Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Victims and Witnesses

Witness Testimony of Mohammad Hedayati, Dissident Cleric

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
August 16, 2021

This witness testimony was prepared on  the basis of an interview conducted by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center on June 17, 2011.

I am Mohammad Hedayati.

The contents of this testimony are based on what I know and believe to be true and, except for instances specified, are based on actual events and my personal experience.

The data and contents of this testimony, which are part of my personal experience, are all accurate and true. In this testimony, I have identified the source or sources of any data or contents that I have not witnessed but believe to be correct.

I was 14-15 years old at the time of the revolution and in high school. After obtaining my diploma, I did military service. Because it was wartime, I worked in the cultural and religious section.

After military service, in late 1987, I attended Ayatollah Shirazi's seminary and school in Qom.


Ayatollah Shirazi's Position

Ayatollah Shirazi was born in Najaf. He opposed the Shah's policies, as those policies were against freedom of speech and [political] parties and religious rulings, and they promoted the activities of Baha'is. But he did not believe in direct confrontation and called for observance of Islamic laws.

The office of Ayatollah Shirazi dates back at least a century in the history of Shia sources of emulation, none of whom sought power. The Ayatollah himself helped the success of the revolution tremendously. However, after the revolution, he was confronted with government policies that suppressed all freedoms. And this religious group refused to bow to the government. Ayatollah Shirazi's stances after the revolution were very distinct and clear-cut. He wrote the draft of the Islamic Republic's Constitution; one of the most important objectives which was freedom of all parties. He placed emphasis on freedom of speech, freedom of writing, and freedom of the press. Moreover, he did not in any way accept the issue of Velayat-e-Faqih. Most Shia scholars have opposed the formation of an Islamic government in the absence of Imam al-Zaman [Mahdi, the 12th Shia imam]. However, Ayatollah Shirazi believed in the formation of a government, albeit with a set of restrictions and conditions.

One of the basic conditions was that a council made up of leading sources of emulation, whom the general public follow, should monitor the government's performance; [but] not be directly involved and responsible for dismissals, appointments, and management of affairs. This constituted the main bone of contention between Ayatollah Shirazi and Ayatollah Khomeini.

Ayatollah Khomeini used to say in Karbala and later in Paris that he did not want the clergy to be in charge of affairs; he had also accepted the proposal by Ayatollah Shirazi regarding supervision by sources of emulation. Ayatollah Shirazi was in Kuwait at that time. He came to Qom following the victory of the revolution. Since Ayatollah Shirazi had welcomed Ayatollah Khomeini in Karbala in 1963, Ayatollah Khomeini came to Qom to pay his respects. During that visit, Ayatollah Shirazi asked him what plans he had on formation of a council of sources of emulation. Ayatollah Khomeini's response was that the people wanted a leader now. I believe that was when the paths of Ayatollah Shirazi and Ayatollah Khomeini began to separate.


The Government's Treatment of Dissident Clerics

Ayatollah Shirazi

The late Ayatollah Shirazi remained in his house for the last 20 years of his life. The problems intensified from 1986. The Special Court for Clerics banned more than 500 of his students and office staff from entering his house. During this period, he taught at home. He taught jurisprudence in the mornings, and principles [of faith] in the afternoons. I was with him day and night for about eight years. Ayatollah Shirazi would advise those who came to discuss domestic affairs, to promote freedom of expression and parties. I could even say that Ayatollah Shirazi was the only person who raised such issues for the first time within the seminary and paid the price for it.

Among other restrictions placed on Ayatollah Shirazi was that he was banned from publishing his Tawḍīḥ al-Masā’il [comprehensive study of Islamic jurisprudence]. The [Islamic] Guidance Ministry refused to permit its publication while he was alive. Ayatollah Shirazi's books and treatise were also banned under the Shah.

In the first year of the revolution, publication permits were not required, so his supporters in Qom who had a printing house managed to publish it. However, once the Guidance Ministry was set up, he was no longer granted official permits. This is the best demonstration of how Iran's ruling establishment chose to oppose Ayatollah Shirazi from the very first days of the revolution; because he was the only progressive source of emulation who had adopted such a stance against the establishment's deviations and distortions. Ayatollah Shirazi was able to see society's deviations and problems amid all the revolutionary fervour and zeal. He repeatedly told me and many of those around him: "I told Mr. Khomeini: You must give freedom to [political] parties. If you make parties free, your power will be reduced by 10%; but if you do not make them free, you will have only 10% of your power left in 20 years' time." The treatment meted out to Ayatollah Shirazi and Ayatollah Shariatmadari was due to the fact that Ayatollah Khomeini did not want the formation of an intellectual consensus among the leading scholars and sources of emulation.

"I told Mr. Khomeini: You must give freedom to [political] parties. If you make parties free, your power will be reduced by 10%; but if you do not make them free, you will have only 10% of your power left in 20 years' time."

There is a famous photograph of Ayatollah Golpayegani, Ayatollah Mar'ashi-Najafi and Ayatollah Khomeini. The story behind the photograph is that Mr. Khomeini had arranged a meeting with the other two ayatollahs but arrived later than them so that they would have to stand up in respect as he entered. That meeting only lasted three minutes, which was the time spent on taking that one photograph. In other words, they never provided an opportunity for the sources of emulation to express their views, expectations, and criticisms.

At the time of Ayatollah Shariatmadari's death, the person who insisted on a funeral service for him, was the late Ayatollah Shirazi. They were very close intellectually.

The Special Court for Clerics were building cases against the sources of emulation. They arrested some of their relatives and young supporters, charged them with serious moral wrongdoing, and threatened to publicize the charges in the media should they protest or refuse to keep quiet. They executed many preachers and prominent orators on various charges. Their case files are in the Special Court for Clerics.

For example, Seyyed Abdolreza Hejazi was one of the famous pulpit preachers and orators before and in the early years of the revolution. He was arrested in 1981 or 1982 for supporting Ayatollah Shariatmadari and was executed in Tehran at the same time as [Sadeq] Qotbzadeh. He was an experienced orator and spoke three languages. Another famous orator in Mashhad, Sheykh Hasan Rasa, was also executed in 1986 or 1987 on charges of sodomy. I know that these two were outspoken critics who voiced their strong objections in all their meetings and conferences.

Ayatollah Sheykh Hasan Qomi

Ayatollah Sheykh Hasan Qomi reacted strongly to the treatment meted out to Ayatollah Shariatmadari and to the mass executions.

The Special Court for Clerics were building cases against the sources of emulation. They arrested some of their relatives and young supporters, charged them with serious moral wrongdoing, and threatened to publicize the charges in the media should they protest or refuse to keep quiet.

Some have ascribed the phrase 'the revolution had one martyr and that was Islam' to Ayatollah Golpayegani, but I believe it is attributed to Ayatollah Qomi. That phrase was considered radical at beginning of the revolution, amid the undisputed power of Ayatollah Khomeini and the prevailing atmosphere in Iran. They disrupted his prayers ceremony in Goharshad Mosque and placed him under house arrest. They welded shut the main entrance to his house. There was also a back door through which his servant, an elderly man, would go out to buy food and provisions. The house was under siege and even movement of the locals were controlled.

There are many other examples of how other sources of emulation suffered the same fate whenever they spoke out. Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Rouhani's seminaries and movements were restricted. After the death of Ayatollah Rouhani, his relatives buried his body in the house in a gesture of protest to show that he opposed the manner in which Islam was practiced in Iran.

Ayatollah Seyyed Sadegh Rouhani and Ayatollah Montazeri were also confined to their homes in Qom. The treatment given to Ayatollah Shariatmadari, one of the leading and even the oldest source of emulation in the early days of the revolution, could be highlighted as a prime example. Every time any of the sources of emulation spoke out in protest, they suffered a fate even worse than Ayatollah Shariatmadari's.

Ayatollah Shariatmadari

Ayatollah Khomeini was just a teacher before the revolution. After his arrest they wanted to execute him. However, based on the Constitution under the late Shah, they could not execute faqihs or mujtahids. Ayatollah Shariatmadari and several other scholars, including Ayatollah Montazeri, staged a sit-in at Shah Abdol-Azim [Shrine] in protest at the possible execution of a mujtahid. The action led to Ayatollah Khomeini's exile. I mean, at the time, Ayatollah Shariatmadari, Ayatollah Gapayegani and Ayatollah Marashi were considered sources of emulation, while Ayatollah Khomeini had not written a treatise and had not become a source of emulation. At the same time, Ayatollah Shirazi was one of the leading scholars in Iraq. I was at high school in Kashan at that time and, therefore, not an eyewitness to what happened to Ayatollah Shariatmadari. Everything we heard came through the state-controlled media and government propaganda. They said that Ayatollah Shariatmadari had told a group of coup plotters, including Qotbzadeh, who had gone to visit him, to take action and that he would endorse it. Ayatollah Shariatmadari enjoyed unwavering support in Azerbaijan. He could have even ordered an uprising had he chose to. Many people urged Ayatollah Shariatmadari to order a jihad, but he said: "Government officials killed two people on the roof of my house, and I have no power to answer for the blood of these two on the Day of Judgment." While under house arrest, he fell seriously ill and asked for permission to leave his house to receive treatment. But they refused. It is well known that when Ayatollah Khomeini was told that he would die should they not allow him to leave his house to receive treatment, he responded: "So let him die there."

According to the memoirs of Reza Sadr (Ayatollah Shariatmadari had instructed in his will that he perform prayers for him), Ayatollah Imamat had contacted Ayatollah Golpayegani asking him to hold a funeral service for Ayatollah Shariatmadari. Ayatollah Golpayegani had subsequently called Ayatollah Khomeini's office and asked Ahmad Khomeini to approach his father for permission for a funeral service for Ayatollah Shariatmadari. His response was: "If I mention this to my father, he will become very upset."

Ayatollah Rastegar

Ayatollah Rastegar is the author of more than 60 volumes of Quranic exegesis and is considered one of the leading Shia exegetes.

Ayatollah Rastegar's dispute [with the government] arose due to the treatment meted out to Ayatollah Shariatmadari. He deemed that treatment totally inhumane and impious. That was the beginning of his anti-government stance.

The ulema have a section devoted to public queries in their offices. Ayatollah Rastegar criticized Ayatollah Khomeini in his Qur'anic exegesis sessions and meetings with members of the public from the early days of the revolution.

Ayatollah Rastegar was the only one among the ulema who held a funeral service for Ayatollah Shariatmadari in Qom. He ended up spending over 10 years in prison as penalty for holding the funeral. As far as I remember, he was one of Ayatollah Shariatmadari's students and supporters. His first arrest was after the funeral. There are no lawyers present in the Special Clerical Court, and the trial is almost exclusively to hear the indictment.

The prosecutor reads the charges and there is no time for defence. Every time he was released from prison, he would say something again and be arrested. Each time he would be imprisoned between six months and four years. He never went to court unless he was forcibly taken there. Nor was he ever issued a verdict. In other words, he was imprisoned without trial. I was with him in prison for about six months. I have no information regarding his physical torture, but I do know that in addition to being in solitary confinement, he was subjected to insults, derision, taunts, and moral accusations. While I was in prison, one of his sons, Moslehuddin Rastegar, who was an intelligence agent, became an opponent once he witnessed the brutal pressures on his father. He was arrested and subjected to severe torture. The kind of torture that, even if we disregard religious and Islamic issues, could be described as savage. When we were together in the special ward, he told me that one of the tortures was that they would put him from neckdown in a barrel of ice. His entire blood system was seriously compromised. He was red and swollen from head to toe, and his facial skin was peeling off in chunks. He was in such a wretched and horrific state. He was subsequently transferred to Evin, and I have not heard from him since.

There are no lawyers present in the Special Clerical Court, and the trial is almost exclusively to hear the indictment.The prosecutor reads the charges and there is no time for defence.

Ayatollah Rastegar is in Qom and under house arrest. He is a living example of prison life.

Ayatollah Seyyed Morteza Shirazi and Seyyed Mehdi Shirazi

I was arrested at the same time as around 18 of our friends. They included two children of Ayatollah Shirazi, one of Ayatollah Seyyed Morteza Shirazi and another child of his brother Seyyed Mehdi Shirazi. They were adamant not to release Seyyed Morteza Shirazi. The kind of torture that was inflicted on them was the sort usually inflicted on those they intended to execute, meaning the sort that would leave no marks on the body. There was intense pressure from international organizations, Amnesty International, foreign media, as well as domestic pressure from the ulema, to secure his release. He was in solitary confinement for a whole year. For a while, they brought his other brother, Seyyed Mehdi Shirazi, who had developed mental problems in prison, to him so that he might return to normal. But they had burned his neck, back of the ears and face with oil lamp. According to the doctor, it was a miracle that he was still alive, because he should have lost his sight and hearing as a result of the torture. In addition, the damage from the sepsis was so severe that he wouldn’t have been expected to survive. He was given a three-day furlough. On the first day, he saw his father, and on the second, he left Iran via Kurdistan in that dreadful condition.


Arrest and Interrogation

From the moment he assumed power, Mr. Khamenei needed to acquire legitimacy from religious groups, especially from the prominent sources of emulation who had many followers. They intensified pressures on Ayatollah Shirazi as he refused to formally endorse the government and accept Mr. Khamenei's legitimacy as Vali-e Faqih. That led to my arrest [17 October 1995] as well as the arrest of two of his friends and 15 of his office staff in 1995 [1]. Nothing special had happened before the arrest. Some six months or a year before, a book on jurisprudential reasoning, about the council of fuqaha [jurists], by Ayatollah Shirazi's son was published. Two of the six volumes were published in Arabic, and for the first time, citing Islamic sources, the Quran, Sunnah, and narrations, it was suggested that Velayat-e-Faqih is invalid and that there should be a council of sources of emulation instead. An anonymous statement was also widely circulated in Qom stating that Ghame zani [Shia mourning ritual of striking one's head with a sword] was a legitimate religious mourning ritual, which was not in contravention of Islamic sources. The government used that statement as a pretext for those arrests. They said that a government decree had banned that ritual and accused them of seeking to stir up trouble and confront the establishment.

I was arrested in Qom on Tuesday 17 October 1995. Two people came to our house and politely and respectfully asked me to accompany them to answer some queries. I accepted, because they had not come to arrest me; nor did they have a warrant to do so. They told me they were from the Information Centre (Qom Intelligence Office). On the way, not only I had an opportunity to think, but their tone of conversation also started to change. I do not remember exactly, but I think we had arrived at the Azar three-way intersection when it suddenly dawned on me that, firstly, no one knew that I’d gone off with these two guys, and, secondly, I hadn’t even asked them for any form of documentation or ID. I then started to wonder what would happen if they detained me. In such instances, all kinds of thoughts come to mind… How could I even know whether they belonged to the intelligence service and weren’t just kidnappers? All these thoughts rushed through my head in the space of 30 seconds. I remember very well that there was heavy traffic, which resulted in the vehicle stopping several times. I suddenly decided to open the car door and leave. As I did so, they immediately came out of the car and cornered me. They said I had to go with them, and any resistance would be futile. They did not want to create a public scene. They told me to keep moving so as not to attract public attention. I was 29 years old at the time and had never experienced prison. It was also the first time I encountered intelligence agents. So I obeyed. In the car they told me to lower my head and threw a cloth over it. In the courtyard of the intelligence office, they put a blindfold on me before leading me out of the car. I was kept blindfolded throughout the interrogation and even when they brought my food. They arrested a total of 18 people. Some were arrested in Tehran, and some, including Ayatollah Seyyed Morteza Shirazi, were taken to Tehran after a couple of nights. His brother Seyyed Mehdi Shirazi, and others who were arrested in Qom, were kept there.

About a week after my arrest, they detained my wife for some seven to eight hours, taking her away from our infant who was still being breastfed. They told her that if she wanted to be released and return to tending her baby who no doubt really missed her, she should tell them all she knows about me. She told them that she knew nothing about my work. In short, they subjected her to extreme psychological pressure. During several hours of interrogation, they questioned me on my own activities, the activities of friends, various individuals, and staff of Ayatollah Shirazi's official residence, including the person who wrote the statements, and any secret activities that they believed were taking place in Ayatollah Shirazi's residence. For instance, Mr. Arbabi, the Special Court investigator, accused me of belonging to a counter-revolutionary gang that smuggled people in and out of the country. They stressed in particular questions regarding the identity of the individuals behind that. The interrogation lasted some three to four hours. I denied engagement in any such activity from the moment the interrogation started. I said that I only go there to study.

Finally, they said that the only way out for me was to cooperate, otherwise they would keep me there. I asked them what they meant by cooperation. They said they wanted me to provide them with all kinds of information about Ayatollah Shirazi's residence, in relation to interactions with individuals, the work of individuals and their plans, and the identity of those behind the anonymous circulars that were being distributed. They told me that since no one knew I had been detained, they could release me so that I report back to them from inside the residence. My resistance lasted forty-five days, but after forty-five days of physical and mental torture, I agreed to do some of the work they had asked me to do, but which I was certain they already knew. I realized that the information they had was limited to reports given to them by their spies, and that they really did not know much. For example, they insisted that I had a fax machine in my house with which I made contact with counterrevolutionaries and the outside world, passing on confidential matters to them. Or that Ayatollah Shirazi's children constantly visited my house. They kept saying: 'What did you fax?' I admitted that I had a fax machine, saying that I used it to send two things: cuttings from Iranian newspapers about the decree issued by Mr. Khamenei on confronting those who engaged in the ritual of Ghame Zani in mourning ceremonies, and the khums and zakat [obligatory religious alms] sent by the public and followers of Ayatollah Shirazi from the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. I told them that we used the fax machine to ensure speed of transmission. But they did not accept my explanation. They would ask, for instance, why Mr. Seyyed Mehdi Shirazi visited my house. I explained to them that God had just blessed us with a baby and he and his family had come to see the baby and congratulate us. They asked why would anyone come to see the baby or congratulate you at one o'clock in the morning? To be honest, I did not have a clue what they were faxing, and that ignorance really worked to my advantage.

I was in solitary confinement in the Qom Intelligence Detention Centre for the first 100 days of detention. Then, because Mr. Khamenei was supposed to visit Qom, they needed empty cells so that if something happened, they would have space for detained suspects. I was taken to Towhid Detention Centre in Tehran for about 25 days and then brought back. I was kept in solitary confinement the whole time. They also had two communal cells there. After the first 45 days, they would sometimes take me there for two or three hours on different days. That was one of their means of torture. Firstly, they would take an inmate from solitary confinement to the communal cell, only to return him to solitary confinement the moment he started to feel calmer owing to a little interaction with fellow prisoners. Secondly, they would infiltrate these communal cells with agents dressed as prisoners to extract information. There were no specific dates or times for interrogation; they could take place at two in the morning, at the crack of dawn… They could take you for two or three-hour long interrogation at any time. And just as I would start thinking there would be no more interrogation on that day, they would return 15 minutes later and take me for another interrogation session. I did not eat at all for the first six days after my arrest, and tried hard not to eat for the entire 45 days. That was my way of showing a kind of resistance, which resulted in them somewhat lessening the torture. One of the tortures involved putting me in a small steel enclosure, half a meter by half a meter in size, for several days, in which one could only stand. The room was situated in the yard and was very cold at night. They did not provide me with a blanket either. I was there for about four to five days. I had to eat and perform my prayers there. They only allowed me to come out for ablution before prayers. I remember clearly that the nights were so cold that I would be counting the hours until nine o'clock in the morning for the sun to shine on the cubicle and warm it up a little. I realized after 24 hours that the situation was very difficult. I did not eat there anymore.

After five days, they took me back to my cell. I realized that [my cell] was heaven and I had taken it for granted - a large room with a blanket and carpet. They brought me a decent meal and I ate after a few days. They provide good food in the intelligence section, because they did not want the prisoner to become weak and wanted him in an adequate physical state to talk. I had only just eaten and was about to sleep when they returned to interrogate me some 20 minutes later. They told me that they would let me sleep after I answer a few questions. Most prisoners give in at such times, but I thought that if I said only one word, they would want to the A to Z, and wouldn’t relent until I’d told them the Z. They wanted information. Sometimes they yelled, sometimes they insulted Ayatollah Shirazi. I recall the interrogator's exact phrase: "We have nothing to say about Ayatollah Shirazi's knowledge and morality, but politically we believe that hell is waiting for him and you will be going along with him." I did not respond at all. Another form of torture was sleep deprivation. Once they did not let me sleep for four days and nights. The guard who would not let me sleep had put his prayer rug there. He would come and kick me after the evening prayer and then return to pour a bucket of water over me before starting his night prayer. On several occasions, they took me next to the bed of someone being tortured, saying, "That is what we will do to you if you do not talk." And every time I would say: I have nothing to tell you. What is the point of telling you what you want to hear and know already? Just tell me what to say and sign it yourselves. But they would start with psychological torture, taking me several times to witness the torturing of those they had arrested and accused of espionage. They were laid flat on their backs in the boiler room and severely beaten on the soles of their bare feet with cables. They noise of the boiler room, which has a strong steel door, drowned the prisoners' cries of pain. They beat them so hard that the soles of their feet left a huge groove in the concrete. They have a special trick. When they hit the sole of the foot with a cable, if a prisoner was conscious, they would lift him up immediately and order him to stand on his feet and jump. If he was unconscious, they would him with wide sticks so that it left no swelling or injury that would render them unable to subject him to the same torture a few days later. Then they told me that they were also going to give me a beating to teach me a lesson. They took me down there five times, tying my legs and arms and wrapping a rope around my waist in such a way that I couldn’t move at all.

I recall the interrogator's exact phrase: "We have nothing to say about Ayatollah Shirazi's knowledge and morality, but politically we believe that hell is waiting for him and you will be going along with him."

Every time, they told me they’d beat me until I’d talk. But I realized that they had a quota for each person they beat. For instance, it may be five beatings for a person, although they would not tell them that. I would wake up to see that I was lying on the bed, with my arms and legs untied and able to move. But I had no idea how many times they had hit me with the cable in the two or three hours they had kept me there. However, I do remember feeling it the first five to seven times. They might have beaten me more, but I would have been numbed by then.

One of the psychological tortures was hearing prisoners' cries of pain in other cells. They called for their children and mothers amid excruciating cries, which is a form of torture for other prisoners who are in equally appalling conditions. Sometimes, these [cries] were artificial, and sometimes real. Sometimes, I would jump to get a glimpse from the cell window and would see prisoners in the yard with bodily injuries, crying in pain, and walking with difficulty. Another form of torture was that they would say to me: 'Do you not miss your nine-month-old baby you have had no news of? After 45 days, they allowed me to make a phone call. But as soon as I started talking with my family, and could hear my baby in the background, they cut off the call.

While in Qom, they brought someone whom they described as a senior official. Later on in Tehran, I discovered that his name is Sedaqat, and he continues to be in charge of the sources of emulations' case files. Once in Tehran, they held me there for 25 days. The reason I was moved to Tehran was, firstly, because Mr. Khamenei was visiting Qom, and, secondly, to finish up my file and scare me. They took me and four of Ayatollah Shirazi's followers to Tehran. In Tehran, once again there were interrogations coupled with beatings. They would make me stand facing the wall blindfolded, and then punch my face and head. They would keep me standing for 10 to 16 hours, without even asking me questions. They just told me to stand facing the wall with my hands on the back of my head. We were forced to stand until we could no longer endure and fall, at which point they would kick and force us to stand up again. Those who managed to stand up again would continue to be beaten up. Those who could not, were thrown back inside the cell. I remember the longest time they subjected me to that kind of torture. They started at 11 o'clock in the morning and kept me there for 15 to 17 hours, with just a couple of breaks for performing my prayers. Unlike in Qom, where we could not hear any radio or TV sounds, in Tehran we could hear radio and TV while blindfolded, through which we could sometimes find out what time it was.

Prison Conditions

After my arrest, my father used to come and sit outside the Rahahan information office, until finally after 45 days, they allowed him to see me. And they only allowed me a one-minute phone conversation with my family. They told me that if I cooperated more, they would allow me longer phone calls and more visits. And once, while in Tehran, I managed to call my brother and speak to my sister-in-law to tell her that I was well. After I was sentenced, I was allowed visits on Tuesdays. We could communicate with visitors through a window and had to bend down and speak through tiny holes at the bottom of those windows. With regards to food, we were fed well in the first 100 days, because they wanted us strong enough to endure physical torture. After that we received small portions of terrible food. However, our ward was relatively better than the general ward. We had access to the prison shop where we could purchase tins of tuna fish, which we could have on days when we were just given potatoes. The clerics received privileges denied to other inmates. I lost a lot of weight and looked gaunt. But the conditions in the ward were easier to endure than the cell. To pass the time, they provided me with a Quran after 45 days, but denied my request for the Mafatih book of prayers. Later on, they gave me books. And once Ayatollah Rastegar was put in our ward, I and other seminarians studied the Quran with him and had no problems filling the time.

Fellow Inmates

There were several Turkmens and Kurds in the general prison ward in Qom. There were also several who were charged with drug offences. In Tehran, they would put us in a line for visits to the bathroom or the health clinic. Since we were blindfolded, we could not see the persons in front or behind us. Once I asked one person why he was in prison. He told me that they had found some CDs and tapes on him and accused him of belonging to a group that made obscene recordings, and that they were trying to get confessions out of them.


I had my court session 100 days after my arrest. In addition to myself, the other persons present in court were the prosecutor, Mr. Bahrami, the judge, Mr. Abdollahi, the interrogator, Mr. Arbabi, and one other person. I had not been told about the court session in advance. When they removed the blindfold in the car, I asked the driver where we heading to and he replied: the court. In court, they read out the charges against me and told me to present my defence. I asked for a lawyer on the grounds that I was not in a good mental and physical state. They said no one has ever been allowed a lawyer in the Special Court [for Clerics], and neither would I. In other words, no lawyers are ever allowed in the Special Court, since that court is, in principle, unlawful. The special court does not come under the judicial branch. Its head is appointed by the Supreme Leader, and is not answerable to any other authority. The then-head of that court was Mr. Reyshahri. I told them I had nothing to say. The court session did not last more than 10 to 15 minutes. Then they took me to the congregational prayer. I asked the prosecutor what had happened to the verdict. He said that Mr. Abdollahi would tell me later. After the congregational prayer, Mr. Abdollahi took me to his office and informed me of the verdict.

I asked for a lawyer on the grounds that I was not in a good mental and physical state. They said no one has ever been allowed a lawyer in the Special Court [for Clerics], and neither would I.

The Charges

Twenty-four hours after my arrest, I was taken to the Special Court building, where Mr. Arbabi charged me with "insulting the Imam, insulting the [Supreme] Leader, and collaborating with the Shirazi counter-revolutionary gang." Later in court, they added the charge of "engaging in propaganda and conspiracy against the system."

There were a few friends in the car in which they took me to Tehran; the fellow passengers asked me if I had been tortured and taken to the steel enclosure. I told them yes. Then in Tehran they beat me up for telling the others about the torture. They said they’d told me not to discuss the detention and interrogation in the car. The next day, the interrogator told me that "propaganda against the system" had been added to the charges.

The Sentence

I was sentenced after 100 days. I was sentenced to two years in prison, seventy lashes, and defrocked for five years. I asked Mr. Abdollahi what the 70 lashes were for. He told me that they were all part of a package. I said what about beatings with the cables. He told me that I should not mention such things anymore. In any case, I urged him to find a solution for the sentence of flogging. He replied: "I feel you are a good person. Write down on a sheet of paper that you have physical and kidney problems. I will then take that to the prosecutor to see what he can do." So I wrote in a letter that I have acute kidney and back problems and urged them to drop the flogging sentence. They did.

After a year in a coastal prison, they gave me a form to fill out, and told me that I would be granted parole, provided I request a pardon and sever all contact with the Shirazi counter-revolutionary gang. I filled out the form, and my remaining year in prison was commuted to a two-year suspended sentence. Mr. Abdollahi explained that this meant that I would be arrested should I cooperate with Ayatollah Shirazi's office in any way in the next two years; that I would be imprisoned for a year without trial, and then tried again after that.


I received my passport six months after being released from prison. I had applied for a passport before my arrest but had given up pursing it since my frequent visits to the passport office had been to no avail. Later I discovered that they had kept my passport to arrest me. They gave me my passport after release. I bought a ticket and went to the airport. I had gone through customs when I heard my name from the airport loudspeakers. They told me I was banned from leaving the country, gave me a number and told me to report to the Presidential Building. I went there the next day and showed them that number. After a few minutes, they gave me my passport and told me that I could travel. I bought a ticket for Syria and left Iran. I had pledged not to have any more contacts with Ayatollah Shirazi's office and could not go anywhere else. I had to isolate. When they asked me at the airport why I was heading to Syria, I told them that I had vowed to go on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Sayidda Zeinab. After some time, my wife and children joined me in Syria. I never returned to Iran. [2]


[1]The arrest and persecution of Mohammad Hedayati, as well as that of other dissident Shia clerics affiliated with Ayatollah Shirazi, was noted in the contemporary report of the UN Special Representative of the Commission on Human Rights, Maurice Copithorne, on Iran (March 21, 1996). Amnesty International raised concerns regarding the arrest and reported torture of the clerics, and urged Iranian officials to make public details of the legal case against them (March 22, 1996.) In June 1997, Amnesty published a report dedicated to Iran’s persecution of dissident Shia clerics generally, which mentioned Hedayati’s case.  

[2] In October 11, 2018, Mohammad Hedayati’s wife Zahra Majd, and their two children (aged 3 and 5), all possessing dual Iranian-American citizenship, were arrested at the Isfahan Airport after deplaning. They were arrested on a warrant issued by the Special Court for Clerics, reportedly in connection with Hedayati’s appearance on Voice of America and Radio Farda programs. A source close to Hedayati described the arrests as “hostage-taking” meant to silence Hedayati, citing the fact that Majd had no role in Hedayati’s political activities (Kayhan London, 12 October 2018, https://kayhan.london/fa/1397/07/21).