Abdollah Momeni is a student activist who was detained and taken to Evin Prison within days of the June 2009 Presidential election. Last November, he was sentenced to eight years in prison; the term was reduced on appeal to 4 years and 11 months.
Momeni is currently in Ward 350 of Evin, maintained for political prisoners. This letter to Ayatollah Khamenei was written in August and smuggled out of the prison. It has been published in Persian and in English by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
In the Name of God
The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran
During one of my days in detention at Evin Prison, I had the opportunity to hear a televised speech by you. You spoke of the importance of opposing injustice and the need to observe fairness and justice (23 June 2010). That day, I decided to write a letter addressed to you, thinking that perhaps the news about detention centers does not reach you. So you may not know that besides Kahrizak [the site of abuses and killings just after the 2009 elections], at Evin Prison too prisoners are not given even minimal rights, and are subjected to the severest forms of physical and psychological abuses, which are exerted with the aim of character assassination and coercing false confessions.
Further, given that I heard that during the time when I and others like myself were facing the worst kinds of torture intent on forcing us to confess to crimes we had not committed, you took the opportunity at the Prayers on the occasion of Eid al Fitr [September 2009] to say, “Whatever accused persons say about themselves in court is credible.” This is why I decided to write a letter and describe the torture, illegal, and un-Islamic treatment which I have received in prison, so that perhaps I can receive an answer to this question: “Are confessions extracted through the use of such inhumane and unethical methods valid in your view or not?” And so, in the hopes of establishing a truth commission to investigate what I have faced during my incarceration, interrogation, and court hearings, and as a person accused and imprisoned by the Islamic Republic of Iran during your rule, I will recount my experiences. At the same time, I hope that the recounting of these experiences will not end in increased pressures and difficulties during my stay in prison.
Today I am in Evin Prison, because I have been identified as someone who is critical of the Islamic Republic of Iran. As such, it is not irrelevant for me to recount my political views and activities over the last decade. I entered university in 1996 and in the same year joined the Islamic Student Organization and then was elected to Office to Foster Unity (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat) and was a member of the Central Council and served as the Secretary of Tahkim until 2005 when I completed my Masters studies in Sociology at Allameh Tabataie University. From 2005 to the present I have served as a member of the Central Council of the Alumni Organization of University Students of the Islamic Republic (Sazeman-e Danesh Amookhtegan-e Iran-e Islami—Advar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat). I was the spokesperson for this legal organization, which works toward the advancement of democracy and human rights.
During my time as a university student, my colleagues and I were most concerned with the independence of the institution of higher education from the centers of power and political parties and groups, as well as providing criticism of the state in an effort to support the people. My friends and I at the Office to Foster Unity believed that the mandate of the student movement was to facilitate the development of an environment where the historic demands for freedom of the people could be articulated and civil rights defended, despite one’s political and ideological beliefs and leanings. As such, we believed and continue to believe that the student movement should not sing the praises of the power structures and those in power, rather it must offer criticism of those who take advantage of their power, no matter what their background, and it must defend the rights of the people, including women’s rights and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities.
For this reason over the past decade, I have been targeted by those in power and security forces and as a result have experienced prison and solitary confinement on several occasions. Taking into account this arrest, I have spent nearly 200 days in solitary confinement. While my previous incarcerations were not free of pressure and torture, this recent arrest was a different experience, I believe that informing the public and officials about the atrocities of this latest experience is of greatest importance.
Beatings, verbal abuse, and degradation and illegal treatments started at the very moment of my arrest. During my arrest, tear gas was used, which prior to this had only been used in the streets and open air. Breathing tear gas in a confined space made me feel as if I were choking and rendered me unable to move. Still, the security officials did not stop at that. With great spite and hostility they began to beat me, punching and kicking me, so that they could turn me over to their superiors at Evin Prison with a bloody nose, mouth and bleeding teeth and shackled arms and legs. Interestingly enough when I objected to the treatment I received by vowing to launch a complaint against the approximately 20 security officials [who had come to arrest me], they responded with profanity and vile curses against myself and the judge.
Of course this was just a warm-up for the start of my interrogations, where interrogators targeted my body and spirit. From the very beginning, I was faced with this constant proclamation that “the regime has suffered a crack” and the constant promise that “you will all be executed”. The anticipation of the realisation of this promise haunted me for some time and kept me wondering when and if my life would come to an end, especially on the many occasions either during the day or in the middle of the night when, without any explanation, I would be taken from one cell to another or from one ward to another. During the 86 days I spent in solitary confinement I never saw the color of the sky. During the 7 months of my detention in the security wards of 209 and 240 I was only allowed to go into the courtyard on 6 occasions. After my time in solitary confinement and the end of my interrogations and my court hearing, I was only allowed to contact my family every two weeks—calls that lasted only a few moments and during which my interrogator was present.
Allow me to describe the first days of my detention. After being arrested in the manner described above, I was transferred to solitary confinement–cell 101 in Section 209 of Evin prison. Upon entry into the cell I noticed that there were feces under the carpet in the room, so I objected. I was told, “You are not worthy of anything better than this.”
After two days in Section 209, I was taken to Section 240 and transferred to the charge of the Ministry of Intelligence . After this, the conditions of prison became even more difficult and increasingly inhumane. Contrary to the regulations adopted by the Sixth Parliament, and the orders of Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, which required that two solitary confinement cells be combined into one to allow for extra space for prisoners, it seemed that in this Section each cell was divided into two cells reducing space and measuring 1.6 meters by 2.2. The width of the cell was shorter than my height and I could only lay down in one position. There was a metal bucket placed over a sewage hole, to make a makeshift toilet where we could relieve ourselves. A water faucet was placed over this makeshift toilet so that the prisoner would not have to be brought out of his cell for basic needs. Unfortunately, the positioning of this tomb-like cell, which benefited from the deathly silence of the ward, was such that the Qiblih [the direction of prayer] was in the same direction as the makeshift toilet and the distance between this toilet and my prayer position was only a few inches. There was also a light projector which was on 24 hours a day, so as to prevent prisoners from even imagining a good night’s rest. Enduring solitary confinement and difficult and lengthy interrogation sessions was something I had to become accustomed to. But along with solitary confinement, repeated sleepless nights resulting from lengthy interrogation sessions, being forced to stand on one foot for lengthy periods, enduring beatings and being slapped repeatedly were the preferred options in our Section during those days. The pressure and being taunted by interrogators for having refused their demands was so great that at times I would pass out during interrogation sessions.
The iron fist of interrogators would also result in my passing out. On several occasions the interrogator in charge of my case strangled me to the point of me loosing consciousness and falling to the ground. For days following these strangulations, I suffered such severe pain in the neck and throat area, that eating and drinking became unbearable. Of course, the negative impact of torture is not something which prisoners such as I have to contend with alone. At times, the interrogator himself suffers as a result of inflicting torture. I remember during one of my interrogations, after receiving repeated blows to the mouth, the interrogator, who would hit me with the back of his hand, noticed that his fingers had suffered cuts as well.
Interrogators even used my screams and cries which resulted from the beatings I was receiving to taunt other prisoners. Later I heard from some prisoners that during their interrogations, which were purposefully scheduled at the same time as mine [in a different room], they could hear my squealing. It seems that my screams were used to inflict emotional pressure on others.
Based on this account, it is inevitable that the interrogations had only one aim: to break the prisoner and force him to confess to what it was the interrogator wished. When we asked why it was that they used such methods to extract such confessions, we were told, “According to the founder of the Islamic Republic the preservation of the Regime is the foremost obligation”.
In the first month my interrogators would constantly say that “blood has been shed, the regime has suffered a crack, and many of you will be executed” and “ the regime is the plaintiff against you”. During interrogations, whenever I did not respond in accordance with the “ will of the interrogator”, or as he put it “in line with the interests of the regime”, I was told that either I had “to respond as we want you to, or you have to eat and swallow your interrogation form”.
This was not a threat. After refusing these demands, they would force feed the interrogation forms into my mouth. Interestingly enough, once during the month of Ramadan I was forced to eat the interrogation form while I was fasting. Well, when beatings and cursing are routine during the holy nights of Qadr and these nights are not honoured, then it is no wonder that all other behavior is to also be expected.
From the start of the interrogations, I was forced to write against my friends and those close to me and when I resisted, besides being beaten and slapped repeatedly, I was given this response by the interrogator, “You have to write against others so that your own notorious personality is demoralised. ” Perhaps this logic, which was intent on demoralising and breaking me, justified their insistence that I confess to sexual relations and indiscretions which I had not had. When I objected that these accusations were not true, and insisted that I could not implicate myself in a false confession, I would receive beatings and insults and would be told, “We will bring a prostitute to your court hearing to confess against you and say that she had illegitimate sexual relations with you.”
Witnessing the expertise of the interrogators of the Islamic Republic, who are referred to as the unnamed soldiers of the Mahdi (the Messiah), in their use of vulgarities which I could never bring myself to repeat within this letter and some of which I had never heard before, was indeed a painful experience for me. In the continuation of these same interrogation sessions, the interrogator would say, “We will do something to you so severe, that when you hear the name of Section 240 outside of prison, your body will begin to convulse.” I would ask myself, how can a security agency utilize such strategies intent on inflicting fear and such threats to ensure the security of a nation, and what will be the end result of such strategies and tactics? How can you reach justice, by relying on the tactics intent on character assassinations of prisoners as a link in a cycle of torture and repression? How do the standards of forcing false confessions through any means possible in the behavior of law enforcers, correspond with religious, human rights or ethical standards?
In the entire process of interrogation, my interrogators took several opportunities to use derogatory terms and vile language in addressing my late mother, who was a believer and the mother of a martyr. They addressed my wife as a – – – – -, despite the fact that she has sacrificed much, is devoutly religious and was formerly married to my brother who was martyred in the War [and whom I married in line with tradition and custom]. They addressed my sisters and other female relatives in the most vile of manners, by calling them – – – – – -, and insulted them on numerous occasions. The constant use of these derogatory terms and foul language by those who present themselves as the defenders of the Islamic Regime also targeted my martyred brother — our families sacrifice for our nation– whom they addressed as a hypocrite and enemy.
Not only are interrogators disrespectful toward ordinary prisoners, they disrespect former and current government officials. On many occasions I witnessed how they used insulting and derogatory terms to address officials such as Hojatoleslam Seyed Hassan Khomeini (as a cheeky child, with morality issues) Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (as corrupt), Mir Hossein Mousavi (as the imposter and Islamic Anti-christ), Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karroubi (immoral and corrupt) and Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami (immoral and, by naming some pious women, they would claim that he was involved in relations with them), and Ayatollah Mousavi Khoiniha (seditious). Despite the fact that I had not even met some of these officials, they wanted me to speak against them in court. With respect to Mr. Karoubi and Mr. Abullah Nouri, they wanted me to use foul language against them in court. With respect to Ayatollah Mousavi Khoiniha, they told me to mention in my court hearing by name and say that he had played a central role in the recent unrest and had served as the main coordinator and director of these developments.
It should be noted that in the most polite of references to these individuals and figures, the interrogators would still address them disrespectfully. For example, they referred to Mr. Hashemi (Rafsanjani) as “Akbar Shah” and vowed to imprison these former and current officials as well. It seems as if the desire of the interrogator pre-empts the wishes and will of the judiciary as well and is more powerful than the law. Interrogators claimed that they were in fact the ones who issued court rulings. Perhaps it is important to note that the judge in charge of my case (Judge Salavati) had explained to me that “if the interrogators are satisfied with you, we will free you”. This statement in and of itself reflects the level of independence enjoyed by judges and court officials.
I pointed to pressures intent on forcing me to confess to sexual relations and crimes implicating myself. In order to be precise, I will describe one of my interrogation sessions focused on such issues, which was conducted in a cell. Perhaps this vile example of the pressures I faced can be measured and compared to ethical standards, standards of fairness, and standards of religious piety and the path of Islam. On one occasion interrogators came to me in a small cell and asked, “Have you decided to confess?”
“In relation to what issue?” I asked.
“Your sexual indiscretions,” they replied. “Tell us about all of these indiscretions, and take the pressures off yourself, and also tell us about all the indiscretions of others you know about.” They told me untruths about the sexual indiscretions of some of the other prisoners, including former government officials, and claimed that some political activists had confessed to having illegal sexual relations. Later I found that this was a dirty tactic which the interrogators greatly relied on. These tactics were especially used after the election and, in particular, in efforts to pressure the better known figures they had arrested. For example, they claimed that one the leading reformist figures repeatedly had relations with married women.
Under those conditions, where there was intense pressure on me to confess to having illegitimate relations, so that I could help myself, I kept insisting that I had been faithful to my wife. I explained that I had told the head interrogator that these tactics would not resolve any problems and that you should not enter into these types of allegations in interrogations. They replied by claiming that they wanted me to confess so that I could demonstrate my honesty and willingness to be cooperative. If I write these confessions down on paper, they claimed, I would receive a reduced sentence in court. Otherwise, they insisted “we will intensify pressures.” They further claimed that my confession in this respect was of no use to them because “we know everything already and this confession will only help your own case”.
They said that they would leave me be for a while, but that they would return, and advised me to use the time to give their demand some thought while keeping in mind the consequences of not complying and to therefore write what is being requested of me. I explained that my response was clear and so they slapped me forcefully several times. They left the cell, and during my time alone, I vowed to God that I would not succumb to these pressures and would not write anything in contradiction but the truth. I wrote, “I have not had any sexual indiscretions” on the interrogation form they had left behind.
With great anxiety I waited for their return. After a while they returned and asked if I had written what I was asked to write. I explained that I had written what I had previously told them I would write. They took the interrogation form and read it. They stormed toward me and began kicking, punching, and repeatedly slapping me. They cursed at me and my family and after a good beating, while cursing at me and belittling me, they said, “We will prove to you that you are a bastard child and that you are the result of illegitimate relations.”
These words made me angry and I responded by fighting. They forced my head down the toilet. They shoved my head so far down the toilet that I swallowed feces and began to choke. They pulled my head out of the toilet and said that they would leave and come back at night and that I had been provided this time to confess to my sexual indiscretions. They claimed that I had to “explain fully who I had had sexual relations with, when, how and where”. They even demanded that I falsely confess to being raped as a child. On many occasions I was threatened with the prospects of being raped with a bottle or a stick. This was so extreme that, for example, the interrogator of the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic would vow that he “we will shove a stick in your rear so far that even 100 carpenters won’t be able to extract it”. He would also claim that: “we have informed some web-based sites about your sexual indiscretions and these details will be widely distributed via Bluetooth and CDs”.
In this description of what I have endured lies a regretful truth, which demonstrates that the officers and law enforcers of a regime that claims to be based on religious principles, have indeed lost their moral compass. Remembering the details of all of this is indeed a tormenting exercise for me in and of itself and I will not delve further into these details. I only want to demonstrate what kind of pressures a prisoner in Evin must face before he agrees to confess to crimes that he has never committed. I only want to ask, given these tactics and treatments, haven’t the law enforcement officials and the rulers of the current government of the Islamic Republic failed the test of justice, morality, and humanity?
This is not the first time such things have happened, and public opinion had understood these realities when the tactics used in the interrogation of Saeed Emami’s wife were revealed. [Saeed Emami was a Deputy Minister of Intelligence who was charged with the murders of dissidents in 1999 and supposed committed suicide in prison.] These latest incidents, however, and the methods used in the interrogation of political prisoners following the elections in 2009, demonstrate that what Saeed Emami’s wife endured in interrogation was not an isolated event [by the security system], rather they demonstrate the lack of intent in stopping and ending these illegal actions in our nation. My interrogators would constantly insist, “With the support of the Supreme Leader we are intent on using any means for achieving our goals and we recognize no limits in reaching our aims. We will use all strategies to force critics to accept what we tell them, and we are doing this toward the aim of defending the regime. Not only are these tactics legitimate, they are obligatory.”
….It is clear for me that these interrogators do not adhere to any ideology or religion, and it is only their own presence in the power structure and the benefits derived from this presence that motivates them, as well as the hatred they harbuor within, which justifies their commitment to carrying out such inhumane assignments.
Leader of the Islamic Republic
Lies have become customary in our society and they are in service to the rulers. In prison too they are used as tools by the interrogators. Lies and deception serve as the basis for all strategies employed by interrogators. For example, with respect to the situation and atmosphere in society [following election unrest], the interrogators would feed lies and false analysis to prisoners intent on demoralizing them and their spirits. For example, after the Qods Day demonstrations [September 2009] they came to us and claimed, “Only 50 people had come to the demonstrations and that Mr. Khatami had been beaten up by the public only to be rescued by security officials.” Or they would claim that the public was so angry with Mousavi that his security detail had to be expanded that the public would not take to murdering him. In my own court hearing for example, it was mentioned that I had traveled to Germany to take part in a training on how to bring about a velvet revolution designed to overthrow the state. This claim was made despite the fact that my passport had been confiscated by the Ministry of Intelligence several years ago and I have never travelled to any countries in the West.
The interrogators worked hard to claim that the solitary confinement cell was indeed Paradise and their courts were the court of divine justice, and they would insist that we should confess to our crimes like we would on Judgement Day and in the presence of God. The difference is that on Judgment Day others speak against the person, but in solitary confinement and under the pressure of interrogation and under physical and emotional pressure it is the prisoner who is forced to falsely confess against themselves so that perhaps they could free themselves of the iron fists of the interrogators. To recreate such a paradise, the interrogators would on many occasions beat prisoners in adjoining cells, so that besides our own pressures and beatings and tortures, we would have suffer through the painful screams of those being assaulted—and in this way they wanted to remind of divine suffering in this paradise of theirs.
These are the treatments that are doled out to those who are critical or opposed to the regime. All this treatment is carried out in the framework of a religious regime, justified by claims of protecting the state. And such a regime, with this type of religious interpretation, does indeed not leave any space for the expression of objection or opposition — even opposition or criticism expressed within the limits of what the law allows. This is happening despite the fact that the rule of the Prophet Mohammad was based on tolerance and kindness toward the public.
As I have described, I was under great pressure to confess in court against myself, my friends and colleagues within various groups and political institutions with which I was involved or with which I had relations. In particular, I was pressured to provide false testimony in court against Mr. Mehdi Karroubi, whom I had supported during the tenth presidential election.
Following these abuses, 86 days in solitary confinement and 50 days of being completely out of touch with the outside world, lack of access to my family, lack of phone privileges or visits (which resulted in everyone outside of prison wondering whether I was actually still alive), and after practicing my lines with the interrogator to ensure I made statements implicating myself, I appeared for my court hearing. I appeared in court despite the fact that I was not allowed to have a lawyer of my own choosing representing me. I was not interested in giving the impression that the court hearing was indeed legitimate by accepting the services of a public defender — a defender who would have to be fully approved by interrogators and who I would be required to fully cooperate with. This was a court after all, where my testimony was dictated to me by my interrogators beforehand. The interrogators had falsely promised me that if I read the testimony they had prepared during my court hearing, they would release me by the end of September 2009.
But freedom was not my motivation for reading their statement in court and implicating myself in confessions. I was only looking for a way to free myself of the constant physical and emotional torture that was being inflicted upon me in prison. I was seeking to free myself from the iron fists of the interrogators. I was hoping that in this way I could avoid starting each day with the vilest insults launched at me and my family. I was hoping that I would not have my head jammed into the toilet bowl in order to extract a false confession. I was hoping to free myself of the constant beatings, punches, kicks, and slaps of the interrogator. I was looking to free myself of the constant threats of execution and other promised acts of violence against me. I was hoping to put an end to the dirty tactics used to force me to confess to sexual indiscretions I had not committed.
It was such that I went to court and read the statement that the interrogators had prepared for me. In court, I tried to read the statement, so it would be readily apparent that it had been dictated to me. I had to confess against myself and read a prepared statement as my defense, a defense which was more like an indictment against me. I did this without believing in what I was saying. Believe me, even those who are guilty do not enjoy confessing in court and in front of the public.
But the experience in Evin and the eventful interrogations orchestrated by the Ministry of Intelligence pushes a person to the breaking point, so that he agrees finally to confess against himself, even a false confession. It is a fact that these false confessions are then used by the court system and judges, as a basis for the issuance of verdicts and sentences. This cooperation between the court and interrogators takes place despite the fact that on many occasions I personally witnessed how interrogators insulted and cursed the judges and prosecutors. The interrogators believe that the judge and prosecutors play no roles in the issuance of sentences and their opinions do not count. Interrogators believe that they are the ones who decide for the judicial system and for the regime as a whole.
With respect to the lack of independence of the judiciary and the judges, I will only point to the first meeting I had with the Head Prosecutor Mr. Doulatabadi. It should be noted that the crux of pressure and torture I endured occurred during the period of the former prosecutor [Saeed Mortazavi], and my meeting with Mr. Jafari Dolatabadi took place five months after my arrest and after my court hearing. As such, I did not expect much to come of the meeting. But still, the interrogator in our interrogation session prior to the meeting with Mr. Dolatabadi insisted that I need not mention the circumstances of my time in detention and interrogation. The interrogator said, “The prosecutor is a nobody and that I am the one who decides.” The interrogator told me that in my meeting with the prosecutor I should not demand the services of a lawyer. In the end and to my disbelief, my interrogator was present during my meeting with the prosecutor — the same interrogator who had tortured me, and the experience of this torture over several months was more tangible than all other possibilities. So it was only natural that under these circumstances I did not have much to say to the prosecutor.
Isn’t the show of power by the security apparatus in opposing the will of the people, and their elevated position in the decision making process in related to policies of repression and control of political and social developments, a testament to the declining legitimacy of the state? And doesn’t it bring to mind the increased dependence of the government on the machinery of apparatus of tyranny?
Haven’t our rulers yet reached the belief that the use of force for ensuring their rule is an obsolete strategy? Do they still view repression as the appropriate response to objection, protest, opposition and the demand of rights by the public?
More than 400 days have passed since my arrest. Despite having been released on a heavy bail order for a short period prior to the New Year’s holidays in March, I was returned to prison for refusing to succumb to the demands of my interrogators to continue confessing to crimes against myself and others while on furlough. I just want to inform all that I continue to hold the same beliefs that I had prior to my arrest and I remain true to those beliefs. As explained earlier, the statement I read in court and under pressure does not represent my beliefs.
Our crime has been and continues to be the fact that we believe reform and democracy to be the most appropriate strategies for improving the conditions of our nation. Our crime is that we advocated limits on the boundless powers of undemocratic institutions. My question is this: is the act of supporting the demands of the Iranian nation for democracy deserving of such inhumane and unjust treatment? Have we not reached the point of accepting that the expression of beliefs of individuals or groups should not be subjected to persecution?
In cases where torture has been proven to have taken place, is the expectation that the torturer be brought to trial, an unrealistic expectation? If we are to rid ourselves of injustice and those who carry out injustices, then bringing torturers to trial can be an important step in promoting effective strategies for implementing justice. Reducing injustice and despotism can facilitate the implementation of justice and the rule of law.
In the end, I do not know what the aim and logic of the torture inflicted upon me and my family was. I do not even expect a response to this question, because the “elders can discern that which is in the best interest of their nation”. What I do know and believe is that these behaviours do not correspond with the concepts of justice and fairness nor are they justifiable by law or through religious teachings. I continue to hope that with the establishment of a truth commission we will be freed from these clear examples of injustice and move closer to justice.