a charlatan. Look, there’s red ink on my finger,” he replied. “What does that mean?” “When someone gives their fingerprints with red ink, it means they’ve been issued the death penalty. It means I signed my own death sentence,” he said. “That’s bogus,” I stated. “Look sister, they have duped and tricked you and have just gotten money out of you. Go tell him right now that you want your money back and that you don’t want him to reduce my sentence,” my brother said. “To hell with the money.” “But sister, my father went through hell to make that money. Do you want to go hungry for the rest of your lives?” he asked. “I don’t care,” I replied, “let him reduce your sentence.” “But sister, I have already been sentenced, I have already signed what I wasn’t supposed to sign. Even if this were supposed to be superficial, I shouldn’t have been made to do that,” he said. “The judge just told mom that the sentence is nothing.” “Assefalhosseini just said to me: “Go, I’ll see you in Heaven’.” “What do you mean?” “I mean it’s over, I have my sentence.” “You mean he didn’t even ask you anything, no questions, no nothing?” “No, he just took my fingerprint and I came out. That’s it. There was no trial.”
I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak. They took Hossein away and sat him down somewhere else. They neither let us go sit with him, nor talk to him. I cried so much that he told me not to cry in front of these cowards. I said: “They just told me you wouldn’t be sentenced [to death].” I went to Aliabadi and told him, “You told me he wouldn’t get a death sentence.” He said, “Your brother has not gotten a sentence”. I then forced my way into the judge’s chamber and asked the judge: “Judge, what is Hossein’s sentence?” He said: “Go, he has his sentence. We’ll tell you later.” I asked the judge’s administrator: “Please sir, for the love of God, they had told us Hossein would not get a death sentence. What is my brother’s sentence?” He replied: “You’ll see the sentence later. You don’t think about these days [and the consequences] when you are out and about, spending money, and having a good time. Now you’re shedding crocodile tears and asking me what his sentence is?” I went downstairs to the Sentence Implementation [Section] and said: “For the love of God, what happened?” “Nothing, he got his death sentence,” was the response. I went to Aliabadi and told him: “You said he wouldn’t get the death penalty.” “He didn’t,” he replied. I asked my uncle who had accompanied us to court to distract Aliabadi, and I ran after the attorney into the street. I begged her to tell me the truth. She said: “That’s the law and your brother’s sentence is death, but I submitted a brief for a one degree reduction [to life imprisonment].” Aliabadi arrived at that moment and did not let us continue talking. He pulled me aside and said: “Let her go, I’ll talk to her myself later.” That was the very last time I saw that lady lawyer. I went to court two or three times after that to find out her address but Aliabadi scared me and prevented us from going to court, saying that we would make matters worse for Hossein. But I paid no attention and went without his knowledge. And every time I did go to court he would call and say: “Why did you go to court? You’ve gone there so many times that the judge called and said that he would not accept the case if you go back one more time.”
After a while, the sentence was forwarded to the Supreme Court and my brother got the death penalty for possession of four kilos and 400 grams of meth. And Mr. Aliabadi would say: “In 40 days you will receive notice that his sentence has been reduced.” Another time he said: “I got 15 years for Hossein and I’m supposed to send the letter to the court with overnight mail.” Since I didn’t believe him, I went to the court’s Branch One to Mr. Nazari, with my daughter who had just started walking, and asked him what the story was. He said: “If the sentence is reduced, the order will go the secretariat. Get over there and see if there is anything there and quickly bring me the order so I can enter it into the computer and send it to the prison.” I went to the secretariat and they said that nothing had gone there. I went back to Mr. Nazari. I went back and forth between him and the secretariat, until I was told by the secretariat that if the order was coming, it would get there in the next half hour. When the letters arrived, they said there was no such letter among them. I left the court and contacted my older brother and told him that we had been lied to and that there was no such order. He started swearing at me, telling me I was stupid and an idiot for doing what I did. I said: “I’m having a heart attack here and you’re frightening me even more instead of consoling me?” It was as if the world had ended. I didn’t know where I was going. A couple of cars honked their horns and I thought they were doing that because I was in the middle of the street, so I pulled myself away. Suddenly a man said: “Where is your mind, my girl? What are you doing? Isn’t this your child in the middle of the street? Take her aside.” “What child,” I asked. I turned around and realized my daughter was walking behind me in the middle of the street and calling me. I had completely forgotten that she was with me. All I remembered was that I let go of her hand when I got my cell phone back at the court entrance and I forgot to take her hand again.
In all this going back and forth to the court, we were told to go beg Eje’ee for a one degree reduction in the sentence. It was the month of Ramadan when my mom and I would go to the [Supreme] Court mosque at 5 AM while fasting, waiting for Eje’ee to come for the morning prayer, which we would do standing behind him, and try to give him our letter. They told us to go to Supreme Court Branch 43, which we did. We submitted the letter, but were told that Hossein himself had to write a letter from inside prison, which he did. We were told that nothing could be done about a death sentence in Iran, except if you learn the Koran by heart. They showed us a newspaper where it said that 16 people had gotten a reduced sentence in Esfahan for having learned the Koran by heart. I told my brother: “Learn the Koran by heart. If you do, there will be no need to do anything or hire a lawyer.” He said: “I will do anything you say, sister. They can take me to the square and flog me from morning until night, as long as they don’t kill me; I just want to live.” I said: “Just learn a part of the Koran by heart any way you can so I can take the certificate to them. They say only the Koran can save you.” The prison issued about sixteen certificates, of good moral character, of reading the Koran, and of learning the Koran by heart, all of which I took to Mr. Lotfi to attach to the file. One time, I took the documents to Mr. Shajrvari at the Sentence Implementation Section. He threw them away and said: “What are you doing bringing me documents? Everybody reads the Koran. They even read the Koran over the body of a dead person. Get out of here. You can put these documents on top of him when you’re reading the Koran over his dead body.”
About two months before they took Hossein for execution, he called me and said: “Sister, they want to take 150 people [for execution].” We went to Mr. Shahrvari at Sentence Implementation and begged him, begged other people, and bribed some people until they finally let us see the list. His name wasn’t on there. My brother called again and said: “I’m number 52 on the list.” I said: “I swear to God. Your name was not on the list. There were six pages but your name was not there.” Hossein called at 11 PM one night and said: “Sister, the prison’s Sentence Implementation says my name has come up.” I immediately called my brother’s former attorney and told him that Hossein had been told that his name had come up for implementation. “Impossible. Usually they let you know two or three days before they carry out the sentence. They told us he would get a reduced sentence if he learns the Koran by heart. Hasn’t he learned the Koran by heart?” I was asked. I said that he had and was told to somehow go and see the Prosecutor. For two weeks we went to the [Prosecutor’s Office] and begged, until my father and my husband were finally able to meet Mr. Shahkarami, the Karaj Revolutionary Prosecutor, for ten minutes. My father said: “I got on my hands and knees and was at his feet and said ‘please, you know my son is innocent. I’m not asking you to set him free or give him a reduced sentence, just take another look at his file and see who is at fault; just take one more look at his file’.” And Shahkarami had said: “Go and don’t worry. I sent your son’s file to get a one degree reduced sentence.” My father didn’t know what to do when he got home; he was so happy. I asked him what he had done and he said: “I was finally able to do something for Hossein.” I called my brother that same night and told him that we had gone to the Prosecutor and that he had ordered that the file be looked into again. “You have just buried me with your own hands, Sister,” he replied. “Don’t say that,” I said, “the Prosecutor said that he had sent the file for a one degree reduction in the sentence; he shook Dad’s hand, he gave his word, he gave his word of honor.” “He just wanted to get rid of you,” was his response, “I’m not saying this to make you sad, Sister, but they’re taking me [for execution] now, one hundred percent.” I immediately called my brother’s former lawyer again and told him the story. “You accomplished a major thing and it was the only thing you could do for him,” he said. He called a few days later and said that the file had not been sent for sentence reduction. All I did for two months was to go to the Supreme Court. They said I had to take them the Court Decision. I went through unspeakable trouble but I was finally able to obtain the Court Decision. When I went to the Supreme Court Branch 25 office, a man took the Court Decision from me, threw it in a corner, and said with a snicker: “Leave Madame: all files up to June 22, 2015, have been closed. Why have you come here?” “The Prosecutor told me that he has sent the case over for re-consideration,” I answered. “Just go Madame,” he said. I went to room 18. There was a man there who told me to go and tell them to put the file on top of the other files, which I did, but they wouldn’t do it. So I came back to room 18. This time, that man made the call himself and said: “I’m telling you to accept this one.” Then he said to me: “There is another court decision other than this.” “I swear, they won’t give us anything. I went through hell and high water to even get this one,” I said. “I can’t do anything about that. If you bring it, I can do something for him; if not, I can’t,” he said.
They gave us the runaround. We went to the lawyer that night and got him on retainer again. He went everywhere starting the next morning: the court, the Supreme Court, everywhere. And he was told that it was over and the sentence had become final.
My brother called one night to talk to us but he couldn’t and he kept dropping the phone because he had kidney problems. I said: “What’s going on? Are you sick? Do you have kidney pain?” “No, Sister,” he replied. “Why do you keep dropping the phone then?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he responded, “they took me and injected me with something to calm me down.” I called one of his prison mates who had a cell phone and asked why Hossein was like that. He said he didn’t know. I asked if he was sick. “No, but since he is the ward’s representative, and he goes to all the halls, they took him and gave him an injection,” he said. Hossein called again at 2 AM and said: “They’re taking me, Sister.” “No, I hope I don’t see that day; I will die before you do. They’re not going to take you,” I said. “I can’t sleep,” he exclaimed, “They want to take me. Please take care of yourself and mom when I’m gone.” I went to the Prosecutor the next day and told him they were taking him away to hang him. He yelled at me: “I’m the one who issues a death sentence, and I’m telling you we don’t have one; and you keep telling me they’re taking your brother [for execution]. Says who? The death sentence has been suspended.” I returned home and called my brother and swore to him that they had said there was no execution planned.
On January 10, 2016, we were having dinner at home when someone called my husband. He became very disoriented and weak and got up and left the table. I asked him to tell me if anything had happened to Hossein and he said no. At 7 PM, the mother of one of the prisoners who had been executed called and told me without any hesitation that Hossein and three other people had been taken to “the suite” (the solitary confinement cells to which death row prisoners are escorted before being hanged.) I said: “You’re wrong. I talked to him around 4 PM.” After that, no one picked up their phones when I called, not my husband, not my brother, not my brother-in-law, no one. My mom started to yell and scream and beat herself. Within five minutes, it seemed like the whole world had gathered in our house and said that they had taken Hossein. I don’t know what happened after that, I don’t remember anything at all. Next thing I knew, I was moaning at a clinic and calling out my brother’s name. And these people just kept telling me that the guy at the Supreme Court had said he would get a reprieve in 24 hours.
We went to the prison for a final in-person visitation at 2 PM on January 11. My brother’s hair had turned completely white. He sat in front of me and smiled and said: “Take care of yourself, Sister. Don’t cry here in front of these dastardly cowards; do not cry in front of these cowards at all. This is how long I was supposed to live. Think of it as if I had been in an accident. I’m finally rid of these cowards. Now I can sleep at night. I have no fear, sister. They want to take me tomorrow morning. I couldn’t sleep for three and a half years, I was constantly awake.” “I have made a charitable offering,” I said, “they have told us that you will not die; you read the Koran; what happened to all of that?” “Just think of it as I was only supposed to live this long in this world. I am innocent and I’m leaving this world in all innocence. Hold your head up high and do not cry,” he said.
Hossein and three other people were hanged at 4 AM on January 12, 2015. We buried him in [the town of] Malard’s Emamzadeh Ebrahim [shrine and cemetery]. I don’t remember anything until the [commemoration of the] seventh day of his passing. The only thing I remember is that his body was in the middle of the house. They opened the cloth so we could say goodbye to him. I saw the bruise around his neck, that’s all. I don’t remember anything else, nothing else of my brother.
All we did for three and a half years was go to the Supreme Court, the Judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office, etc.; we went everywhere you can imagine. I used to go mostly with my mom but there were times when I didn’t want her to know about certain things and I would go by myself. My father is illiterate and doesn’t really know anything [about where to go] and panics as soon as you tell him something unpleasant. We took him with us once and he was so afraid he almost had a heart attack. As for my older brother, his wife wouldn’t let him [help]; she would say: “I have my own life and I want to go on living it. How long am I supposed to sit with you guys and cry with you?” My brother thought all of this was useless and questioned why we should do any of it at all. But it was important to me. I thought there might be an opening at some point, that some miracle could happen. It was not important to me how many times the officials insulted me, swore at me, threw me out of their rooms and told me “don’t play innocent; don’t pretend like you’re about to pass out; get the hell out of here.” I stood my ground and begged. I would say: “Fine, whatever you say. Just tell me where to go. Is there something I can do?” Mr. Shahrvari at Sentence Implementation, or Mr. Lotfi at Pardons and Forgiveness, would give me the run around every time I went there, and treated me any way they pleased. Mr. Nazari or Mr. Lotfi would indirectly say “spend money if you have any. Go see someone who can get the sentence reduced. I can find you the guy if you want.” The amounts they talked about started at about four billion; if you cried and begged and say that you didn’t have that kind money, it would go down to two billion. Mr. Lotfi would even say “these guys have been sentenced to death and they will be hanged. Try to bring me proof of his good deeds and conduct inside prison as much as you can and I will put it in his file; maybe something will happen eventually.” The soldiers standing at the court entrance would not be offensive when we went there; they even consoled us and would say that things would work out and be fine. President Rohani came to Karaj and we went there; we went to Tehran; we went to Qazvin. They said he would take action. They gave us a direct number and said to talk to Mr. Rohani. I called the number and his secretary answered the phone and said anything he wanted to me. I called again to complain about the secretary, and he picked up the phone himself and said: “Who’s going to hear your cries? You’re not one of them, I am. You can complain about me a hundred times, but I will still be sitting here doing nothing and collecting my money. What the hell do you think you can do about that?” I said: “You’re there to let them know what I say. I’m begging you for the life of a human being. I’m not asking that my brother be released; all I’m saying is he didn’t deserve this. Reduce his sentence by one degree. Give him life and let him stay there for life and more. I swear that my brother had nothing to do with any of this.”
The guard at our building was a witness to the fact that the drugs did not belong to my brother. He would swear and say: “I don’t care what these people say; I swear on Hossein’s life that this wasn’t Hossein’s doing and it was not his fault. That night, a boy and a girl brought this stuff and put it in the storage room. I witnessed it.” When they were taking my brother away he kept saying “Sir, he’s not like that, I swear to God it’s not him.” But unfortunately, they don’t allow witnesses to testify in court for these types of charges.
After my brother went to jail and was sentenced to death, Haji called again and said he could help get a [lighter sentence] for Hossein if we cooperated. I asked what I could do. He gave the names of two people and said: “Find out all you can about their lives.” I said: “How can you help when my brother has already been sentenced to death?” My husband took the phone from me and said to Haji: “What do we have to do if we don’t want to help?” and hung up. Haji called two or three more times but we didn’t answer.
In the course of the conversations we had with Hossein when he was in jail, he mentioned that when they were trying to extract a confession out of him in the interrogations, they had told him that “Nader has said that the drugs belonged to you.” My brother said: “Nader is lying. These guys insist that I either take responsibility for the crime or put it on Nader. They were asking me why I didn’t say the drugs belonged to Nader.” And I said: “Why don’t you say that they belong to Nader?” “How could I know that there even was such a thing, let alone blame it on Nader. Nader had brought some alcohol for his sister’s wedding, he wouldn’t frame me. We are very close,” Hossein replied. “Why did he do this to you then?” I asked. “He did a dastardly deed to me, I can’t do the same to him.” My mother would get into an argument with him about this stuff when we would go for visitations: “Why would you care about someone when he doesn’t care about you?” And when we pressed him with more questions, he would just say: “What do you want to know? What is it that you want to find out when I have already gotten a death sentence? You want to torture me even more? You want to tell me that I was stupid?”
We were allowed to give my brother one pair of pants, one sweater that was not to be a knit sweater, one sweatshirt without a zipper, hood and lining, two pairs of underwear, two undershirts, and a blanket per year while he was in prison. We had to remove the lining around the blanket to show that we had not hidden any drugs or anything else in it. If he needed anything extra, like clothes or a toothbrush, we would buy it at a store right outside the prison, and he would get it the next morning.
We were allowed to deposit sixty to seventy thousand Tumans into a bank account they had opened for Hossein in jail. My brother said that they paid 15 thousand Tumans for a can of tuna (almost three times its price outside prison) and more than 30 thousand Tumans for a chicken (almost five times the price outside). He was allowed to call every day. When he called from the prison phone, there would be a recording three times a minute, saying “this is Karaj Prison.”
There were five or six prisoners in every cell. Hossein said that the hygiene conditions in prison were awful but that their room was clean. Nevertheless, every time he called, he would say there were lice in his clothes. They got to go to the yard on a daily basis, sometimes for a half hour, sometimes for two hours. Since my brother was the ward representative, he spent most of his time in the “Zir Hasht” room, which was a room where the guards were and my brother did some tasks there. He had problems during the time of his incarceration because his kidneys produced stones. We went to court and told them that Hossein was sick and was not doing well at all. They said to put up one billion Tumans in collateral and take him out. When we said we didn’t have that kind of collateral, they said “then let him die”. All we were able to do was to procure some medication through the prison to alleviate his kidney pain.
Visitations were on Tuesdays in a booth, from behind glass, for twenty minutes. To get inside the prison to see him was torture: we left Fardis [neighborhood] around 7:30 or 8 in the morning and would get to the prison around 9 - 9:30. We would sit in line until around 11 AM, waiting for our turn. We would go through any hardship to see Hossein as quickly as possible; it wasn’t important what they said to us or what they did; we would go through a hundred [checks], they would stamp our hands, we would sign [papers], they would insult us, they would check our birth certificates and say they weren’t ours, they would find fault with our clothes, we would go through body searches, and sometimes they just wouldn’t let us in. We were always extremely worried we’d get there late, or that Hossein might be sick, or that he might be late to the visit. And even when we got to the visitation hall, the phones would get cut off after ten minutes and they would throw us out. Some days Hossein would give the hall guard and the person in charge of the phones a phone card or a box of cigarettes as a bribe and would tell us to stay longer and talk. We would hide in the hall so no one could see us so we could talk to Hossein for ten more minutes. Prisoners would wear a green shirt on visitation days. We were always crying before we went inside and pretended we were happy when we saw him. And after we left the visitation hall, we would cry non-stop all the way home. We had in-person visitations every four months and they would really make you go through hell for that. They would take your clothes off to search you, they would remove the child’s diaper, all for just a twenty minute visit, which they would cut short after ten or fifteen minutes. And it wasn’t like we could hug Hossein or anything: there was a column and my brother would stand on the other side of it; we were only allowed to give him the children for a few minutes so he could kiss them and give them back. We were only allowed to hug and kiss him when we were saying goodbye; and there was a person standing next to us, telling us to “keep your distance and stand over there.”
Prior to his arrest, my brother was in love with a girl and we were supposed to go and ask for her hand in marriage. When he was in prison, he would call and say: “Sister, if it weren’t for her I’d die; at least I get distracted when I talk to her.” After a while, this girl said: “I will stay if you support me [financially].” My mom would treat her exactly like she treated us; she would buy her clothes, we would give her money, we would give her anything she wanted. But some time later she simply said: “You don’t support me and I’m sorry but I can’t stick around.” And I never saw her again; all I remember is that they showed me someone at Hossein’s funeral services and told me that it was her. I was taking so many sedatives and pills that made me drowsy that I didn’t recognize her at all; I didn’t know what was what for forty days and I don’t remember anything.
We all always hoped and thought that Hossein would ultimately get out. He would say to me: “I’ll be out when your daughter turns 15 because I’m innocent. Even if I’m not out in 15 years, I’ll be there for her wedding.” I always imagined that he would be out.
My mother had three heart attacks during [Hossein’s incarceration]. The first time was when we paid Aliabadi and he didn’t do anything. Since it was Mom and I who had been the intermediaries, everyone [blamed] her for it. The second time was when they issued my brother’s death sentence, and the last time was when he passed away. And now, she’s up and walking around at 3 o’clock in the morning, or she’s sitting in the yard crying; she can’t sleep if she doesn’t take sedatives; and her blood pressure is off. She cries day and night and keeps saying “I couldn’t do anything for him”.
My father and older brother who were construction workers lost their jobs. Two of my sisters put their money together and rented a one yard by one yard space under a stairway for my father and he’s now selling fruits. My older brother drives a cab for a private cab company. And my mother and I work for a clothes manufacturer, sewing clothes for newborns.
When my daughter was still nursing and my mom and I were going to the Supreme Court mosque to try to meet with Eje’ee, I would draw my milk every morning for an entire month and we would leave her at home and come back at 9 PM. She is almost five now. She looks into my eyes when I cry and she says: “Are you afraid Mommy? Don’t be afraid, let me hug you so you can calm down.” Then she goes and stands in front of Hossein’s picture and says: “Uncle Hossein is with God now. He’s here but you can’t see him and he gets upset when you cry. You don’t know but Uncle Hossein tells me that he’s fine; he says to tell Mom that he’s fine.”
Our close relatives had found out that Hossein was in jail during the four years he was incarcerated. Others knew it as well but wouldn’t say anything for fear of upsetting us. But there were also others who would make snide remarks like “he’s in jail and these people are just eating and sleeping [as if nothing had happened].”
My husband’s father was the only one who knew [about Hossein] on his side of the family. His sisters didn’t know. I had told them that Hossein had gone to Turkey to bring over some merchandise and had gotten caught there and had [decided to] stay and not return. I would also tell my daughter not to ever mention to her aunt where she saw her uncle. But my father-in-law knew and was praying for him day and night. He even went to Karbala on foot saying “maybe God will look favorably upon my deed”. The relatives who knew always said that an innocent man might go as far as the gallows but he will not hang. Nobody could believe it when he was hanged.
After my brother’s execution, we all [felt guilty]; we were asking ourselves why we didn’t do more, thinking maybe there was something that could have been done but we just weren’t able to do it. My husband, who loves his own brother to death, sits down crying and says: “I wish my brother had died instead of Hossein. Hossein meant something else to me. I have lost all hope ever since he’s been gone.”
I became seriously ill after my brother’s execution. I was hospitalized three times in a single week. Right now, I cannot sleep or speak if I don’t take pills. I’m undergoing psychological treatment. I was the one who suffered the most; no one endured the psychological torture that I did; I can’t even talk to my own kid anymore and I hit her. I feel like I was at fault because I was the one who told my brother to come to our house that night. I go over these things a hundred times a day. I keep dreaming that they took my brother from our house, and when I open my eyes, I am reminded of him walking that hallway all alone to reach the gallows. I begged anyone you can imagine, begging them to take me instead of my brother, saying that I had lived my life already, begging them to let my brother live. I said I would be their slave, I would be their maid, I would be their dog, I used all of these words and I fell at their feet. But now, in my heart, I miss my brother’s scent.