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The Islamic Republic

What better proof of guilt than a confession straight from the mouth of the guilty.
Ettela'at, 4 May 1982

Summary Justice (February 1979-June 1981)

In the very first days of the new regime, Khomeini set up Revolutionary Tribunals to punish prominent members of the old regime, restore the sharia, and preserve some semblance of law and order since the whole judiciary, including the law enforcement system, was in complete disarray. In the next twenty-eight months, the Revolutionary Tribunals executed 757 for "sowing corruption on earth"—a term not heard in Iranian courts since 1909.[1] When one defenant had the impertinence to inquire about its meaning, the judge retorted: "It means spreading wretchedness; depriving people of their rights and freedoms; and undermining the independence, security, and well-being of the country."[2]

The tribunals also reintroduced corporal punishment, especially public flogging. The avowed aim was to "cleanse society of the putrefied vestiges of the tyrannical regime [rezhim-e taghuti ]." These punishments, as well as the executions, were carried out by local komitehs and their militias, known as pasdars (guards). The komitehs resembled the soviets and the Red Guards of the Bolshevik Revolution—with the significant dif-


ference that the soviets had been elected from below whereas the komitehs were appointed from above by the clergy, especially Khomeini.

Those executed can be divided into political and nonpolitical victims. The latter, totaling 260, included 138 drug dealers, 47 pimps and fornicators, 20 homosexuals, 16 prostitutes, 15 rapists, 12 murderers, 7 gamblers, and 3 highway robbers. The former, totaling 497, were prominent royalists, SAVAK officials, military personnel implicated in the recent street shootings, and 125 noncommissioned officers accused of plotting a royalist coup. Among the victims were the prime minister, Hoveida; 6 cabinet ministers, including the minister of education, the only woman to have held a cabinet post, who was charged with "corrupting youth" and "favoring cultural imperialism"; the 3 surviving directors of SAVAK; 3 elderly statesmen from the secretive Freemasons; 35 generals; 25 colonels; 20 majors; the mayor of Tehran; some 90 SAVAK officials; Nikkhah, the Maoist who had become an outspoken supporter of the regime; a leading Jewish businessman; and 35 Bahais—they, as well as the Jewish businessman and the Freemasons, were accused of "spying" for Zionism and Western imperialism.

Revolutionary Tribunals were set up in the major towns with two in the capital—in Qasr and in Evin. Their presiding judges were clerics appointed by Khomeini himself. They gave final pronouncements bypassing what remained of the Justice Ministry and its appeal system. Khomeini also created a traveling tribunal for Hojjat al-Islam Khalkhali, who was known as the "Hanging Ayatollah." These judges limited trials to brief hours, sometimes minutes; found defendants guilty on the basis of "popular repute"; and dismissed the concept of defense attorney as a "Western absurdity." They also explained that the term "sowing corruption on earth" covered a host of sins—"insulting Islam and the clergy," "opposing the Islamic Revolution," "supporting the Pahlavis," and "undermining Iran's independence" by helping the 1953 coup and giving capitulatory privileges to the imperial powers.[3] With the outbreak of unrest among Kurds, Baluchis, and Turkmans, the tribunals created a new


category—that of "counterrevolutionary." More than fifty prisoners were executed in 1980 under this category. Some were Marxist radicals supporting the ethnic minorities.

No time was wasted between trial and execution. Most executions were by firing squad. The first took place on the roof of a girls' school where Khomeini had taken up residence on his arrival in Tehran. Later ones took place inside Qasr and Evin. Some nonpolitical executions were done by public hanging. Khalkhali liked to hang drug dealers in soccer stadiums and public squares to give the population "a clear example ['ebrat ]."[4] The newspapers printed photos of officials killed by firing squad to strike terror and to cater to the widespread call for revenge. In some provincial towns, traditional forms of executions were revived for moral offenses. Khalkhali declared, "Stoning provides the public with a clear example."[5]

The newspapers summarized the political trials, displaying front-page pictures of the defendants with forlorn looks—sometimes with neck placards specifying their presumed crimes. They gave prominence to the trials of two notorious SAVAK interrogators; a military judge who in the 1950s had sentenced to death the Tudeh officers and the Fedayan-e Islam leaders; the chief of staff who had helped to organize the 1953 coup; and the generals responsible for the 1963 bloodshed and the subsequent deportation of Khomeini—one was targeted for having slandered him as a "British agent." The last royal air force commander was quoted as declaring in his final testimony that he had lost all respect for the Shah when he had witnessed a visiting American general "pick him up by the nose and throw him out of Iran (like a dead mouse)."[6]

Hoveida's trial received the most coverage. The judge—unnamed and unseen by the cameras—began by declaring that the defendant epitomized the satanic regime whereas the prosecution represented the valiant Iranian people.[7] The charges included conspiring with imperialism, capitulating to foreign powers, spying for Zionism, auctioning off national resources, rigging elections, censoring newspapers, joining the Freemasons, selling drugs, converting the country into a market for


American agribusinesses, and siding with the West against Vietnam and Palestine.

Khalkhali later revealed that he had presided over Hoveida's trial. He also revealed that he had dispatched Hoveida to his execution after severing communication links between Evin and the outside world to prevent any last-minute intercession on his behalf by Mehdi Bazargan, the provisional prime minister. Hoveida had sought the opportunity to write his memoirs for posterity. In summarizing the trial, the papers described Hoveida as a notorious kha'in (traitor) eager to distance himself from SAVAK and the Shah. Although these trials were clearly designed to discredit the old order, the newborn regime lacked the means and the patience, and perhaps the desire, to extract recantations and public confessions. Khalkhali acknowledged that "only one prominent royalist expressed any form of remorse for his crimes."[8]

An Evin inmate writes that during the revolutionary upheavals angry crowds had dismantled the interrogation chambers. He adds that in this early period "few were tortured—unless by torture we mean detention without formal charges, trials without defence lawyers, the constant presence of death, and hasty executions after three-minute hearings."[9] Another inmate writes that immediately after the revolution, Hajj Aga Mohammad Kachouyi, the new Evin warden and himself a former political prisoner, had improved living conditions by permitting radios, newspapers, and books—even Marxist ones; upgrading the quality of food; and relying less on blindfolds and the whip. "He resorted occasionally to the fist but not to systematic torture—neither physical nor psychological."[10] The same inmate adds that in this period he never once heard the sinister terms tavvab (to repent), towab (repenter), or tavvabin (repenters). Some dub this the "Spring of the Islamic Revolution." Royalists—who made up the bulk of the inmates in this early period—have generalized from their limited experiences to draw misleading conclusions.[11] Consequently, Western readers of these royalist memoirs often come away with a fairly benign picture of prison life in the Islamic Republic.


The prison diary of a Peykar leader illustrates the interrogation techniques used in this early period.[12] The leader, Mohsen Fazel, was a graduate of an American university and a veteran of the guerrilla movement against the Shah. He was arrested in January 1981 on his way to Syria to reestablish contact with the Palestine resistance movement. He was placed in solitary in Evin for 139 days—most of the time in complete silence without reading materials. He preserved his sanity by exercising, tapping Morse code messages to the neighboring cells, composing poetry in his mind, and keeping a diary on orange peels and smuggled-in papers. In his diary, he often mentions he had not been "physically tortured" but had been constantly threatened with execution unless he denounced his organization in a public "interview" (mosahebeh). His ordeal did not end until June 1981, when, in the midst of the new reign of terror, he—along with many others—was dispatched to the firing squads.

The absence of physical torture and forced confessions was obvious in three highly publicized political trials—those of Taqi Shahram, Mohammad-Reza Sa'adati, and Amir-Abbas Entezam. Shahram, a prominent Maoist, was tried in 1980 for the 1974 killing of a rival guerrilla leader. Sa'adati, a Mojahed in charge of his organization's foreign contacts, was picked up outside the Soviet Embassy and accused of being a Russian spy. Entezam, Bazargan's deputy premier, was arraigned as a CIA spy after the famous student hostage-takers found documents in the U.S. Embassy describing Entezam's meetings with American diplomats and his misgivings about the course taken by the revolution. Bazargan pleaded in vain that he had assigned Entezam the task of meeting American officials and that most of his cabinet ministers had similar misgivings about the course taken by the revolution.[13]

The three were held in solitary confinement for months on end and then offered plea bargains. They would receive light sentences if they gave public interviews denouncing their organizations and political views. All three refused. The judge evicted Shahram from his own trial when the latter questioned


the legitimacy of the tribunal and declared that only his peers from the guerrilla movement had the moral standing to pass judgment. Sa'adati accused the regime of trying to link the Mojahedin to the Soviet Union and argued that he, as the Mojahedin leader responsible for foreign relations, had been assigned the task of exchanging views with Soviet correspondents. The judge retorted that he had no business exchanging views with a "non-Muslim," especially one representing an "imperial power." Similarly, Entezam dismissed the charges against him as blatantly absurd and accused the regime of trying to link him to the United States.

Shahram was executed without the opportunity to speak to his family—not to mention the press. He became the first prominent leftist to be executed by the new regime. Entezam was sentenced to life; he remained in prison for more than sixteen years. Sa'adati was sentenced to ten years but served less than ten months. He was to be one of the first to be shot in the reign of terror unleashed in June 1981.

Reign of Terror (June 1981–July 1988)

The Mojahedin attempt to overthrow the regime in June 1981 set off waves of repression unprecedented in Iranian history. Between June and November 1981, the Revolutionary Tribunals executed 2,665 political prisoners—seven times the number of royalists killed in the previous sixteen months. The slain included 2,200 Mojaheds and 400 leftists—mostly from Marxist groups that had opposed the Mojahedin uprising. The government boasted it had arrested 90 percent of the Mojahedin and utterly uprooted two important Marxist groups—Peykar and the Minority Fedayi.[14]

The death toll continued to climb, reaching 5,000 by August 1983 and 12,500 by June 1985. According to a martyrs' list compiled by the Mojahedin, between June 1981 and June 1985, 12,028 lost their lives—74 percent through executions, 22 percent in armed confrontations, and 4 percent under torture.[15] The executions—with the exception of 250 hangings—were by


firing squad. Only a handful were carried out in public—and these were done mostly in provincial towns. The regime found it expedient to carry out political executions out of public sight.

Of the total of 7,943 executed, 6,472 belonged to the Mojahedin; 350, to the Fedayi; 255, to Peykar; 101, to the Kurdish Democratic party; 70, to the Kurdish Kumaleh; 66, to the Union of Communists; 60, to Rah-e Kargar; 33, to the Ranjbaran party; 21, to Tofan; and 76, to smaller Marxist organizations (Red Star, Poyan Group, Union of Communist Militants, Nabard Group, Razmandegan party, Arman-e Mostazafin, and the Union for the Liberation of Labor). Another 18 belonged to Forqan, a religious but highly anticlerical group. Thus the toll taken from the left was far greater than that from the royalists. This revolution—like many others—had devoured its own children.

Those who were executed were almost all youngsters. But there were some subtle social differences between the Mojahedin and the Marxist dead. The former were mostly high school pupils, recent high school graduates, and college students. The latter were mostly college students and university graduates. Of the 4,995 Mojahedin executed whose educations are known, 1,362 (27%) were high school pupils; 1,809 (36%) were high school graduates, mostly recent graduates; and 1,290 (26%) were college students. Only 359 (7%) were college graduates. Of the Marxists whose educations are known, 132 (24%) were college graduates; 158 (29%) were college students; and 144 (28%) were high school graduates. Only 84 (15%) were high school pupils. Of the Mojahedin dead whose age is known, more than 76 percent were under twenty-six years old, and 20 percent of them were under twenty. Women constituted more than 14 percent of the Mojahedin but less than 8 percent of the Marxist victims. (See table 6.)

Shahrnush Parsipour—a prominent writer picked up for having subversive literature in her car trunk and incarcerated for four and a half years—estimates that in late 1981 the average age of her ward mates was nineteen and a half.[16] She also estimates that 80 percent were high school pupils, 15 percent


Table 6
Occupations of the Executed, 1981–85 *



Marxists **

College Graduates***



Secondary school teachers









Civil servants






College Students



High School Graduates



Primary school teachers



Civil servants






Seminary students



Armed forces












High School Students



Without High School Diplomas











Armed forces












* Includes those executed by firing squad and hanging, but excludes those killed in armed confrontations and under torture.

** Excludes the Tudeh and the Kurdish Kumaleh.

*** Not all occupations of college and high school graduates are known.


were university students, and the rest were young professionals—teachers, nurses, and civil servants. Those over thiry, like herself, were deemed old. She says, "June 1981 had truly been a revolt of high school kids." She adds that whereas the leftists came from urban families, the Mojahedin were the children of recent arrivals from the countryside.

The list compiled by the Mojahedin, however, is not complete. It implicitly excludes some repenters, who, despite collaborating with the regime, were nevertheless executed. It also explicitly excludes 128 Bahais, 9 Jews, and 32 Tudeh and Majority Fedayis on the grounds that they had "not actively struggled against the Islamic Republic and therefore could not be seen as true martyrs of the New Iranian Revolution." These organizations have published their own book of martyrs. Of course, none list the unknown but substantial number executed for such nonpolitical offenses as smuggling and drug trafficking.

By the time the Islamic Republic unleashed this reign of terror, it had put in place a new judiciary and an extensive prison network with an interrogation system. The judiciary was thoroughly Islamicized, undoing the work of three generations. While Revolutionary Tribunals continued to handle political and drug cases, the Justice Ministry completely revamped the criminal, civil, and family courts. Seminary training was required of all magistrates—from the Supreme Court down to the lowest local and family courts. Reza Shah had purged the clerics from the judiciary; the Islamic Republic now purged the modern-trained lawyers. The sharia was declared the law of the land, and regulations in conflict with it were to be scrapped. What is more, the new constitution set up a Guardian Council packed with clerics to ensure that all bills passed by the Majles conformed to the sharia.

The First Islamic Majles and the Guardian Council promptly codified important features of the sharia by passing two landmark bills: the Qanon-e Ta'zir (Discretionary Punishment Law) and the Qanon-e Qesas (Retribution Law). The Ta'zir Law gives judges the authority to execute and imprison those found guilty


of "declaring war on God" and "plotting with foreign powers." It also gives them the power to mete out as many as seventy-four lashes to those who "insult government officials," "convene unlawful meetings," sell alcoholic beverages, fix prices, hoard goods, kiss illicitly, fail to wear the proper hejab (headgear), and, last but not least, "lie to the authorities."

The last is especially pertinent for the interrogation process. Clerical interrogators can give indefinite series of seventy-four lashings until they obtain "honest answers." In fact, the interrogation chambers—including the notorious block 209 of Evin—have been renamed Otaqha-ye Ta'zir (Discretionary Punishment Rooms). The prisoners are asked questions. If their answers are not satisfactory, they can be lawfully whipped for "lying." In theory, this punishment should come after a proper law court has found them guilty of perjury. But the line between interrogation and trial is hazy as the same clerics wear three different turbans—prosecutor, judge, and interrogator. According to the new law, interrogators with proper theological credentials are entitled to lash until the guilty "confess the truth." Playing on the multiple meanings of hadd (limit, extent, and divine punishment), the prisoners dub the process "whipping until the hadd confession is obtained.

Meanwhile, the Qesas Law codifies other aspects of the sharia. It subdivides crimes into hadd—those against God—and those against fellow beings, especially other families. Some punishments are mandatory; others, discretionary. Based on the notion of talion, the Qesas Law calls for "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life"—but with the understanding that a Muslim is more valuable than a non-Muslim, and a Muslim man more valuable than a Muslim woman.[17] Serious offenses against God—apostasy, fornication, homosexuality, and habitual drinking—mandate death by hanging, stoning, or decapitaion. Lesser offenses—such as theft—call for flogging, finger amputation, and, as a concession to modernity, imprisonment. In cases of homicide, relatives can participate in the actual execution or, if they so choose, accept monetary compensation in lieu of life.


For some capital crimes, judges need "two honest and righteous male witnesses," one such male plus two such females, or one such male and a sworn oath—which presumably could mean a "voluntary confession" from the defendant or, even more novel and ominous, a confession plus the judge's own 'elm (knowledge or reasoning). Judges can reduce the sentences if they feel the criminal has "sincerely confessed" and "genuinely repented." As one secular critic has observed, the Qesas Law discriminates against women, against non-Muslims, and against the poor. It revives horrific corporal punishments. It assumes parts of the human body can be converted into money. It threatens to create an army of handicapped victims. And it "paves the way for judicial torture" by permitting the use of confessions.[18]

The new laws modify the sharia in three significant ways. First, the state retains ultimate power over life and death. Whereas the sharia—in its pure form—had given local judges final say, a new High Court reviews death sentences passed by lower magistrates. The appeals system—anathema to many traditionalists—has been accepted. The regime justifies this innovation by claiming provincial judges need yet more time to obtain proper legal training. Second, the concept of circumstantial evidence has been recognized, albeit under the rubric of "the judge's reasoning." Third, long-term imprisonment—an alien concept in traditional law—has been introduced as a legitimate form of "discretionary punishment." Diehard traditionalists, however, continue to prefer corporal punishments. As one Imam Jom'eh argued, Islam prefers the "whip to prison" because the former deters crime whereas the latter invariably transforms petty wrongdoers into hardened criminals.[19] The same cleric continued with the ominous qualifier that "whereas female apostates should be imprisoned until they returned to Islam, males apostates should be executed without hesitation."[20] This was a portent of things to come.

While the judiciary was being Islamicized, the prison system was centralized and drastically expanded. Prisons—previously administered separately by SAVAK, the urban police, and the


gendarmerie—were entrusted to a supervisory council of three clerics.[21] This council administered the main prisons with the help of wardens, pasdars, and clerical magistrates.

In Tehran, political dissidents were kept in four major prisons. Evin was enlarged with two new blocks containing six wards and six hundred solitary cells. It could now accommodate an additional 6,000 inmates. The Komiteh was renamed—not back to its Falakeh designation but to the more modern-sounding Prison No. 3,000. Colloquially it became known as the Komiteh-e Towhidi (Monotheistic Committee). Qezel Hesar, on the road to Karaj, was expanded and used mostly for political prisoners. Its gateway displayed the slogan "The Prison for Counterrevolutionaries—History's Garbage Dump." Finally, Gohar Dasht, started by the Shah, was completed as a three-floor compound with hundreds of solitary cells and large wards housing more than 8,000 inmates. It was reputed to be the largest penitentiary in the Middle East.[22] Qasr—Iran's Bastille—was now used solely for common criminals. Of course, these prisons contained separate wards for women. During the 1981 panic in Tehran, many mosques, schools, barracks, soccer stadiums, and even the Majles building were converted into temporary detention centers.

In theory, Evin was itself a detention center for those awaiting trial. After trial, those with long sentences were transferred to Qezel Hesar; those with shorter ones, to Gohar Dasht. In reality, Evin served as a regular prison as many waited years before being brought to trial. Moreover, prominent prisoners often served their entire sentences in Evin. In Tehran, political executions were carried out mostly in Evin and Gohar Dasht.

In the provinces—especially in Tabriz, Mashed, Isfahan, Shiraz, Hamadan, Sanandaj, and Kermanshah—prisoners were herded into the existing city prisons. The summer palace in Sari was transformed into a vast detention center. Tabriz was given a new city prison—built by repenters.[23] Despite the new construction, all prisons were seriously overcrowded by 1983. Komiteh, built for 500, had 1,500 inmates; Evin, built for 1,200, had 15,000; Qezel Hesar, built for 10,000, had 15,000; and Go-


har Dasht, built for 8,000, had 16,000. Meanwhile, Qasr, which had housed 1,500 in 1978, had more than 6,000—all of them nonpolitical prisoners.[24]

Many of the prison wardens had themselves been political prisoners. Prominent among them was Sayyed Assadollah Ladjevardi, a former bazaar draper who had served time in Evin for trying to blow up the offices of El Al. In 1979, he was appointed the chief prosecutor of Tehran. And in June 1981, when Kachouyi was assassinated, he was given the added post of warden of Evin. He liked to be addressed as "Hajj Aqa," and boasted he was so proud of Evin that he had brought his family to live there. Some caustically remarked that SS commandants too had housed their families near concentration camps. Ladjevardi became notorious as the "Butcher of Evin." He was temporarily removed from his post in 1984, but he and his family continued to reside there to avoid assassination. Likewise, Hajj Davoud Rahmani, the warden of Qezel Hesar, was a former blacksmith from the Tehran bazaar. Before the revolution, he had served time in Qezel Hesar where he had worked as a cook.

The jailers were pasdars attached to local komitehs and the Revolutionary Tribunals. For the most part, the interrogators were young clerics and seminary students. It was rumored they had been trained by former SAVAK officials, but, in fact, there were few holdovers from the previous regime. The new interrogators did not need professional training. One—who specialized in interrogating Mojaheds—was a theology student who had seen his father, a cleric, assassinated by the Mojahedin. Another was a medical student who had participated in the U.S. Embassy takeover and had been given a crash course on theology to qualify as a religious magistrate.[25]

In the panic days of June 1981, the prison authorities readily resorted to brute force to extract information about hidden weapons, printing presses, and safe houses, as well as the identities of party leaders, members, and sympathizers. They were convinced that the regime's very existence was threatened by the fifth column allied to the all-powerful imperialists, espe-


cially the United States and the Soviet Union. The Iraqi war added further immediacy. They were also determined to forestall a 1953-style coup. As Hojjat al-Islam Khamenei declared, "We are not liberals like Mossadeq and Allende whom the CIA can easily snuff out. We are willing to take drastic action to preserve our newborn Islamic Republic."[26]

Although the initial intention was to unearth underground organizations, the regime continued to use torture well after weathering the 1981 storm. It did so increasingly to obtain public confessions, political recantations, and even ideological conversions. In the words of one former prisoner, "The regime had one overriding aim from the moment it arrested us. It was to force us to reject our beliefs and show that its lashes were stronger than our ideals."[27]

The mentalité of the interrogators readily led to this end. In their eyes, the survival of the Islamic Republic—and therefore of Islam itself—justified the means used. They could now present confessions as legal evidence. Had not Khomeini himself declared confessions to be the best proof of guilt? They considered prisoners by definition to be guilty. Why, otherwise, would they be in prison? Even if not "objectively guilty," they were "subjectively guilty" since their minds had been "contaminated" with alien "ideologies" and their hearts harbored ill will toward the Islamic Republic. One prisoner who survived both SAVAK and Ladjevardi adds that the new wardens were determined to extract recantations because they themselves in the 1970s had submitted to the Shah their own "dishonorable letters of regret."[28] The leftists had mocked these as "shit-eating letters."

Moreover, the new laws condoned judicial torture—in reality, if not in name. Even though the Constitution of the Islamic Republic explicitly outlawed shekanjeh (torture) and the use of coerced confessions, the Ta'zir Law did allow corporal punishments and voluntary confessions. The Pahlavis had used shekanjeh; the Islamic Republic forbade shekanjeh but condoned ta'zir. The new regime has often told UN delegations that ta'zir should not be equated with torture because it is sanctioned by


the sharia and administered by qualified magistrates.[29] Victims may have trouble distinguishing shekanjeh from ta'zir; Foucault would have found the distinction highly significant.

Furthermore, "honest repentance" can lessen the punishment in this as well as in the next world. According to Ladjevardi, the Islamic Republic has converted prisons into "rehabilitation centers" and "ideological schools" where inmates study Islam, learn their errors, and do penance before returning to society. In short, prison and physical punishment can transform "deviants" into proper "human beings" (adam ). He went on to boast that the Islamic Republic is the very first state in history to have converted prisons into universities.[30] Little did he know that on the eve of the Moscow trials, Vyshinsky, Stalin's chief prosecutor, had published with much fanfare a scholarly treatise entitled From Prisons to Educational Institutions .

Stage Preparations

By late 1981, the prison wardens had put in place a routine procedure for interrogating incoming inmates. If not overly pressured for time, they placed them in solitary cells and, providing them with paper, ballpoint, and sometimes printed questionnaires, sought information on relatives, friends, and neighbors, as well as on their own lives and political leanings. Their key question here as well as later was: "Are you willing to give us an interview [mosahebeh ]?"

After the initial interrogation, the prisoner would be taken to the taz'ir chambers for fuller confessions of crimes—real or imagined—and, most important of all, videotaped interviews. Constraints of time and solitary cells sometimes necessitated the skipping of the initial stage. If the interrogator in the ta'zir chamber was a mere layman, he would have telephone contact with clerical magistrates authorized to mete out discretionary punishments.[31] The issue of mosahebeh would be raised persistently throughout the whole procedure—not only by the interrogator, but also by the prosecutor, by the trial judge, and


by the warden once the prisoner had completed the sentence. Some remained incarcerated even after serving their sentences simply because they declined the honor of being interviewed. One prisoner reports that his trial judge put aside his file and simply asked, "Are you willing to be interviewed?"[32] Another reports that the condemned were sometimes offered a reprieve if they provided the interview.[33] Yet another says that in the ta'zir chamber his interrogator kept on repeating throughout his torment, "This hadd punishment will continue until you give us a videotaped interview."[34]

The techniques used in the ta'zir chambers resembled those of SAVAK. They included whipping, sometimes of the back but most often of the feet with the body tied on an iron bed; the qapani; deprivation of sleep; suspension from ceilings and high walls; twisting of forearms until they broke; crushing of hands and fingers between metal presses; insertion of sharp instruments under the fingernails; cigarette burns; submersion under water; standing in one place for hours on end; mock executions; and physical threats against family members. Of these, the most prevalent was the whipping of soles, obviously because it was explicitly sanctioned by the sharia.

The torture techniques included two innovations: the "coffin" and the compulsory watching of—and even participation in—executions. Some were placed in small cubicles, blindfolded and in absolute silence, for seventeen-hour stretches with two fifteen-minute breaks for eating and going to the toilet. These stints could last months—until the prisoner agreed to the interview. Few avoided the interview and also remained sane. Others were forced to join firing squads and remove dead bodies. When they returned to their cells with blood dripping from their hands, their roommates surmised what had transpired. In the summer, newcomers to Evin—including women—had to pass the main courtyard and view rows of hanged prisoners.[35]

The new interrogators differed from their predecessors in other subtle ways. Contrary to common belief, they avoided sexual organs. They shied away from the iron helmet, the metal


prod, and the electrified chair; such mechanical devices were deemed too Western. They kept their victims blindfolded throughout the whole procedure, often even in the trial chamber; most never obtained even a glance of their interrogators. SAVAK officials had been less shy. The new interrogators even blanketed the heads of women being whipped. Some were prudish enough to refuse to help lift women who had fainted. Women interrogators were rarely used on the grounds that they were not strong enough to administer the whip. The ta'zir chamber was one place where the strict codes of gender segregation were freely overlooked.

Entezam—Bazargan's former deputy—described conditions in Evin in a series of letters smuggled out during 1994–95.[36] He vouched that over sixteen years he had personally witnessed "hundreds" die and be driven insane. "For months on end, prisoners were put in small 50 × 80 × 140 cm coffins. In 1984, 30 were in such coffins. Some went mad." Although he himself had escaped the worst, he had been deprived of sleep, food, soap, medicine, visitors, and reading materials. On three separate occasions, he had been taken blindfolded to the execution chamber—once he had been kept there two full days while the Imam contemplated his death warrant. He had been placed in solitary for 555 days, and in an overcrowded cell for two and a half years. The cell had been so overcrowded that inmates took turns sleeping on the floor—each person rationed to three hours of sleep every twenty-four hours. He suffered permanent ear damage, skin disease, and spinal deformities. He added that prisoners were deprived not only of lawyers but also of such basic information as the charges against them and even their eventual sentences; some remained incarcerated not knowing how many years they were to serve. "Islam is a religion of care, compassion, and forgiveness. This regime makes it a religion of destruction, death, and torture."

The interrogation became a perverse form of bargaining. On one side, the interrogator knew that dead prisoners were of little use—even potential embarrassments. One survivor writes that by 1984 doctors were invariably present in the ta'zir cham-


bers to prevent unwanted deaths.[37] The interrogator also knew that the interview had to be believable to be marketable; unexpected crimes and uncharacteristic language would make the recantation unbelievable and thus unusable. Each recantation had to fit the specific recanter. Consequently, he was willing to let victims write their own confessions. On the other side, the prisoners realized that their interrogator wanted a recantation—not a dead body. They also realized that they could face the death penalty if they pinned themselves down to specific high crimes. What is more, if they went overboard in their groveling, they risked losing completely their self-respect, reputation, public credibility, and future political career—that is, they would be committing political suicide.

Despite these unstated guidelines, fatal mistakes sometimes occurred. The martyrs' list compiled by the Mojahedin names 460 killed under torture in the period between June 1981 and June 1985.[38] Some may have committed suicide. Among the 460 were 397 Mojaheds, 9 Fedayis, 7 Peykaris, 5 Kurdish Democrats, 2 Kurdish Kumalehs, and 13 from smaller Marxist groups. This list excludes for political reasons another 9 Bahais and 13 Tudeh activists who had died under similar circumstances in this same period.

Many resorted to modesty to avoid the obligatory interview. Raha, a young woman incarcerated nine years because of her leftist brother, pleaded that "it made no sense for her to appear before the cameras since she was a nobody."[39] A Mojahedin sympathizer offered a "letter of regret" instead of the interview on the grounds that he had never been a full member and had to protect his honor and reputation: "I work in the bazaar and have to think of my wife and children."[40] E.A., a university student imprisoned in Evin during 1981–83 for possessing left-wing literature, writes that almost all prisoners began by pleading that "they were nobodies and not significant enough even within their own small organizations to feature in such national interviews."[41] Such modesty rarely worked.

Once the bargain was reached, the interrogators provided their victims with a standard introduction and conclusion but


left the main text for them to fill in. This gave the victims the opportunity to make their recantations nebulous, full of double meanings, and, most important, long on generalities but short on specifics. They chose each word, each metaphor, each argument carefully, knowing well that their lives and their reputations were at stake—especially if the recantations were earmarked for newspapers and prime-time television. Of course, they could not choose the headlines under which their recantations would appear.

The standard introduction hailed Khomeini as the Imam (Infallible Leader), the Rahbar-e Kaber-e Enqelab (Great Leader of the Revolution), the Rahbar-e Mostazafin (Leader of the Oppressed), and the Bonyadgozar-e Jomhuri-ye Islami (Founder of the Islamic Republic). This signified submission to the authorities and the acceptance of their legitimacy. The introduction also emphasized that the "interview" was entirely voluntary and that the speaker had come forth willingly to warn others of the pitfalls awaiting them if they deviated from the Khatt-e Imam (Imam's Line). The speaker invariably included a biographical sketch stressing his importance within the pertinent political organization.

The standard conclusion thanked the wardens for the opportunity to study, discuss ideas, and see the light. It beseeched forgiveness and sought a second chance to work for the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Republic, and the Iranian people. It hoped that the sincere repentance and the Imam's compassion would pave the way for forgiveness, redemption, and reacceptance into the community. If, however, the Imam chose not to forgive, that too would be understandable in light of the enormity of the crimes. Absolution—but not retribution—was to be credited to the all-compassionate authorities. Orwell could not have phrased it better.

Whereas the beginning and the end were positive propaganda for the regime, the central text contained negative propaganda against the opposition in general and the recanter's own organization in particular. It echoed—and thus "confirmed"—the official accusations against that organization.


Sometimes the accusations involved "treason," "espionage," and "foreign subversion." At other times they involved "terrorism," "eclecticism," "religious deviation," and "ideological contamination." Most used such terms as "counterrevolution" and "fifth column"—both of distinct European origin. In short, the regime waged a propaganda war not so much by raising new charges against its opponents as by forcing its opponents to articulate in their own words and their own logic the official charges against themselves. It was propaganda by self-denunciation.

This lent and aura of authenticity to the whole exercise. The language of a royalist would differ from that of a student activist. That of a Mojahed would differ from that of a Marxist, a Liberal, or an ex-Khomeinist. That of a Tudehi would differ from that of a Maoist or an anti-Soviet communist. Of course, that of a Bahai would differ drastically from all the others. Although Bahais were subjected to the same torture process, they were rarely forced before the television cameras. Instead, they were compelled to place announcements—often no longer than one short paragraph—in the daily papers paying allegiance to Shi'i Islam and disassociating themselves from the "bombastic," "cruel," and "Zionist Bahai organization." The regime insists that the Bahais are suspect not because of their "religious beliefs" but because "their organization by its very nature is a Zionist-imperialist conspiracy"—that is, they are suspect not because of their own beliefs but because they belong to an organization whose beliefs inevitably make them into "spies," "plotters," "troublemakers," and "apostates."[42] No doubt, the victims appreciate this fine distinction.

Typical of the recantation shows were weekly two-hour programs aired through the autumn of 1983 on prime-time television.[43] These were billed as mizegerds (roundtable discussion), goftogus (conversations), and monazerehs (debates), as well as mosahebehs, or interviews. They were also broadcast over the radio and their transcripts circulated widely through newspapers and pamphlets entitled Karnameh-e Siyah (Black Report Cards). The shows were filmed within Evin in its


large two-story auditorium recently renamed the Hosseiniyeh (Religious Lecture Hall). The audience was composed of prisoners, with women and men sitting on separate sides of the floor. The walls displayed a thirty-foot mural of Khomeini, pictures of recently assassinated clerics, and a Koranic inscription urging believers to be vigilant against unbelievers. They also displayed such slogans as "Death to the Soviets," "Death to the United States," and "Death to the Unbelievers and Those Who Fight God."

Ladjevardi, the prison warden, chaired the programs. He began with the conventional "In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate." He saluted the Imam of the Muslim Community (Imam-e Ummat) and the Leader of the Oppressed (Rahbar-e Mostazafin), as well as the Martyr-nourishing Community of Iran (Ummat-e Shahidparvar-e Iran). He thanked the clergy for leading the long struggle against the imperialists from the time of the 1892 Tobacco Crisis through the Constitutional Revolution to the recent Islamic Revolution. He then introduced the twenty-nine participants as "guests representing the goruhakhha-ye zedd-e enqelabi [counterrevolutionary mini-groups]." He explained that these "volunteers" were eager to take questions from the floor and discuss the dangers of enheraf (deviation), elteqat (eclecticism), mohareb (warring against God), and gerayesh beh gharb va sharq (leaning toward either the West or East). This set the tone for their presentations.

The twenty-nine included thirteen from the Mojahedin, five from Peykar, five from the office of former President Bani-Sadr, three from the National Front, and another three from the Minority Fedayi. Lumping them together as "counterrevolutionaries," the regime labeled the Mojaheds "terrorists," the National Frontists and the Bani-Sadr supporters "liberals," and the Peykaris and Fedayis "American Marxists" (Marksistha-ye Amrikayi). It argued that since the latter groups were vehemently anti-Soviet, they must logically be pro-American—covertly, if not overtly. None were women. Although women were forced to recant, the regime rarely televised their recantations.


When it did, it depicted them as misled wives and sisters—not as political activists in their own right. One female prisoner argues that the recantations of women were rarely televised because the regime was reluctant to publicly admit even the existence of independent-minded women activists.[44]

These Evin programs have been perceptively described by E.A.—the university student imprisoned for collecting left-wing literature.[45] He likened them to "high drama," "battlefields," and "gladiator matches." On one side were Ladjevardi, the interrogators, and the repenters. On the other side were those in the audience who had not been broken. Recanters had to stand up and prove their sincerity by vehemently denouncing former beliefs, colleagues, and leaders. Those not vehement enough were subjected to death taunts. These "nightly shows," he writes, were staged as "ideological theater" to break down morale, turning "prisoner against prisoner," "friend against friend," "comrade against comrade," "Mojahed against Mojahed," "leftist against leftist," even "self against self." E.A. adds that although he did not know the origin of these "nightmares," he could see that by late 1983 they had become an integral feature of prison life.

Raha—the young woman incarcerated because of her leftist brother—considers the compulsory attendance at these recantations to be as painful as physical torture itself. She writes that they were forced to watch wives denounce their husbands, children their parents, friends their friends.[46] Similarly, Parsi-pour—the prominent writer imprisoned because of the literature found in her car—narrates that these Hosseiniyeh shows took a heavy toll from the audience as well as the participants. She describes one recanter whose personality literally split into two. One part—adopting the Muslim name Fatemeh—meekly submitted and vehemently denounced her former beliefs. The other—retaining her pre-Islamic name Azita—remained true to her beliefs and her executed communist husband. She eventually became stark-raving mad.[47]

These tense shows could easily be subverted into carnivals—at least, by those willing to risk death. E.A. recounts that a


teenage boy was invited to the podium by Ladjevardi to explain why he was in Evin. He explained that he had first joined the Tudeh but had left it once he discovered that the party supported the Islamic Republic. He had looked around for a party to his liking but, finding none, had formed his own organization with a total membership of one—himself. At that point much of the audience was smirking, for it was clear that he was in Evin simply because he did not like the regime. Raha recounts how one daring woman from the audience asked a prominent recanter the whereabouts of his former colleague, knowing perfectly well that he had died under torture. The recanter huffed and puffed, claiming lack of knowledge. A Mojahed relates how Ladjevardi ordered a Forqan member to explain why they had assassinated Khomeini's prized disciple.[48] Instead of reciting the expected litany about eclecticism, the Forqan member set off a commotion by declaring: "We did it because we had studied the Holy Koran." Of course, such scenes were not televised.

Also, overly tragic scenes remained on the cutting room floor. A teenage girl stood up at a recantation session and beseeched the wardens to take her life because she had no relatives left to return to: "You have executed my mother and one brother. Another brother you have given a life sentence. My father died of a heart attack when he heard of the executions. It is a pity you executed my fifteen-year-old brother. If you had not, maybe he too would be here on his way back to true Islam."[49] A sixty-year-old man who had spent months in a "coffin" punctuated his recantation with periodic weeping and hysterical laughter. It was clear he had lost his sanity.[50] Similarly, a sixteen-year-old girl cried and laughed hysterically while pleading with her listeners to seek redemption through repentance. The warden interrupted, declaring that she was living proof that those who "strayed from Islam" risked losing their sanity.[51]


The majority of the recantations in 1981–83 came from the Mojahedin—at the time the main threat to the regime. Since the


leading Mojaheds had escaped abroad or died in shoot-outs, the regime had to settle for rank-and-file recanters, who they billed as important "cadres" and "militant activists." It also published two sets of multivolume signed affadavits. One, entitled Shekanjeh (Torture), described in vivid detail how the Mojahedin had "physically tormented innocent pasdars and their families." The other, entitled Karnameh-e Siyah (Black Report Card), carried the subtitles E'terafat (Confessions), Monazareh-e Zendaniyan-e Evin (Debates among Evin Prisoners), Chehreh-e Nafaq (The Face of Discord), and Chehguneh Teroryist Showdam (How I Became a Terrorist).

These recanters started with the traditional "In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate"—not with the Mojahedin-coined opening "In the Name of God and the Heroic People of Iran." This symbolized submission to official Islam. They also referred to themselves as the Monafeqin (Hypocrites)—the official term for the Mojahedin. The Koran uses this term to describe those in Medina who had pretended to be good Muslims while conspiring with the pagans in Mecca. The Prophet had pronounced "a monafeq [hypocrite] to be worse than a kafer [unbeliever]." This became a government slogan. According to the regime, Imam Ali had warned the faithful to be on guard against hypocrites who deceive, deviate, dilute religion, consort with the Devil, and resort to teroryism .[52] Obviously, foreign terminology heightened the danger.

The Mojahedin recanters directed their attacks at their former leaders—especially Masoud Rajavi—accusing them of hypocrisy and terrorism.[53] These leaders had supposedly ordered the murders of not only prominent clerics and revolutionary guards—which was common knowledge—but also countless ordinary and defenseless citizens, including women, children, and old folks. They had ordered Molotov koktel s (cocktails) to be thrown at stores, private homes, city buses, schools, public libraries, ambulances, and even kindergartens. They had also sabotaged the economy and the war effort by blowing up bridges, power stations, railways, hospitals, and medical clinics. They had ordered militants to commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner. They had placed children—especially young


girls—at the forefront of their armed demonstrations. "Our leaders," declared one, "place no value whatsoever on human life." These were confessions of "embellished terrorism."

They declared that their terrorism was outdone only by their hypocrisy. They pretended to be devout Muslims but, in fact, were secret Marxists. Like the Babis of the Constitutional Revolution who had pretended to be good Muslims, they were wolves in sheeps' clothing. They waxed eloquent about Islam-i Towhidi (Monotheistic Islam) but contaminated true religion with alien ideologies—especially atheistic materialism. They proclaimed themselves committed believers but in truth were opportunists (oportunistha ) and pragmatists (peragmatistha ) sacrificing principle on the altar of political power. They hailed themselves as working class but in reality had little public support and often set up safe houses in middle-class neighborhoods—especially in the Armenian districts of Tehran. They outdid others in radical talk but secretly supported the liberalha (liberals)—first Bazargan and his Provisional Government, later President Bani-Sadr. They made much ado about democracy but demanded "blind acceptance" of Rajavi's "cult of personality." They pretended to champion the oppressed masses (mostazafin ) but were confined to the narrow circles of the privileged intelligentsia (rowshanfekran ). They wrapped themselves in the national flag but, in reality, were a "fifth column" in the pay of foreign powers—of the Soviet Union, the United States, and Iraq. Their true aim was not to fight imperialism but to overthrow the Islamic Republic. "To work for Satan one does not have to be a card-holding member of the CIA or the KGB. One can help imperialism by simply undermining the Islamic Republic."

One Mojahed thanked both the pasdars, for saving him from an angry crowd, and the wardens, for showing him the road to true Islam. He cut short his recantation pleading that the mere memory of his crimes choked him with tears. Another confessed to being a jasous (spy) and to publishing confidential information gathered from the ministries. He ridiculed the rumor that prisoners had been tortured to death, insisting that


some had committed suicide to embarrass the authorities. He also argued that he felt freer in prison because in the outside world his organization had pressured him into "self-censorship" (khod sansour ). Yet another claimed that he had been ordered to throw bombs at schools, kidnap pasdars, decapitate old ladies, and practice such "medieval tortures" as gouging out eyes and cutting off hands. Such gory confessions had some effect—at least on those predisposed to distrust the Mojahedin. Raha writes that she never imagined that a political organization could resort to such "mafia-like methods."[54]

The regime produced its first and only Mojahed leader in 1989—a few months after the organization had made an abortive incursion into the country from its military base in Iraq. The captured leader, Sa'id Shahsavandi, was a veteran activist. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1973, ran for the Majles in 1980, and recently directed the organization's radio station in Iraq. The Mojahedin promptly tried damage control, announcing that he was a mere rank-and-file member.

In a series of television interviews, open letters, and university lectures, Shahsavandi expounded on the "hypocritical nature" of the Mojahedin.[55] He declared that from the very beginning there had been a major discrepancy between what the Mojahedin espoused and what they believed in. He claimed that his former colleagues paid lip service to Islam but were more interested in Lenin, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Tse-tung. They talked about "true Islam" but in actual fact showed no interest in what thousands of religious scholars had written over the last thirteen centuries. They had paid allegiance to the Islamic Republic but in the meantime had prepared for a kudeta (coup d'état). They waved the Iranian flag but secretly consorted with King Hossein, the Saudis, and Saddam Hossein—not to mention the CIA and the KGB.

Shahsavandi claimed that nothing remained of the Mojahedin within Iran; that Rajavi imprisoned, tortured, and executed disobedient followers; that untrained youngsters had been rushed from Paris, London, and New York to take part in the ill-fated military incursion; and that the exiled organization


was riddled with suicides, desertions, factionalism, and disillusionment. He did not explain why the regime could not produce other prominent defectors. After these interviews, Shahsavandi left for Europe to elaborate on these same themes. When asked why he had been permitted to live and leave, Shahsavandi answered that he had been "saved from Ladjevardi by influential friends," that he was more useful to the regime alive than dead, and that he no longer advocated armed struggle.[56] Some suspect that relatives in Iran guaranteed his good behavior. Whatever the truth, Shahsavandi traveled widely repeating the regime's propaganda salvos against the Mojahedin. But coming from a former leader, they were far more effective.

The Left

In 1982 the media aired recantations from most leftist organizations—except from the Tudeh and the Majority Fedayi, which continued to support the Islamic Republic until 1983. As with the Mojahedin, the regime had to make to with minor figures as these small groups had few prominent leaders.

One of the few was Hossein Ruhani, a Peykar leader and a prominent veteran of the early guerrilla movement. Born into a clerical family in Mashed in 1941, Ruhani had a traditional religious upbringing before entering Tehran University to study agriculture. There he had been active in Bazargan's Liberation Movement and had been one of the first to join the Mojahedin. He soon headed its ideological committee; served as its liaison with the PLO and the Shi'i guerrillas in Lebanon; and, most important of all, in 1972–74 headed its delicate negotiations with Khomeini in Najaf. At the time, the Mojahedin needed clerical endorsement to raise funds for its activities, and Khomeini needed contacts to expand his network in the Arab world and among Iranian students in Europe.

When in 1974 the Mojahedin split into rival Muslim and Marxist factions, Ruhani was prominent in the latter. He helped to write its first Manifesto explaining why they had jettisoned Islam in favor of Marxism-Leninism.[57] He argued that


whereas the former was a "petty bourgeois ideology designed to sedate the masses," the latter held the secrets for the "liberation of the working class." Whereas the former was "unrealistic," "utopian," and "incapable of understanding social change," the latter was a true science, like physics, revealing the iron laws of historical change. Whereas the former diverted attention from this world to metaphysics and the soul, the latter focused human energies on action, social change, and the engineering of the good society in this world. The essence of Marxism was liberation; that of Islam was prayer, devotion, and, at best, charity.

After the split, Ruhani served as the Marxist Mojahedin's chief representative in Europe and the Arab world. During the early stages of the revolution, he returned to Tehran to set up underground factory cells. Immediately after the revolution, when the Marxist Mojahedin renamed itself Peykar, he ran as its Majles candidate in Tehran. As such he received extensive press coverage. He also caused a major scandal in 1980 by divulging for the first time the secret Mojahedin negotiations with Khomeini.[58] In doing so, he depicted Khomeini as a "medieval obscurantist" less interested in the armed struggle than in the question of whether the body would reconstruct itself on Resurrection Day. This was the very first time a left-wing organization had personally criticized Khomeini. Peykar was also vocal in denouncing the regime as "reactionary," "fascistic," and tied to the "petty bourgeois bazaaris" as well as to the "capitalist imperialists." It even argued that the term "revolution" could not be applied to February 1979 because the fall of the Shah had not brought about fundamental changes. Although Peykar did not support the Mojahedin in its June 1981 uprising, its members were arrested and executed en masse.

Ruhani appeared on television in May 1982, becoming one of the first leftists to recant.[59] He had already appeared in the Hosseiniyeh, but that video had been unusable because he had partly retracted his recantation when challenged by a daring woman in the audience. He also reappeared in the 1982 program of the Evin twenty-nine. He began his May 1982


recantation with "In the Name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate"—a strange opening for a Marxist. He sprinkled his presentations with Koranic quotations and religious declarations—equally strange as few Marxist leaders became born-again Muslims in prison. That would have been too unbelievable for the public, especially for their own particular constituency. The bulk of his recantation, however, freely used Marxist terminology and leftist arguments.

After thanking the authorities for the press conference, Ruhani praised the Imam for providing the Muslim world with its first true leadership since the departure of the Holy Prophet: "Our Imam represents Islam." He declared that his two-month stay in Evin had produced in him "qualitative changes" that he wished to share with the general public and his former communist comrades. He added that he felt freer inside Evin for in the outside world he had always been "stifled by dogmatism, false ideologies, and self-censorship." In short, prison was freedom; the outside world was a prison.

Ruhani devoted much of his allocated time to attacking the Mojahedin and the Marxist opposition. He acknowledged that in his conversations with the Imam in Iraq, the latter had correctly diagnosed the main disease of the Mojahedin to be "eclecticism"—a term he used no less than a dozen times. He admitted that at the time he himself had not recognized this disease. "But then," he continued, "eclectics rarely recognize their own ailment." He claimed he had written the handbooks the Mojahedin had circulated as the works of their most revered martyrs. He also claimed that the 1975–76 fighting between the Muslim and the Marxist Mojahedin had left a much higher toll than generally acknowledged.

The rest of the recantation was directed at the Marxists. He faulted them for smearing the Islamic Republic as erteja 'yi (reactionary) and zedd-e enqelabi (counterrevolutionary). He said, "Prison has shown me that this is a truly anti-imperialist people's regime [rezhim-e mardomi ]." By not supporting the regime, the left had "deviated" from the true path. "Marxism is


deviationism in the same way the Mojahedin is eclecticism." He argued that since the essence of the revolution had been Islam, revolutionaries need to accept Islam as the country's true ideology. He urged the left to follow the Imam's Line on the grounds that the imperialists were using all means available to undermine the revolution—cultural, military, economic, and political. The last included the ethnic minorities, the liberals, and the left. Withholding support for the regime was tantamount to collaborating with the United States. This reinforced the argument that the Marxists who were not "linked" to the Soviets must inevitably be linked to the Americans.

Ruhani continued with a multipronged attack on the left. He harped on recent fighting that had broken out in Kurdestan between Peykar, Kumaleh, and the Kurdish Democratic party. He warned that the Tudeh was undermining the revolution because it was "revisionist" and tied to the Soviet "Social Imperialists." He argued that the revolution had been made by common folk, not by the mini-guerrilla organizations. He added that the theory of "armed struggle" had been cooked up by the intelligentsia to play down the role of the masses. He stressed that the left was "cut off from the people" whereas the Islamic Republic enjoyed their enthusiastic support: "The Left refuses to accept objective reality because it suffers from subjectivism." He dwelled on factional infighting within leftist organizations, arguing that all these groups were led by "selfish power-hungry would-be dictators lacking any principles." "They believe that the end justifies the means and they can use any means available to eliminate personal rivals." He concluded with the hope that he could have an audience with the Imam and additional press conferences to further elaborate on these important topics.

These recantations had a profound demoralizing effect on Peykar in particular and on the left in general. In the words of Raha—by no means a supporter of Peykar—these Evin shous (shows) were "surprising," "amazing" and "hard to believe."


Here was a militant leader and veteran of twenty-five years struggle claiming that in a mere two months he had completely converted from Marxism to Islam. . . . I could not fathom what I was seeing with my own eyes. Was it real or a bad dream? Ruhani was Ruhani in the flesh. Ladjevardi was Ladjevardi in the flesh. For us in the audience, the whole show was depressing and painful—as painful as observing an actual death. For the same reason that show was a joyous occasion for Ladjevardi and his cohorts.[60]

E.A. writes that the recantations of Ruhani and other Peykar leaders had a profoundly "upsetting effect"—even on leftists outside Peykar: "The night Ruhani went to the microphones something snapped inside all of us. We never expected someone of his reputation to get down on his knees. Some commented it was as revolting as watching a human being cannibalize himself." E.A. was also intrigued that these recanters continued to use such "leftist terms as class struggle, petty bourgeois, sectarianism, colonialism, and imperialism."[61]

Ruhani continued to feature in the Hosseiniyeh meetings for the next three years—until he was quietly and inexplicably executed. He became a nonperson; even Peykar refused to list him as a martyr. His recantations, however, set the tone for other Marxists—with the significant difference that few others professed conversion to Islam.

The other Marxist recanters in 1982–83 included activists from the Minority Fedayi, Rah-e Kargar, Kumaleh, the Union of Iranian Communists, and the Union of Militant Communists. They argued that their criticism of the regime had been misplaced; that the regime was the true representative of the working class; and that opposition to the regime was equivalent to supporting capitalism, feudalism, and imperialism.[62] One cited Lenin as saying: "To recognize your friends look and see who the enemies of your friends are." Another contrasted the "medieval SAVAK torturers" to his "considerate" wardens who had turned the "prisons into genuine universities." Yet another argued that he had joined the left because he opposed im-


perialism, but in prison he had discovered that the true bulwark against imperialism was the Islamic Republic: "Infantile leftists are puppets of Zionism, Iraqi Baathism, and American imperialism."


According to the regime, those who favored secularism and political pluralism were "liberals." And those who were "liberals" were by their very nature "linked to the West"—despite their own vehement denials. The two most prominent recanters fitting the "liberal" category were Taher Ahmadzadeh and Sadeq Qotbzadeh. The former had worked closely with Bazargan for four decades. The latter had served as Khomeini's English-language translator in Paris.

Ahmadzadeh had been active in the opposition to the Shah since the early 1950s. He had to helped found the Liberation Movement and had spent ten years in prison—a rare feat for a religious intellectual of his generation. Meanwhile, his son—a founding member of the Fedayi—had been executed. Immediately after the revolution, he had been appointed governor of Khurasan and his family had been praised for refusing to compromise their principles with the hated Shah. But by June 1981, he had fallen out of favor, having openly criticized the clergy for monopolizing power.

Ahmadzadeh featured prominently in the 1983 "roundtable discussions" from Evin.[63] He began with a Koran reading and salutations to the Imam—"the Revolutionary Sun that illuminates and invigorates Iran." He hoped his confession would reach the "Honorable People of Iran" and would be accepted by God and the Imam, the "most important person in Islam since the days of the Holy Prophet." He stressed that months of contemplation, reading of the Koran, and scrutiny of the evidence had persuaded him to reevaluate his whole attitude toward the government—especially his previous complaint that pasdars had killed innocent citizens. He now realized his negative attitude had been wrong, his complaints against the


pasdars had been unjust, and the government was on the road mapped out by Imam Ali.

He confessed that he had been influenced by "hypocrites" who had persuaded him to try to escape to the West: "I stand before you guilty of helping imperialism as well as betraying Islam and Iran." Having heard the previous confessions, he now realized that the "hypocrites" were a bunch of "terrorists," "torturers," and "power-hungry maniacs" linked to fascism and imperialism. He also realized that the Imam was the true representative of the people, the Koran, and Islam. He hoped that he would be permitted to rejoin the "caravan of progress on its passage to God." He concluded with "Long Live the Holy Martyrs of Islam, especially the Martyrs of the Islamic Revolution. Long Live the Imam, Our Dear Leader and the Champion of the World's Oppressed Masses."

This recantation was one of the very few to be subjected to critical analysis. Abdol-Karim Lahiji, his old friend and now a human-rights lawyer in Paris, wrote that only indescribable forms of torture could explain outlandish statements from such a steadfast person as Ahmadzadeh—"the symbol of heroic resistance against SAVAK."[64] Comparing the recantation to the Moscow trials, Lahiji argued that the new regime was extracting phony confessions by threatening family members, even small children. This was the first—and a rare—article to appear anywhere in Persian discussing the whole subject of public recantations and forced confessions. Ahmadzadeh was released four years later after having taken a vow of silence about his prison experiences. He has kept his vow.

Qotbzadeh was even better known. He had been active in the National Front, the Liberation Movement, and the Student Confederation. He had accompanied Khomeini on his triumphant return to Iran. After the revolution, he first headed the National Radio-Television Network from which he purged royalists, women, and leftists. He then headed the Foreign Ministry and tried unsuccessfully to resolve the American hostage crisis. Having antagonized the hard-line clerics, he resigned and promptly lost access to Khomeini.


Qotbzadeh appeared before the cameras in early 1982 to "reveal" that he had participated in a pro-Western military plot.[65] The plot involved bombing the Imam's residence and killing him if necessary. To finance the venture, he had contacted a Paris-based Argentinian arms merchant; the Saudi government; and, most important of all, Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari whom many revered as their main spiritual guide. In fact, many Azerbaijanis felt that Shariatmadari outranked Khomeini in scholarship and clerical seniority. During the revolution, Shariatmadari had favored the restoration of the 1905 Fundamental Laws and had criticized Khomeini's theory of Islamic Government. After the revolution, Shariatmadari had supported Bazargan in the hope of stopping Khomeini. Qotbzadeh concluded his confession by pleading for prompt judgment—either forgiveness or execution. He had no wish to remain in prison.

Qotbzadeh was accompanied to his "press conference" by Hojjat al-Islam Mohammad Reyshahri, the chief judge of the newly created Military Revolutionary Tribunal. Reyshahri emphasized the utmost gravity of the plot, insinuating that Qotbzadeh was also linked to a recently uncovered royalist conspiracy to launch a military coup from Hamadan.[66] To explain the plots, the chief judge presented an elaborate chart full of boxes and arrows linking Qotbzadeh and the royalist officers, on one side, to the "feudalists, the leftist mini-groups, and the phony clerics," and, on the other side, to the "National Front, Israel, the Pahlavis, and the Socialist International." The last four were then linked to the CIA. Ironically, the State Department had for years denied Qotbzadeh an entry visa into the United States on the grounds that he was a Soviet agent. Qotbzadeh himself suspected his clerical judges of being Soviet agents.[67]

Qotbzadeh's final appearance was before the Military Revolutionary Tribunal.[68] In the dock with him were three colonels and three clerics, including Shariatmadari's son-in-law. Pleading allegiance to the Imam, the Revolution, and the Islamic Republic, Qotbzadeh admitted receiving money from abroad.


But he modified his earlier statements, arguing that he had hoped to detain, not kill, the Imam, and to change, not overthrow, the government. Although one officer denied the existence of any plot, one of the clerics confessed to conveying messages from Qotbzadeh to Shariatmadari, to the Saudis, to the European Socialists, and to West German businessmen. This convinced the judge that Qotbzadeh deserved no pity. A friend of Qotbzadeh claims that on the eve of his execution, Ahmad Khomeini, the Imam's son, offered him clemency if he publicly groveled for his life.[69]

Qotbzadeh's arrest led to Shariatmadari's "confession"—probably to save his own son-in-law. Appearing on television, Shariatmadari apologized for failing to report rumors of the plot to the proper authorities. He had dismissed them as ridiculous hearsay. "Besides," he said, "I presumed the authorities themselves had heard these widespread rumors."[70] The chief prosecutor—echoed by the press—billed this as a "Confession of Guilt."[71] One editorial asked rhetorically, "What better proof of a plot than confessions from the mouths of the plotters themselves?"[72] Hojjat al-Islam Rafsanjani, then the Imam Jom'eh of Tehran, declared that anyone who had been privy to such a "heinous plot" should not enjoy public respect.[73] One of Shariatmadari's sons pleaded in vain from Europe that according to the sharia all coerced statements were null and void.[74]

The regime used the "Shariatmadari confession" to launch a full-scale campaign against him. It depicted him as a "liberal" linked to SAVAK, the royalists, the Saudis, and the West. It published U.S. Embassy documents describing him as a moderate. It insinuated that he liked luxury and wanted to separate Azerbaijan from Iran. It surrounded his home with demonstrators clamoring for his death. It questioned his religious credentials, claiming that the Shah had elevated him to the position of ayatollah; to support the latter claim, it reprinted a 1946 photo of him in the presence of the Shah. Finally, in an unprecedented act, it defrocked him, declaring that he no longer held the title of ayatollah and therefore could no longer collect religious dues. He was confined to his house until 1986 when


he died of natural causes. In short, his destruction had been brought about by his so-called confession.


In April 1987, General Hossein Fardoust—the elusive but famous childhood friend of the Shah—appeared before the television cameras for the very first time in his long public career. In his own words, Fardoust had been "the second most powerful man in the fallen regime."[75] For ten years, he ran the day-to-day affairs of SAVAK by serving as its deputy director. For twenty years, he headed the Special Intelligence Bureau—a form of SAVAK within SAVAK. Immediately after the revolution, it was rumored that he defected to the other side, handed over crucial files, and transformed SAVAK into SAVAMA, a new secret service organization. His television appearance took the form of an undated video "interview." It was his last—as well as his first—television appearance. Three weeks later the government announced he had died from "old age and other natural causes."

Fardoust's interview reinforced public perceptions of the Pahlavis—especially their rampant "corruption" and foreign "dependency." Fardoust began with an autobiographical sketch stressing his long friendship with the former Shah: his childhood in the palace; his years with the princes at the exclusive Le Rosey school in Switzerland; his training with the crown prince at the military academy; and his thirty-eight-year service to the palace and in the security forces. These years, he stressed, had given him an intimate insight into the inner workings of the old regime.

Having established his credibility, Fardoust dwelled on the old regime's corruption and foreign dependency. He argued that the elite was so greedy, so money-grabbing, and so plundering that the Special Intelligence Bureau would have needed at least 10,000 full-time investigators just to keep tabs on the grand larcenists alone. "There was no way of keeping track of lesser crooks." He also "revealed" that the British had arranged


the marriage as well as the divorce of the Shah to Princess Fawzieh of Egypt and had planted a young valet named Ernest Perron in Le Rosey School to befriend the crown prince and return to live with him in the royal palace. Furthermore, he revealed that the Shah had daily meetings with Sir Jay Reporter—the supposed MI6 head in Tehran. He claimed that the latter's true name was Shahpour J. and that he was an indian-born Zoroastrian pretending to be the local correspondent of the London Times .

These two themes were further developed in a posthumous book entitled Khaterat-e Arteshbod-e Baznesheshteh Hossein Fardoust (The Memoirs of Retired General Hossein Fardoust). This was also serialized in newspapers in the course of the next three years—and yet again in 1998.[76] This long, meandering, and repetitive book dwells on how the former elite had "plundered the country" through commercial kickbacks, weapons contracts, real estate speculation, market controls, gambling, outright expropriations, and heroin trafficking. The distinct impression is given that the only honest person in the old regime was the author himself. This tale of corruption includes much court gossip—especially about the Shah's insatiable desire for "prostitutes, chatterboxes, loose women, and other men's wives." At times, Fardoust traces the collapse of the regime to gossiping, greedy, and back-biting women—including the Shah's wives and sisters. Fardoust writes that he had sent his own wife off to the United States to free himself of her constant nagging. The book was clearly designed to reinforce the notion that the regime's interest in women was part and parcel of its moral decay.

The second theme was developed even further. According to the book, the imperial powers, especially Britain, dominated Iran through direct and indirect means—through embassies, military missions, secret agencies, privileged families, and political parties. They cultivated elite families—"many of whom were their paid agents." They nourished the Freemasons—"most politicians belonged to this secret conspiracy." They also


nourished the Bahais—one of whom, General Ayadi, the court doctor, was the Rasputin of Iran. They relied on Jews who controlled "not only Israel but also the United States." The British ordered Perron to set up a homosexual clique within the palace. The british also pulled strings through such secular organizations as the Tudeh and the National Front. In fact, Mossadeq had always favored the British and his campaign to nationalize the oil company had been inspired by the "British themselves." The Tudeh was controlled by the British as well as by the Soviets. The book declares:

All seeking power tried to curry favor with London and Washington. Certainly those with the best foreign links, especially with secret agencies, had the best chance of promotion. Personal attributes also helped—attributes such as dishonesty, charlatanry, and flattery. If the agent was a woman, she would get her desired job through illicit sex. Of course, the same applied to men.

The book devotes much space to internal security—Fardoust's own specialty. Apparently it was Queen Elizabeth's personal suggestion that had led to the creation of the Special Intelligence Bureau and the dispatch of Fardoust to London to receive training in how to compile succinct and logical reports. The training left much to be desired. Preferring "scientific methods of interrogation," Fardoust had sent SAVAK personnel to MOSSAD because the CIA continued to favor "cruder methods." He also mentions that MI6 surpassed the CIA in its knowledge of Iran.

Fardoust concludes by trying to explain how he had survived the revolution. As director of the Special Intelligence Bureau, he could see that the regime was too corrupt to weather the upheaval. He could also see that only the Imam could provide the country with much-needed law and order. He had thus thrown himself at the mercy of the Imam. "But," he claimed, "the Tudeh and the royalists together are spreading the malicious rumor that I am working for new security services."


Obviously, many—including Khomeinists—must have been wondering why Fardoust had survived while lesser men had perished.


If Fardoust was used to discredit the former regime, the equally sensational television appearance of Hojjat al-Islam Sayyed Mehdi Hashemi was designed to send a clear and loud message to any believers tempted to stray from the official path. Hashemi was well known in clerical circles. He was the brother-in-law of Ayatollah Montazeri, Khomeini's designated heir. His brother administered Montazeri's office and helped him make influential appointments. Their father had taught Montazeri and treated him as a member of his family. Hashemi himself sat on the ruling Council of the Revolutionary Guards and served as the chair of its Ideological Committee as well as the director of its International Division. In the latter capacity, he funneled arms and money into Lebanon and Afghanistan.

Hashemi had become a cause célèbre first in 1977 when SAVAK arrested him for the vigilante murders of prostitutes, homosexuals, and drug traffickers. He had also been accused of murdering a conservative cleric who had publicly insulted Ayatollah Montazeri. At the time, the opposition defended Hashemi as an innocent victim and accused SAVAK of scheming to tarnish the reputation of the clerical establishment. He came out of prison in 1979 a religious hero.

The new regime arrested Hashemi and forty associates in May 1986. The immediate reason was his opposition to the regime's secret dealings with the United States and Israel. He had organized a street demonstration in downtown Tehran to protest the arrival of Robert McFarlane, President Ronald Reagan's secret emissary. He had also leaked news of the whole venture to a Lebanese newspaper, thereby triggering what became known as the Irangate scandal.

A month after the arrest, Khomeini assigned the case to Reyshahri, the former judge of the military tribunals who had just


been appointed minister of intelligence. This new ministry had taken over the functions of SAVAK as well as those of the Second Bureau. Reyshahri's Political Memoirs provide a rare—albeit oblique—insider's picture of the whole investigatory process.[77] He boasts that this was his hardest case to crack as influential patrons were protecting the prisoner from his interrogators: "The monthlong investigation had come to a dead end. All they had obtained was a taped interview in which the wise guy had cleverly planted deviant ideas." Another factor made this case especially hard. As a militant Muslim, Hashemi could not be tarnished with the imperial brush. The left could be linked to the Soviets. The royalists and liberals could be linked to the West. But by no stretch of the imagination could Hashemi be linked to either the West or the Communist Bloc.

Before questioning Hashemi, Reyshahri consulted Khomeini and the Koran. Khomeini told him to treat the prisoner as he would any "grocer"—even though, as a sayyed, Hashemi was presumably a descendant of the Holy Prophet. The Koran, opened at random, produced this verse: "And [as for] those who believe and do good, We will most certainly do away with their evil deeds and We will most certainly reward them for the best of what they did." In short, the end justifies the means.Reyshahri goes on to claim that this brief exchange paved the way for the eventual "confession":

I said: "Are you not afraid of God?"

He said: "Yes."

I said: "God knows what type of person you are and what you have done. You yourself know. Why don't you tell us everything?"

He said: "I already have."

I said: "Have you told us everything?"

He said: "No."

I said: "Tell us everything."

He said: "Fine. I will tell you everything."

These memoirs, however, leave much between the lines. Reyshahri ordered his "brother investigators" to interrogate


Hashemi "thoroughly." At one point, he found him guilty of lying and, as discretionary punishment, gave him seventy-five lashes. He extracted "damaging confessions" from his forty accomplices, including his own brother. What is more, he spent a full eight months and made three different tapes before getting a satisfactory confession. Khomeini himself, as well as a select audience, previewed the final tape before having it aired on national television.

The press headlined Hashemi's confession as "I am Manifest Proof of Monharef [Deviation]."[78] He began with salutations to Imam Khomeini, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the Imam-e Zaman (The Messiah), the Victory of Islam, and the Sacred Struggle to Liberate Karbala and Jerusalem. He insisted he had initiated the interview to show fellow Muslims the dangers of straying from the narrow and straight path. Prison had given him the opportunity to reflect on his many mistakes.

Hashemi divides his mistakes into pre- and postrevolutionary categories. The former included extremism, immaturity, scholastic ignorance, eclectic thinking, and hyperactivity (amalzadegi ). The latter included storing weapons, forging documents, criticizing the government, and sowing dissension among seminary students as well as among revolutionary guards. He had done these knowing well that the United States was determined to undermine the Islamic Republic.

Deviation is my ultimate sin. This is why I now stand before you. I began my career with minor infractions, gradually strayed from the correct path, continued with larger mistakes, then to major sins, and ultimately to the worst sin possible—that of heresy, apostasy, and treason against the Imam, the Community, Islam, and the Islamic Revolution. I have to ask myself what was the root cause of my downfall?

His answer—sprinkled throughout the confession—is that "carnal instincts" (nafsaniyat ) had enticed him into "illicit relations" (ravabat ) with SAVAK and Satan. "Nafsaniyat"—a term he uses no less than eight times—means self-centeredness as


well as earthly desires such as power, property, and physical pleasure. Satan here plays the same role as that of the imperialists in the previous recantations. For the secular mind, Satan is a metaphor; for the religious mind, Satan is very real. Carnal instincts had tempted him away from the seminary. Carnal instincts had led him to kill. Carnal instincts had lured him to cultivate ties with SAVAK—especially after his 1977 arrest. Carnal instincts had caused him to sow dissension among the revolutionary guards. And carnal instincts had induced him to misuse Montazeri's office. He writes, "I now realize that despicable sinners like myself had no business inside the heir-designate's office. I thank God that I have been removed from that office." Hashemi ends by pleading for forgiveness so that he can devote the rest of his life to God, the Imam, and the people.

I would like to plead with my former colleagues and friends who shared my deviant ideas to return to the correct path, relinquish their false notions, reform themselves, unite against imperialism, and overcome the carnal instincts that can lead them toward having relations with Satan and his representatives.

Immediately after the confession, Reyshahri announced that Hashemi would be tried by a Special Clerical Court.[79] Montazeri had tried to prevent the setting up of such a court outside the normal appeals system. Reyshahri also announced that the formal charges were even more serious than those admitted in the confession. Hashemi had aided and abetted the Mojahedin. He had an ongoing relationship with SAVAK. He had smuggled opium from Afghanistan. His activities had caused considerable loss of life in Afghanistan and Lebanon as well as Iran. He had illicit relations with foreigners—these foreigners turned out to be Syrians, Libyans, Lebanese, Koreans, and Afghans. He had wished the death of the Imam so that the heir-designate would take over. To top it all, he had eliminated one of Montazeri's rivals by "inducing the spread of cancer through his body." Reyshahri claimed that years earlier the Imam had


predicted that Hashemi would some day become a "deviant." Reyshahri also took the opportunity to dispel the "insidious notion" that Hashemi was being punished because of his opposition to the McFarlane visit. "Those spreading this false rumor are helping the Black House [White House]."

Hashemi's trial took place in August 1987—a full fifteen months after his initial arrest. The chief prosecutor used the televised confession to charge him with "waging war on God," "sowing corruption on earth," "inciting sedition [fetnah ]," "succumbing to Satan," and "desecrating the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution."[80] He explained Hashemi had committed these heinous sins because of his "weak character," his "relationships with Satan," and his "disease of eclecticism" (bimari-e elteqati ). In his final statement, Hashemi again pleaded guilty, congratulated the authorities for saving youth from him, and sought forgiveness from the Imam and the "martyr-producing people of Iran." But, he added, he would willingly accept the verdict of the court.[81]

Hashemi was executed before the verdict was publicly announced. Reyshahri admits he rushed to preempt Montazeri's intervention.[82] During the proceedings, Montazeri had written to Khomeini dismissing the charges as unfair:

I have known him inside-out since our childhood. He is a devout Muslim, a militant revolutionary, and a great admirer of the Imam. He speaks well, writes well, and in terms of learning and organizational skills is superior to the head of the revolutionary guards and the Intelligence Minister. He is no less committed and pious than they. But in one respect he differs from them. He is not willing to obey orders blindly.[83]

Ahmad Khomeini, Reyshahri's ally, responded that Montazeri was a "poor judge of character" as the defendant himself had testified to his crimes, his "character flaws," and "his relationships with Satan." "These confessions come out of his own mouth."[84] Reyshahri mentions in passing that Montazeri had not been invited to the screening of the video confession


on the grounds that he would have dismissed it as the products of "torture."[85] Despite the extremely serious nature of the charges, only one Hashemi associate was executed. The others were pardoned or given light sentences. In announcing the executions, Reyshahri declared that Hashemi had made a full confession to "purify himself before meeting his Creator." This would have been understood by the Spanish Inquisition.

Prison Life

Prison life was drastically worse under the Islamic Republic than under the Pahlavis. One who survived both writes that four months under Ladjevardi took the toll of four years under SAVAK.[86] Another writes that one day under the former equaled ten years under the latter.[87] What made it worse was the intense ideological pressure—especially for public recantations.

Prisoners were incessantly bombarded with propaganda from all sides—from the Hosseiniyeh recantations; from similar programs aired on radio and shown on closed-circuit television (television sets had been installed in October 1981 in most rooms); from loudspeakers blaring into all cells, even into solitary cells and the "coffins"; from sermons broadcast over radio and television; from ideological sessions led by repenters and visiting seminary students; from "educational television" shown every morning; from compulsory Friday prayers, Ramadan fasts, and Moharram flagellations; from pressure to vote in national elections (those refusing to participate were required to give written explanations); and from government newspapers and officially sanctioned publications such as the collected works of Ayatollahs Khomeini, Mottahari, and Dastgheib.

Secular works, including those by Shariati, not to mention Western novelists, were strictly forbidden. Secular celebrations, such as May Day and Constitutional Day, were also strictly forbidden. Ladjevardi even banned Nowruz as "a pagan Zoroastrian festival."[88] Prisoners had to observe najes rules and


avoid physical contact with leftists as well as Bahais on the grounds that they were all unclean unbelievers. Women had the additional burden of having to observe the increasingly onerous dress code. They first had to wear "modest headgear"—the scarf, then the full chador, eventually the full black chador. In short, prisons became indoctrination centers; Gohar Dasht had the most sinister reputation because it was officially designated a "reformatory."

What is more, prisoners were closely watched by repenters ever eager to win privileges and their freedom. Not surprisingly, prisoners detested these kapos and antenns (antennas) on the lookout for incriminating information. Raha writes that in prison one found the worst as well as the best of humanity—those willing to betray friends and relatives, and those prepared to die for their beliefs and comrades.[89] The wardens set up a Repenters' Society, a newspaper called Payam-e Tawabin (Repenters' Message), and special wards named Bandeh Jehad (Crusaders' Wards). They offered them incentives—more generous rations, lighter sentences, even amnesty, and access to the prison workshops, where women could earn pocket money as garment workers and men could earn pocket money as metal workers. They also encouraged women repenters to marry eligible guards. This fueled the rumor—mostly unfounded—that they condoned sex between guards and prisoners.

To intensify the ideological pressures, prisoners were given little access to the outside world. Only official publications were permitted. Visits were restricted to ten minutes every two weeks for family members only. The conversation had to avoid prison conditions and had to be in Persian so that the listening guards could understand. Local dialects, as well as Azeri, Kurdish, and Baluchi, were strictly forbidden. Some were deprived of even these family visits. For example, Raha spent six months in Qezel Hesar away from Evin without her relatives knowing. They presumed the worst.

Other factors worsened the situation. The Iraqi war caused shortages of food and medicine. Wardens dismissed food complaints with the retort that a nation on short rations could not


afford "sumptuous meals" for its internal enemies. Similarly, prison doctors withheld medicine on the grounds that the frontline troops were more deserving.

The mass arrests of 1981 turned the wards into "sardine cans."[90] In Evin, rooms initially built for fifteen contained thirty-five by early 1981 and seventy-five by late 1981. In Qezel Hesar, those built for eighteen housed forty-eight. In Gohar Dasht, those built for twelve housed ninety. At the height of the panic, thousands were jammed in the corridors, and to prevent breakouts were kept totally blindfolded around the clock. In winter, the cells were freezing. In summer, they were sweltering. Overcrowding also placed a sharp limit on time allowed in the courtyards; Evin prisoners were given no more than ten minutes per day. By early 1982, many suffered from vitamin D deficiencies. Ironically, overcrowding made solitary confinement a punishment the wardens could ill afford. Only the very important were kept in total solitary. The "coffins" were probably designed to ease this housing problem. Parsipour calculates that the twelve "solitary cells" in her wing of Qezel Hesar contained as many as 180 inmates.[91]

Mass executions turned prisons into morgues. Whereas less than 100 political prisoners had been executed between 1971 and 1979, more than 7,900 were executed between 1981 and 1985. At night inmates would count the gunshots, and the next morning compare their count with the list published in the official newspapers. Often hooded repenters stalked the wards looking for former colleagues to send to the scaffold. In Raha's words, the danger of execution constantly hovered over their heads like Damocles' sword.[92] In the prison literature of the Pahlavi era, the recurring words had been "boredom" and "monotony." In that of the Islamic Republic, they were "fear," "death," "terror," "horror," and, most frequent of all, "nightmare" (kabos ). To further impress the prisoners, the wardens often took them to survey dead bodies. For example, when Musa Khiabani, the second in command of the Mojahedin, and Ashraf Rabii, the spouse of the first in command, were killed in a shoot-out, prisoners were bused in to Evin from Gohar


Dasht and Qezel Hesar to view their bullet-ridden bodies. National television broadcast the macabre scene together with Ladjevardi cuddling Rabii's infant son.

The harsh conditions were further compounded by the social gap between inmates and the authorities. Whereas most prisoners, particularly leftists, were children of the modern middle class, the religious magistrates came from clerical families, the wardens from the lower levels of the bazaar, and the guards from rural backgrounds—especially from the Persian-speaking Shi'i regions of central Iran. This drastically reduced social empathy. Not surprisingly, prisoners often bore the brunt of class hostility. One Fedayi writes that his warden fancied himself to be a seminary "philosopher" and harbored a "visceral hatred" for the university educated.[93] Another writes that the guards "willingly obeyed orders to mistreat them since they were rural, illiterate, and semi-educated."[94] For their part, the prisoners mocked the wardens behind their backs—especially after Ladjevardi gave a sermon denouncing that "notorious Marxist named Mr. Anti-Duhring." Ideological intensity added to the problem as many revolutionary guards—in contrast to the policemen of the bygone era—were too committed to be malleable and bribable. Modernity had worsened prison conditions in more ways than one.

Harsh conditions took their toll. Some committed suicide. In fact, those forced to recant on national television were invariably put on around-the-clock suicide watch. The chador made suicide much easier for women. Some lost their sanity. Each ward had inmates who were either clinically depressed or had lost all sense of reality. The guards—like their counterparts in nineteenth-century Europe—often brutalized them, claiming they were feigning and a sound thrashing would bring them back to reality. Prisoners often pleaded with the wardens to hospitalize the hopelessly insane—especially those who had lost control of bodily functions. One inmate who had been forced to watch the hanging of a close relative compulsively smeared feces along the cell walls. Another incessantly bleated like a sheep. Another barked like a dog. Yet another—a former


teacher—constantly taught an imaginary class. One woman wore a heavy coat and full Islamic dress at all times—in the summer and even in the shower. Another—who had to be placed in solitary—refused to wear a stitch of clothing even in midwinter.

The prisoners developed various strategies to keep intact their bodies and minds. When possible, they exercised by pacing around the wards, cells, and courtyards. A few practiced yoga. They lent moral and practical support to comrades. They expanded their social networks, retaining old friendships and establishing new ones—but invariably within their own political circles. They treated all forms of sex as taboo. Parsipour writes that during the many years she spent in prison she heard of only one case of inmates having sexual relations—this despite the long sentences, the physical proximity, and the youth of most prisoners.[95] Similarly, a leftist who had spent five years in Evin told me that he had heard of only one incident of sexual misconduct. These political prisoners, like their predecessors, stressed the importance of sexual abstinence. Victorians did not have a monopoly over "Puritanism."

The prisoners made full use of the available books, newspapers, and television hours. In addition to the obligatory programs, they watched soaps, Hollywood movies, and sports—especially soccer matches. Women, however, were not allowed to watch the latter because the players wore short pants. They also improved their Arabic and English by reading the Koran and the government-published U.S. Embassy documents. On the whole, the presence of television and the absence of serious literature made these prisoners far less book-oriented than their predecessors.

When out of sight of the repenters, the prisoners practiced various forms of "passive resistance." They recited poetry; drew pictures; narrated the plots of old films and novels; and taught each other languages, especially Azeri, Kurdish, English, and French. They made fun of the religiously sanctioned books—especially Khomeini's and Dasgheib's discussions of sex. They quietly commemorated birthdays, secular holidays such as


Nowruz and May Day, and special anniversaries—especially the martyrdom of loved ones. They also secretly learned songs and tribal dances and played chess with homemade sets. Music was deemed un-Islamic. Chess was banned on the grounds that it had pagan associations and sexual connotations.

Most important of all, like-minded prisoners lived together and jealously guarded their territory. The Mojaheds, the Bahais, the royalists, the Tudeh and the Majority Fedayi, and the other leftists, especially the Minority Tudeh, Peykar, and Rah-e Kargar, lived in the same wards or sections of large wards. They ate together, shared chores, nursed their tortured and sick colleagues, and pooled their money, cigarettes, and even clothes. Only the royalists refused to pool their resources. In fact, these groups formed their own komuns even though the authorities had explicitly banned that leftist term.

Ironically, the najes rules helped demarcate the lines between Marxists and non-Marxists, repenters and nonrepenters, Muslims and non-Muslims. Prisoners entering Gohar Dasht were sorted out after being asked, "Do you pray or do you not pray—like the Jews?"[96] Those with positive answers were sent to the northern wards; those with negative answers, to the southern wards. By 1987, blocks 2 and 12 were reserved for Mojaheds with short sentences; 3 and 4, for Mojaheds with more than ten-year sentences; 5, for Marxists with short sentences; 6, for Marxists with longer sentences; 7 and 8, for Marxists with sentences up to ten years; 8, for Bahais; 9, for repenters; 11, for prisoners transferred from Kermanshah; 20, for the Tudeh; and 13, for the mellikesh—those who had completed their sentences but had not been released because of their refusal to give the obligatory recantations.

In most prisons, the wards administered themselves. They elected "leaders" as well as "officials" to portion out meals, pour tea, distribute reading materials, administer pocket money, procure goods from the prison shop, allocate shower time, choose the day's workers (kargars ), and assign them cleaning chores. They used the term "kargar" even though it, along with the term "komun," had been forbidden. The elected officials


also allocated sleeping space for the night, and, to ward off lethargy and depression, prevented inmates from taking naps during the day. Moreover, the prisoners channeled all communications with the guards through their elected leaders. Violators of this code were mercilessly ostracized. E.A. explains that the code was designed to hide internal differences from the authorities.[97] Furthermore, the wards held lengthy discussions and arrived at majority decisions whenever particularly divisive issues arose—issues such as whether to allow smoking or buy foods with few vitamins, such as watermelons, what television programs to watch, how much to open the windows during winter nights, and, in the women's wards, whether to risk lice infestations by permitting long hair.

Parsipour notes that leftists and the Mojahedin—despite their ideological differences—managed to live together amicably when thrown into the same wards. E.A. describes the wards as "egalitarian and democratic." He equates the ward leader to a democratically elected president; the officials, to similarly chosen ministers, governors, and mayors. He relates how at one point the largest ward in Evin had so many issues to resolve that it convened a two-day kongereh (congress). The issues reflected differences between Mojaheds and Marxists, between intellectuals and nonintellectuals, between political and nonpolitical prisoners, and between poor and better-off inmates reluctant to pool their resources. Such activities helped to create a sense of solidarity within the nightmarish context.

The few who managed to survive with body and mind fully intact did so because of special circumstances. For example, Raha was deemed fairly harmless since she had been picked up because of her brother. She had a healthy and insatiable interest in others—even those from rival political groups. She—like most other women who have written prison memoirs—was determined to survive to bear witness and "to remember everything and forget nothing about the martyred." She also had family connections. Her father, a bazaar merchant, had been a devout Muslim; another relative had served in the first post-


revolutionary cabinet. Her judge, who had studied theology with her father, treated her more as a wayward daughter in need of guidance than as a dangerous revolutionary. He was more than eager to release her—of course, on condition she produced the obligatory recantation. Such factors help to explain the intriguing phenomenon of why women have produced much of the recent prison literature. There is also another factor: whereas the men—invariably full party members—could not publish their memoirs unless instructed to do so by their organizations, the women, often only sympathizers, were free to record their personal experiences.

Prison conditions improved—albeit briefly—in mid-1984 when Montazeri, Khomeini's designated heir, supplanted Ladjevardi's cohorts with his own. Montazeri was rumored to have been outraged when shown photos of the "coffins." The new wardens received UN and Majles delegations. They stopped demanding religious observances and public recantations—instead they asked for short "letters of regret." They released many repenters and those who had completed their sentences. This immediately diminished the watchful eyes of the repenters, emptied Qezel Hesar of political prisoners, and alleviated the overcrowding problem in Evin and Gohar Dasht.

They were also more generous with family visits, food rations, soap, warm showers, courtyard time, and cigarettes—each prisoner, including women, was given three cigarettes a day. This was the first time women were permitted to smoke. They allowed language classes, writing materials, chess, Nowruz celebrations, and social calls to neighboring cells. They turned a blind eye to komun activities and quiet May Day celebrations. They permitted political discussions and group recreation, including volleyball, soccer, and early morning gymnastics. At first they insisted on appointing the gym leaders but relented when the prisoners demanded to elect them. They even allowed the reading of some nonreligious books, including Mowlavi, Sa'di, Pavlov, Freud, War and Peace , and Les Miserables . Somehow a work by Stalin—with his picture on the cover—circulated in the women's wards in Evin. Raha writes,


"In those days we leftists did not yet consider Stalin to be a dictator."[98]

The prisoners settled down to a daily routine. They woke up at 6.30 A.M.; had breakfast at 7.30; and from 8:00 until lunchtime attended classes. Some prepared for high school and college exams; some studied languages, especially English. The "workers" aired beds and cleaned out the cells. A few wasted time watching television. In the women's wards, some tended to their children—indeed, mothers without suitable relatives were allowed to nurse infants and raise toddlers in their cells. After lunch and the accompanying siesta, the prisoners exercised, gardened, or played team sports. Those in need of pocket money spent time in the prison workshops. After dinner, they watched television, socialized, read, and held komun meetings. Lights out was at 11:00 P.M. Parsipour, allowed to write her novel on condition she did not mention incarceration, stresses that in this period "prison conditions improved 180 degrees."[99]

By mid–1986, prisoners were openly challenging the wardens. Political prisoners in the largest Evin ward organized a successful hunger strike to remove all repenters and common criminals from their midst. Others organized another hunger strike demanding that the authorities deliver food to their doorsteps—not to the bottom of the stairs. They argued that if they picked up food at the bottom of the stairs, they would have to do endless chores throughout the prison. These chores were usually done by either repenters or Afghan prisoners. Others confronted the Evin warden on the sensitive najes issue, wanting to know how he—a German-educated engineer—could have observed such rules while living for years in Europe. They also wanted to know how dignitaries such as President Khamenei could travel throughout the world—including the communist countries—observing these "senseless rules." The warden was taken aback. Meanwhile, relatives held meetings in Luna Park demanding better prison conditions and information on those who had disappeared.

This mild period, however, ended as abruptly as it had begun. In mid–1986, most prisons were taken out of Montazeri's


control and transferred back to Ladjevardi and his associates. Unbeknown to their victims, this laid the groundwork for the worst horrors yet to come—the mass executions of 1988. For the survivors, their worst "nightmares" came not in 1981–84 or in June 1981—but in the summer of 1988.


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