“I Told the Judge: You’re Not Just Killing One Person, You’re Killing us All”: Witness Testimony of Hajiya, Afghanistan Citizen
Of some 6,100 defendants executed by Iran’s judiciary since 2010, at least 145 have been Afghans – a national designation that, per Iranian law, pertains both to immigrants from Afghanistan and children of Afghan men regardless of the place of their birth. Afghans living in Iran number some 2.5 million according to official sources. Activists report that they face both informal discrimination and formal state impediments to employment, education, and residence.
Hajiya, 40 years old, is currently living in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. Iranian officials executed her spouse, Nesar Mohammad on drug charges. The following text is a portion of an interview conducted with her in May 2018.
My husband and I lived in Iran. He worked: He would buy plastics in bulk from chicken slaughterhouses; he would also buy dried bread from people’s homes and would sell them… One day, the slaughterhouse owner’s brother got into a serious argument with my husband over 10 kilos of plastics and would not agree about the price. My husband explained to him that the plastics were basically garbage, that he had to take them to a garage and wash them after he bought them, and that the price he was quoting him didn’t make financial sense. But then that person proceeded to beat my husband. My husband’s head and face were bloodied when he got home… According to my husband, those 10 kilos of garbage were only worth 4,000 Tumans.
A little under a year, or maybe about a year passed. One day, my husband did not come home from work. I was worried. He had a cell phone, I didn’t. I went to the neighbor’s store and called him but his phone was turned off. I was saying to myself “my God, what’s happened? Has he gotten into an accident? Why is he not home yet,” when all of a sudden, several plainclothes agents came to our home with my husband. I asked them what the problem was… They said “the problem is that your husband is engaged in the transportation of drugs”. I became extremely upset and swore up and down that we didn’t even know what drugs looked like. I asked them where they were taking my husband. They said the name of a place and said “come to visit him tomorrow”. When I went to see him the next morning, I got scared seeing his wounded and bloodied face and body. There was not a single place in his body that wasn’t injured and his clothes had gotten dark because he had bled so much. I looked him in the eyes and asked: “What did you do?” “The guy I had the argument with, his brother planted drugs in my things,” he replied. I said to the officers: “Do you believe in God and the Koran? I swear to God and the Koran that my husband is not a drug dealer. Please come to our neighborhood and investigate and see what my husband’s job has been in the 5-6 years we’ve been living there.”
My husband spent about a year and a half in prison [before a sentence was issued]. I would go to the judge during that time an swear that we did not know that person at all, that my husband had just gotten into a fight with him a year earlier, and that we had no other news about them at all after that… The court sentenced my husband to life in prison and that Iranian man to death.
The Iranian [convicted felon] appealed his sentence, asking why he had been sentenced to death when my husband, an Afghan, was sentenced to life in prison. Another trial took place and this time the court sentenced my husband to death.
My husband spent three years in jail and was executed after three years. My son has no knowledge of his father’s execution. When he asks me about his father, I tell him that he came back to Afghanistan and to Herat and was killed in a car accident. They executed my husband after three years. It’s been seven years and three months since then…
I worked in Iran and was making a living for my family… After [my husband’s execution] I developed psychological issues and [to this day,] I pass out when I’m under a lot of mental pressure… I’ve been back in Afghanistan for eight months now. I don’t have a job and I don’t have a home… I now have two single daughters and a son at home; I’ve been in Herat for eight months and I haven’t been able to find a job.
We lived in the city of Esfahan in Iran, and my husband was sentenced to death by the Esfahan court. We buried him there; they wouldn’t let us send his body back to Afghanistan, so we buried him right there in Esfahan.
We didn’t have money to hire an attorney for him. He was a laborer and we didn’t have any money to hire an attorney.
I didn’t know how to ask an organization or an official for help. I didn’t have any family, it was just me and four kids. My oldest child was 11 and was little. My son was three years old.
I would go the court every day [to follow up on my husband’s case] and would tell them I was willing to put my hand on the Koran and swear that he was not the one who had given drugs to that individual.
After a year [in prison], my husband was sentenced to life imprisonment and the Iranian, to death. But he wouldn’t let go… After a few months where we had no news of my husband, he called and said: “Don’t come to visit me too much; just work to make a living for the kids.”
I had no news of my husband for a week until he called. I asked him why he called us so seldom. He said: “Don’t say anything. They’ve started a case against me again.” “Why,” I asked. “The Iranian guy has brought a complaint against me and the court wants to review its ruling and will convene again,” he answered. At that trial, my husband was sentenced to death and the Iranian to life in prison.
I would go to visit him when he was in jail, for both in person visitation and cabin visitation. In the first days when I would go for in-person visitation, there were signs of torture on his head and face. When they conducted investigations about him in our neighborhood, the neighbors had said that he had been a laborer in the 4-5 years that they knew him and that they had not seen any wrongdoings from him. They did not torture him after that and the court’s ruling was life imprisonment.
But when the Iranian man learned of his sentence, he did not stay put and brought a complaint against my husband and asked another court to re-examine his case. My husband was sentenced to death in that court.
In jail, they would only give my husband lunch; they did not give him food at night.
My husband was a good-humored man and everyone was happy with him. All the guards in his ward were crying the last time I went to visit him to say good bye before his execution, and said he was a good man.
Some prison officials treated us well when we went to visit him, but there were others who were awful and treated us very badly and would scold my kids and wouldn’t even let us visit with him.
My husband was incarcerated at Dastgerd Prison, which was Esfahan’s central prison.
I didn’t go anywhere to seek help in my husband’s case. Later, I heard from friends that I could have gone to the United Nations, but the UN was not in Esfahan; we had to go Tehran.
Initially, they would not let me visit with my husband and would tell me that I needed to show a marriage certificate in order to see him. They let my four kids visit with him but I only saw him from behind a glass. When we came back home, my husband called and gave me a phone number and told me to contact them and ask them to prepare a marriage certificate for me. I called that number and the person on the other end prepared a marriage certificate for me after a few days which I used to visit with my husband.
We currently live in my daughter’s home, and the measly savings I had from working in Iran has been depleted. If there’s work, I can make ends meet for my three other children and myself. But the problem is that there is no work. There are currently 11 thousand indebted Afghans. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you I don’t have a grain of rice in the house to make dinner for my children. As long as I was in Iran, I was able to work but there are no jobs here. I used to work with other Afghans in the same location in Iran, sewing Kurdish pants (loose fitting cotton pants). I worked and made a living being a seamstress during the three years my husband was in prison.
I lived and worked in Iran for seven years after my husband’s execution. In Iran, I would start sewing early in the morning and I would sometimes work until midnight. Our landlords were good people but sometimes the noise from the sewing machine bothered them and they would grumble why we lived on the second floor and they lived on the first floor. My life situation was better when I lived in Iran. Our problems increased when we returned to Afghanistan. We turned in our [work and residency] permits when we came back and now we can’t go back to Iran. I now live with my daughter. No organization or institution has helped us at all since we came back to Afghanistan. Sometimes when my brother-in-law (my husband’s brother) comes to our house, he brings a kilo of meat; sometimes when my son-in-law’s mother comes over, she brings 10 homemade breads. We are originally from Ghurial Wuleswali, and my cousins live there. I have a brother who hasn’t come to see us in five months because he has five kids himself. My son-in-law is a soldier in the national army. He pays the rent and he also pays the water and electric bills. My son-in-law was the one who proposed to give us a room in their home.
I travelled to Iran in 1993. I didn’t have children then. I went to Iran after the Revolution and lived there with my family. When I got married, I came to Ghurian with my husband’s family for eight months and my husband went to Tehran for work. My husband wrote me a letter and told me that we could not make a living in Afghanistan, so I went to Iran with my mother-in-law and lived in Tehran. My husband’s work situation got bad in Tehran because he was a laborer and his job was buying dried bread, and when the Municipality [started to doing that itself], we had to move and we went to Esfahan. My three daughters were born in Tehran and my son was born in Esfahan. We spent 7 years in Tehran and 15 years in Esfahan. We lived in Iran for approximately 22 years. We were married in Iran. We returned to Afghanistan in 2017. I spent eight months in Ghurian with my husband’s family after I got married, and then returned to Iran.
My husband was innocent and Iran killed him… I told the judge: “You’re not just killing one person [my husband], you’re killing 5 or 6 other people with him; you’re killing my four children, you’re killing me, and you’re killing my husband. When a Moslem does not believe another Moslem and an innocent man…”
The officers came to our house and searched everywhere when my husband was arrested, from the garage to every nook and cranny. But thank God, they did not find anything. [He was framed] by the false testimony of an Iranian from whom they had recovered drugs and he had said that the drugs belonged to this Afghan person [meaning my husband]. My innocent husband was a laborer. You tell me: Hasn’t the Iranian government perpetrated cruelty and injustice upon us?
The name of that Iranian who brought a complaint against my husband was Ramezan Jamshidi. The Court first sentenced him to death because they had discovered the drugs in his possession, but he made a confession incriminating my husband before being executed.
At first, the court that tried and imprisoned my husband had said that he would be freed one hundred percent, or that he would spend a few years in jail. But that Iranian ruined everything, he got both himself and my husband killed.