THE EXECUTION OF SADEQ QOTBZADEH
The story of the execution of Qotbzadeh is one the bitterest tales to come out of Tehran's infamous Evin Prison between the years 1982 and 1983. But apart from that, it also testifies to something else, and that is that even in those dark nights there were men who disagreed with torture and killing and strongly believed in the total abolition of capital punishment in Iran. This story and that night were for years imprisoned in my mind. I don't know if I didn't want to, or just couldn't, commit it to writing. Once per chance I told it to a dear friend of mine, Naser Mohajer, and it was upon his recommendation and with his encouragement that it finally came to be written down. I dedicate this to him.
I just got back from getting some air and hadn't quite yet reacclimatized when Brother Impose yelled out: ''Eat your dinners quickly and get ready for Hosseiniye."
The person in charge of our room, Qasem, got himself quickly to the door and managed to get out, ''Our room? Are you not mistaken?'' before Brother Impose banged the door in his face and let out a long and protracted, "No!" But Qasem wouldn't let up, ''But we," ''But and the poison of a snake!'' Brother Impose cut him off again from behind the door. ''I said chow your feed and get yourselves saddled for heading out to Hosseiniye, and don't impose any further nuisance.''
As the sound of Brother Impose's footsteps slowly faded, Qasem shrugged his shoulders and turned to us. Mahmood was the first to open his mouth, and while drying cold sweat off his head with a towel said, ''I don't understand. They surely know who we are. What's up with them this time? Tuesday nights when they're doing their Tavassol Prayers."
Hassan cut him off, ''Maybe Assadollah has thrown another fit.''
''Man, this Brother Impose is mistaken,'' Kazem, cool as ever entered the discussion, ''like that other time. They'll take us there and bring us back with a slap upside the head. Qasem, dear, you really should have insisted.''
''Insisted how? You wanted me to stick my foot in the door? Didn't you hear what the donkey's offspring said?''
The whole thing was finally brought to an end by Hassan. ''Okay then, now, let's chow and then things will become more clear. Maybe there has been a mistake. Or maybe we'll go and enjoy a nice Tavassol Prayer with Assadollah. It might not be such a bad idea.''
No one was calmed by the joke, and on the contrary silence took over. Two months back they had taken us to the Hosseiniye, and because of their own mistake they had ended up really sticking it to us. It was during Ramadan, the very day of the martyrdom of the prophet's son-in-law, Ali, to be precise. This same Brother Impose had come in and yelled for us to feed and get saddled and head for the Hosseiniye. That night we hadn't doubted the Brother because there had been an increase in the volume of religious activities for the Evin inmates, and apart from the Kamil Prayers on Monday nights, they had opened a second broadcast channel for God--as some of the kids liked to call it,--and had instituted the Tuesday night Tavassol Prayers. Back then we had thought that the call for us to be taken to the Hosseiniye had come from Lajevardi and his program of raising the level of discomfort and psychological pressure. No one had even considered that the whole brilliant idea of taking the Leftists to the Hosseiniye could have come from Brother Mustafa from whose countenance stupidity radiated and who had come to be referred to as Brother Impose by the inmates because of his abuse and misuse of the phrase ''do not impose nuisance.'' So, we had just followed the orders of the Brother and had gone to the Hosseiniye.
I remember it was packed. Brother Impose took us together with some other kids from different cells in Section III and sat us right in front of the stage. The news that the program for that evening was the ''Gili-Show'' put smiles on everyone's faces. Ayatollah Gilani was conducting a lamenting ritual and kids were laughing. But it wasn't until the chuckles turned into belly aching hearty laughs that it quickly became clear that we were from the Infidels' Section. From the Hosseiniye all the way back to the prison they kicked and punched us nonstop. From then on we had been ''Hosseiniye-Forbidden.'' On top of that, as punishment, fresh air and warm food were denied us for one whole week. Rumor had it that Brother Impose had also been punished for his recklessness.
This time, after the chow and while having tea, we decided to continue our questioning and refuse to go to Hosseiniye until it was made absolutely clear to us that there had been no mistake. We hadn't yet finished our tea when the door opened and the figure of Hajjaqa Sa'id appeared in the frame. Where was Brother Impose? How had we earned the privilege of having the Hajjaqa order us around in person?
''It's your turn for the toilets,'' said Hajjaqa Sa'id, who was a few years older than Brother Impose and a bit more reasonable to talk to. ''By the time I get back you should be ready to go. Leave the dirty dishes for tomorrow.'' Qassem let him know about our misgivings. ''Don't worry, there is no mistake.'' Hajjaqa addressed our doubts and forebodings directly, ''the first part of tonight's program is meant especially for you,'' stretching out the ''especially for you.'' Now we really wondered what was going on. This question we took with us to the toilets and after that to the Hosseiniye. As we passed by the other cellblocks on our way out of the prison, the whole Section appeared to be empty. Apparently they had taken all of Section III.
We were the last group to enter the Hosseiniye. It was packed full to the brim. They also had the ''sisters/brothers'' division up. Just like two months ago, they put Section III right up in front of the stage. Behind us was the second cellblock of Section II, which also consisted of Leftists. Behind them were the ''repenters'' of Section IV and then came the whole of Section VI. Section VI was for the repenters under twenty years of age and their cells were so to say, minimum security.
They had divided the Hosseiniye in two, using a curtain about a meter off the ground. The right side was for the ''sisters,'' that is the women prisoners. The left part was for ''brothers,'' that would be us. In the beginning, when this Hosseiniye had just started its operation, the curtain had been hanging from the roof, but now they had changed it so that when we would stand up, the sisters could see us from the waist up. We were taken in, moving parallel to the curtain. The women had already been seated. This way the women prisoners would check us out from behind their ''complete Hejab'' veils as we walked past them one by one. The male prisoners of course were only allowed to look straight in front of them. They said the curtain had been lowered thus so that those women, who had cut themselves off from their former organizations, could recognize their old superiors, by and large men, who had turned them in. Hamid, who had been picked up accidentally and with a bunch of other people had finally been identified using exactly this method. One of the mothers of one of the Sisters' Sections had given him away. The next day they had come to him for interrogation and had put him through heavy duress. After three months when he came back from constant interrogation in the coercion cells, he had developed an allergy to the word ''mother.'' Whenever we wanted to play with him, we'd sing Sadeq Ahangaran's ''Mother You Weren't There to See.''
Speaking was forbidden in the Hosseiniye. Only people of the same cellblock could converse a bit, as they were seated in a row. And sometimes when the guards who were leaning against the walls weren't paying attention, we could exchange a word or two with those behind or in front of us; that is, if we knew who they were. These conversations would for the most part circle around the news of the prison: How many of you are there? What freedoms do you have? Has anyone in your group been executed? From what groups have they been arresting lately? How is it in the courts? How are the sentences they are passing? Etc.
The make up of the Hosseiniye that night was easy to see. The majority of kids were Leftists, except for the Sections IV, VI, and one cellblock in Section I. The majority of men were from the so-called closed cells for non-repenters. Some of the ones with balcony seating were from the solitaries from 209. The Leftist kids sitting up front were responding half-heartedly (as Lajevardi liked to say) to the calls for ''Allah-Akbar'' emanating from the Section VI'ers behind them. Some wouldn't answer at all. The answer to the calls for ''Allah-Akbar'' in prison differed slightly from those that had become standard on the outside. After repeating Allah-Akbar three times, usually on the outside, one would follow with, ''Death to the opponents of the Velayate Faqih,'' ''Death to America,'' ''Death to Israel,'' ''Death to the splinters,'' ''Death to Saddam (Yazid)'' and ''Death to the infidels,'' and basically that was it. On the inside in Evin, however, included on the death-list were not only the Soviets and various armed resistance groups but also whoever else was in the news on any particular day.
Next, the intensification of calls for Allah-Akbar drew attention to the fact that someone important had entered the Hosseiniye. Who? We wouldn't be able to tell until the procession passed right by us. First came the gorillas escorting Lajevardi, he in the middle of them, followed by a disheveled character in a wrinkled light-blue suit pulled by two guards. As they got closer to the stage, Lajevardi sat in his usual place on the stairs leading up to the stage, and his entourage took their place beside him. First he looked over the masses in front of him for a few moments before grabbing the microphone and starting his usual praise of Allah for supporting the nameless army of the Imam of Time, the savior to come, and also for helping to defeat the enemies of Islam and foiling the plots of America and others against it, etc. Then he finally got to the program of the evening.
''Tonight someone wants to speak with you who in the beginnings of the revolution had appeared as a friend of the revolution and the Imam. But it was the vigilance of the Imam himself that diffused his hidden evil plot, like all the other ones before it. For this person who had managed to penetrate the ranks is in fact an agent of world imperialism and America. Listen carefully to his words; there are many lessons for the rest of you in what he has to say.'' And once again he brought his remarks to an end with a quote from a verse of the Qur'an, (Yas Sura): ''Because the majority of them will not find faith, the promise of pain upon them became a necessity and an inevitability.'' Then he turned to the man in the wrinkled light-blue suit, ''Please, Mr. Qotbzadeh!''
The Hosseiniye exploded with rhythmic chants of ''death to America, death to America.'' We all, repenters and non-repenters, Socialists, Communists and Mojaheds, were chanting in unison. The Hosseiniye was shaking. The man in light blue got up. Much thinner, more broken and bent, and older than I remembered him, but it was he, Sadeq Qotbzadeh. Maybe it was his white stubbles or the way he slowly moved towards the stage that made him appear so old. He reached out to grab the microphone from Lajevardi. ''No, please, '' said the latter sarcastically, ''won't you step up the pew? Allah be praised, you are an excellent preacher. Step up, step up!''
Qotbzadeh went up the stairs and sat on a cheap folding chair that was put there. He was trying not to make any direct eye contact with the excited and united mass in front of him. The ones with balcony seats were shaking their tight fists and continuing their passionate calls for death to America. The kids in our section started up again as well. The passion in our midst made me think of the May Day demonstration of 1980. Then all of a sudden my eyes skipped from Qotbzadeh to Lajevardi with his victorious smile designed to cut us down to size. After a little while, he raised his hand to signal for quiet. The Hosseiniye was silenced. Then Lajevardi's slight head-signal caused Qotbzadeh to speak. After a very intensely pronounced ''in the name of Allah'' in Arabic, however, he fell silent again. He didn't seem to know what to say. Then slowly he opened up his mouth again and began slowly to list his services to the Imam and the revolution. Losing the right path could happen to anyone, he said. However, he said it in a way to avoid including himself in this ''anyone'' as best as he could. He was all over the place, speaking about his role in the victory of the revolution and the first days after the collapse of the Shah's order, emphasizing again and again that he was not a wolf in sheep's clothing. But there was no central point to his rant. It was as if he were really thinking about something else, extending his words and sentences with his French euh-s to give him time to think. Eventually Lajevardi realized that he needed to ask more direct questions and cut Qotbzadeh off. He began asking about the affair of the failed coup d'etat that Qotbzadeh had apparently been a part of, and about the role of counter-revolutionary officers in the army together with Ayatollah Shariatmadari in it. With a face full of pain, Qotbzadeh tried his best to avoid as much as he could, occasionally saying things like ''Hajjaqa, you know the answer to this question better than I do,'' only to be countered by Hajjaqa's ''yes, indeed, but please say it for everyone to hear.''
But Lajevardi's questions were also scattered and without a clear axiom. He would jump from asking about Qotbzadeh's relationship with Ayatollah Shariatmadari to grilling him on his experience in the resistance to the Shah.
''Please do tell us about your background in the resistance,'' he'd ask in a tone that would crack the audience up.
''Well, after the 1953 coup, the Religious-Nationalists sent me abroad to organize the movements there.''
''And what did you do?''
''The first thing was the bringing together of various forces. Then there needed to be a structuring of the various Islamic groups."
But Lajevardi wouldn't let him finish, as if he was bent on destroying the little concentration that he seemed at times to muster. ''They say you have tens of passports. Is that true?''
''Not exactly tens, but I did have a few passports that were given to me by some third-world countries."
''Yes, like Syria and Libya. I even went to Palestine. That is, before the creation of the Al Fatah organization."
''This is interesting; next you'll tell us that you have organized Yassir Arafat as well. Of course with the shape he is in right now, it might not be too far from the truth. But Mr. Qotbzadeh, only for tonight, please turn to God and stick to the truth.''
''I have said these things many times, and in the beginning of the revolution in many of the newspapers."
''Well back then, you would just say whatever you felt like. But now that you have repented, it is a different story, isn't that so?''
Qotbzadeh waited a bit and continued with a sigh, ''In any case, back then there wasn't yet anything like an Islamic Student Association of America."
''I said stick to your own problems. Is it not true that these passports were provided for you by the CIA and the Americans? Your trips were also with the purpose of infiltrating the Islamic movements, isn't this a fact? The CIA knew from the very beginning that one day the Imam would come to power. That is why they had recruited some to."
''Hajjaqa, I am talking about a time when the Imam had not been exiled yet!''
''Okay then, why didn't you come to Iran to help with our struggle?''
''I tried to come several times, but the Imam did not grant me permission.''
''When did the Imam not grant you permission?''
''Once I had an audience in Najaf, and once I visited him in Paris.''
''But this must have been recently.''
''No, not towards the end, but in the beginning when I would send my analysis to Iran, and the tide was turning for us. I had estimated the development the events correctly. I remember that early in 1979 I was sitting in a Cafe around the Trocadero in Paris, at around two in the morning, one of these Leftist types who would later call me collaborationist turned to me and said, 'Mr. Qotbzadeh, don't go so fast."
''He must have been talking about your alcohol consumption, not the Islamic revolution?''
''No, he was talking about taking things step by step, but I disagreed, because I was a revolutionary.''
''Is that the reason why you wanted to destroy the center of the revolution?''
Here Lajevardi started telling a story about a house that Qotbzadeh and his cohorts had rented close to the residence of the Imam, the ''Jamaran," and about their plot to launch rockets into the ''center of the revolution'' from there. Qotbzadeh denied the story but did say that his goal had been to take power, that is he wanted the government of the time to collapse. Lajevardi again brought up the story about a rocket attack on the Jamaran and insisted that this had been a major step in the attempted coup d'etat. Qotbzadeh showed ever less interest in pursuing this debate and finally surrendered: ''Yes, it was so.''
''Rain flowers on Jamaran, rain bullets on Qotbzadeh,'' this new spontaneous chant was coming from the Section VI'ers. The rows in front picked up on it and repeated it several times but changed quickly to "death to America.'' The Section VI'ers didn't follow suit and started chanting their own slogan with ever more determination. The ones in the front rows who had found an occasion to show the eternal truth in their old slogans started ripping their throats to ''death to America.'' The schizophrenic voices tried to silence one another from different sides, but since there were fewer repenters tonight in the Hosseiniye, ''death to America'' finally dominated. Now Lajevardi finally lost his patience and shouted onto the front rows, ''You think you are in front of the university and old Qotbzadeh is gonna broadcast your meetings? Although you seem to be Russians, deep inside you are really Americans. It is not necessary for you to chant anymore.'' Then he fixed his hate-filled glance onto the balconies for a few moments and sat back down. The ''death to the Soviets'' of the Section VI'ers echoed once again throughout the Hosseiniye. The front rows had sealed their lips in silence. A bit later the Section VI'ers also quieted down. Lajevardi continued the Q and A with Qotbzadeh. This time in the breaks between questions and answers only the Section VI'ers would call for ''Allah-Akbar.'' The front rows would only join in for the ''death to America.'' And the bit about ''Khomeini, our leader,'' would also get repeated now and again. But the rest of the slogans wouldn't be picked up, and if so, only under their breath. But in any case, there were no ''death to the Soviets.''
Next Lajevardi started again with questions about Qotbzadeh's connection with America and the CIA. I don't know anymore what he answered, if he denied the connection or agreed to it. The scattered nature of his responses had multiplied. I think he mentioned someone named Abbassi. Lajevardi was getting more and more worked up. I am not sure if this was because our kids kept interrupting with ''death to America'' or if it was the case that Qotbzadeh's responses were inconsistent with his previous testimony. The Ayatollah kept getting more and more belligerent. He was obsessed with Qotbzadeh and the CIA. Qotbzadeh repeated several times that as a foreign minister after the victory of the revolution, it was clear that in one way or another he had had to deal with Americans and to have a ''relation'' of sorts with them. But he denied that the relations were what Assadollah Lajevardi had in mind. Then all of a sudden a voice from the front rows disrupted the atmosphere again: ''The American spy must be executed.'' Everyone repeated this one. Hands were fisted, and tight fists were violently attempting to crack the air with all the force and pathos they could muster. They weren't answering the Allah-Akbar calls; they were just yelling ''death to America'' with all they had.
My heart was pounding fast. I couldn't hear anything anymore. Was this out of excitement? I had never seen this many smiles in Evin. I could even sense the smiles of those sitting behind me. But maybe it was out of fear that my heart was pounding. Why fear? No, it was definitely excitement. But every time I would hear, "must be executed,'' my whole stomach would fall. The repenters were screaming, ''Qotbzadeh to the firing squad,'' with such hatred that one knew if they were there right now, they wouldn't have even a moment's hesitation about pulling the trigger themselves. I recalled hearing the sound of ''the emptying of iron'' behind Section IV. I remembered the nights of farewell with those about to be executed; I remembered sleepless nights of counting those close range final shots after the firing squad was done. No, the beating of my heart was out of fear. But fear of whom? of what? The fear that had been with me from the moment I had entered Evin. No, but this was a different kind of fear. I didn't realize that night why I was so scared, but every time the calls, "must be executed,'' would get louder, my heart would also get louder, echoing in my ear and drowning out the other voices. I hyperventilated. The sound of my heart was filling all of the Hosseiniye.
"Mr. Qotbzadeh, if you have something else to say, say it now, wa'allah hamh aqfra al mo'menin!"
Qotbzadeh was silent for a few moments, then finally said: ''No, I don't have anything to say.'' But then he started reciting a prayer of release from bondage that is related to the daughter of the prophet, Fatemeh Zahra. He was reciting the prayer in Persian: ''O hearer of all songs, retriever of that which is lost, O creator of souls, give to all the faithful, woman and man, of east or west, freedom from captivity.''
As he quieted, the slogans, ''Death to America,'' ''American spy must be executed,'' and ''Rain on Jamaran with flowers, rain on Qotbzadeh with bullets'' shook the Hosseiniye once again. The slogans were intertwined with one another. Then the repenters got up and started yelling, ''Death to the communists.'' And it wasn't until Lajevardi had picked up the microphone again that the chants slowly died down and some sort of calm was restored. He went on with his usual resentment-filled tone about the leadership of the Imam of the 'Umma and the victory of Islam over the infidels and asked the ''great God'' to take the likes of us (the infidels) away from the face of the earth. Then the outing for us came to an end when he ordered all of us to be taken back to our cells, apart from Sections IV and VI, who would stay and take part in the Tavassol Prayer.
We got up, queued up, and started moving row after row with the signals from the guards. The repenters were all up and chanting, the same way the Hezbollahis would line up in front of the university and chant after the meetings of the Leftist groups. But this time, as we would pass them, along the curtain where the guards were standing disinterested, they would actually try to attack us. Their tight fists were shaking in front of our faces. They even beat up several of us. The guards were laughing. But as I was beginning to realize what the purpose of this promenade along the curtain had been all along, a heavy hand landed on my head driving home the point. It was Morteza Naqqash, the leader of the repenters from my previous cellblock. I increased my speed. Faramarz and Mansur were also standing right next to him. With blood red faces and from the bottom of their hearts they were screaming, ''Death to the communists.''
I got back to the cellblock. I was completely distraught because of the beating I had received. The majority, however, were happy and up. Several suggested celebrating, but it was late. We just made tea, smoked cigarettes, and got ready for bed. As I was pulling the blanket over myself, Mansur grabbed a piece of it, ''You're down, huh?'' He tried to engage me in a conversation. ''Forget it. The real punch was delivered by Assadollah. He hit all of us upside the head. And he hit us in away that we didn't even realize we were being hit.'' I didn't get his point but didn't feel like talking anyway. The guards turned the lights out, and the room was only lit by the little red night-lamp that we ourselves had made.
I don't know when I fell asleep, or if I slept at all, but I couldn't get the repenters at the Hosseiniye out of my mind. I had turned into Qotbzadeh. With the same broken and old face. I was seeing Lajevardi and hearing his voice as well. It was echoing in my head like the final close-range shots after the firing squad was done behind Section IV. ''We will destroy you all!'' Then it was my turn to remember my own interrogation.
I was coming back from my last session of intense interrogation in the basement of the solitary units. After getting back to the regular interrogation room, Hosseini had put a paper in front of me. ''Sign this sworn statement and we'll free you,'' he had said.
Without any resistance, or even reading what I was signing, I had taken the pen and signed. Only afterwards I began reading it. ''I declare my absolute rejection of the organizations." I had thought that everything would be over with this signature, but I was sent to the basement again, and after spending a few days there, they called me up again. ''This affidavit is not enough,'' Hosseini began as soon as I walked in. ''I have spoken with the Shari'a magistrate. You have a lot more information. On top of that, you haven't repented and don't even pray. Don't think that you have fooled us with this piece of paper. You have to talk. We want information.'' ''I don't have any information,'' I had said, realizing that I was the one who had been fooled all along, ''and that confession you have gotten out of me has been taken under duress and has no legal value. Give it to me so I can rip it.''
Then they kicked me out of the interrogation room again, back to the solitary. They wouldn't even change my bandages. They held me in the solitary for a few days and then brought me back to my usual cellblock again.
I had told the story to the other guys. ''It's not important,'' I had disagreed with Mansur as soon as he started with this. ''It is just a piece of paper. If they let you go with it, that is the important thing.'' It was important for me. I shouldn't have signed at all. I had a bad feeling, I was bitter, didn't want company, hated myself. All of their consoling was for nothing. I couldn't accept it, most of all because I knew that I was being fooled.
And now, this time again, it wasn't because of the smack I had received from Morteza that I was feeling down. It wasn't the first time that I was beaten either, although it was the first time that a character like Morteza would hit me. When he was in our room, he didn't even dare talk loudly. No, something else was the matter, something more serious, something more important, much more important. I was going back and forth on these issues, when the guard opened the door and ordered us to get up. I was up. I couldn't be sure if I was up all night or not.
The time for the morning washing was the time when the prisoners were supposed to get ready for the Morning Prayer, but they would take us to the washroom much later since we didn't pray, between 6 and 6:30 usually. After that we'd drink our teas and get ready for daily interrogations. Today's breakfast discussion was a continuation of last night's. Most of the guys were speaking positively about our adventure at the Hosseiniye and were going on about our correct moves and the fact that we had proved ourselves to Lajevardi. After breakfast Mansur asked if I was up for a game of chess--as the English call it. I didn't feel like it. I was still bitter. All I wanted to do was to crawl to some corner and curl up around my own thoughts. ''Are you scared you'll be mated,'' he was now trying provocation as a method of finding a playmate but before he could get under my skin Hassan threw himself in. ''Since last night when he took a smack upside his head he has been mated; play me.''
The chess corner was located around the bend of the door in the corner of the room, so that the guards wouldn't be able to see us on their periodical cursory check-ups just by looking in. The two of them sat there and unfolded the ''board'' and started placing buttons on it. The ''board'' consisted of the large crossword puzzle of Zaneruz (Today's Woman) magazine. The ''Engineer,'' one of the guys from the cellblock, had designed it. For one whole month he had insisted on getting Zaneruz. The block had unanimously voted against the acquiring of Zaneruz on several occasions, and yet the Engineer would not have it, and continued his lobbying for the women's magazine. Finally, the majority had pulled back and agreed to buy two--only two--editions of Zaneruz. Once we had let the guard responsible for the purchase know of our decision, he had just looked us up and down and without hesitation had asked if we wanted to masturbate to it.
That night everybody was sore with the Engineer, but he was simply not acknowledging it. And the day the guard had thrown the magazine into the room and with a smile of satisfaction had announced to all that there were in fact no ''women'' in it, Abdollah had lost it and attacked the Engineer saying, ''Happy? Are we gonna order tampons next?'' The Engineer had said nothing and hadn't even acknowledged there to be a problem. On the contrary, with a victorious smile he had gone to his corner and had started leafing through his magazine. The next week also when his magazine arrived, he had not even come out for our daily ration of fresh air. Even when he had asked for scotch-tape we didn't pick up on the clues. But as soon as we had come back in, he had greeted us with a meaningful smirk on his face: ''Whose up for Shatranj?" he asked.
We were completely taken aback with the chess-set; the wisdom and the necessity of ordering the women's magazine was slowly dawning on us. The crossword in Zaneruz was the biggest in all the magazines and the Engineer had stacked the little squares from two different puzzles together to create a decent chessboard. The genius of the masterpiece prevented anyone from complaining about the use of their buttons, which for some time had been missing. We did have to go through a special training, however, to be able to use the Engineer's ''chess,'' as he called it. Later on he would tell us that he had thought about the idea for three months while in the solitary in 209.
Today, as usual, Mansur would take the black buttons in order ''to give an advantage'' to his opponents, kindly. I sat right in front of the door so that no guard could just run in. This would also allow me to observe the game from relatively close by. Khosrow, with whom Mansur and I always shared the same cigarette, lit one up and came next to me to distribute the daily ration.
''You're still sour kid? If it's because of last night, it wasn't your first time, was it?''
''I swear to you Khosrow, brother, I've been telling him the same. Don't spoil all the fun we had last night. But he won't listen. Just between us, though, wasn't it fun last night?'' It was Hassan again, barging in.
He got his answer from Khosrow promptly: ''What fun, Mr. Hassan? Like cows they took us there to scream for them.''
''Come on, Khosrow, brother, all that 'death to America' and not answering the calls from the repenters' sides and getting under Assadollah's skin? That's not being like cows.''
''Not at all,'' said Mansur advancing with a pawn, ''that's not being cows, it is advancing the cause of the struggle against imperialism deep in the theater of blessed Hajjaqa Assadollah Lajevardi's Hosseiniye.''
''In my opinion,'' said Kazem who was watching the game from behind Hassan's back, ''the importance of last night was not the chanting of 'death to America'; rather, it was the coming about of a sort of unity amongst the Leftist kids. For the first time we stood up to Assadollah and put the repenters in their place.''
''And what about Qotbzadeh in all this?'' said Khosrow exhaling a lung full of smoke. ''It didn't really matter to him either way, did it? From his perspective you'd see that last night the Hosseiniye was full of repenters who were all shouting death to this, that, and the other thing in unison.''
''Khosrow, are you now defending Qotbzadeh all of a sudden?''
''I said we stuck it to Assadollah,'' Kazem interjected before Khosrow could respond, ''but you know, they say that the yellow dog is the cousin of the Jackal.''
''No, Kazem, my dear, the yellow dog, when in prison, is called the prisoner,'' Mansur stalled a short moment on the word ''prisoner,'' was quiet for a bit, and then moved his queen into Hassan's territory continuing, ''even if he were the brother of the Jackal, he is still different from us, because he is not sheep; he is of a different material. But in any, case whatever he may be, he is first and foremost a prisoner, check!'' And before we could assess the developments on the board, he continued, ''I don't know what your opinion is, but if you think that Assadollah has taken us to the Hosseiniye in order to show the dear Leftists that they too have the power to stick together and even there get loud and rowdy and conduct anti-imperialist maneuvers, you are mistaken. Assadollah took us there to put another prisoner in front of us, have us go at him, and prove to us that the difference between us and the Section VI'ers is only in two slogans. That's all.''
"Mansur Khan, of all people, why do you say such things? The issue last night was not 'death to America,' in truth it was 'death to Assadollah.' 'Death to America' was merely a medium in which we could show our existence. Proving once again what we have always maintained and that is that Qotbzadeh, Yazdi, Bani-Sadr, and the rest of them are all Americans. Hadn't we said that before? It was we who first had come up with 'death to world imperialism with the leadership of the American imperialism,' have you forgotten that?"
''Actually it was 'death to America and its native servants,''' clarified Kazem before Hassan could go any further, ''and that means, death to the defeated counter-revolutionaries as well as the ruling counter-revolutionaries.''
''And now what?'' Khosrow had decided to light another one using my cigarette butt, and he took a drag before letting it go around. ''Is that supposed to mean that your grace and my humble being were in place of the magistrate of the Shari'a last night and were reviewing the correctness of the claims and the projections of various Leftist groups? Or was there perhaps a people's court set up in the Hosseiniye last night and we didn't know about it? It seems that you guys have forgotten who you are and why you are here. It seems like you don't want to understand that.''
''What are we supposed to understand? 'Death to America and its native servants' includes all of them, from he who is a new prisoner now, to the Shari'a magistrate, to Assadollah himself. Khosrow, dear, think for a moment! Wasn't this very character you are defending now, who led you-know-who down from the stairs of Air France that day? Didn't he become the foreign minister, and the head of state television, and the friend of Ms. Zahra from the front of the university? Wasn't it he who took the newly freed radio and television from those on strike and gave it to this same Assadollah and the other motherfucker? No, the 'death to America' of last night was no ordinary 'death to America.' And this is not a difficult thing to understand. Even Assadollah himself had realized it. That's why he was so pissed off. It was death to Assadollah and this criminal repenter-making machine, in the creation of which Mr. Qotbzadeh himself has played a role?"
''Kazem, dear, listen,'' started Mansur while taking his dead horse from Hassan's field, ''I agree with everything you are saying.'' Then he took a giant drag from the butt Khosrow had handed him and continued, ''But please say a few words about us. What did we do last night? We went to Assadollah's Hosseiniye, participated in the mental torturing of another prisoner, and screamed that he 'must be executed.' Qotbzadeh and whatever he has done remains the same. But what about us? We are ourselves in chains. We are prisoners in this, as you say, criminal system. Now, after everything that they have done to us, and the life they have extracted from us, we go and sing to the tune of this very same Assadollah and you call this embarrassment the 'struggle against Assadollah, imperialism, counter-revolution,' or whatever else?"
''We are united with them in this very same thing you call 'whatever else','' Hassan was bent on cutting diminishing? Mansur's words and had found a place to do so.
''You and them are united in this, not we and them,'' Kazem disappointed Hassan. ''This matter has nothing to do with us. Your defense of the line of Sir Ruhollah and Sir Assadollah has nothing to do with us.'' But he wouldn't stop there, now he turned to Mansur and continued, ''Mansur, dear, I am not speaking of that anti-imperialist struggle that Hassan is talking about and says continues even in the bowls of Evin. I have another understanding of this struggle the discussion of which is too far a field here. However, I still don't understand why we should feel sorry for Qotbzadeh and not ask for his execution and not scream for its implementation.''
''You see Kazem, dear, this is not a matter of sympathy for Qotbzadeh. In this hell-hole, with all the torture, the executions, the daily belittling and dehumanizing atmosphere, the first and foremost thing to keep in mind is the complete rejection of the idea of imprisoning, torture, and execution of a human being because of a political idea. But instead of disagreeing with the whole of this criminal system, we are only saying, don't bother us, don't imprison us, don't execute us. It's the story of our very own flower of a person, Mr. Hassan, who even today gives out leaflets saying, 'Free members of the Tudeh Party'; that is to say, all the rest can be sacrificed to the left testicle of the horse of his majesty, the secretary general of the Tudeh Communist Party, Mr. Kianouri!"
Hassan's face was wrinkled. He wanted to say something as an answer to Khosrow, but before he could regroup, Kazem came to his rescue: ''But Khosrow, dear, what you say only applied to those cases overseas. You know that I am in place of your servant and don't want to get into a debate and disagreement with you about what kinds of influences you were under in those Euro-Communists countries and what kinds of things you were saying in those days of the famous Confederation of Iranian Students. But, my very dearest, the banning of torture and capital punishment is good for places like France, Germany, or America, not for places like Iran and Afghanistan."
''Gentlemen please excuse my intrusion,'' the self-proclaimed judge of all chess games, the otherwise absolutely quiet Engineer who would never take his eyes even for a split second off of a game in progress, finally began to speak, ''but are you suggesting that the heroic Iranian folk are not human, but rather cows in need of impaling in order for them to be able to tell the difference between the road and the hole in it? Well, if that is what needs to be done, masters, Sir Assadollah is doing an excellent job, and once his work is done, there will be no heads left for the red ax to chop.''
As the Engineer was talking, Hassan was shaking his head and finally, as if he had discovered something that had to be shared with the rest of us immediately, started his reasoning thus: ''First I must explain one thing, after that I have a question for all of you. First of all, it is not only the Tudeh Party that demands the release of their own people. All groups are only concerned with their own. But the question is: let's imagine that we, here, were to come to power, not through the Tudeh Party, but with any organization that we all could agree with. It is clear that in that instant, a group of anti-revolutionaries will declare war on our government and will try to take power away from us. But the power is still in our hands, and ours is a revolutionary government. Okay, what will we do? Will we not arrest? Will we not imprison? Will we not execute? And let's imagine that this anti-revolutionary opposition will then attempt to assassinate our leadership. What would we do? Let's imagine Bijan Jazani. Let's imagine he were alive now and would be our president, and the counter-revolutionaries had cooked up plans to kill him. Let's imagine that through all sorts of troubles we had managed to detain one of them, but he had resisted and not given us information. What would we do? Time is tight. The life of Bijan is in danger. Would we not torture? Would we say that torture is inhuman and would we thereby not give up all hope of stopping the killing of Bijan Jazani? Huh?''
Hassan had presented his argument and was sure to have shown the contradiction in the reasoning of his opponents. There was a short silence.
''Hassan, don't you, who counts execution shots behind Section IV at night, disgust yourself by implying that we would do the very same thing?'' Mansur was the one who had broken the silence. ''We? Who are we? You think it is because of bad luck that we are not guards, but prisoners. No, my dear Hassan, I think it is only your view that manages to misinterpret things in this way.''
Kazem cut off Mansur and turned to Hassan: ''In my opinion it is your line that explains things in this way.''
''Kazem, there is no 'my view' and 'your view'. The main point is that counter-revolution needs to be suppressed. You and I agree on this point. You may say that the anti-revolution includes the profiteering minority and the national bourgeoisies, and I may say that the toiling majority in the cities and villages and so and so nationalists' forces are also a part of the revolution. But I doubt that we disagree on the fact that the anti-revolutionary force must be answered by revolutionary force.''
''But if one day I become convinced that I have no choice but to turn into an Assadollah, that day, I'd put the struggle aside. The revolutionary struggle is not worth committing crimes and murders.''
'You call the suppression of the anti-revolutionary forces a crime? Answer the question please!'
''I don't understand what your point is. You mix everything up: the revolutionary government and Bijan Jazani and the Islamic government and Imam Khomeini, and the government of the toiling majority.But if one day I turn into Assadollah, forget about the working class, I couldn't then even save myself from filth and crime. The government of the working class ought not be the same as the government of the executioner.''
''So what about the revolutionary vengeance and Lenin's red terror? If that's what you're saying, then you disagree with the whole idea of a socialist revolution.''
''Man, you've mixed everything up again. What's the relationship between the red terror and torture and execution? The difference between Assadollah and me is very simple and clear. I fight for humanity and for a better tomorrow for all mankind. And that is why I say I don't accept caning and execution and Assadollah. On top of that, someone who is sitting in Section III of Evin, and on the cutting edge of the blade of the executioner, shouldn't ask for someone else to be slaughtered.''
''My dear Khosrow, I don't have anything to do with what Hassan argues, I am saying something else, and that is that you only see the ruling anti-revolutionaries. If Assadollah is the victorious counter-revolutionary, then Qotbzadeh is the defeated counter-revolutionary. And their fight is that between two wolves. And it does not matter to me which one of them ends up ripping the belly of the other.''
''Counter-revolution? Well, for the time being, we are all here counter-revolutionaries. And even in this room, some of the others and myself are, according to the line of Hassan, counter-revolutionaries. Hassan and those of his line are counter-revolutionaries to you. And for Mansur all the rest of us together are counter-revolutionaries. And finally for Assadollah?''
''Instead of Kazem's question, please answer mine. I'll ask it again: is it not the case that in all governments the sentence for an anti-revolutionary is death?''
''Quit it, Hassan. Have you ever realized that you are in Evin? Day and night, the whole universe--Assadollah, Hamed, Rahimi, the office of public prosecutors, and the headquarters of Imam--all have joined forces to create beasts out of us. Have you ever thought how one can resist all this, when you yourself want to be Assadollah and pull the trigger? Choose whatever revolution you want and quote 'facts'--as the English say-- from Lenin and the God almighty himself if you want. We are not talking about potatoes here. Why do you use Assadollah's language?''
Everyone was suddenly looking at me. Even I didn't know why I was suddenly in the middle of this debate. But Kazem didn't want to change the atmosphere of the discussion.
''No! We have revolutions and then we have revolutions. And the counter-revolutionaries are also not all the same. We are different from the counter-revolutionaries who were part of the previous regime or collaborated with Sir Assadollah and his lot. Our revolution has its own characteristics. These masters, even back then when they were in the Shah's prisons, were already lost and so to say condemned, and nothing has changed now that they are judges and prosecutors. They were always wrong and anti-revolution. They even were jealous of our resistance in the Shah's prisons and harbored resentments against us, because they weren't resistant themselves. But we are different. And our revolution is different.''
''No Kazem, dear, in my opinion a revolution is a revolution. In every place and every time, it works according to the same mechanism. The thing that differs is what happens after the revolution. That is where the differences manifest themselves.''
''But Mr. Hassan, I think the differences are there from the very beginning. Isn't it true that this same Assadollah was a prisoner? Didn't he resist? Wasn't he for the revolution? But he was plotting the same things for Arash and Rassuli. It started with them, and now it's our turn. That is why Tehrani wrote letters for them. He knew them very well. And for this very reason Assadollah took us last night and sat us up front. And we shared our voices with the Hezbollahis. Everyone judge according to your own conscience. And the whole thing about who is the enemy and who is the victor and who is the defeated cannot drag us into screaming for the execution of others. You think you have shown Assadollah and his repenters a thing or two last night? I say, like usual, it was we who were caught in their trap.''
As Mansur finished his speech and turned his face toward the chessboard, Hassan moved his queen forward and said ''Checkmate.''
With the start of the program, ''the Visage of Martyr Katchui,'' that was shown everyday between the hours of ten and twelve in the morning on Evin's closed circuit TV, we all sat in our places facing the TV. Although no one cared for the program, and we had turned the volume down so that we could do our own thing, we had to appear to be watching it or the guards would let us have it. The announcer listed the program for today: the political lessons of the teacher of ethics, Martyr Bahonar, followed by a speech by Haddad-Adel about religion and ideology.
I didn't move. I just rested my head against the door and reviewed the words of Hassan in my head. My heart started up again. I had never thought of it this way. From my very first day in prison when I was woken up with the sound of machine guns, the thought of torture and execution wouldn't leave me alone. When I would be put under duress, I would say to myself if I thought about revenge, it all wouldn't hurt as much. I would look at my bandaged feet and think about what I would do if one day Hamed and Fakur and Rahimi fell into my lap. With the thin cable that would peel a part of skin with each hit, or with cable 14 that neither gives immediate blisters nor lesions, but each hit of which turns all the joints in the body into bayonets that storm other joints, hits to the bottom of the feet that turn the neck into a spear penetrating the brains within the skull. I also fantasized about their execution. After waking out of each nightmare I would say to myself, my turn will also come one day. I would press my fingers deep into my ears in order not to hear the guns and lie to myself that no one was killed that day. The smiles of new friends would stay behind on the walls, on the beds, behind the painted windows. But they would be cold and lifeless. The reflex of facial muscles was what was responsible for them. They weren't smiles. They were faces of helplessness and destitution. And these smiles would not go away like those of a hero in a book one could close, but stayed in the room, both on the walls of the cell and on the walls inside my head. It wasn't book-like or heroic; they would just go towards their deaths without quite knowing why. And yet they were heroes because they knew that together with saying no comes death. But maybe they didn't know that death would come so soon, in the evening of the very same day, moments after drinking their last cup of water, directly after their last game of football while getting their ration of fresh air, or after the last recounting of the memories of their time on the outside of prison walls. And as they went, they didn't know that their smiles would remain behind and, at nights, under the blanket, would mix with our tears and would be replaced by another smile on the very next day.
Smiles and thinking about them gave me a peculiar feeling. I don't know what kind of feeling, but after that whenever I would hear ''must be executed,'' my heart would race, and I would take it as a reminder to go back to the remote corners of the cell and look for them and if I found them gather them up and commit them to memory, so that I would never find myself saying that my turn will also come one day, and that I will also soon chain and execute smiles. No, maybe he hasn't experienced my nightmares and hasn't lived in Section I together with repenting kids whose neighbors had just been executed. No one has told him about Faramarz in Section I, who had rested the G-3 on his shoulders, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. At night he would scream ''Ya Abn al-Hassan Ajal al-Azhuri'' and cry. Mehran was one of the big shots of the Mojahedin who had been arrested in the middle of the summer of '82 and was a witness to all the executions. I had listened to his stories. Sometimes I would think that I myself had been there and had seen how Faramarz had pointed the gun towards himself and splashed his face and head full of blood. That's when Faramarz had started being obsessive compulsive and would keep washing his hands and face nonstop. It was as if I myself had heard a guard say to him, ''Your reward will be delivered by the offspring of Zahra, do it.'' He had done it and had seen the body drown in blood. Our Hassan has not heard the story of the day when they took Mehran and other kids and showed them the bodies of Mussa Khiyabani and Ashraf Rabi'i. I was told that nightmare that has since become my nightmare. Maybe I myself had been there as well, I don't know. But it was always the voice of Mehran that echoed in my ears:
''They came early in the morning and made us queue up. They put blinders on us and moved us out of the cell. I could see a little from the behind the blinders. First they took us toward the Hosseiniye, and then from the fork between the Sections they took us behind Section IV. I was scared for a moment. I thought they were gonna do another one of their mass executions again, like the early days. The night before it had snowed heavily and that made it difficult to walk on the ice with our flimsy slippers. Like usual our hands were resting on the shoulders of the one in front of us. But we were moving much slower than usual. We were struggling along when suddenly the person in front of me fell to the ground, and something hit my head also. I lost my balance and fell too. I tried to get up but something else hit my head and back, and I fell again. My hands had touched something in mid air. I was hanging onto it. I didn't know what it was at first. Then I realized that it was a pair of legs. The queue was in disarray. Everyone was stumbling around like me. Then I got a glance from under my blinder and my heart stopped. They were passing us through the hanged bodies that were just dangling there. I saw a glimpse of a white face, with eyes popped out of their sockets. The guards in front were laughing uncontrollably. They collected and organized us, and we began our march again. After a little while they ordered us to stop. Then they got us to form a big circle, and ordered us to remove the blinders. We uncovered our eyes and saw Mussa Khiyabani, Ashraf Rabi'I, and a few others lying there on the ground. Lajevardi started a speech. He was talking about the victory of the nameless army of the Imam of Time, the absent savior to come. As he was going on with his usual rant, he would occasionally kick the cadavers with the tip of his shoes. And he finished his speech with this sentence: ''Whoever is a true repenter must spit at these cadavers as he passes them.'' I suddenly noticed my hands. They were both bloody. When I had fallen, my hands had gotten wet. I had thought it was just ice and snow. I slowly turned around and looked at the bodies that were hanging. Some of them were on the ground. I couldn't tell if they had been put in front of a firing squad or if they were from the Team House that they said had put up armed resistance. One of them was still moving. I was sure.''
Hassan had also not heard about Hekmat and his mock executions. They would put Hekmat together with Davood Mada'en and Fereydoun A'zami in front of a firing squad three nights in a row. Each time their friends would be killed but the three of them would be brought back to their cells. Then after a few hours they would take them into the interrogation room. On the third night they had executed the other two, and after that Hekmat's hair had suddenly turned all white. No, Hassan hasn't heard that executing is for Assadollahs. Even if they should want to kill Bijan Jazani, one shouldn't turn into Hamed and Assadollah and Rahimi.
The sound of the opening of the door broke my line of thought. A guard had brought lunch. It was rice and yogurt. I didn't have any appetite. I was just waiting for the cigarette after lunch. Once the lunch was cleared, cigarettes were lit. As Mansur was about to light a second one, the guard came in and said, ''Fresh air.''
The ball players took the ball; the rest were pacing the yard in groups of two. I didn't want to talk to anyone. The loudspeaker in the yard started giving the two o'clock news. It was in the summary of the headlines that we heard: ''Sadeq Qotbzadeh was recognized by the central court of the Islamic revolution as the element of corruption on earth and the enemy of God and was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out in the early hours of this morning.''
Hassan was walking toward me. ''They did him. This very morning. Poor one.''
There was a smile on his face. I had felt it correctly. I had been fooled again. What had I done in the last hours of someone who had been sentenced to death? Had he known? And we?
''Yes, Hassan, they did him. This time you and I were also in the lineup of the firing squad. You are right. If we get to power, we will also become Assadollah. But I won't be fooled again.''
The lifeless autumn sun was shinning its very dim rays onto the barbed wires on the walls of the correctional facility.
Source : The Book of Prison, An anthology of Prison Life in the Islamic Republic of Iran, ed. Nasser Mohajer, Noghteh Books, 2001, Vol. 2, p.119-138.
Translated in English by AIT for ABF.