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Victims and Witnesses

"My Father Was Executed When I Was Nine": Interview with Homa Shahsavaripour

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
May 29, 2019
Interview

My name is Homa. I’m 38 years old. My father was arrested for dealing drugs when I was five years old and he was executed when I was nine. Fortunately or unfortunately, I remember a lot about those four years. I may not remember the judicial process but the images are very much alive in my mind, as if they had happened only a few days ago. I was asleep at the exact moment of his arrest, so I didn’t see it. But for four years we were constantly traveling back and forth between our town and the city of Shiraz where my father was incarcerated. Once a month, twice a month, all Nowruz holidays and summer vacations, the place we went to for recreation and to spend our vacations was the city of Shiraz. Therefore, those four years are somehow completely engraved in my mind and the memories are very much alive.

The first thing I remember is that it was dark. I remember we were walking to my aunt’s (my father’s sister’s) house. About half an hour earlier, officers had stormed our home and had taken my father away. Unfortunately, my brothers have a very vivid memory of that scene because they witnessed the whole thing. But I slept through the entire commotion; apparently it was the night I had lost my first baby tooth. Unfortunately my memories, even of my teeth, connect me to my father’s incarceration, his execution, and those very dark years. And it was very disturbing. My brothers recounted what they saw when the officers stormed our house, where my father was sitting, how he felt, and what happened. They took him away and our family was in a state of constant anxiety. We went to my aunt’s house that night and told them what had happened. We did not hear from my father for seven months; all we knew was that he was being held at the Khalili Comite in Shiraz. We would constantly go to Shiraz with my mother for seven months; we would stand behind the door, but they would not let us in; there was no question of visiting with him. And so we would go back home. And he was being tortured for seven months.

Unfortunately my memories, even of my teeth, connect me to my father’s incarceration, his execution, and those very dark years.

I don’t remember much about the conversations [with the officials in charge at the Comite,] but I do remember that feeling of hoplessness that had come over us because we had been going back and forth for seven months and my father was not allowed visitations. Apparently [the officials] would simply say that he was not allowed visitations, and we would return home, disheartened. This went on for seven months. I remember that it was probably after seven months that they allowed the children to go inside the Comite, and we went in and that was where I saw my father. But he was then transferred to Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison afterward.

I remember one scene where my father had taken me in his arms and wanted to carry me inside [some place], and I saw some [prison] bars. I can’t say it was a hallucination, because it’s a scene that I remeber vividly from those years. The officials stopped him and said he was not allowed to take children there. That’s about all I remeber, that I was with my father inside the Comite at that moment, and that I was in his arms. Among other scenes I remember are the times that we, along with close family members of other people whose father had also been arested, would always go and stand behind a huge gate. There, my mother would beg and plead with the officials, but they would not let us in and we would go back home.

In those days, with buses and the cars of back then, I remember it took exactly six hours. The distance was 400 kilometers (240 miles).

We would go a lot, I’m sure we went at least once a month. We would go for the Nowruz holiday, we would go in the summer too. Most of my memories from those four years are from Shiraz rather than our own home. I don’t have any particular memories from our home, and the ones that I do have are, again, related to when my father was in jail, and the things that happened that had somethng to do with his incarceration.

My father was a farmer. He raised livestock and was also a farmer.

In our region, walnuts are customary. He had a walnut grove; he would also grow wheat. He had an extensive ranch.

Yes, I definitely remeber these things. Because, unfortunately, he was not [someone’s] employee with a specific salary; although, even if he had been, maybe they would have cut off his salary then too, I don’t know. But what I do remember is that we had a lot of financial problems and my mother’s only income (because she was a homemaker) was from a couple of stores that we owned that she was collecting rent from. Fortunately, it was a time when things were not as expensive as they are today. At least my mother was able to provide for household expenses and buy the necessities, and pay for the travelling back and forth to Shiraz, as well as to help out my father financially while he was in jail, from the income from the stores. But yes, there was financial difficulty, a severe one.

Let me put it like this: Sometimes my mother would be forced to sell any gold [jewelry] that she or I had in order to pay for travel expenses. I don’t remember ever having issues with food, but I think our main problem was my mother being able to send some money for my father and pay for travel expenses. Because no one supported us there: Sometimes we would have to stay two or three days in Shiraz before my mother could get a visitation, whether in-person or in a cabin. We would have to stay in motels in Shiraz for two or three days at a time. And all of that cost money, and my mother had great difficulty paying for these expenses.

Fortunately, my father had a great reputation among family, friends, and neighbors, and they always respected us very much. The only memory I have of school is that, personally, I always tried to stay positive, in the sense that I was always careful not to get into a quarrel with the other kids [to avoid] having them tell me that my father was in prison. So I was always very careful. This is something that has become an integral part of me and even to this day, I always try not to get into any conflicts with anybody for fear of being disrespected or having my father judged. This has been true both when he was in jail and I didn’t want other kids to know he was in jail, and in the past 37 or 38 years since he has been executed, [when I’ve wanted to avoid] people telling me he was executed. I have tried not to get into any conflicts with anyone, and this is a great problem [for me].

Even to this day, I always try not to get into any conflicts with anybody for fear of being disrespected or having my father judged.

Well, in the sense that I can’t ever come into contact with other people like a normal person, you know what I mean? Even when it’s necessary to challenge someone, even verbally; because I was afraid that at that very moment they would tell me that my father was an “e’dami” [derogatory term for a person who was executed], you know what I mean? I think it happened once or twice to my friends, and once or twice to me after my father was executed, where, because of an argument that I had at school, they said behind my back, “These people lived off of ill-gotten money and their father was hanged”. That, unfortunately, is society’s perception, without understanding the great defects in our judicial system, without understanding the process my father was put through to have such a fate. This is one of the biggest problems facing the families of those who have been executed.

Look, it’s not just me; I think I’m one among thousands. Let’s take me as an example: Personally, I never talk about my father’s execution unless they ask me or I know at that moment that I need to tell the truth to that particular person, group, or group of friends. When I think about why it is that I don’t like to talk about it, it’s because I don’t like to be judged, more like [I don’t like] my father [to be judged]. Because the others might not even continue [the conversation]: “What happened to your father?” “My father is dead.” “How did he die?” “He was executed.” You know what I mean? I mean the term “execution” [has this connotation] that the person was so vicious and demonic, so evil, and his crime was so serious and awful that the state saw no other solution except to eliminate him. Whereas my father was none of those things, and many people like my father weren’t as well. Maybe 99% of the people who are put to death in this country are in this same situation. My father was accused of a crime and was tortured for seven months. He was tortured, and after seven months he accepted having engaged in certain dealings with that person. And that was how my father confessed to a crime he had not committed: he was completely innocent. Not just him, but 14 people were executed in that case. Of the 14, I think the only guilty party was the person from whom [the authorities] had recovered drugs. The others had just confessed [against each other]: The officials would beat them and tell them to confess, and the person would confess. Then they would ask them: “Who did you sell to?” and would beat them again. Like, I don’t even know if my father [incriminated] others or not, but they would drag other people in like in a chain. Unfortunately, the judicial process was not fair at all. My father did not have a lawyer; those years, there was no such thing as a lawyer. Ultimately, after four years during which he had not been given a sentence – nor was a sentence issued in the case of the other people involved in the case – all of a sudden, they issued death sentences, and he was executed a few days later. My father and his friends were not even given room or an opportunity to object to the sentence. That’s why I don’t like to say to anyone that my father was executed. They may not say anything to my face, but I don’t even want them to have this thought in the back of their mind, about my father, about my family: “Oh what dangerous criminals these people are, what an ungodly and unthinkable thing her father must have done to be executed, ‘eliminated’, ‘obliterated’.” That’s what’s extremely difficult. And I think we all have that [feeling] and we carry it with us like a secret.

The term “execution” [has this connotation] that the person was so vicious and demonic, so evil, and his crime was so serious and awful that the state saw no other solution except to eliminate him.

I saw it with my own eyes. I mean, we had in-person visitations. Now, I don’t know whether I saw these signs [of torture] on his back and feet immediately after those seven months that he was tortured, or whether these signs were there in the following years. But what I do remember is that we had gone for an in-person visitation with my family, even my aunts (my mother’s sisters) were there. I was six years old – can you imagine, I was six years old and this is the image that I’ve been carrying since that time, since I was six years old – and I saw these marks on the bottom of his feet and on his back. He told us that he had been tortured a lot. He was a free-spirited man, and he had the spirit of a rancher and a tribesman, so he was a very strong man [mentally], and was very courageous and fearless.

Nothing was ever recovered from my father and from the several people who also lived in our city, in all the years that we would go back and forth [to Shiraz]. Nothing was recovered from him to prove that he had participated in that act, that he had bought and sold [drugs], absolutely nothing. I mean, just imagine that one night they storm into your home or mine, and they take you or me away. There was nothing in our house, absolutely nothing, and nothing was proven. They obtained a confession under torture and they used that same confession against him and his other friends.

This person, the main defendant in the case – I don’t remember myself but this story has been told many times since my father was arrested – had asked to borrow my father’s car, and my father had refused because he knew what he wanted the car for. That person was really offended and as he was leaving our house, he told my father, had actually warned him, “I’m taking a cargo [of drugs] to Shiraz, and if I get arrested, I’ll confess against you [and say it’s yours]”. This may have seemed pretty ridiculous at the time, but unfortunately, he was arrested on that very trip; my father fled because he was afraid. I don’t remember how long he was in hiding but eventually he got tired and returned home. Our relatives kept insisting that he should not remain at home under any circumstances because he would be arrested, but my father kept saying, “I haven’t done anything for them to arrest me for”. And it was the exact same night he came back home that they came and arrested him.

Well, the other people were not our relatives but they were our neighbors and we knew them. Also, we had gotten to know their families during the travelling that we did together later on. I think I personally knew four or five of them, all of whom were executed, if I’m not mistaken.

But as far as food and things like that are concerned, I don’t think so, I don’t remember, because I was much younger. I was five years old when my father was arrested, and nine when he was executed. The only memories I have of those years are from Shiraz’ Adelabad Prison and the road we traveled back and forth on, and of the hardships my mother endured on the way, that we all endured; memories of how elated we were to see my father, of the doors that kept opening one after another so we could go from one hallway to the next. I remember those hallways so well; I remember how we proceeded, how long they kept us [in each place], that a door would open and we would go to the next hallway, another door would open, and we would go to the next ward, and we would stand and wait our turn.

I remember we went to see him when his sentence was issued. I think it was right after the month of Ramadan, if I’m not mistaken. My mother and I went there along with two other ladies, one of whom had a brother in jail and the and the other her husband. We went to visit with my father as usual. They said that they had taken them to the “reformatory”. I remember that back then, the reformatory was the place they would take a person when they wanted to execute them: They said they had taken them to the “reformatory”. They had kept him there for a month. When they allowed visitation, all the families were a mess and everyone was crying. I knew when I was a child that the reformatory was a place they took people when they wanted to execute them. My mother, in tears, asked him: “Why did they take you to the reformatory?” “Don’t worry, it’s not a problem,” he said. I don’t know what justification he gave us but we weren’t convinced. And I remember that those ladies, my mother, and others who were accompanying my mother were following up on the matter very seriously; they were crying the entire way there, the entire way, at the bus terminal...

I don’t know how long it was after that that we returned to our town. We were in constant fear because we didn’t know why they had taken them to the reformatory. Someone would say, “They want to execute them” and another would say “No, it’s temporary”. But my father had told my aunt during that same visit, “I’m trusting you with my children” and it was fairly certain that they were going to hang them, but we just didn’t want to believe it. And unfortunately, they didn’t even tell us they were going to execute them. Some time later, I don’t exactly know how much later, there was a rumor going around that they had been executed and I even think my mother and the wife of one of the people who was executed later, travelled to Tehran to maybe try and see Mr. Khamenei, to see if he could save them. She went to Tehran but there, they were told that they were too late and that they had just been executed. Just imagine what state of mind these two poor women were in as they traveled a one-thousand-kilometers-plus distance and back, what their mental condition was. Once they were back, the whole family was just going around trying to find out what had finally happened. I remember one day our house suddenly became crowded and family members and relatives started showing up one by one and they were all waiting for some news, until one of our relatives showed up, extremely distraught, hitting himself in the head and face saying “They killed them”. I don’t remember exactly (my brothers might have a better memory of it than I do) but I think it was a few days after they had been executed that we found out what had happened; the authorities had called and said to come and take their bodies. So the families went with a car and filled it with bodies, came back to town, and turned over bodies to each family. I think they brought four or five bodies back to town.

What I remember from that occasion is that in the middle of all that ruckus and screaming and mourning, all my mother cared about was one thing: that no one take pity on us. “I don’t want anyone to have sympathy for my kids; I don’t want anyone to pat them on the head,” she said. I mean, I have no idea how she gathered the strength at that moment, in the middle of all of that, to stress that point: “I don’t want you to pity my children. I forbid you to caress them on the head. I forbid you to show them sympathy.” These are the images I remember from that time. I became emotional and stayed that way for years. I didn’t know why, back then. But I had become very emotional, I would cry at the slightest thing anyone told me. I stayed that way for four or five years.

“I don’t want you to pity my children. I forbid you to caress them on the head. I forbid you to show them sympathy” said my mother

My mother had a very strong personality, she was very strong. And because of the conditions in which she had grown up (living in difficult circumstances throughout her childhood), she had developed a very strong spirit and morale. At least we thought so back then: That she was strong, that she didn’t break, and that she was a rock for us – and still is. But now that I’ve grown up and have the courage to look back upon those years – I wouldn’t, for many years, even thinking about it was hard – and see my mother’s physical condition, I realize that she looked solid on the outside, but inside, she was destroyed and a complete mess. And now, there is nothing left of her: Her eyesight has faltered, she has high blood pressure, she has diabetes, she has pretty much all [the grave] illnesses and is in dire physical condition. In those years, however, she was resilient, very solid and strong. She never cried in front of us, she never talked about [the execution] in front of us, she never displayed weakness. And I consider this a very positive thing in my life and in my brothers’ lives. Had my mother shown weakness, who knows what else would have happened to us, what other mental blows we would have suffered from; then I would have far worse memories of those years. But she continued and went on, strong and resilient...

What is surprising to me is that, fortunately, it had no effect on my education – on the face of it at least – because I was always an excellent student. I got into college and even got a Master’s degree. My brothers got their high school diploma and were always good students, average students, but they didn’t continue their education beyond that; but at least they got their high school diplomas. Compared to other families with executed members, at least we went on with our education...

After my father’s death, we lost those financial resources; we no longer had a cattle ranch, a farm, or stocks. My father was the only son and my mother did not have the wherewithal for that kind of work, so everything reverted back to his father...

Our only source of income was the rent my mother would receive from the stores...

It most certainly had an effect. Had my father lived and not been executed, I would certainly have gotten into college in a better town, chosen a better major, and would have been able to better use my potential. I remember our family’s financial situation was extremely bad, awful in fact, when I was studying for the university entrance exam. So my ability to register for more [prep] classes decreased. I had very meager means. I studied relying only on the resources at my disposal and got accepted to university. But certainly if I had not received such a blow and if I had not lost such support, things would have been very different for me. I can say that ever since I turned 17 or 18 or maybe 16, that sort of income was no longer sufficient and it was very hard; the conditions were much harder than previous years. I don’t know, everything had certainly become more expensive and that income was very low, and maybe that was one reason why my brothers could not continue their studies. But I went ahead despite the little means we had and did my part and continued my education, but it was very hard, only because of financial issues. I remember when I was in college and studying for my bachelor’s degree, my friends would ask me how my father had died and I would tell them that he had been in a car accident. I never told anyone that my father had been executed. It was after about twenty years, if I’m not mistaken, that I told my friends a little while ago that my father was executed, and to friends I had from back then, my really close friends. [They didn’t know anything] because they were from other towns and did not have access to my family, and so they could not obtain any particular information. So they had believed my story. It was only about a year ago that I gathered enough courage to tell my friends that my father had been executed...

Telling the truth is generally very hard, but I felt that there was enough trust, and that conditions in society had become more favorable to the extent that I could freely talk to my friends about this. Of course, my friends’ reactions had a very positive effect and I was happy that I hadn’t been judged negatively at that moment...

You asked me at what point in my life my father’s execution had the most impact, and what I’m about to tell you now, you’re maybe the first person I’m discussing this with freely, because I feel that there is no longer room to hide these things and not talk about these issues; I’ve learned that my pain, the fact that they executed my father, execution, was not something particular to me; the fact that I get emotional and sad and depressed, is not particular to me. But, for certain reasons, in the past few months, I’ve also learned that this is not a simple question of being sad and depressed, that I’m not the only one who feels that way. What has happened is that the serious harm that has been inflicted upon us, far beyond a case of depression, comes for us [full force] every once in a while. I saw the families of the other people who were executed at the same time as my father and the bitter lives they’ve lived and how much they’ve suffered and how much pain they still have. This emotional pain has turned into physical pain and to dysfunctional relations among family members. That is why I now freely talk about all of that and my goal is to be of help to my friends who are suffering tremendously in our country, including my own brothers, because I understand their pain. I’ve been in touch with people who as children who were even younger than me when they lost their fathers at the same time as I lost mine, and I’ve seen how much tougher their lives are compared to mine. I want to tell you about this particular problem despite the pain it causes me, only because I think it might be of some help, and to make society aware of the stigma they [wrongly] attach to people, the wrong and unfair judgments they pass. I feel it is necessary to talk about this.

I’ve learned that my pain, the fact that they executed my father, execution, was not something particular to me; the fact that I get emotional and sad and depressed, is not particular to me.

Look, my son is now five years old and has recently found out that he had another grandfather as well. So he’s asked me numerous times: “You lost your father? Is your father dead?” And I say yes. “How did he die,” he asks, “how many days ago exactly?” I tell him that he died in a car accident, and when he asks how he got into the accident I tell him a made-up story. “Do you miss him a lot, Mom?” he asks, and out of habit of not wanting to hurt my son, I tell him: “No not a lot; it’s been a long time. I miss him just a little bit.” And I still cannot tell my son the truth. Lately, he hears the word “execution” a lot and asks me: “Mom, what does execution mean?” “It means bothering someone, throwing someone in jail. That’s execution,” I tell him. Of course I’m going to have to tell him the truth in a few years, and so the story continues, and I still have to keep telling the story and tell him that his grandfather was an honest and decent man...

In the first session, the psychiatrist’s very first diagnosis was that all these symptoms that I have displayed all these years and that I talk about – that I’m nervous, occasionally depressed, etc. – were not symptoms of severe depression. “Your problem is trauma,” he said, “because after 30 years, when you see the image of a gallows on TV, you’re subconsciously reminded of your father, and generally anything that has to do with execution reminds you of your father. So the harm you have suffered is trauma and you need to be treated for trauma.” The psychiatrist submitted a letter in which it was stated that I needed to undergo a few psychotherapy sessions. At that point, what occurred to me, which was actually shocking even to myself, was that I had always thought that I was the healthiest among my brothers and other friends who had lost their fathers, and that I had been the least affected and the least harmed by the events. When I realized the severity of the blow to which I had been subjected, I thought of my brothers, I thought of other dear friends with whom I had talked a little while ago and asked them to talk to me about their fathers’ executions, to tell me about their memories, about the effects of execution, and I realized how much they were suffering, even more than I was. At that moment, when the doctor told me the diagnosis, I did not think about myself at all. I thought for a second what greater a trauma, what greater a blow they had suffered; what were they supposed to do? They’re sufferring in Iran as we speak and don’t even know that this is all because of something that happened to them 30 years ago.

“Your problem is trauma,” [my psychologist] said, “because after 30 years… generally anything that has to do with execution reminds you of your father.”

This tragedy is still new to them, still fresh, just as it is to us. The fact that I’m sitting here talking about my father after 30 years and going over those memories, remembering those images, indicates that the pain has not been treated and that the treatment is not all that easy: It must first be recognized and accepted. My friends and I must realize and recognize that what we went through was a very serious and consequential blow that has penetrated deep inside our minds, and that we are all sick now. This is not severe depression, but trauma, and it requires special treatment, it needs to be addressed, otherwise it will just be transferred down the line to the next generations.

And the thing I have against the death penalty... is that we are just erasing the outward signs of the problem. When we execute a political prisoner, when we execute someone incarcerated for drugs, based on whatever charge, or when we eliminate any one for any reason, we’re just erasing the outward signs of the problem. It causes more problems for the families of the people who are executed, and causes more harm to society. If my father were a drug dealer, which he wasn’t, how many members of my family do you honestly think would have gone that route? And if drugs were the only problem, and the Islamic Republic wanted to eradicate them by executing a group of individuals, has that actually happened? Have drugs been eradicated altogether? I can say with a great degree of certainy that most of the children of the families whose father was executed eventually turned to drugs and if they are not all currently addicts, there are those who have dealt with drug addiction for at least a number of years. So by killing one person, they add several people to the country’s addict population...

I can never forgive a system who senselessly took my father away from me, for no reason whatsoever. It’s not just that they did a great injustice to him...

And God only knows what my father went through for four years. What we say is just that it was very hard, but you can’t even imagine not knowing what’s going to happen to you for four years and that you might even be executed. It sounds easy but you cannot understand the severity and the gravity of such a situation unless you’re actually in it. But however hard it was for my father in those years, for my father as well as for others like him, the case was closed for them. Regardless of whether there is an afterlife or not, whether he is in a different world or not, he is not around anymore to understand whether he has been punished or not, whether he has learned his lesson or not, and be aware of his punishment. It is the families for whom the case is still open, those innocent families who are subjected to a lifetime of punishment. I have been punished all my life for a crime that my father did or did not commit. And this, to me, is the worst type of punishment there is, and I hope it is stopped and eliminated as soon as possible.

It is the families for whom the case is still open, those innocent families who are subjected to a lifetime of punishment.

The experience I have had working with the Center during this time, and the conversations I have had about my father, have at least had the positive effect that I have been set free, and that I have the courage to talk about my father and not be afraid of how others might judge me. It gave me the opportunity to think about it on a deeper level and understand and realize what has actually and truly happened to us. This is not solely a story anymore, a sad event in the past, even though we’re living with it every day. I developed the courage to think about the problem, to read up on it, to understand what the death penalty is and what effects it has on families, and to be of help to others in similar situations. I developed the courage to at least talk to my own family about it, which was a very difficult thing to do, and it was something that had not happened at all in all these 30 years - not only in my family; I know for a fact that it’s not talked about at all in other families either. Recounting it and talking about it is certainly extremely effective, especially for the person doing it: it sets you free.