1988 : Mass Killing of Political Prisoners in Esfahan
Please introduce yourself:
My name is Reza Saki. I was arrested in connection with the Fadaiyan Khalq Organization in Esfahan in 1983. I was detained in this city until February of 1989. I spent my first year in solitary confinement in a secret prison. Then I was transferred to Dastgerd prison. I was waiting capital punishment for two and a half years until I received a reduced sentence and was condemned to life imprisonment.
Where were you in 1988? Did you notice any change that could be interpreted as a pretext for the mass killings?
I was in Dastgerd prison. The political section of this prison consisted of four sections, numbered 1 through 4, and contained mixed prisoners. About four or five months before the massacre began, a committee consisting of a cleric and two or three plain clothes individuals came to Dastgerd prison from Tehran. They went to various sections and asked prisoners questions about prison conditions and problems. They claimed that their goal was to empty prisons by sending those prisoners who were condemned to death or life imprisonment to Tehran's prisons and release the rest.
A few months after this visit, they sent a group of leftist prisoners for a leave. The massacre didn't start yet. They sent the second group of prisoners including some Mojaheds for a leave. They released the first group on bail after their leave was over. From the second group they brought back the Mojahedin to prison. They went to their houses and arrested them again violently and fearsomely. The leftists were excluded. This was before the massacre began. In my section of the prison, one day, they came and asked us to gather our belongings and stand in a row. Several armed Revolutionary Guards were present. They said, "Do not move and do not talk to each other." This was unprecedented. Then, they took us to another section.
Did they send you for a leave? You said they sent leftists for a leave.
They only sent some leftist prisoners for a leave, not all of them. I was in prison all the time. Then, they merged sections creating two sections out of four. It was crowded and sleeping was difficult. They told us again to put on our clothes and get out. They took us to a hall and gave us a questionnaire form. The questions were about beliefs and opinions. For example, they asked, "What is your opinion about the Revolution?" Or, they asked our views about Khomeini, America [USA], and Mojahedin. They also wanted to know whether we still believed in our organizations' viewpoints.
Were all these questions the same for leftists and Mojaheds?
Yes, they were. We had no idea why they asked us these questions. There were questions such as "Name some of the world leaders." Or, "What is your opinion about the war?"
Was the war over at that time?
No, it was not over yet. We filled out these forms and came back to our section. A few days later we heard the end of war news from the radio. Some of the Revolutionary Guards were crying. The atmosphere changed. They reduced the time for going outside and the attitude of the Guards became more violent. One night they broadcast the report by Sham'khani, in charge of the Revolutionary Guards, on television. They gathered us in a hallway in order to listen to his report. He was talking about the Mojahedin's attack and the operation against them.
A few days passed and they took away the TV and going outside was ended forever. We were totally disconnected from the outside world. They gave us no more newspapers. The visitations were prohibited. Our food and cigarette rations were reduced. We had no idea what was going on. Then they took prisoners in groups of two or three. They were Mojahedins. It took them about 20 days to take all of them. They took those who stood by their political positions as well as those who cooperated. We had no idea where they were taking them to.
Once I asked a sympathizer of Fadaiyan Aqaliyat about the situation of the prison. He was working in the prison and had access to the kitchen and brought us our food. He replied, "May God have mercy for you all." He said nothing more. We had no idea what was going on. Our analyzing of the situation was that they took these prisoners for awhile in order for the situation to become calm. We did not think of the possibility of executions. We believed that the regime's limitations did not permit such a massacre.
Some people thought of writing a letter and demanding an explanation for where they took the prisoners and why going outside and visitations were cut and food rations were reduced. Some even suggested a hunger strike. But those who stayed in prison longer voted against it. They argued that in such a situation, when we had no connection with the outside world and had no visitations, a strike would be wrong because nobody would know about it. On the morning of this day some did not eat their breakfast. They [prison officials] took some people including myself for interrogation. My interrogator wanted to imply that we had no intention to go on strike. He tried to say indirectly that we should not create trouble. They already committed what they had planned for.
When were you informed that they executed those who were taken?
We had no news until the visitations started again. Many of the Mojaheds who were taken to be executed had completed their sentences. The rest had prison sentences.
Did those who were taken carry their belongings with them?
Yes, the guards took them with their belongings.
Did anybody who was taken return?
Only two people were returned. They retuned one person after they brought back the television and we could hear Khomeini's message about pardoning the prisoners.
This happened in February. Did you have no visitation until then?
That is right. We had no visitation until then. The lack of visitations for us seemed very long.
You said they placed you in two sections. Did they take anybody from the other section?
They executed all Mojaheds of the other section, section one. They executed all Mojaheds in our section except for two persons. They also executed one leftist who was a sympathizer of Fadaiyan Aqaliyat in spite of his cooperation.
You said they brought back one person to your section. Did he tell anything about what happened?
He was all messed up. He had spent all that time in solitary confinement. They probably did not let him to take a shower. His body was full of lice. He was so thin like those hungry people of Africa whom we saw on TV. According to him, they kept him alive only because of his close family relationship with an interrogator.
Did he tell you if they were tried or taken to the committee?
He said those who questioned prisoners were a few people. They only asked questions such as: "Do you believe in Mojahedin?"; "Do you believe in Rajavi?"; or "Do you believe in Khomeini?"
From what the prisoners in Ahvaz reported we know that some of them were transferred to your prison. Did you see them?
Yes, they brought some of them to our section. They were about 40 to 50 people from different organizations, leftist or Mojahedin. Our section became very crowded. Apart from political faction, we ate together in our section. They were strong individuals and were taken away after a month. We did not know anything about their fate.
In a report by a prisoner in Ahvaz it is mentioned that another prisoner from Ahvaz, Sohrab Behdarvand, who was a sympathizer of Rahe Kargar, was executed in Esfahan in the summer of 1988. Do you have any information about this?
I have no information about this. There was a sympathizer of Rahe Kargar who threw himself out of the window and died. But, I think this happened in a previous year.
Did they execute any of the leftist prisoners in Esfahan?
They executed a sympathizer of Fadaiyan Aqaliyat. In addition, they executed several others around the summer of 1988. I remember the following names:
Esfandiar Qasemi - who was a sympathizer of Fadaiyan Khalq and was executed a few days before the visitations discontinued.
Do you remember any of the executed Mojahedin?
Rahman Shoja'i was tortured severely during the interrogations and was in a bad condition for a long time.
Fatemeh Shoja'i was Rahman's sister. They also had executed their nephew earlier. They took the brother of Rahman and Fatemeh and kept him in solitary confinement for 20 days. Then they brought him back. He was only a sympathizer of Mojahedin and was not active. He was also much older.
Unfortunately I don't remember other names.
How many people do you estimate were executed in Esfahan in that year?
140 to 150 individuals
Did you say they executed all of the Mojahedin prisoners except for two individuals?
Yes, exactly. There were some individuals who were released before. They brought them back to the prison and executed them during the massacre period.
Let's continue. You said that visitations were prohibited until February. It's about eight months. Were the executions continued during this period?
No. Our guess was that they were executed right after they took them from the section. They interviewed them first and then they executed them in groups of two or three, either the same night or a few days later.
How were they executed?
I have no idea.
What did they do to you?
They released the prisoners in our section.
Was it in February? Did they release all?
Yes. It was February when they released us. There was some ceremony. They brought our families. Some officials were present. Then they released us with haste.
Therefore, based on what you say, your freedom did not bring about happiness?
It was not with happiness at all. We could not forget what happened. The memory comes like a wave. Even now after all these years I have nightmares about prison and those days two or three times per month, and every time it preoccupies me for a few days.
Do you know how they informed the families of the executions? Did they mention the burial place?
They simply told the families that their children were executed. They did not inform Mojahedins' families of the burial places. In one case I know that they gave the family an address in a wilderness around Najafabad as the burial place. You could not trust their words. But about those who were executed before the massacre the officials informed the families about the executions and their burial places. I heard they allowed a visitation on the evening before the execution of Esfandiar Qasemi and told his family to stay in a nearby hotel and come back early in the morning to receive the body. In some cases, such as a sympathizer of Fadaiyan Khalq, they told the family that their child was executed but it became evident later on that it was not so.
When were you informed about the executions?
We were informed right after the visitations started again. The families cried for those who were executed and were happy for us who were alive.
What did the families do during those 7 to 8 months of no visitations? Did they do anything?
They went to various places such as meeting with Ayatollah Montazeri. My family, for instance, went to the officials in Esfahan and Tehran. I heard Montazeri had said he could not do anything since they had executed about twenty of his supporters.
Thank you for the interview.