"My Home is All of Baluchistan": Witness Testimony of Habibollah Sarbazi
This witness testimony is based on an interview conducted by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center on August 20, 2019.
Introduction: Childhood and Family Background
My name is Habibollah Sarbazi. I was born in October-November 1986, in the city of Zahedan at my mother’s family home, which is located next to Zahedan’s Makki Mosque, currently Iran’s largest Sunni mosque. But we lived in the city of Iranshahr. My father was a bus driver back then, working on the Zahedan-Chahbahar route, but he would also drive to places like Esfahan or Tehran. My father was on the road when I was born, so he got my birth certificate from the city of Chahbahar. My family is originally from the town of Sarbaz and my roots go back to Khash. So I can say that my home is all of Baluchistan, and I am in all of Baluchistan.
My family is very religious. We are children of clerics on my mother’s side: Mowlavi (religious title for clerics in Sunni Islam, meaning “our master” or “our leader”) Abdolaziz Mollazadeh, the leader of Iran’s Sunni Moslems, especially in Baluchistan, who established the Ettehad-e Moslemin (“Moslem Unity”) Party (1) after the Islamic Republic came to power, was my maternal grandfather. His son, Mowlavi Abdolmalek Mollazadeh was active in that party for a while. Later, Mowlana Abdolaziz and several other religious leaders of the Sunni faith, established a party called Shoraye Markazi-e Sonnat (“Sunni Central Council”), “Shams” (2) which was the council for Sunni adherents. They were prevented from engaging in party activities at the time, and Mowlavi Abdolmalek left the country. In 1995-96, he and Mollah Abdolnasser Jamshidzehi were assassinated on a street in Karachi. Prior to the 1979 Revolution, Mowlana Abdolaziz had very good relations with Ayatollah Khomeini, that is, they all wanted an Islamic government and Islamic rule. Mollahzadeh was fighting in Baluchistan and Khomeini had his base in [central Iran]. Although their background and demands were different, they all agreed that an Islamic government could save us all; so they cooperated with each other. After Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, Mowlana Abdolaziz told him that there should be [no distinction between] Sunni and Shiite, that the only thing that was important was Iran and Iranians, that we should set [those differences] aside, and only talk about Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini, however, put Shiite Islam in the Constitution [as the country’s official religion]; the Constitution was ratified by the Assembly [of Experts] and everybody signed except Mowlana Abdolaziz, who left the Constitutive Assembly of Experts, saying that he would not be party to a Constitution that officially does not recognize the population of an entire region.
On my father’s side, the activities were more of a nationalist nature. My paternal grandfather was a trusted elder and his oldest son, my uncle, Abdolvahed Armian (who is still alive) was a nationalist activist. As he himself has said, he started his activities in Baluchistan when the Kurds started their freedom movement in Turkey under the leadership of Abdollah Ujalan. My uncle was a politician, one of a few well-educated Baluch at the time, who spoke multiple languages and had studied political science. My uncle knew Ayatollah Khamenei because the latter was exiled to the city of Iranshahr toward the end of the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, and was our neighbor. My uncle brought forth the demands of the Baluch people after the Revolution. However, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Khamenei [after him], expropriated everything for their own interests and did not allow the slightest thing for Baluchistan. By expropriation, I mean that the Baluch people were deprived of education in their local language, they were not allowed to take on managerial positions in their own region, and even the first governors for the Province were not only not Baluch, but Shiite Persians; even the military and security forces that were dispatched to the region were not Baluch. Both my paternal and maternal grandfathers, as well as my uncle (on my father’s side) became the opposition. My uncle went to the mountains from the get-go and began his political struggle. In the year 2000, he established a party called “Nehzat-e Edalat-e Baluchistan” (Baluchistan Justice Movement”) (3). Political activities gradually increased in the region at the time until a new armed movement began, which was the first armed movement in Baluchistan. That was the same period where Mowlabakhsh Derakhshan, my father’s cousin, started his activities. He was exiled several times because of his political activities, lost his job, and they created so many problems for him that he ultimately went to the mountains and took up arms and started an armed party. Since the Baluch society was religious and the government that had come to power was also Islamic and religious, his party, like most active political movements, had religious leanings, and he named it the Army of Mohammad Rassulallah (“Mohammad Messenger of Allah”). During the time this armed group was active, a number of the youth from our tribe accompanied them and were killed in the mountains of Baluchistan. For those reasons, and because the people of the region listened [and paid more attention] to the discourse of the clergy, my uncle’s nationalist activities were not able to exert much influence there. Because of all those activities, the government was always telling us “your family is fraught with unrest and is always opposed to us, and has never been on our side”.
I remember that ever since childhood, because of the extensive degree of political activity in our family and our extended family, talk of politics and political activities was more prevalent in our home than in others. But it wasn’t until [government forces] attacked our home that political events affected me directly. Our home was attacked twice in total. The first time was in the early 1990’s when I was less than 10 years old. It was during the school year but the weather was not that cold. Our home had a courtyard. Around 2 o’clock in the morning, before the call to prayer, we were woken up by the sound of people banging on the hallway door. A significant number of military and security forces had climbed up the wall, opened the entrance door, and [paved the way for] the rest of them to come in; other agents, all of whom were armed, were standing all around the wall in the yard, pointing their gun to the house. They were banging very hard on the door and saying: “Open up or we will break the windows.” I still remember my father, who was in his house clothes, going to the door and saying “who are you? Why should I open the door? You might be thieves”. The agents said: “We’re not, we’re security agents. Open the door or we’ll break it down.” My father put his shirt on and opened the door. They immediately threw him to the ground and handcuffed him from behind. Then they pressed him against the wall and spread his legs apart.
The first time government forces raided our home was in the early 1990s when I was less than 10 years old… They immediately threw my father to the ground and handcuffed him from behind.
The attack was not solely on our home; they attacked all seven houses in our alley where my grandfather’s grandchildren lived. They put all the women in one room, and the men in another. Then they separated the boys from the rest and sent them to be with the women, and took all adult males with them, that is, a total of 10 men. It was very scary; there were no men remaining from our tribe. We kids couldn’t understand what was going on; there was just this immense fear that had gotten a hold of us. They had broken all the closets and cabinets in our home, without exception. They did not ask for the keys to any of them and did not wait for the keys to any of them. They broke everything that was inside and took away all family photo albums, books, and notebooks. I remember they took away three or four huge family photo albums filled with pictures. It was very offensive to us, being a religious family, that the government had taken our family albums: There was talk in our house, on numerous occasions, about the fact that male strangers would be looking at those pictures.
In addition to the fear I had personally, I will never forget the anxiety, fear, consternation, and hatred that I saw at that moment and from that moment on, in my mother’s eyes and in her behavior; I will never forget her prayers and her cursing them at that moment and from then on. Security agents would constantly call our home and threaten us for several weeks. These calls were so harassing and bothersome that my mother ultimately disconnected the phone and stopped answering it all together. Thereafter, the region’s head of the Information Department would come to our home personally; he had [single-handedly] become the cause of our fear and consternation. As a result of the conduct of the region’s law enforcement and security agents, as well as the general atmosphere that reigned in our home, we the children developed a sense that “these people are not of us, they are our enemies, and work to our detriment”.
My father and the rest of the men in our family were released less than a week later. They had punched and kicked them after they had taken them away. They told us after their release that they had been beaten, punched, kicked, and tortured while in detention. They had arrested them on the charge of working with terrorists, but in fact, they wanted information about my uncle who was conducting his activities in Pakistan. The Information Ministry [was the government organ that] arrested them and the Ministry of Information [was the one that] released them.
That same year, my other uncle was arrested. He was a school principal for a while and was fired because of his family background. He remained a prominent, well-respected art and literature teacher for many years. He was an honest and honorable man and never got involved in politics, but they still harassed him because of his brother. One of my father’s other cousins whose brother had created the Mohammad Rassulallah group was fired from [his job at] the emergency room. My father was summoned numerous times prior to his second arrest; they would also put financial pressure on him just because his brother and other family members and relatives were involved in political activities. My father was always cursing the government and the security forces and would say “why can’t you leave us alone and let us live our lives? We want nothing to do with you”.
It was around 1998 or 1999 when I was in 6th or 7th grade that my father decided that we would leave Iran. Upon the suggestion of my uncle who lived in Pakistan, we went to live there and [once there,] we went to the United Nations Office for Refugees and submitted applications [for refugee status]. We spent almost the entire summer there but our file did not go forward, and so we returned to Iran before the start of the school year. It wasn’t hard to go back and forth between Iran and Pakistan at the time (4) and we came back to Iran without anybody learning where we had gone. My father had a wholesale grocery business before we went to Pakistan, and the business was actually doing very well. He closed the business when we left, however, and lost some of his previous customers when we came back, and was not able to re-start the business. I have another [vivid] memory from my childhood, the memory of the times we went to my grandfather’s home across from Zahedan’s Makki Mosque. The adults would show us the bullet holes in the Mosque’s altar and minarets (spires) and would tell us the story of how government agents had attacked the Mosque from the air and on the ground, beaten hundreds of people and killed dozens, and had subsequently just left. The subject of [the attack on the] Makki Mosque is one of Iran’s Sunni Moslems population’ most important and worst tragedies, and I became familiar with it in my childhood. (5)
The second time they attacked our home was around 2000 or 2001, when I was approximately 14 or 15 years old. That night, my father had a guest from Pakistan, and someone had reported [to the authorities] that there was a terrorist in our house. It was late at night and we had not slept yet when they attacked us in the same way they had done before, [thereby] reviving the memories of the same events [I had experienced as a child] that were now being repeated for me as a young man: A number of soldiers were banging on the door and screaming: “Open the door or we will break it down.” They flocked in when we opened the door and dropped my father and his guest to the floor, handcuffed and blindfolded them, and took them away. We learned three days later that they were being detained at a military base near our home. I would take food to my father and his friend every day, responding to the same repetitive question “what do you want?” with “I’ve brought food for my father”. They would then take the food from me and take it to him. One time they allowed me to take the food into the base myself. They took me to the section where holding cells were located, and that was when I saw my father behind bars. Seeing the man who was my [rock solid] support in life in those conditions, behind bars, and facing the people who were his prison guards every day, people whose language, clothes, culture, and even their religion was different than mine, was not only unpleasant; it also felt degrading.
Seeing the man who was my [rock solid] support in life in those conditions, behind bars, and facing the people who were his prison guards every day, people whose language, clothes, culture, and even their religion was different than mine, was not only unpleasant; it also felt degrading.
After a few days, they said “oh there was a mistake, sorry” just like the first time, and released them.
Security agents came for my father on numerous occasions and asked him to work with them. For instance, they would ask him to ask my uncle to come back to Iran, or tell them where he was. And each time, my father would tell them: “I want nothing to do with politics and I don’t want to work with you, and there’s nothing I can do for you.” They would then threaten my father: “We won’t let you have even one moment’s peace,” and they would of course carry out their threats. Every time my father went to a government office to get some administrative thing done, they would create obstacles for him or block whatever he needed done, but my father never gave in. For instance, one of the most difficult times for us was when my father started a [bus] terminal in Chahbahar, entered into contracts with several companies so that they would send their buses to his terminal. This was around 2002-2003 when I was 16 or 17 years old. My father’s business was picking up and dozens of buses were coming to his terminal. A short while later, however, the same people who had entered into contracts with my father, came to him and wanted to terminate their contracts under various pretexts, but my father would not agree to terminate, until one day, they stole the contracts and unilaterally terminated [them]. My father thought they had personal reasons at first, and it was they themselves who did not want to work with him, even though the cooperation was profitable for both sides. They later told my father that security agents had put pressure on them not to work with him. So after a while, no buses came to my father’s terminal. My father was losing money and was not able to pay the rent for the terminal, and was therefore forced to close it down. We became so poor afterwards that we were not even able to buy a gas air conditioner (cooler) in Chahbahar’s very hot and humid weather, and had to sleep under a fan at night.
Arrest; Entry into a New World
My father always wanted us to become clergymen and encouraged us to go to the seminary. Becoming the Friday Prayer Imam was a big deal and an honor in our region. I was finishing 9th grade when we moved from Iranshahr to Chahbahar because of my father’s work. The next year, we went to visit Mowlana Abdorrahman Chabahari, Chahbahar’s Friday Prayer Imam, who is a very famous and well-known individual from Sarbaz, with whom we have family relations. My father asked him to enroll me in his seminary. The Imam personally took care of my registration. I always ranked first in all of my years at school and I was a good student, with the exception of mathematics, a subject I wasn’t very good at. Our math teacher was a respectable man but did not feel like teaching and would only make efforts for students who were interested and paid attention to the subject; he paid no attention to the rest of us and at times would insult us too.
I was forced to move to different cities in the province in the course of my studies at the seminary, including to Zahedan and Saravan. I enrolled in the Chah Jamal Seminary once we settled in Iranshahr. People from the Supreme Leader’s Office came and gave everyone a theology student identification card, so that we could be brought under the supervision of the Leader’s Office, something that I did not accept, and I refused to take the card. Thereafter, they would give minimal amounts of money to seminary students every year as “Sahmieh” (“share of stipend”) for Sunni adherents. Everybody took the money but I did not; I was always scolding my fellow students and telling them: “Why are you taking this money? The person who gives you this money is the same person who commits murder in our region and puts people in jail for no reason at all. And you accept money from him, and in doing so allow [him and his cronies] to say they’re giving you your share?”
The head of our seminary was Mowlavi Abdolqodduss Mollazehi. Mowlavi Yussef Sohrabi, who was a friend of our seminary’s headmaster, would frequently come to for a visit. Mowlavi Yussef was also a student of Mowlana Mohammad Omar Sarbazi, who was one of the most well-known, distinguished, pre-eminent, and popular religious scholars in the region. He was a Sufi and never bothered anybody or meddle in anyone’s affairs. He was a follower of the Naqshbandi Way (6) and would recite the Qor’an for people and teach Sufism and the Sufi way. I participated in his classes for a while and pledged allegiance to him for Sufism.
Mowlana Mohammad Omar had established a school in a village in the mountains called Kuhvan, where he also lived. He gradually became so famous that people from all across Iran, including Kurds, Turkmen, Azeris, and Lors, would all come to him. Mowlavi Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi was one of Mowlana Mohammad Omar’s most distinguished students, and Mowlavi Abdolqodduss Mollazehi was his son-in-law.
Mowlana Mohammad Omar died suddenly in February-March 2007. His entourage noticed greenish bruises around his mouth, eyes, and other places on his body, and that made his death suspicious among the people of the region. It was later said that his family and the school officials had investigated his death and concluded that Mowlavi had been poisoned. They even arrested someone who was an informant and got him to confess that he had poisoned Mowlana on government orders.
After Mowlana Mohammad Omar’s death, or murder – as his students and people close to him had concluded – Mowlavi Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi, one of his followers, established contact with Abdolmalek Rigi, and told him about Mowlavi’s murder. That was the extent of Mowlavi Sohrabi’s contact with Abdolmalek, and he played no role in any of the operations.
It was around dawn on a December day in 2007, and it was cold. We were woken up by the sound of banging on the door. My childhood memories came back to me, but this time, it wasn’t my father they had come looking for, they had come for me. I, and another seminary student, were taken aback, and had no idea what was going on. Mowlavi Yussef was scared and worried and was saying “don’t open the door”. But I said: “Don’t worry, these people are officers and we don’t know what’s going on. Maybe there’s been a theft or burglary in the region.” So I put my shirt on and opened the door. Several agents came in and told us to put our clothes on and step outside. They were looking for Yussef Nekuhchi or Yussef Sohrabi, and that was why they had come with handcuffs. But when they saw us all together, they decided to take all of us. They handcuffed my fellow student to Mowlavi Yussef but they did not handcuff me. Then they put all three of us in the back of a Toyota pickup truck. We were not blindfolded and we realized that Mowlavi Abdolqoddus, Mowlavi Zakaria, and his son Abdorrashid were in the back of the truck in their t-shirts.
About an hour later, everything was quiet when we suddenly heard gunshots of all kinds. We were all very surprised. Of course Mowlavi Yussef, and Mowlavi Abdolqodduss to a certain extent, knew what had happened. Apparently, Abdolmalek [Rigi] had sent forces to take revenge for the death of Mowlana Mohammad Omar Sarbazi; they had gone to Mowlavi Abdolqoddus without informing him beforehand, and had asked him to provide lodging for them. He had resisted at first, but had ultimately provided them with lodging in the same region, in the girls’ section, which was some distance from where we stayed. The [government] forces came toward us, threw us on the ground with extreme anger and hatred, and proceeded to kick and punch us as hard as they could. Then they put us back in the truck, blindfolded us, and took us straight to Iranshahr’s Information Ministry detention center.
When we arrived at the detention center courtyard, they started to kick and punch and insult us as we were getting off the truck. They then lined us up and, one by one, made us go through a door and into a building that led to the prison’s various halls and cells. They had arrested more than just our group that day: It was time for the morning call to prayer when shots were fired, and they had arrested everyone in sight: For instance, a Mowlavi who was going to the Mosque to chant the call for prayer, people who had come out of their home for the morning prayer, and even people who had come out because of all the noise and commotion and gathered just because they were curious as to what had happened, they had all been arrested. They had arrested a total of around 20 people. They gave us prison clothes first, and then threw each one of us in a cell. The cell I was in was approximately 2 by 2 meters (6.5 by 6.5 feet); there was a toilet and a shower in that same room, in such a way that if you turned the shower on, the rest of the cell would get wet. When I lied down in my cell with my head against the wall, my feet could reach the other end of the width of the cell. They did not give us a blanket for three days and there was nothing covering the floor either. It was so cold that I was shivering the entire time. I would sit in a corner with my knees against my chest, my head on my legs, and I would warm myself with my breath.
Interrogations started half an hour after they put us in our cells. They would make me sit down on a chair and would pinch me very hard; they would pull hard on my stomach, for example. They would say: “You’re a terrorist and you must confess to being with Abdolmalek Rigi.” “No, that’s not correct,” I would respond, “I’m a simple seminary student.” But they kept insisting: “You have to confess; you have to confess that you’re a member of the Jondollah Party, and that you intended to carry out [armed] operations here.” And I would not confess. The first day, they neither let us sleep nor rest until nightfall. The interrogators kept coming and going non-stop, beating us, harassing us, and trying to extract confessions out of us. At night, nobody came for an hour or two. I had closed my eyes and was about to fall asleep when they showed up and started the interrogation once again. Of course, they had already conducted their investigations and knew that we were innocent.
On the third day, it seemed as though their conduct toward us had changed. They gave us a dirty blanket that we could use to take away some of the cold on the cell floor, and it was a welcome event. They generally took it easier on us and their behavior had improved. We learned later on, that on that day, they had released everyone they had arrested with the exception of the Mowlavis, four other individuals, and me.
On the afternoon or evening of the third day, they put us in a car and took us from Iranshahr to another location, without telling us where we were going. They put two of us in front of the back seat of the car where you normally put your feet. They forced our heads down and handcuffed us. I was facing the door, and behind me, there was another of my co-defendants, facing the other door. At first, I thought they were going to take us outside the city to some arid desert and shoot us. We were sitting in the car for four hours and the agents accompanying us were eating [sunflower] seeds the entire time, listening to religious music, chatting with each other, and constantly repeating that we were going to a hotel. They beat and punched us on the head if we so much as moved. We were not allowed to talk at all. They drove 400 kilometers (250 miles) that day, with us in those conditions, to take us to Zahedan’s Information Ministry detention center. It seemed like my legs had frozen and did not belong to me when we got out of the car. I fell to the ground for a second. We had gotten physically weak too; we were not fed adequately when we were in Iranshahr, we only got one meal a day. There was a person at Zahedan [detention center] who did not act like a normal person; he acted like a robot that had been wound up. He was very big and had huge hands and a very deep voice. He just beat and harassed us. The second we got to the Information Ministry [detention center] he started kicking and punching us. When I walked in, he hit me in the neck with his hand and that was enough to knock me to the ground. My neck hurt severely for a few days. He then grabbed us by the neck and dragged us on the floor like [slaughtered] sheep; we were handcuffed. Every time we wanted to go through a door, he would first bang our head against the wall; then he would belittle and make fun of us and laugh.
They would tell us: “You dirty Sunnis, you all support Abdolmalek and you’ve come here just to kill people”…. And they just kept telling us to confess without putting forth any witnesses or evidence.
There were no interrogations the first couple of days. After a few days, they started to investigate our case. At first, it was just insults and torture, and an insistence that we were all terrorists. They would tell us: “You dirty Sunnis, you all support Abdolmalek and you’ve come here just to kill people.” And all we could do was deny these allegations, not knowing what they were talking about. And they just kept telling us to confess without putting forth any witnesses or evidence. When we asked what we were supposed to confess to, they would say: “Confess that you are with Abdolmalek Rigi’s group,” without providing any other explanations. They first told us to write our entire life’s story: Date of birth, age, where we studied, who our teachers were, what we liked, what we didn’t like, etc. They now know every little detail about my life, and I think one of the ways in which they discover and have precise knowledge about us is by referring to our prior cases. While I was abroad, most of my friends were either summoned, prosecuted, or detained based on that very case file.
That was how the first days went on until one day, the person in charge of my case showed me some pictures and said: “These are the terrorists we killed in Iranshahr the same day we arrested you.” After a week of beatings and insults, that was the first time I learned why they had arrested us and what they meant when they said “confess you’re in the Abdolmalek Rigi group, that you are a terrorist, that you are in the Jondollah group”. Up until that moment, I had thought that even if there is a problem, it would be a misunderstanding like it was when my father was arrested, and that I would ultimately be released after a week. I would tell myself that that was how they operated, that we are guilty until proven otherwise. From that day on, they kept harping on my family background and my uncle’s activities. They knew that I had only seen my uncle once when I was a child and I had never seen him again, nor did I know anything about his activities. But that background was important to them because they thought they had arrested someone who fit nicely into their scenario. In our case, however, which was one of the most significant events in Baluchistan, the main characters were the two Mowlavis, that is, Mowlavi Abdolqudduss Mollazehi and Mowlavi Yussef Sohrabi. We were only marginal figures, not only for Information agents but for the media as well; we were cited as just numbers everywhere. Ultimately, the sentence they issued for us, a 5-year suspended prison term, was part of the case they had opened for the two Mowlavis and they needed us to complete the scenario for the case.
From then on, they kept telling us to confess in front of the cameras to being terrorists working with the Jondollah group, but we refused. So they kept torturing us. We thought that they were lying to us when they said they would leave us alone if we confessed. We thought their goal was to frame us and execute us. One time, we requested to go out into the yard. They sent us to the yard but they beat us so much that we regretted asking. They kept beating us when they brought us back to our cells and we never asked to go out into the yard ever again. To torture us, they would take us to a room, make us lie down on a steel bed, and tie our arms and legs in a cross; sometimes they would take our clothes off, other times they would pour cold water on our bodies, then flog us from our toes to our neck with different types of whips. That giant person that I mentioned before, hit us so hard that every time he hit me I thought my back would break if he hits me a second time and my disks would be dislocated. That was when I would say “I’ll write whatever you want me to write”. They would then untie me, hand me a piece of paper, and say “write what you did at school”. “What do you want me to write?” I would ask. “Write what you did,” they responded. And I would write my life story. Then they would start beating me again, insisting that I should write what we did with Mowlavi Abdolqodduss and Mowlavi Yussef. And once again I would write that these two were our teachers and we studied with them at the seminary. One time they said: “You wrote the same stories again.” “That’s what my story is,” I responded. “No,” he replied, “your ward mate says something else. He says you were the leader of the group and you wanted to carry out terrorist operations.” That was how they exerted psychological pressure on us and forced us to talk against [and incriminate] each other, by saying someone else had incriminated us. Then one day they said: “We want to videotape you and show it to the Information Minister. The film is not going to be broadcast; only one person, the Minister, will see it. We want to come out from under the pressure [our superiors are putting on us] over these terrorist operations that were supposed to have been planned.” Ultimately, they were able to extract confessions under duress from three of us; another co-defendant and I were the only ones who were not willing to make a confession under any circumstances.
Their last ploy was to bring my co-defendant and me face to face. They said: “You are the only two people who have not agreed to be videotaped. Consult with each other and make a decision.” They stressed once again that they were under pressure to make the video as soon as possible and that “based on the scenario that has been prepared, everyone must be in it”. Then they left the two of us alone in the room. We were holding each other’s hands for a little while, hugged, and cried. Even though neither one of us wanted to submit to confessing in front of a camera, we also thought that these people would not leave us alone because they had said they would continue to torture us even if it took a hundred years for us to confess. Neither one of us trusted them either; we thought that they were lying and that they would execute us after we confessed. Finally, however, we said “enough is enough”, because we were under a lot of physical and psychological pressure. Ultimately I said: “I will confess even if they execute me as a result. What’s left for them to do?” Seeing what my position was, my ward mate said he would do it too, and that was how they got our consent. Then they took us to the room and gave us better food and left us alone for a couple of days.
Even though neither one of us wanted to submit to confessing in front of a camera, we also thought that these people would not leave us alone because they had said they would continue to torture us even if it took a hundred years for us to confess.
One night, about 35 to 40 days after our arrest, they took us to the same courtyard they had taken us before when they tortured us. There were bright lights and cameras ready to tape. There was a chair we were supposed to sit on; they put a bright spotlight on us. The agents were behind the cameras and we were not able to see them because it was dark and we had the spotlight in our eyes. The giant torturer was standing behind us and would occasionally say “that’s how you’re supposed to say this sentence”. At times, when we changed the sentence or uttered it in a different tone, he would walk over and slap us a couple of times, and punch and kick us, and say “you have to say what they want you to say and say it the way they want you to say it”. When we objected, saying “you said there would be no more torture,” they responded: “Just say it and get it over with.” When we agreed to be put in front of cameras, we had [agreed] to repeat what they told us to say. They would dictate to us what we had to say and when we objected, saying “but that’s not true”, the torturer would beat us and say “You have to say this”. In other words, I believe that once you give in and agree to be put in front of the camera, you give in to the rest. It’s not even a matter of telling the truth or not lying. Sometimes, there was a sentence that we didn’t understand or that didn’t have a particular meaning to us, but it was part of the scenario they had prepared in advance, and would have meaning (that was completely adverse to us) in conjunction with a sentence my co-defendant or someone else had said. They stopped the recording 30 or 40 times under various pretexts, such as we were supposed to sit better, speak more clearly, use another sentence; they especially emphasized the look on our faces. They never get sick of this charade, they get paid for it. You cannot understand the feeling unless you’re put in that position; but I understand people who came before me and after me and were forced to make false confessions on television, because I have been in that situation myself. Many people, however, still do not understand that when the government arrests someone, they do not give them rice and kabob, [they’re not throwing a party for them;] they physically and psychologically torture them from day one until the last day. There are a lot of people who still tell me “why did you confess, why did you say the things that you said, you surely must have done something to say the things you said”.
We had no visitations with our families during those 40 days. After they made us confess on camera, they stopped pressuring and torturing us. One night the giant torturer let me make a phone call to my parents. But he did make his threats beforehand: “First of all, speak Persian; second of all, you’re not allowed to talk about your case; all you say is that you get good food here and that you have no issues.” I said to myself that it was good enough for me to hear my parents’ voices and for them to know that I was alive. So of course when my mother asked how I was doing and what they were feeding us, I said: “I’m fine, thank God. They feed us Pashmak here (a type of sweet, but a play on the word “pashm”, literally meaning wool, figuratively meaning “nothing”).” From my use of that strange word, my family had understood that that place was not the way I was saying it was.
There are a lot of people who still tell me “why did you confess, why did you say the things that you said, you surely must have done something to say the things you said”
Approximately a week after the taping, they took us to court. One day, late in the afternoon, the interrogator asked for us one by one. When my turn came up, he said: “Look, tonight you have to go to court.” I said: “Good, our case is finally going to come to an end.” “You don’t have experience and have never been in court before,” he replied, “these judges, they’re very particular, they work based on documents and evidence. Just tell the court the same things you told us.” “But you said what we said on camera was only for the Minister to see. I wasn’t supposed to say the same things in front of the judge,” I retorted. He knew I was not going to repeat the same things I had said on camera in court but he insisted in order to scare me: “If you don’t say what you’re supposed to, you’ll come right back here and you’ll be tortured again.” But since he was guessing I was not going to say what he wanted me to say, he used a different tactic and said: “Whatever you do and whatever happens, the court is ultimately going to ask you one last question like ‘what is your last word, what do you want from the court’, and you have to say that you’re asking for forgiveness and pardon.” “What good will that do, what’s the effect?” I asked. “The effect is that the judge is a human being too; that will soften him up, and he won’t sentence you, and you will be released,” he said.
Our trial took place in one session in late January 2008, and a sentence was issued based on that single session. They claimed the trial was open; yes, but do you know what time it was? It took place between 9 and 10 o’clock at night. We were blindfolded until the moment we got to the entrance to the court. They took our blindfolds off facing the entrance to the courtroom, and kicked us inside. We only saw the officer inside the courtroom, who handcuffed us right at the door and took us and seated us in our chairs in the front. We were seeing people for the first time in 50 days. There were about 30 to 40 people in the courtroom, all of whom were the victims of incidents the Jondollah group had played a role in. They were mostly the families of the victims of the Tasuki incident caused by the Jondollah group (7), in which, in addition to the governor, the county executive, and other officials who were passing through, many civilians were also killed. Therefore, all the people participating in the trial of us Zabolis were Persian and Shiite, and there was not a single Baluch among them. The trial was being videotaped, but apparently the court stressed from the very beginning that the proceedings would not be broadcast. At that session, two lawyers were designated as court-appointed attorneys for Mowlavi Abdol Qodduss and Mowlavi Yussef Sohrabi. They talked privately with their lawyers for less than 30 minutes. Their attorneys had told them very ordinary, run of the mill generalities and had emphasized asking for forgiveness and pardon, but had also told them that there was not much they could do for them.
“If you don’t say what you’re supposed to in court, you’ll come right back here and you’ll be tortured again” the interrogator said
In the indictment they read in court, “working with terrorist groups and Jondollah, and acting against national security” were the most important charges brought against us. Then the court asked us to defend ourselves one person at a time, against those charges. We all said that we had been tortured, severely tortured, and that we denied all the charges read by the prosecutor in court. When it was my turn to defend myself, I addressed the people in the courtroom when the judge tried to stop me and said “you have to address the court here, not the people”. But I continued to speak and said that we had been severely tortured and that we denied all of those charges. I also said that we had been threatened that if we talked about torture and did not say what they had told us to say, we would be taken back, and that I feared to be tortured again. At the end, the judge asked what we wanted. I said: “We have done nothing wrong, and we have not committed any crimes. But if the court believes we have done something [wrong], we ask for forgiveness and pardon.” None of the court videotapes, not even pictures taken in court, were broadcast because of the way we presented our defense.
When they took us back to the detention center from the court, we were slapped in the face, punched, and kicked for the things we had said in court, but they left us alone for a week, when the sentence was issued. A week later someone from the court came and said that the court had issued a five-year suspended prison sentence for me and my four co-defendants. We did not even know what a suspended prison sentence meant. When we asked what it meant, he said: “It means you will be released but if you take one wrong step, that is, even if you get stopped by the police for driving without your driver’s license, you will go to jail for five years.” I said: “I don’t accept this sentence. You know very well that we’re innocent.” “That’s how it is,” “he said, “that is your sentence.” “I object,” I said, “I will appeal this sentence.” “Look big shot,” he replied, “I want to release you with the others; if you appeal, the appeal will go to the Supreme Court and will take at least a month for them to consider your case; it will take at least another month for them to set a date for a hearing. In other words, you will be our guest here for another two to three months.” He scared me and so I accepted the ruling. Ultimately, a week after serving us with the sentence, that is, less than 60 days after our arrest, we were all released with the exception of the two Mowlavis. All of us who had been arrested together, were taken to one room the last few days we spent at the Zahedan Information Ministry Detention Center. Although these rooms were bigger than the Iranshahr cells, they were being used both as solitary confinement cells and as cells for multiple people. One of the most difficult experiences I had there was using the toilet. They had built a half a meter (1.7 foot) [high] wall in the cell, behind which the toilet was located. The wall was so short that only our private parts were hidden when we used the toilet. All of us who were in that cell, five of us toward the end, had to go to the bathroom behind that short wall. This part of our detention was a severe form of torture in and of itself, that is, never in our entire lives, had we been forced to be in such a situation in front of other people. I mean, we’re all human beings, we eat food and the body has to excrete. So being alone in a cell was agonizing, but being with other people was a calamity too. The cell had a light bulb that emitted very little light. It had a very high ceiling and it was impossible to reach the light bulb even if you jumped. The light bulb itself had a steel protector as well. The cell also had an opening with steel bars, very high up, that let light in. I asked the interrogator for a pen and a few pieces of paper when I was in that cell. The interrogator asked what I wanted it for. I told him that I loved writing and I just wanted to write. I wanted to study Persian literature. I was very good in literature back then and I would write poetry at times and work on literary texts. He gave me some paper on which I wrote my prison memoirs in the form of literary prose. “The sound of water continually dripping on the cell floor, and the image that takes shape in my mind from that sound; oh, how that sound scatters and disrupts my thoughts. The blind, dark, dungeon-like cell I’m in, the sound of a set of keys coming from afar that mixes with the sound of commotion still farther away, taking my thoughts from this hallway to that hallway.” That same interrogator came over one day and took away the papers where I had written [my thoughts]. On the last day, when I was about to be released, I asked them to give me back my memoirs but they refused.
One of their tactics for psychological torture was that when we were in detention and under interrogation they would tell us “no one has come for you because your case is very dangerous; even your parents have not asked about you”. They would even tell us that they had allowed visitations but no one had come. It was about a month after our arrest when they told us these things, and I believed them and was very upset. I was so upset that I said to myself I would not go visit with my family even if they did come for visitations. When we were released, I saw my father standing outside on crutches because he had had broken his leg in an accident. I then heard from him and our family and relatives that he had gone perhaps 20 times to the Information Ministry, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the judiciary, and had gone at least ten times to Zahedan and Iranshahr to follow up on my case, in the cold of the winter and with a broken leg.
There were two other people in my cell when I was in prison, one of whom had been arrested on drug charges, and the other one had been arrested and charged with sale of drugs and had been tortured for an entire year. [The evidence against them] was another person’s [statements]. The charges against him were never proven. He told me that they had tied his hand to the door for 10 days and had kept him standing there; they even fed him themselves in that position and would not untie him even to eat. They were both ultimately released, the first by paying a bribe, the second by proving his innocence. Another person who had been to Pakistan and had seen Abdolmalek Rigi just one time then became my cellmate. Abdolmalek was at the height of his activities and a lot of people wanted to see him up close. He said that he had had no cooperation with Abdolmalek whatsoever. Every day when he woke up, he would say he had had a dream that he had been released, but they ultimately executed him. I was also in the same ward as Yaqub Mehrnahad, the journalist and civil activist, who was executed in August 2008 (8). An entire world opened up to me when I saw these individuals. These were young people with different world views. I thought to myself that these people have been thrown in jail with all these problems and based on all these [bogus] charges; some of them have committed no crimes, some have been forced to make false confessions like myself, and some have even been executed based on this [so-called] evidence and without a fair trial.
My own experience also helped me to doubt all of these “confessions” and to put myself in the shoes of the persons who had been arrested. They forced me and my ward mates to make false confessions based on the scenario they had prepared. In a portion of the film they took of us, we each utter a sentence that on its face has nothing special in it and might even have been true, but when they lined it up with something someone else had said and with the tone he had said it, it turned into a part of the scenario they had prepared. They gave me and several other people a suspended five-year jail sentence, but they failed to even show us that ruling.
After Release, Civil Activist
The day they released us, several Mowlavis affiliated with the government had shown up and were standing next to our parents and several of the elders of Iranshahr. One of them started to speak when we got out. There were cameras there and were taping the ceremonies they had prepared in advance. One of the Mowlavis started speaking: “What were these things that you intended to do? Why did you bring bombs and ammunition? Why did you bring forces? And why did you cooperate with Jondollah and Abdolmalek Rigi and the infidel groups?” He just kept talking and accusing us. When he was finished I said: “Honorable Mowlavi, you are a judge, and I am a seminary student and have studied Shari’a and Islamic jurisprudence. Aren’t the plaintiff and the defendant both supposed to be heard, based on Islamic jurisprudence and [the principles of] fair trial, before a judge can render a decision? You have condemned us before even hearing what we have to say, and you told us [and accused us of] everything you wanted to.” The Mowlavi was quiet and sweating profusely. Then he said: “Well then, tell me what happened; I want to hear it directly from you.” I said: “Everything they said was an absolute lie.” Information Ministry agents and our torturers were standing behind us; they were there to complete their scenario by recording the Mowlavi’s speech in our release ceremony. But I continued: “They severely tortured us from the very first day we were arrested.” Then I lifted my shirt up and showed the signs of torture on my back. The agent that was recording the event turned his camera off when I was speaking, and put everything away. The entire atmosphere had changed. Ultimately, they brought a written pledge for our fathers to sign, stating [something to the effect] that “my son will not be with terrorist groups and will not have any contacts with Jondollah”. Everybody signed. When it was my father’s turn, he said: “I am not going to sign this pledge. My son said they had been tortured, right here in front of everybody, and said that he denies all the charges and also said that he had said the same thing in court. I do not accept that my son has cooperated with the groups you named and say are terrorist groups.” [Suddenly,] there was a commotion in the crowd. The Information Ministry agents started talking to my father, telling him that this was just a formality and that the pledge had to be signed in order for us to be released. The others were telling my dad to “sign it and get it over with so these young men can be released and we can all be on our way and go home”. But my father stood his ground and said he was not going to sign the pledge. When [the other parents] insisted, he said: “Come, let me read to you what they’ve written about our sons,” and proceeded to read the text aloud. “These individuals have confessed before the Information Ministry [agents] and the court that they were in terrorist groups,” he said, reading the other charges they had brought against us, “and the videotape of their confession is available. And finally, we, the parents pledge that from now on, we will not allow our children to have any contacts with terrorist groups.” Then he turned to everyone and asked: “Do you accept everything they have said about your sons?” Everyone lowered their heads and said nothing. My father then turned the paper over and wrote on the back: “I accept and believe my son’s statement to the effect that he has been tortured, and that he denies his confessions, and that is the statement I am signing.” Then he signed his own statement and gave the paper back to the agents. I cannot express the feeling I had at that moment; all I can say is that I was so very proud of my father. Although my father had never been politically active, he would never allowed himself to be bullied; that was one of his character traits. And he always told us never to give in to coercion, injustice, and oppression, and to always face and resist them. He would always say: “Never fear a high wind; it comes to take you high up like a hawk.”
“I accept and believe my son’s statement to the effect that he has been tortured, and that he denies his confessions, and that is the statement I am signing” declared my father
After our release, we were told by the Information Ministry agents that we had to go to the Ministry’s News [and Information] Headquarters in Iranshahr every day and sign the roll call registry. At the Headquarters, there was a small door with a window on top. We would knock on the door, they would identify us through the [closed circuit] cameras and bring the registry; we would sign in front of our name and date it. This had nothing to do with the court; the Information Ministry had come up with this obligation for us on its own. After a while, I told them I couldn’t go there every day and sign the roll call. They said: “Everybody’s doing it; you’re the only one complaining.” I said: “You know that I’m right here in town and there’s no need for me to come here every day.” From then on, I would go every 2 to 3 days to sign the roll call, and nothing happened. One time, they summoned me after 15 days asking why I hadn’t gone to the Headquarters to sign. I told them they already knew I was in town and there was no need for me to go there, but they said I had to go; I still didn’t. They called me and said: “You can come every two weeks to sign the roll call.” For a while, I would go every two weeks to sign the registry; I think I went three times, and then I didn’t go the fourth time. I told them that I occasionally went out of town and so sometimes I wouldn’t be able to make it there. From then on I went once a month. One time I went to Golestan Province to attend an educational program without informing them. They summoned me upon my return and said: “Why don’t you ask for permission when you want to leave the region?” “I am not obligated to inform you of my comings and goings. You know very well I’m in this country,” I replied. They didn’t say anything anymore and I stopped going to the Information Headquarters altogether.
Approximately two months after our release, those two Mowlavis were executed, in spite of the fact that they had told their families that they would be released (9). The night before their execution, they broadcast our confessions, having previously advertised the broadcast. Many people in the region, with the exception of our friends and families, did not know that we had been freed. They thought we were still in prison when they broadcast our confessions. That night, I saw my confession on the [Sistan and Baluchistan] Province TV network for the first time. It was an awful feeling. The first question that popped into my head was “what will people think about us?” And my concern was justified. As early as the next day, people started asking “why did you confess? You must have been guilty [to confess], weren’t you?” Many people thought that there must have been something going on for us to confess. That was the first time televised confessions were being broadcast in our Province in such an extensive manner and with such a large audience. It was very hard on us from a psychological standpoint. Of course, this was part of the government’s ploy to create mistrust among the people. For instance, we heard some people saying “how come this person was released? He must have cooperated with the government.”
I continued my education after I was released from prison until the last year [of seminary], and then I stopped because I did not want to carry the Mowlavi title. Prison was what changed the course of my life. After that, my thinking was that I would continue my studies and complete my curriculum in Arab literature, Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic law, etc., but I would not become a Mowlavi, nor a Friday Prayer Imam subsequently, and I would not put a turban on my head. Things were such that I didn’t even go to the mosque, and just prayed at home, because if I went to the mosque I would have to lead the prayers and I did not want to do that. My father and our friends and family were shocked and surprised at my behavior. But the truth is, when I went to prison and saw other people’s pain and suffering, my entire outlook on life changed. After prison, I completely turned into a civil activist for university students. I would go to student dormitories and other social places. Everybody knew me as a civil activist with extensive connections to college students and young people in general. Along with a group of interested young people, we worked with high school kids to prepare them for college. In prison, I realized first-hand what was happening to the people of Baluchistan, and also understood that the clergy, those who were constantly preaching, were Friday Prayer Imams, and were always lecturing, were doing nothing about it. For instance, and especially, they would not even mention a regular young person that was in jail. So I defined a mission for myself: To work for all the people.
Through the contacts I had made with young people and college students, I established an association called Youth Meetings. In later meetings, around 100 people from across the city would attend. We would mostly talk about the city’s issues and what we should do to resolve them. We had come up with various ways of encouraging the youth to participate in the meetings. For instance, we would pose questions regarding the city’s problems or general knowledge questions, and whoever gave a correct answer, we would give them a prize bought with money we had put up ourselves. Our goal for having the meetings was to bring young people closer together, have them be in touch with each other, and thereby have a sound social and cultural activity. We would identify hangouts and social gatherings in town through these meetings and would go there. For instance, we would go to places where addicts gathered and we would take them cake and fruit juice, and would sit and talk to them. They would gradually start to trust us and open up to us about their problems, tell us about how the police treated them and how they took bribes from drug dealers. The way we saw it, the ready availability of drugs in town was a well-thought out government policy, because Baluchistan has the largest number of youth among all provinces and so there was a plan to destroy them. Well, a young person without employment is a person without hope for the future; when you have studied [and have a degree] and you can’t get a job anywhere or find work based on your area of expertise, or when the rate of dropping out of school is high, drug addiction is right around the corner waiting for you. This information and our own observations were cause for great concern. [One of the actions we took] was to take drug addicts to rehabilitation camps and many of them would kick their drug habit and go back to their previous, normal life.
We also realized that there were groups and criminal gangs in Iranshahr that carried melee weapons and harassed, bullied, [and assaulted] people. For instance, there was a large group that had 30 motorcycles, each carrying three people, who went around town with knives and machetes, and kidnapped boys under 15 and sexually assaulted them. We would discuss these horrible events in our meetings.
Our meetings were also attended by very smart and talented, but extremely poor young individuals. We would identify these young people, and with the help of other members of our group who had college degrees, as well as other trusted elders in our town, would lay the groundwork for these people to be incentivized, encouraged, and recognized so that they could reach the heights they deserved. Through our group, we were able to see up close the lives of people living in extreme poverty, and we tried to help them as much as we could to create the conditions for their children not to drop out of school. We encouraged young people to participate in our meetings. Little by little, the number of people who asked us to convene the meetings in their neighborhood increased to such an extent that we thought we should train different groups to conduct the meetings in their own neighborhoods themselves, instead of us having the meetings in different neighborhoods. To that end, we trained three or four people in different neighborhoods around town and they would continue the meetings independently and invite other individuals to attend. We were, of course, the reference point.
After a while, we established a library to serve as our hangout. A short time later, the Information Ministry summoned me because I was the head of this movement. “What are you doing?” they said, and threatened “you have a five-year suspended sentence and if you continue these activities, we will implement your sentence. You must stop these meetings.” I did not acquiesce at first and said: “We’re not doing anything wrong. You know very well that our activities are social in nature.” Later on, we learned that one of the things that had ticked them off was that we were revealing certain officials’ corruption, and they were very sensitive about that. They kept threatening us so much that we were forced to put a stop to our meetings. We then changed tactics: From then on, we kept meeting at the library we had established or at student dormitories. A short time later, we established two new libraries in other neighborhoods.
The Information Ministry was constantly monitoring my activities and summoned and threatened me numerous times, saying “you either work with us or we will implement your five-year suspended sentence”. Five years is a long time, and I was not [about to become] a snitch. Ultimately, I was forced to leave Iran in March of 2009. In those years, Pakistan was struggling with secessionists and the region was very unsafe. So I went through the Afghanistan border, which has a longer border with Iran and we are more ethnically akin to its people. I was able to obtain an Afghan passport through one of my relatives and went to the United Arab Emirates a little while later. There, I started working for a Sunni television network as the presenter of Zendegi-e Bartar” (“The Superior Life”) program, which had Islamic undertones. Then I produced a new show called “Baztab” that was about legal and political issues, in which I discussed the problems of Baluch and Sunni people, and invited human rights activists to come on and work with us. In that program, I reported on political prisoners, discrimination, executions, and killings. It was not a concentrated program and we would pick a subject each time and highlight the event in question.
In 2010-11, they arrested several Mowlavis, and it seemed as though they intended to carry out the same scenario they had implemented in order to execute Mowlavi Abdulqodduss and Mowlavi Yussef Sohrabi. That was at the same time the government was implementing a program to control seminaries (10) entitled the Program for the Organization of Seminaries. The Baluch people did not accept the program and many people had been arrested. The Mowlavis were arrested at the same time, and the government’s objective was to destroy any prestige and good standing the clergy had acquired in Baluchistan. I was wondering at the time how far that scenario would go. In order to fight it, I created an internet page to defend those who had recently been detained, and attract the people’s attention to their plight. I called it “the Campaign to Say No to the Arrest and Execution of Mowlavi Fathi Mohammad”, who was one of the detainees and was in danger of execution. I started to create content and news reports through this campaign. The people also participated in this Facebook campaign by sending pictures. The Campaign’s page initially reached 14,000 followers, and then decreased to 12,000. The Information Ministry was not sitting idly by, of course, and used different tactics to hurt us. For instance, it would put pressure on the detainees’ families to contact me and ask that I let the matter go, and to say that they would hold me responsible if those individuals were executed. But I would not let go, knowing it was the Information Ministry that was putting pressure on the families to say such things. I believed it was better to carry out my media and reporting activities rather than stay silent. Ultimately, the detainees were released.
In 2012, I made my reporting activities more consistent. In October of that year, the Baluch Activists Campaign officially started its work in order to attract activists and raise awareness in the general public; and so we concentrated on human rights in a more official and professional manner. I had gone around various towns in Sistan and Baluchistan Province because of my father’s job when I was a kid going to school, and I was therefore very familiar with a large section of the Province’s religious community. This familiarity and my contacts helped me tremendously later on in my civil activism, including in the Baluch Activists Campaign. Even now, I have great contact with both the religious and the nationalist communities in Baluchistan. The religious community especially trusts me because of my family background and the fact that I am a religious person myself. They do not have that same trust in other parties and movements that are active in Baluchistan. Furthermore, I increased my knowledge in human rights through taking human rights courses and reading legal, political, social, and educational materials. Unfortunately, however, since I had obtained another passport and was a refugee, I was not able to attend university and continue my formal education. Also, because of the circumstances of my life outside Iran, I have moved around a lot, which also took away the opportunities for me to continue my studies. I had worked in the media and I understood its function; I had learned that police officers and security agents did anything and everything they wanted to Baluch prisoners because no one reported on the arrests and detentions and the violations of their rights by government forces, and because they were certain their voices would never be heard. That is why one of the areas on which the Baluch Activists Campaign concentrates is dissemination of reliable and accurate news and reporting regarding detention centers and prisons.
I had worked in the media and I understood its function; I had learned that police officers and security agents did anything and everything they wanted to Baluch prisoners because no one reported on the arrests and detentions and the violations of their rights by government forces, and because they were certain their voices would never be heard.
Gradually, with the training I received in human rights and through my experiences, I learned that it was not enough to just record events in order to be active in the human rights realm. What we had to concentrate on more was to prevent ongoing human rights violations from happening. I did not want my work to consist of just reporting events, that is, reporting, for instance, that someone had been killed or executed, or someone has been arrested and detained without due process, or a house or parcel of land is being torn down or expropriated. That is, of course, worthwhile and effective work, but it has limited effect on preventing violations of human rights. [What I wanted,] my thinking, was to turn every person into a civil and political activist. That objective could not be reached through the Baluch Activists Campaign [alone], and an all-encompassing movement would not take shape like that. When the December 2017-January 2018 national demonstrations in protesting high prices, inflation, and poverty occurred, I established Sahab as an organization to coordinate Baluch protests. The idea was this: the Baluch people have demands and objections, but these objections and protests are not organized and the people have not been trained in that regard. If this [coordination and organization] does not become a reality, protesters will inevitably join armed groups and will not do any civil work. At that point, I studied Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Yugoslav civil struggles. The fact that I was not in Baluchistan was a great challenge. Additionally, you could not form any cells inside Iran because the Revolutionary Guards Corps was everywhere. Therefore, that organization [Sahab] was formed with the objective of conducting civil struggles and highlighting people’s problems, and presenting solutions. When the protests died down, we brought up the demand for gatherings on a case by case basis and according to specific events.
These activities and their effects have been so extensive that the government has been investing [in various ploys] with the objective of putting a stop to our work. They tried to hack our computer system a few times, once by presenting themselves as a journalist from foreign media, other times through sending emails containing obscene materials or with links that would allow them access to our personal emails, and through other means. When their efforts proved unsuccessful, they tried to assassinate me multiple times, without success in that regard as well, because they think there is one single individual at the head of this movement. They try to blemish our reputation and prestige through creating various pages on social media, in an effort to damage the trust that exists between us and other civil and religious movements and local trusted elders. In order to neutralize their policies, we always explain and clarify our positions regarding controversial issues such as secularism and federalism. Personally, I am a religious person with clearly defined religious beliefs; but I also believe that I am not to impose my religious beliefs on others. My religious beliefs should not result in disunity among us. What is important to me as a Baluch civil activist is that the Baluch people do not suffer and live in poverty, regardless of their religion. What I try to promote is secularism and equal rights for men and women. Any other religious government that replaces the Islamic Republic regime will inevitably violate some parts of the rights of human beings.
Although I am happy that I have been able to start something that has had a positive effect on the lives of the people of [Baluchistan] as well as people in other regions, [the downside has been that] my colleagues and I have always been in danger, and my family has always been under duress. Fortunately, my spouse has always been by my side and has understood my circumstances. My family in Iran has repeatedly told me that they have been summoned and threatened numerous times because of me and my activities. I have always calmly explained to them that in order to change the dire conditions in which the people of Baluchistan live, there is no other way but through making efforts and continuing the struggle. Right now, I believe that in a year or two, the civil and the protest movement of the people of Baluchistan will continue in the hands of the people I have trained, even without a Habibollah Sarbazi.
(1) The Moslem Unity Party (“Ittihad al-Moslemin”), the groundwork for the establishment of which had been laid in the last months of the Pahlavi rule, officially declared its formation after the 1979 Revolution. Under the leadership of Mowlana Abdolaziz Mollazadeh, the party’s objectives were as follows: Promoting the true religion of Islam; strengthening national unity and promoting freedom, equality, and fraternity in accordance with Islamic tenets; combatting moral, social, and political corruption; freedom of the press, speech, and sentiments, in accordance with Islamic laws; respect for and protection of the people of the region’s language and culture; among other objectives.
(2) The Shams Council: This Council was formed in March-April 1981 in Tehran, with the participation of a number of high-ranking clerics of the Sunni faith, with the goal of unifying the activities of the adherents of the Sunni faith. Allameh Ahmad Moftizadeh, and Mowlana Abdolaziz Mollazadeh were among the leaders and founders of the Council. The Council’s founders considered it to be a civil organization for the defense of the rights of Iran’s Sunni Moslem population.
(3) Iranian Baluchistan Justice Movement (“Nehzat-e Edalat-e Baluchistan-e Iran”) was established in March-April 2000 with the goal of “fighting for the general and fundamental rights of the Baluch people inside Iranian borders”. This movement published articles and items regarding “unifying the Baluch nation” in order to raise awareness. The movement also cooperated with the armed organization Jeish al-Adl “in order to obtain justice in Baluchistan” and had declared “Baluchistan’s autonomy and federal administration thereof” as one of its objectives. According to the movement’s creed, aside from the currency, flag, and the armed forces, other affairs must be under the control of regional federal governments.
(4) According to Mr. Sarbazi, prior to the formation of the Jondollah group led by Abdolmalek Rigi in the early 2000’s, movement between Iran and Pakistan took place without any controls or problems.
(5) In February 1994, the Feiz Mosque, located in the city of Mashhad, was torn down under the cover of the night. Sunni Moslem citizens strongly protested that action. The day after the destruction of the Mosque, a number of Zahedan’s citizens gathered at the Makki Mosque and put up large black banners to show their protest. Police and military forces reacted to this gathering, which ultimately ended after an armed attack mounted by these forces resulted in the killing of dozens of Sunni Moslem citizens.
(6) Naqshbandi is known as a Sufi and mystical creed, the advent of which, according to some scholars, goes back to the 8th century HG (15th century AD), and to centuries before that according to others. The followers of this creed are mostly adherents of Sunni Islam. The adherents strictly follow the Sunnah and protect the requirements of Shari’a, and although Zekr (“remembrance of God”) occupies a significant place among them, they are against other Sufi rituals such as dancing and Sama.
(7) On March 16, 2006, at around 9 o’clock in the evening, the Jondollah group blocked the Zabol-Zahedan road near the Tasuki military/police outpost and stopped a number of automobiles, killing more than 20 and injuring less than 10 people, and took at least 7 people hostage. In addition to a number of local officials, there were also civilians among the dead.
(9) The case of Mr. Mohammad Yussef Sohrabi: https://www.iranrights.org/fa/memorial/story/-8090/mohammad-yusef-sohrabi-nokohchi
The case of Mr. Abdolqodduss Mollazahi: https://www.iranrights.org/fa/memorial/story/42758/abdolqoddus-mollazehi
(10) In November 2007, [then-President] Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s administration (referred to as “the ninth government”) passed a plan through the Cultural Revolution High Council entitled “Planning Council for the Country’s Sunni Seminaries”. Among the objectives of the Council were “to train religious scholars who are aware and aligned [with the policies and tenets of the Islamic Republic]”, “to organize educational and cultural affairs, with emphasis on comparative learning and on the county’s official language”, “to disseminate the culture of Islamic bridging and reconciliation, unity, and coherence”, and “improving the quality of education in Sunni seminaries”. Sunni high scholars across the country, including in Khorassan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kurdistan Provinces, opposed this plan from the beginning for what they considered to be the government’s interference in the affairs of the adherents of the Sunni faith’s seminaries and violation of their independence.