Victims and Witnesses
“Like I Died and Came Back to Life”: Witness Statement of Mohammad Sediq Karimi
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
September 5, 2018
Birth and Adolescence; Introduction to Komeleh
My name is Mohammad Sediq Karimi. I’m from the village of Gol-e Sorkh or Gol-e Na, near the town of Divandarreh in Kurdistan Province. I was born on March 23, 1973. I have a fifth grade education.
My parents’ families are good families and well-known in the region. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers always told me that I had to stand out and show that I was different from the others. That stayed with me and I always told myself: “I have to stand out somehow.” And then, I was introduced to Komeleh as an adolescent.
It was around 1985. Those years, most border cities like Divandarreh (which was close to our village) had a Revolutionary Guards base or outpost which was operated as an inspection post. They said these bases were for the safety and security of the people, but in reality they wanted to know what was going on in the town and region. Our town did not have a Revolutionary Guards outpost at the time.
Back in those days, on one occasion, Komeleh established a court in our village in which it defended the rights of a poor girl whose parents wanted to forcibly marry off to someone. The court issued a monetary penalty to the girl’s father and made him pledge that he would not forcibly marry the girl off in any way, shape, or form. On another occasion, Komeleh had taken a wounded man prisoner, laying him down on a makeshift stretcher (a ladder they used as a stretcher). The captive man was yelling and insulting and telling them to put him down. He was saying “I will go to heaven if Komeleh kills me”. The others were saying: “Don’t release him; if you do, he will come back and fight us again.” But Komeleh forces let him go and sent him to Divandarreh through a council they had in the village. These two incidents made me want to work with Komeleh even more.
So I went to the Komeleh forces and told them I wanted to become a member of the Komeleh Peshmerga, but they threw me out and said I was too young. Then I received two books from them, which I read, and familiarized myself with Komeleh.
The Revolutionary Guards’ Treatment of Mr. Karimi, His Family, and the Villagers
I was about 13 or 14. There were “Long Live Komeleh” slogans written on the walls of our village. That’s all. I don’t know who had written them. Our village also had a Revolutionary Guards outpost at the time. The man in charge of the base (the base commander) and all of his subordinates harassed and beat the villagers. The base commander was saying “how do you not know who has written slogans on the walls?” He and some of his officers came to the door of our house and he severely beat my father up. Several of my fellow villagers who cooperated with the Guards as members of the Bassij, had spread rumors around town that I was a member of Komeleh, that I was a communist, that I didn’t believe in the Qor’an, didn’t pray, didn’t fast, and that I said the Guards were awful, that the Bassij was awful, and that I encouraged people who wanted to work with the Revolutionary Guards or the Bassij not to join, and that I said bad things about the people who were active in the outpost. So the base commander had heard all of this and thought that I might have been responsible for writing some of the slogans on the walls. But now that I’m a free man and not in danger, I can tell you that I had not written a single sentence against the Islamic republic on the walls of our village.
So that day, they took fifteen people, including me (I was 13 at the time), to the base and tortured us. They poured cold water on our heads. All I had said to a couple of the soldiers was that my father was illiterate; that was all. But because of that, and maybe because of the rumors the base commander had heard, they took me along with the others, who were around thirty, forty, or fifty years old. They poured cold water on our heads in the freezing winter weather; they had taken our clothes off and were running us around the base. That was when I started to hold a grudge against the base commander. I hated him because he had beaten my father, essentially. I remember vividly that my father’s hands were bleeding and he had done absolutely nothing. Even now, that makes me very angry. They were telling him “you have written slogans on the walls” though my father was illiterate; he was a simple farmer who couldn’t even write his own name. I remember my father’s tears, his bleeding hands frozen from the cold.
Leaving the Village in Early 1990
In those years, the things that the members of the neighborhood Bassij were saying behind my back had caused people to look at me differently; they were saying that I was a communist, that I was not a Muslim, and that I wasn’t one of them. Unfortunately, even my own family had been affected by what people were saying. That was why my father forced me to attend Qor’an classes. I read and learned the Qor’an but I didn’t understand anything since it was in Arabic; I didn’t continue the classes and I did not pray.
I had issues in the village until 1989-90. I had to endure the things people said behind my back on top of the torture by the base commanders. I couldn’t even go to the homes of my relatives because of what they had done. I knew that if I did, those same Bassij and Revolutionary Guards members would report to the base and my relatives would be in trouble as well. They had been tortured on numerous occasions because of me. So I didn’t go to visit them not to cause problems for them; and if I did, I would do it in secret. In the middle of 1989, my mother told me to leave the village because “they’re always after you for one thing or another, saying you don’t pray and you don’t fast”.
There were several people (whose names I don’t want to mention) who were good people; some of them from my village and some from the town. They used to say “we know you get tortured, we know you get harassed. Just leave the village”. So I left the village at their suggestion but I didn’t know my way around; I had only gone as far as Divandarreh. One of my relatives took me to the city of Sanandaj. I stayed at the home of another relative and did manual labor for six months. After six months, a number of laborers from our region wanted to go to work in the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr, and I went with them. I was thinking about my family the entire time. I had not been away from my family until then and I had a very difficult time. Even now I get a headache when I think about it. Ultimately, I could no longer stand being away from my family, and even though it was hard for me to go back to the village, I did just that in 1991, because I missed them.
First Arrest, Bijar
I had held a grudge against the base commander since adolescence and I had promised myself that I would get him some day. When I went back to the village in 1991, the base had pretty much been closed down and there weren’t that many people left there anymore. I had saved some money I used to buy a motorcycle. My bike had broken down one day and I had gone to the town of Bijar to get it repaired, when, out of nowhere, I ran into the former commander of the base in front of the motorcycle repair shop. We said hello and he asked me to go to his home saying “I have a few pictures of your relatives I want to show you”. I really wanted to see the pictures and wanted payback for the beating he had given my father and the rest of the people. I went and saw the pictures, and learned where he lived. Nothing happened that day. He did not have a particular intention, and I didn’t want to do anything on that particular day. He just saw me by chance and recognized me because he had arrested me two or three times, beaten me on several occasions, and I had had a run-in with him over my father. In short, he knew me. I think he somehow wanted to make amends. I got a weapon two or three months later, thinking “I’m going to hit this guy”. I went to his house but he wasn’t there. They said that he was working with a wheat combine. I got his address; they said he was in the mountains.
I was pretty young at the time and wasn’t physically big either. When I got there, he approached me but he wasn’t alone. There were a lot of people there; 38 people. I was scared because it was the first time I’d carried a weapon. I took it out and shot at him twice but no one was hurt. My firearm was not good; it was one of those old brands. I think the bullets travelled a yard or two and then hit the ground. They ran after me after the shots were fired. I had not turned my motorcycle off so I jumped on it and went toward the city of Hamedan. There is a town in Hamedan near Alisadr Cave. I don’t know how they’d gotten word to the inspection post there but they stopped and arrested me and proceeded to severely beat me. Then the plaintiffs arrived. They kept me at the inspection post all night, and beat me with electric cables. They poured cold water on me, and just kept beating me, so much that I passed out. I regained consciousness in the morning, and I don’t know what time it was.
Adjudication and Detention After the First Arrest
The plaintiffs came to the Hamedan Court and asked the judge to turn me over to them. The judge sent them all out and started talking to me and advising me a bit. He was really a fair and very good judge. I’m thankful to him even now; he was very kind to me. He said: “I’m giving you fatherly advice, son. You will get caught one day.” I told him what the guy had done to my father and why I held a grudge against him, and that I had wanted to take revenge. He really talked to me a lot and said: “I don’t have much authority over this and there’s not much I can do. But stop this foolishness and don’t get entangled with these people. The plaintiffs have asked me to send your case to Kurdistan Province.” “That’s fine with me too,” I replied. I thanked God because Kurdistan Province was closer and I could at least see my family. That was how my case was sent to Sanandaj Criminal Investigations Bureau.
There were 38 plaintiffs. They had stated in their complaint that I had shot at them and that I had engaged all of them, though the shot I had fired had not even gone toward the former base commander; but these guys had said that I had randomly shot at all of them and that I didn’t care who I was killing. The only proof they had was my weapon and my admission that I had gone there to shoot that guy. That was all they had; nothing else.
Since the plaintiffs knew everybody and had influence in the Information Administration and within the Revolutionary Guards, they had the case sent from Sanandaj to Bijar so they could work on the case themselves. Ultimately, they ended up taking me from Sanandaj detention to Bijar. I was not blindfolded until we got close to Bijar. Then they blindfolded me for forty or fifty days straight and would only remove the blindfold at night. I think I was detained by Information agents during that period; but I have no idea whether it was at someone’s home or at the Information Detention center, because I was blindfolded. I only know that I was kept in a small two by one-and-a-half-meter room.
They would torture me at all hours, any time they pleased. There were usually three to six people. Sometimes they would show up at two or three in the morning to torture me. They would tell me to turn to the wall and put my blindfold on. Sometimes they would show up at 5 o’clock in the morning and the guy would say: “I got up for morning prayer, performed my ablutions to pray, now I have to come here and deal with you. Tell me, why did you go over there and why did you want to kill a government agent? I won’t torture you if you tell the truth.” They would take me to another room for the torture. It was a four by four or five by five-meter room; it was a large room where they tortured people. And this is what they did: They would take me to that room blindfolded, then they would hit me in the face and kick me. And they would ask: “Are you going to confess or not,” to which I would respond “but I have nothing to say. This guy came to our village, beat the hell out of my father and beat the villagers. Ask around; that was why I wanted to [shoot] him. I had no other objective.”
And they would say: “No, he’s not going to confess. Do the ‘jujeh kabob’ (‘chicken kabob’) on him.” This is how jujeh kabob works: They tie your hands and bring them down to your feet, and they pass a rod through your arms and legs, thereby locking them. Then they would put me on a table or a chair, my feet up in the air, and beat the bottom of my feet with electric cables, whips, or anything else they could get a hold of. They would hit me everywhere but mostly at the bottom of my feet. They would pour cold water on the floor, forcibly swirl me on it, and then they would beat me. Sometimes I couldn’t stand up anymore. They would hold me, take my clothes off and throw me in cold water and tell me they would run electricity through my body. They only did that two or three times. It would make me shake; it would make my entire body shake, my eyes would become hot, my body would shake, my eyes would be on fire. It affected my nerves and my feet for years. I went to see a doctor back then and he said that there were spots on my body as if there were bruises. The marks were there inside my body, inside my legs, and on my back, and occasionally bothered me and the signs were there until two or three years ago when I came to Germany and got treatment. Now it’s fine.
There was nothing in my cell, just a piece of carpeting and an army blanket that soldiers use; nothing else. The food was sometimes good and sometimes not. Sometimes there was just bread and water, sometimes there was rice. Sometimes you would have different dishes, but it was mostly bread and water. And it wasn’t three meals a day, only two, served in the morning and at night. I was never full; there was just enough food so you could stay alive.
They sent me to court after a month. I had not accepted any of the charges nor admitted to anything until then. And everything was clear, of course. Before they took me to court, they gave me a piece of paper that I signed; but I did not know who had written it and what its content was. I was blindfolded, and I wasn’t literate enough to read it anyway. The court sentenced me to two years in prison.
First Incarceration, Sanandaj Prison
I was sent from Information Detention to Sanandaj Police Force Prison, Ward 3, to serve my time, to a room with 22 or 25 murderers. Of course none of them were really bad people, and to this day they have not done anything bad to me. Ward 3 was mostly for people convicted of murder and armed robbery. There were addicts and drug dealers there too, but the majority of them were convicted of murder, armed robbery, and sale of firearms. In our cell, everybody had committed murder.
Among the 22 or 25 people in our room, there was only a cleric who was not a murderer, and me, who was very young. I was initially very scared at night because I had never seen murderers before and I had heard so many bad things about them. But when I got to know them and talked to them, I realized that they were all unlucky and very unfortunate people. None of them were legitimate murderers, a murderer who has truly committed murder in the true sense of the word. They all had some sort of problem; they were sick or had literacy and cultural issues that had made them commit murder. None of them were inherently murderers, they were all good people.
My family knew that I had been transferred to prison and where I was. But, number one, they were poor; number two, they were from a village and didn’t know their way around the city; and number three, they were scared. They would say: “The people you got tangled up with are all Information agents and Revolutionary Guardsmen and they are very powerful. They will cause problems for us if they find out that we come to visit you.” They seldom came to see me for those three reasons. And they were poor and didn’t have any money to send me either. There were people in prison, however, who were called “prison mayors” and others who worked in prison. I would sometimes work with them and get paid weekly. I would make handicrafts as well. I would make roughly a thousand to one thousand five hundred Tumans a month. I had to make do with that. The food situation wasn’t good. The hygiene and health situation wasn’t good at all. We didn’t have a decent doctor. There were very few people who could get treated at the infirmary. They would mostly get medication from the outside. When they would go for in person visitation, they would give money to soldiers who would bring the medication inside the prison for them. I needed painkillers on two or three occasions and the infirmary gave me some, but they didn’t give them to a lot of people. There were some good Samaritans in the ward who brought in medication from the outside and we would usually buy it from them. For example, we would wash their clothes or do other chores and would get the medication in exchange.
Sanandaj Prison had six wards: the general ward, Ward 5 which was the political ward, the women’s ward, Ward 3 where we were, and two other wards. I think Ward 3 had ten or twelve cells. Ours, which was a small cell, had six beds though there were 22 or 25 of us. The beds were bunk beds. The six beds weren’t that good. Sometimes the cell would get so crowded (even the hallway would be filled with people and they would send the additional prisoners inside the room) that we would have to sleep two on each bed, head to the other person’s feet.
At times, some of us would sleep standing up or sitting down, and we had to take turns sleeping on the floor. There were a large number of prisoners. Those who had been there the longest, like five, ten, or 15 years, had their own beds and better sleeping conditions. There were others who would negotiate with the guards or the managers, buy and sell beds, and had their own beds as well.
Release from Sanandaj Prison
I think it was either spring or fall when I was released. Torture and prison bothered me in one way, and release from Sanandaj Prison bothered me in another way. Many people had come to get me with their wife and kids. I will not forget it as long as I live: There were ten or 15 cars in front of the prison entrance. There were only maybe two or three cars in our own village but my relatives from other villages and from the town of Divandarreh had also come. I couldn’t believe that they valued me so much. I was so humbled by them. One by one, they would come and say that they knew I had gotten in trouble because of them, and thanked me. When Divandarreh Information agents and Bijar Information agents had gone to our village to investigate me, everyone, including the village cleric, the village council, and the neighbors had testified that the base commander had gone there to harass and torture the villagers, and that he had stripped off my clothes (I was just a kid at the time) and had shown me around town and in front of other kids, thereby shaming me. In short, the people of my village were extremely kind to me.
I was supposed to be released at 10 o’clock in the morning but I wasn’t until 2:00 in the afternoon. One of my relatives invited everybody to a restaurant in Sanandaj. We were there until sundown. Then we went to the village. There, they sacrificed a sheep and a cow. They had brought a singer and a lot of people were dancing with joy. Tears come to my eyes when I think of that day.
A little while later, I went to perform my military service. I was in training in the town of Ajabshir in Eastern Azarbaijan Province. I went to Tehran for my military service after a three-month training period, and was stationed at the Police Force Procurement Section, located at Serah-e Shahriar. My mother’s uncle was a colonel in the armed forces at the time, and was stationed at Nojeh Air Base in the city of Hamedan. He put in a good word for me with the commander of the base where I was stationed. The commander knew my uncle and therefore had respect for me. That was why, once my military service was over, he told me I could be hired by the army. I worked in the armed forces for two years, at the same base I had performed my military service. They gave me housing near Sa’eedabad, a short distance from the base.
I got married too. My wife was with me in Tehran that year.
Joining Komeleh and Writing Slogans
It was 1995 and I was 22 years old. I got a message to Komeleh through some of my old friends with whom I had a family relationship, that I was of age and no longer a child, and that I wanted to become a member of Komeleh. I told them I could be active in Tehran and just write slogans on walls around town. That was all I did, nothing else. They accepted, and so I wrote slogans from then until 2001.
The slogan was “Komeleh is alive”, which someone from the Party had told me to write on the walls.
Second Arrest, Torture, and the Adjudication Process
It was the winter of 2001. They seized my personal belongings. I ran off before they could catch me. I hid the tool with which I wrote slogans in the snow. I got into a scuffle with the officers but they subdued me and took me in the car. There were three police personnel in the car: a sergeant, a soldier, and a second lieutenant. I got into a fight with them again. My intention was to run away with that very police car. We had driven a couple of streets when I got out of the car. Another officer grabbed me and yelled: “This guy is wanted by the police.” Several plainclothes officers arrived to arrest me again. I had a gun on me, a gun I owned and confessed was mine. When they tried to detain me again, I shot the officers in self defense. I just wanted to hold the car and the officer back and get out of the crowd 50 or a 100 yards farther down the street and run away. When I took the gun out, I got into a scuffle with a colonel and I fired a shot which wounded his nose. It wasn’t a deep wound because he was holding my hand, the hand that was holding the gun. I had aimed the gun up and fired. The shot hit him in the nose. He was wounded, and another shot hit one of their cars. But they shot me from behind with a Colt. I fell to the ground and passed out. When I regained consciousness, I realized I was in the hospital. Both my legs had been wounded: one bullet had wounded one leg and the other one had gone in the other leg from behind and exited from the front. The scar is still there on my left leg. I was at the hospital for a week.
They had taken me to a hospital in Tehran. They brought me back to the police precinct again after I was released from the hospital. I was at the precinct for four or five hours. The precinct was in the town of Malard but I don’t remember the precinct number. I just know that the head of the precinct was captain S., and he spoke Kurdish with me. It was around 10:00 in the morning when they took me from the hospital to the police precinct. They took me straight to a corner in the precinct yard, tied me to the flag pole, and tortured me for three or four hours.
Several sergeants and soldiers had taken my clothes off and were beating me up. My face had turned black and blue. Then the lieutenant (or the captain) I had wounded and was the precinct commander’s brother-in –law showed up and started insulting them, saying: “You’ve tied him up and you’re beating him? You didn’t beat him up when you should have. Let him go and let him come inside.” Then he released me from the flag pole. When we went inside the building, he said: “Don’t worry! I will not press charges against you; what happened is done, and it’s over.” We talked for a few minutes. Then he picked up the case file and said let’s go. We went to court. They didn’t ask me any questions there. The judge took a look at me and said “take him to Criminal Investigations”.
They took me to the town of Shahriar Criminal Investigation Bureau where I spent ten days. I was blindfolded almost the entire time and I can only remember the torture. I didn’t have a cellmate but I know there were ten or twelve cells there. The blindfold was off inside the cell. To torture me, they would hang me from the ceiling. They would pick me up, hands tied sometimes in front and sometimes behind me, and they would slap and kick me. They would ask questions like “Where did you get the spray cans? Why did you write slogans on the walls? Who were your accomplices? Who did you know? Why did you bring a firearm? Why did you want to kill the officers? Why did you take the police officers and the police car? Where did you want to take them?” Questions like that.
Several sergeants and soldiers would come and beat me up regularly. I had two interrogators, whose last names I don’t know; but I do know there were two of them. I was tortured three separate times during those ten days, on Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday.
They took me to Shahriar Revolutionary Court after ten days. I know it was a three story building, and they said there was only this one judge there; I don’t know whether the court had other branches or not.
I waited about five or six minutes until the judge showed up. I was handcuffed and shackled and accompanied by soldiers. He took a look at me but did not ask any questions. He wrote a note and said: “Turn him over to Information.” They took me to Shahriar Information Administration. The judge had said to take me to the News Headquarters, which I believe is the same as Information, which was close to the court. They took me there in a police car equipped with sirens and red lights, similar to the one I was in when I got into the fight. As soon as the soldier gave them the note so we could enter the compound, they blindfolded me. They then took me inside the building. The Information building had two court yards, an internal yard, and another one they called the “outside” yard. My cell was in the outside yard and that was the only place I stayed. I think there were one or two other cells there I could hear sounds from, but they weren’t close to me. Three people showed up after about half an hour. One of them was a very good and kind man. He said: “Look, don’t cause trouble for yourself and don’t bother us either. Just tell the truth and answer the questions we ask you truthfully because we already know everything.” Then he read my name, my last name, my father’s name, my mother’s name, where I was from, and everything else. And he said: “We know all of this and we know you worked with Komeleh. Now you tell us the rest so we won’t have to torture you.” I said: “Yes, sir.” “Who did you work with in Tehran,” he asked, “Who else worked with Kolmeleh,” and many other questions like that, like “when did you come to Tehran?” And he named several people and asked if I knew any of them to which I responded that I didn’t. Then the agent said: “See, you did not cooperate. I will have to send someone else over.” About half an hour to an hour later, another one came. He talked the same way and did not hit me at all and left. Two or three days later, they came back and those same questions were repeated; but this time, they beat me, and they beat me a lot. They tortured me so much that I passed out. They mostly beat you with a cable, or they punch you. As far as I can remember, they beat me for about an hour. I had bled from my nose and I passed out. It was around noon or one o’clock in the afternoon (because I could hear the call to prayer) that I regained consciousness and realized I was inside the cell. I was wet all over, it was very cold and I was shivering. I don’t know what they did to my finger that very first time they tortured me, whether they twisted it or hit it with something, but they broke it, and it got infected. The mark is still there and my finger is numb and useless. After that, they would come every once in a while, torture, and ask the same questions. During that period, my injuries had gotten infected, as had my legs. They never brought a doctor to me, but they would give me caplets themselves. I did not know what those caplets were. One of them was half white and half green; another one was yellow and white, and yet another was completely white. They also gave me two injections. I don’t know if it was a doctor who gave me the injections or the soldier who brought me food and the medications. There was no shower at all; what they had done was put a container in the sink and had said that I could put water in it and wash myself with it. There was no hot water either. Every few days, they would give you some detergent powder to wash your clothes with. I washed myself with that same detergent and cold water. My body was full of wounds. I would slowly wash the parts of my body that were intact. And my body had become very rigid: I could hardly move my arms because they had hung me up so much.
After a month in Information detention, they took me back to Shahriar Revolutionary Court. The judge did not ask me many questions. He asked what my address was, to which I responded: “Kurdistan.” “F… you, you idiot,” the judge retorted.
The Information agent told the judge: “He says he was just passing by when the officers started harassing him. And he says he was afraid and wanted to flee and since he was carrying a weapon, he fired in self defense.” “It doesn’t matter what he says, or if he has anything to say at all,” the judge stated, “that’s not an issue. His sentence is clear. Now take him to jail.” I said: “Excuse me, your honor, I have a question.” “F… you, your sentence is clear, there’s no need for you to speak,” the judge responded. “Your honor, please let me say just one thing,” I said, but he wouldn’t. All I said to him after that was: “Your Honor, [as a judge], you are sitting where Imam Ali (Shi’a religion’s first Imam and legitimate successor to the Prophet Mohammad) used to sit; one does not expect to hear such words from your mouth.”
Before he threw me out, I started crying and begging and said: “Please, I have a wife and kid. Please at least let me call them to come and visit me.” But they threw me out. I begged the officer. He went into the courtroom and left the door open. I heard him say to the judge: “Let him at least come and say what he has to say.” “Not necessary,” the judge replied, “we’ll get him a court-appointed lawyer who will speak on his behalf and put up the defense that he wants to put up today.”
I have no idea when they got a lawyer. I never saw my lawyer. They then sent me directly to jail without giving me a piece of paper to see and sign.
Second Incarceration and First Visitation
I had nothing but a measly two hundred Tumans at home when I got arrested, and my wife had two rings. She was not wearing the rings when the agents had gone to inspect the house, and they may have been by the window or in her handbag; suffice it to say that they were stolen and she was brought in to the police precinct. She was asked a series of questions and released. Upon her release she called my uncle (my mother’s brother) and told him that I had been arrested and that they were alone and had no money, and asked for help. My uncle and my brother-in-law (my wife’s brother) came and took my wife back home. I was in solitary at the time, and did not know what was going on.
I was able to contact my home when I was transferred to prison after two months, and ask about my family and their condition. They explained to me that they had taken my wife and kids back to the village and that they were staying with my father. I told them to bring them to me so I could see them. It took four months between the time I was arrested and when my wife came for visitation. We just cried during the first visitation and couldn’t talk much. We just kept looking at each other. I would look at my child and we would both cry. And then the fifteen-minute visitation ended. I called again after three or four months and they came back for visitation.
Six months or a year after my incarceration, I was given the death penalty. Another individual’s name is also mentioned in the court decision, Ali Imani, whom I had never seen before.
I was at Raja’i Shahr Prison Ward Four’s sentry office when the officer served me with my sentence and said that I had been sentenced to death and that I had to sign the paper. I said: “I am not going to sign; I didn’t have an attorney, I didn’t defend myself, I didn’t go to court.” And then I cried a little bit. He said: “It’s out of my control. My duty was to serve you with your sentence. You want to sign, sign; you don’t want to sign, don’t sign. You have 20 days to appeal the decision. Sign it and then appeal.”
I begged him to at least give me a copy of the decision so I could at least have it if I hired a lawyer. He said “no problem” and made a copy and gave it to me. I signed the court decision. I didn’t have any money to hire a lawyer, but I noticed that their court-appointed lawyer had signed the decision. Personally, I never saw a lawyer. The agent had told me that they would get me a court-appointed lawyer because the Sentence Implementation division would not accept delivery of the case if it did not bear his signature.
In the court decision I was charged with “armed robbery and acting against national security”. Armed robbery requires a private plaintiff, but there were none because I had not committed any robberies.
I went to Sentence Implementation and told them: “It says here that I committed armed robbery. I never committed any robbery.” Then, they corresponded with the court through a social worker, stating that I was saying there were no plaintiffs for the charge of robbery. The court had written back saying that the private plaintiff in this case was the Police Force, that I had stolen the police car with three personnel in it, which constitutes both kidnapping and armed theft, and they had charged me with armed robbery for that reason.
The court decision didn’t mention anything about where and how that car was found, and they didn’t tell me anything either. I went to Sentence Implementation after about eight or nine months and told them that I had written a letter; I then gave them my letter number. They looked at my file and said: “There was no need to notify you but your death sentence has been upheld.” They also showed some of the papers in the file but I couldn’t understand what they were since I couldn’t read. But they didn’t get my signature for anything.
When you write a letter in prison, the warden has to sign it before it can be sent to Sentence Implementation. But when I presented a request to the warden he would either say “there’s no need for you to send a letter” or “you can’t send a letter to the court”. Different people who could read and write in prison used to write these letters for me. In them, I would talk about my situation and say that everyone makes mistakes, and I made a mistake. But nothing worked.
Once I got a letter to my brother through a friend, and he had taken it to the judge. He had taken the letter to the court on a Sunday and he had come for visitation on Tuesday, and was crying. I said: “I can guess the answer they have given you. Don’t cry.” “What do you think they told me?” he asked. “That they’re going to hang me,” I responded. “They said the next time I take a letter there, they would send me here with you,” he said. “Well then, let it go. No need to go the court anymore.”
Contact with Family
I could not have direct phone contact with my family. I had to call my relatives in town a day or earlier, and they would tell my wife that I would be calling three or four days later at such and such time. For example, I would call on a Monday and tell them that I would call back at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday. That would give my wife a couple of days to come to town from the village and sit by the phone at the home of my relatives so I could talk to her.
The Idea of a Prison Break
I had been at Raja’i Shahr Prison for around two years. There was a lawyer who was from the town of Saqqez and represented one of the guys from Saqqez who was in the same prison as me. My prison mate told me that the lawyer was a good guy and could help me, and told me to ask him to represent me. I agreed. He talked to him so we could meet. We met at the Sentence Implementation Division. I gave him power of attorney for him to read my file. He didn’t charge me anything. He read my file and came back after three days and said there was nothing that could be done, that the judge had said the sentence was clear, that the appeal had been lodged, and that the ruling had been upheld and was final. At that point, I realized that no other lawyer could do anything either, and even if there was one that could do something, I didn’t have any money to pay them anyway. It was at that point that I realized no lawyer could do anything for me and that I had to escape.
From the moment I decided that escape from prison was my only way out, I studied different ways of doing it but I realized that others had gone those routes and had not succeeded, and I had to find a new way.
In the course of being transferred from ward to ward inside the prison, I met A. P. when I was transferred to Ward One. He was a good enough guy, he wasn’t an addict, he was healthy. I told him I wanted to escape. Together we studied many different ways. When we started planning an escape, there were twelve of us, but one by one, they all bowed out for one reason or another.
Our plan was to dig a tunnel from our room to the Ward 4 utility room; from there, we found out we could go under the visitation hall, that is, under the second stairway. The way we had calculated, it was about 20 meters (roughly 20 yards). We started from our room and we were able to remove ten tiles in the span of six months. A. was good at construction work, and I wasn’t too bad either. We dug the ground with a screwdriver and a spoon. Once we had removed those ten tiles, we had made it so no one could notice what we had done. The tunnel we had dug reached the utility room where we looked for a place to hide the dirt that we were digging. There was a hatch to the sewage there, and there were several wells in another section. We poured the dirt in the wells. There were ten or twelve wells, each about five or six meters deep. After we had dug about ten to twelve meters, we ran into the sewage wall. We thought that water would come up and cause problems if we broke the wall. So we continued from below the wall and from below the sewage pipe and then we went up. We counted from our side and we came up at 18 meters. Then we realized there was still two meters left. We had just gotten under the stairway inside the court yard. We still hadn’t reached the place where the visitors walked. We dug another meter and a half to two meters and we got to the visitation hall. The floor there was tiled as well. It was night time when we got there. At first we had planned to make our exit by using the master keys. When we went up, we realized there was a locked door 20 meters away. We figured out that there were five or six doors from there to the exit door and that we couldn’t make keys for all of them and destroy the locks. That was a different story altogether. That night, we made supports for the tiles and put them back in their place. We’d readied our tunnel in four months.
They asked: “Didn’t you get a lawyer?” “No, I don’t have any money,” I replied. “Your hanging is near, probably in 18 days.” “I can’t, there’s nothing I can do. I don’t know what to do,” I said. “You only have 18 days,” they repeated. “I’m begging for a pardon. I haven’t done anything; I’m begging for forgiveness because I truly haven’t done anything to deserve to be executed. I served time and I have truly suffered these past four years. Please forgive me,” I begged. Then they said the Prison Protection Division had asked for me. The head of Protection and his deputy were there, as well as the cultural deputy. They said: “We know you’re not an addict, we know you’re a good man, and we wrote a letter on your behalf affirming your good character. We’ve said you’re a good person and that we are sad that there’s only 18 days left to your execution. Call your family and tell them to go see your judge, see the Sentence Implementation judge, and see if they can find anyone who can do something for you.” “They can’t” I replied, “My family doesn’t have the means to come to Tehran and Shahriar, go to court and here and there, to follow up on my case.” “Well, tell us if there is anything we can do for you,” they said. “You did not do what you could do when I needed you,” I replied. “Like what?” they asked. I answered: “I’ve been in this prison for four years. No matter how you look at it, I deserved at least one in-person visitation. I got letters from your Qor’an class, from the cultural section, from the club, from everywhere; even a letter came from the court allowing an in-person visitation. My wife went and got an in person visitation permission, but you never gave me one. What else would I want? You denied everything I asked for and kept saying no to everything. Well, I don’t want anything. If you can, then make it so I’m not executed, and if you can’t, then that’s it; I don’t want anything else.”
I was very down when I came back to the cell. I told A.: “I only have 18 days left, I can’t stick around anymore. I’m either going to get out of here or die.” A. said: “No one is coming with you, you’re on your own. I’m not going either.” “That’s your prerogative,” I replied. I asked A. K.: “What about you?” “I’m like you, I’m on death row too. Mine may not be in 18 days, but it could be in a month. So I’m in, I’m with you,” he responded.
Six days later, twelve days left to the implementation of my death sentence, was visitation day. I told A. K. early in the morning that we had to leave that day. First he said no, that we should wait another day or two. I said: “Absolutely not! I have to leave today.” So we did, and we took A. P. with us; we put him in an awkward position and he couldn’t say no. It was around 10 o’ clock in the morning. A. K. and I went first, A. P. followed us. I had called a friend from a cell phone I had bought with the money I had saved in prison (the SIM card belonged to a friend who was from Tehran). I called my friend before getting out and told him to come by the prison gate, and told him it was possible I would be getting out.
Fortunately, we got out. And no one got suspicious. My friend had arrived in a car and had stopped about three or four hundred meters from the prison. I called him as I came out and asked him where he was and he said he was parked a little farther than the taxis that were there, and that he was waiting for me. I found him and we left.
I will not forget the way I was feeling when I came out of the prison as long as I live. It was as if I had been dead and had come back to life. I mean, I cannot describe it in a couple of words. It was truly a great and interesting feeling.
Conditions after breaking out of prison
After we escaped from prison, I went to my friend’s place and A. K. and A. P. went their own way. I remember it was during those first days out that I was told Iran newspaper and another newspaper (I don’t remember which one right now) had published the news of my escape. They brought these newspapers and read them to me. They had written the entire story. I was very happy that we were able to break out without any problems.
I stayed at my friend’s for six months. I made other friends from among people who would be guests at his house, but they didn’t know about my situation, except for four other people whose homes I also visited who were among my closest friends: I was in the same ward as their children and they had told their parents to look out for me. They had told them about my situation, that I would be arrested if I got anywhere near Kurdistan, since my name and picture had been distributed everywhere, and that I had to lay low for a few months. I would sit down and talk to their guests but they didn’t know anything about who I was and where I was from and where I’d been. The host would say something like “he’s our friend” or “he’s a friend of our son’s who is here from Kurdistan and is staying with us for a few days before he goes back”.
I really owe my life to those people. My friends in Tehran, the Lor people in Tehran, really helped me out a lot. They would even give me pocket money, tell me when the agents were looking for me and that I should stay inside. And they didn’t expect anything from me because I had nothing: No money, no power, no fame, nothing. I was nobody and those good people were really kind to me and took care of me. I am very thankful to them.
I knew Criminal Investigation or Information agents had my parents and my family’s homes under surveillance during those six months. I learned that when I called people from whom I could obtain information. The agents had even gone to our home and said that they would arrest my family members if they didn’t turn me in. Information agents had once conducted an investigation of the village council and the villagers themselves, and they had testified that my father, brother, and the rest of my family were innocent and were poor, and had asked the agents not to arrest them. My brother had promised them that he would report to them if I showed up in the region.
Finally, after six months, the region had quieted down a bit. I arrived at Divandarreh at night and from there, I went to our village on foot. It was about midnight when I got home. I remember my mother wasn’t home and my father had come out into the yard for a walk. I was sitting in a corner of the yard and went inside the house when my father was not paying attention. My sister, my wife, and my two sons were sleeping. I went to my sister. My father went to sleep and didn’t see me. I woke my sister up and I whispered to her that I had come back and told her not to say anything, but she was up and started crying and woke the others up. So everyone was up and we made some tea and some food. No one slept that night. The next day a lot of people came to see me.
I stayed in my village and in a bunch of surrounding villages with other relatives for 15 days, until I coordinated with Komeleh. They sent someone to take me, my wife, and my two kids to Iraq. I was in Iraq for twelve years under an assumed name and I didn’t want to be in touch with anyone or say anything. Only three or four people knew about my situation and knew that I had escaped from prison. After two years, I was fortunately able to come to Germany.
The Effects of Prison and the Death Sentence on My Personal and Family Life
When my wife came to visit me at Raja’i Shahr Prison, I told her: “I’m setting you free, do whatever makes you happy.” I gave her a letter. I told her several times: “Get a divorce. I know they will execute me, so it’s not right for you to just wait around for me. Give the kids to the Welfare organization.” I said that because there was nobody else to take care of them and my wife had anxiety issues and it was possible there could be problems for my kids. I said to her: “Go and live any way you like. Don’t be a prisoner like me.” I had that conversation with her several times but she didn’t divorce me. She went through a lot of problems but she stayed.
Once when I had called my wife from prison, the TV in our cell was on. She said: “Are you watching TV?” I said yes. She said: “Lucky you. I wish I were in prison too." I will neve forget that: she wished she could be in jail instead of living the life she had on the outside. She had no income and her family and my family helped her out.
One of my children had just been born when I first went to jail and I didn’t hug him all the years I was in there. I tried very hard to get at least one in-person visitation so I could see my child up close, but unfortunately I was not allowed. I went everywhere, to the Qor’an House, everywhere you could imagine. I had sent my wife to the judge. She had told him: “Your Honor, you want to execute him, go ahead! His only wish is to hug his child. If you won’t let me visit, at least let his child be in father’s arms for ten minutes.” And the judge had said: “Get out of here. Don’t waste your time on this guy. Go and make money any way you can. A lot of women sell drugs; go and do the same. What are you waiting for this guy for? He’s going to die, he will never get out.”