A former political prisoner and the daughter of two slain parents vowed to make sure the voices of Iranians who have suffered under the Islamic fundamentalist regime heard. The two women said they stand by other activists who continue to be arrested, tortured, and executed in Iran for supporting freedom and democracy.
On the occasion of International Human Rights Day (Friday, December 10), the torture and execution of political prisoners in Iran was the focus of a briefing in New York hosted by the non-governmental organization Women’s Freedom Forum. The treatment of women, especially women political activists, was featured.
The walls of the room were lined with documentary posters with names and photographs of men, women, and children who had been killed by the mullahs in Iran. A number of the photographs were family groups – mother, father, and two, three, four, five, even six children ‑ that had been killed by the Iranian regime for their political activism.
The program included videos and photographs of trials, lashings and executions over the past 25 years. Some images were from the early days of the revolution, some from the late 1980s, and one photograph showing the hanging of a group of seven men in Zahedan just three days before the event on December 7, 2004.
The victims are hoisted into the air by a crane in a public place in order to terrorize the population and suppress further resistance to the regime. Another Iranian-American pro-democracy non-governmental organization ‑The Committee in Support of Referendum in Iran‑sends out news clippings on a regular basis that document the executions of men, women, and sometimes children, as the Iranian regime executes minors. There are often two or three pages of listings of sentences and executions. Their most recent report for November 2004 listed 15 executions or sentences for execution. A number of them are punishment for political activity against the regime inside and outside Iran.
On November 10 a man in Tehran was sentenced to death for allegedly killing a Tehran district mayor.
On November 21 a political prisoner was sentenced to death for allegedly bombing a government building in 1998. He is the brother of man known to belong to an opposition group who was killed earlier. The report speculated that issuing a death sentence six and a half years after an alleged crime was retaliation against the opposition group for revealing information on the regime’s clandestine atomic sites.
On November 22 two men were sentenced to death for allegedly clashing with security forces.
According to state run media in Iran, 120 people were hanged in public during a recent six-month period.
At the briefing, Farangis, a former political prisoner described her experience and treatment by Revolutionary Guards in three different prisons. She was born in 1959 in the southwestern Iranian city of Masjid Suleiman in Khuzistan province. She became a political activist after the revolution when she saw the nature of the regime that Khomeini was constructing. She now lives in the U.S. with her family.
In 1978, I was accepted to the Medical Sciences University in Ahwaz to study nursing. At the university, the students were pressured by Hezbollah to join their Islamic political movement. Within a year, the Shah was overthrown and Hezbollah called for a cultural revolution in support of the new Khomeini regime, which included a purge of students from the university who didn’t support Khomeini. A number of students were arrested. They were abused and a few were executed. All the universities were then closed. I retuned home where I joined a union with other students to inform people about the activities of the regime.
At this time, my brother, who was 17 at the time, became politically active. He was later arrested in 1982, and within five months I was arrested also for political activity. During questioning, they tortured us to get information. When we would not answer their questions they said that since you are Muslims and you are not answering our questions you are subject to “tazir” –flogging. They lashed us 150 times with cables.
When I was whipped, I felt the pain for the first few lashes, then after the 12th or 13th ones, my body would go numb. Eventually, I would faint or freeze so that I couldn’t move. Then they would throw me back in the cell. At night, they took us out of the cells and make us stand on one leg in the hall. When we got so tired we put my legs down, they lashed us. I fainted from this routine a couple of times.
They kept us blindfolded when we were in the hall so we couldn’t see what was happening. Several times, I felt something burning my hands. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but later I learned that they put their cigarettes out on us. You can still see the scars on my hands. [Farangis held up her hands to the audience.]
They held a kangaroo court for the political prisoners. They placed a paper in front of me with 40 charges against me listed on it. I was forced to sign it. I was sentenced to four years in prison.
The arrest of my brother and I placed a lot of pressure on my family. My father became physically and mentally ill. He eventually had a heart attack and died. In prison, when I heard about my father’s death, I was not allowed to cry. Later, when they put me in solitary confinement, I could cry. As a result of the physical treatment and mental stress, I became paralyzed in parts of my body. I couldn’t talk, eat, or take care of myself. My mother requested that I be taken to a hospital, but they wouldn’t do it. They released me from solitary confinement and put me back in a cell with other women. The other prisoners helped me to take care of myself and used physical therapy to help me regain the use of my body.
Then some of us were moved to Evin prison in Tehran. The trip took 12 hours, and every few hours they would stop, take us out of the car, and beat us. When we arrived at Evin prison, we were beaten again. No one could stand up.
In Evin prison we had to wear a blindfold when we were out of the cell. We were told that if the blindfold came off we would be executed. As result of not being able to see, I fell on the stairs and broke my arm. I was taken to the prison clinic and treated by another prisoner. He said my arm needed surgery, but that was not permitted, so he set it as best he could and sent me back to my cell. You can see the difference in my two arms. [Farangis held up both arms for us to compare them. The right arm was visibly crooked.] To this day, I can’t pick up anything that weighs much with this arm.
After two or three months in Evin prison they moved us to Ghezel Hessar prison in Karaj, where I was placed in a cell with women as old as 60 or 70 and women with children aged one to four. One woman in her 60s couldn’t walk, so we helped her do everything. Babies and children up to the age of four were in prison with their mothers. They were often malnourished because the food was so bad. They suffered from the unsanitary conditions and often had fungus infections.
In 1985, with the promise of my mother to supervise me, they released me from prison. The first thing I did was go to see my father’s grave. I felt responsible for his death. I was depressed and wouldn’t talk to anyone. I just sat in the corner of the house. My mother took me to a psychiatrist to receive treatment.
Five months later, I married an acquaintance and we moved to Shiraz. My husband is here with me today. [She pointed him out in the audience.] I had to present myself to the Revolutionary Guards’ office every week. This was hard for my husband. During this time, I saw that things had become very difficult for women. I saw women sell themselves on the street to buy milk for their children. And children dropped out of school to sell things on the street to earn money for their families.
When I left prison, the Revolutionary Guards made me promise never to reveal anything that I knew, but I became angry at what I saw and became politically active again. I decided to tell people what I had seen in prison. I wanted to defend women in society against what was happening to them. The Guards found out about my activity so they raided our house and arrested me. I was seven months pregnant.
When they took me for questioning, I could hear my husband outside yelling for them to release me because I was pregnant. The second time I was imprisoned I received worse treatment. Every time I was questioned, I was kicked, whipped, and tortured. Because of the blows I received to my back, I gave birth to my baby early. My son was weak. They kept him in the hospital and sent me back to prison. I was suffering physically and mentally. I was still in pain from childbirth and then I was separated from my baby. Every day they took me to the hospital to feed him, and then took me back to prison. Finally, as result of efforts from my husband I was reunited with my son. At that time I was taken for questioning for 15 to 16 hours at a time. My son stayed with the Revolutionary Guards. When I got him back, his diaper had not been changed and his skin became burned. He was always crying because he was hungry and not in good condition. As a result of how I was being treated, I didn’t always have milk. I am still being treated for a condition I developed at that time. I went to the judge and begged for more food for my son, but he said that my son was a criminal too, and predicted that when he grew up, he would be against the regime too, so it was right to treat him as a criminal now.
In 1988, my husband got me out of prison by selling our house to raise enough money to pay the bribes that were needed. When they released me they told me that I couldn’t leave the country for 20 years. If I was arrested again, they would execute me immediately without a trial. They said they would make my husband ask for me to be executed.
In the summer of 1988, the Iranian regime executed thousands of political prisoners. [According to some estimates, 30,000 political prisoners were executed over a few month period.] My younger brother was one of the ones killed. [She pointed to a picture of him that she brought with her. The family resemblance was obvious.] In our small city, 30 people were executed each night. The whole community was in mourning, but they wouldn’t return the bodies to the families. They buried them in a mass grave. We were not permitted to mourn. No one could visit the families or talk about what happened. My brother had a four-year-old daughter. Every day, she asked me where her father was. I told her that he had gone to the sky and at night she looked into the sky trying to find her father.
I’m here today to be the voice of all those in Iran who have suffered and been killed. I’m the voice of young people and children who grew up in prison. I am one of the victims of the regime. I lost my father and my brother to this regime. Every time I look at the picture of my brother, I say, “I won’t forget you.” I won’t let people forget what happened to him and many others.
I know there are people who care. I know they care about human rights in Iran. I know they care about what is happening to people in Iran.
The event concluded with Hajar, an 18 year old woman, whose father, a medical student, was killed by the Iranian regime when she was two years old and whose mother was killed by the Iranian regime when she was eight years old, saying that although she was a student with exams next week, she needed to be at the event to make sure the voices of her parents are heard. She did not want them to die in vain. She ended by quoting the lyrics of song by Marzieh, one of the most famous singers from Iran, who supports the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Iran.
If I take a stand
And you take a stand
Then everyone will stand with us
But if I sit and you sit
Who will stand?
We have to speak
And we have to speak of the pain
We need the world to know what is going on in Iran
That it is wrong and something needs to be done.
Donna M. Hughes, Professor & Carlson Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She also made a presentation at this event on the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls in Iran. firstname.lastname@example.org