Iran Special: Revisiting the Horrors of Kahrizak Prison --- The Guilty, the Victims, and Their Families
Masih Alijenad writes for Rah-e Sabz, with translation by Azita Irani:
“Kahrizak” ---- Although familiar to locals, the word was only elevated to heights of infamy, in the most bitter, painful and tragic ways, in the disputed 2009 Presidential election. The public --- both domestic and foreign --- learned about a place called Kahrizak Prison, a detention centre where those protesting the election results were subject to mistreatment, beatings, abuse, torture, and, in some cases, death.
Kahrizak is located on the south side of Shahr Ray, a small town south of Tehran. Under a plan introduced in 2004, with the pretext of “collecting the gangs and thugs”, the Islamic Republic’s security forces began using Kahrizak as a holding place for those arrested. Shortly afterward, scores of journalists, human rights activists, and the Prisoners Rights Defense Committee (PRDC) began objecting to the mistreatment of the detaineds. The journalist and human rights activist, Shiva Nazar Ahari, and PRDC member Mehdi Mahmoudian were among the activists raising public awareness about the dire conditions.
But the efforts of Mahmoudian and other journalists and human rights activists fell short of drawing local or foreign attention to the real magnitude of the catastrophe. Many of those protesting the 2009 election were transferred to Kahrizak where, according to eyewitnesses, they ended up in groups of 30-40 shoved inside containers with a maximum capacity of 10 people. The detainees were kept in the worst possible physical and sanitary conditions, in the scorching summer heat, inside these containers. They were repeatedly tortured. Many of them, according to other prisoners and former officials, were raped.
This is why the word Kahrizak is now intertwined with and reminiscent of several people’s names: from those in charge of this prison, to those beating and torturing the prisoners, to the whistleblowers of the place, and finally to the victims of the unspeakably brutal violence inflicted in the centre.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Amidst waves of post-election protests and objections to the extremely violent treatment of the detainees in prison, the Islamic Republic’s leadership could not deny the allegations. In an interview, the director of Iran’s prison systems, Gholam-Hossein Esmaili said, “There is no such thing as Kharizak prison in existence.” But ultimately Iranian officials accepted responsibility for all the crimes and murders that had taken place at Kahrizak.
On 5 August, the Chief Deputy of Ayatollah Khamenei in the National Security Council publicly announced the orders issued by the Supreme Leader for permanent closure of a detention facility for not meeting “required standards". A day later, Kahrizak was named.
In a public statement at the time, former President Mohammad Khatami raised questions: “What exactly does substandard mean?” “Was it the broken air conditioning system?” “Or maybe unclean bathrooms?” Then he answered, “There were crimes that were committed; there were lives that were taken....We must investigate all these.”
Following the Supreme Leader’s indirect acceptance of responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, and his ensuing orders to close down the facility; the Chief Director of Police Inspection Committee, Mr. Tashakori appeared in front of the cameras of Seda-o-Sima [state owned national TV/radio] and formally apologised to anyone who has endured damages or injuries at any point in Kahrizak’s history. After that, news about Kahrizak was no longer limited only to the opposition media; the regime-supporting media outlets, though reluctantly, began to also address the stories of some of the Kahrizak victims. The fathers of Mohsen Rouholamini and Mohammad Kamrani, 2 of the slain prisoners of Kahrizak, demanded a legal pursuit of the murders of their sons, in a meeting with the Supreme Leader.
A name that was frequently mentioned in connection with Kahrizak was that of the chief prosecutor at the time, Saeed Mortazavi. Several reports were also published about Ahmad-Reza Radan, Deputy Chief of Police.
Among the whistleblowers who revealed the stories of torture and rape in Kahrizak were Mehdi Karroubi, former Speaker of Parliament and a 2009 Presidential candidates, Mohammad Davari, and Mehdi Mahmoudian, and Karroubi's campaign aide Mohammad-Hossein Sohrabi Rad.
Although official records only named three victims --- Mohsen Ruholamini, Amir Javadifar, and Mohammad Kamrani, --- who died at Kahrizak, the families of Ramin Aghazadeh and Ahmad Nejati-Kargar announced that, after their release, their sons had to be hospitalized and subsequently died as a result of injuries and infections caused by severe beatings and torture in the centre.
And Kahrizak continued claiming lives. Following the orders for a legal investigation into Kahrizak crimes, a young doctor named Ramin Pour-Andarjani, who was the attending physician in charge of tending to the injured detainees, began revealing information which led to his mysterious death.
Tehran’s Prosecutor General Saeed Mortazavi has repeatedly been named as the primary suspect in Kahrizak records, by most of the dead prisoners’ families, by the special Parliamentary Committee in charge of investigations into Kahrizak files, and by police personnel. Even his successor, Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, has referred to Mortazavi as the “most identifiable” figure in the case of Kahrizak.
In the first days following the Kahrizak killings, Panjereh, a local periodical, published a report citing the words of Mohsen Ruholamini’s father, identifying Saeed Mortazavi as the main official giving orders. After the news of the beatings of Kahrizak detainees broke, Saeed Jalili. the Secretary of the National Security Council, delivered the Supreme Leader’s message to Mortazavi for the transfer of Kahrizak's detainee to Evin Prison. Mortazavi hesitated, citing "lack of available space" in other prisons, but eventually Ayatollah Khamenei ordered the closure of Kahrizak.
In the first court hearing for security agents charged with misconduct, police personnel testified that, after the death of prisoners, Mortazavi had verbally ordered them to record the cause of death as meningitis. They followed his orders by drawing up letters on the letterheads of Mehr and Loghman hospitals. This news was also confirmed by the families of the slain Amir Javadifar and Mohammad Kamrani.
There is a precedent for this action. After the mysterious death in detention of Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003, the Executive Director of Foreign Media at the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, Mr. Khoshvaght, said that Mortazavi had verbally instructed him to announce on the official stationery of the Ministry of Islamic Guidance that Zahra Kazemi did not have a permit for photography or journalistic work. Mr. Khoshvaght added in his letter to the Parliament that Saeed Mortazavi had threatened him with legal prosecution, for having issued a permit to a “spy”, if he refused to follow his instructions.
Mortazavi has not been prosecuted, despite the legal claims filed against him by the families of dead prisoners. Instead, following his discharge from the judiciary system, he was promoted to “Special Representative of the President” and “Head of Taskforce against Smuggling of Goods and Currency” on the direct orders of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ahmad Reza Radan
In various interviews, Radan, the Deputy Commander of Iran's police and chief of the Tehran force, referred to Kahrizak as a suitable place of punishment for thugs and criminals. He had said that “the hellish 100+ degree heat of southern Tehran plus the lack of basic sanitation, as well as the stringent restrictions and extreme physical hardship of the place, will wake the prisoners up.”
Defending his role in Kahrizak, while surrounded by reporters on 11 August 2009, Radan said, “You know that I’ve always publicly divulged every information I have about every subject, but I’m not going to stoop to the levels of these rumors and false reports. Therefore, I shall not trouble myself with responding to these false allegations."
Radan similarly denied the killing of Ashura protesters, including those run over by riot police vans, in December 2009. He did so before the cameras of Seda-o-Sima, even as the film clip of a police car running over two pedestrians had been broadcast on YouTube and was fast making its rounds among 1000s of mobiles across Iran.
On 29 July 2009, one of the candidates in the 2009 Presidential election, Mehdi Karroubi wrote to Hashemi Rafsanjani, Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council. In his letter, he asserted that he was in possession of documented evidence attesting to the rape of several detainees at Kahrizak.
Karroubi asserted that, based on reports from the detainees themselves, several female detainees had been raped, with the cutting and injuring of their genitals. Many of the young male detainees had also been violently raped and left with severe depression and serious physical and psychological disorders.
Karroubi requested that Rafsanjani confer with the leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and create a task force to investigate this issue.
The news of the letter, which broke just days after the closure of Kahrizak, was met with strong reactions by the state newspaper Iran; however, the former head of judiciary, Hashemi Shahroudi had already issued orders for investigation of the contents of the letter, requesting that a team obtain the records and views of Karroubi, the Chairman of the National Trust Party.
Karroubi’s office in Jamshidieh district was raided by agents of the Prosecutor on 8 September. After questioning all staff and confiscating every document and record, including CDs, videos, computers and files, they shut down and boarded up the office. The day before, security agents had raided the offices of the committee designated by Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi to investigate violations against prisoners and the injured of post-election events, confiscating the committee’s records, documents, and computers and arresting Karroubi’s aide Morteza Alviri.
Karroubi never received a clear response from the IRI officials, about his request for investigations into the prison rapes. He is currently under a house arrest. Just one day before his arrest, in an interview with Jars, Karroubi had said that the protesters of Egypt and Iran are incomparable, as Iranian officials had already created a dark stain called the Kahrizak prison and instead of responding to our voices, they attacked us.
Mehdi Mahmoudian was arrested in the post-election events in 2009 and charged with propaganda against the state. He was sentenced to five years in prison and has spent the last two years in prison with no furlough.
Mahmoudian had written a letter to the Supreme Leader in 2007, alerting him to the violations of prisoners’ rights at Kahrizak. He never received an answer.
In his letter, Mahmoudian cited many accounts of inhumane and criminal behaviour by prison officials against “gang members" and "thugs” who were arrested on the streets and brought to Kahrizak. He wrote of beatings, foul language, rape, and physical, sexual, and psychological tortures inflicted on young men between 20 and 30. He wrote about dozens of prisoners who had lost their lives while in detention. He worte about forcing the prisoners to undress and then beat one another with heavy cables, about shoving more than 40 people into small 30 square-meter containers for weeks, about breaking arms and legs,He wrote about the ugly and inhumane manner in which the prosecutor of the time was treating the families of the prisoners.
After his transfer from Evin to Rajai-Shahr prison in April 2011, Mahmoudian wrote another letter to the Supreme Leader, reminding him that he had not responded to the first letter, “which resulted in the arrest of the son of one of your closest friends (Mohsen Ruholamini) who, along with a group of our dear young men, lost his life in the torture chambers of Kahrizak. And you just now suddenly remember to order the shutdown of that prison.”
In an interview, Mehdi Mahmoudian’s mother spoke of the pain and tortures to which this whistleblower of Kahrizak is being subjected, “Mehdi was kept for 8 hours outside, wearing only an undergarment, in 10 degrees below zero (14 degrees Fahrenheit) at Evin prison.” She added that, as a result, Mahmoudian contracted a lung infection and respiratory problems, adding to his nose bleeds and kidney disease.
Despite the pressure on him, Mahmoudian reminded Ayatollah Khamenei, “In prison, by YOUR orders, and according to one political prisoner witnessing the event, a young man was raped seven times in one night, and upon complaining to the prison warden in the morning, he got locked up in a solitary cell (or the Suite as the warden calls it), without any of the rapist perpetrators questioned.”
Mohammad Davari, journalist and the chief editor of Saham News, the official website of National Trust Party, was among those helping Mehdi Karroubi to film and document the prisoners who had been subjected to rape and torture. Davari was arrested, following Karroubi’s letter to Hashemi Rafsanjani, on 8 September 2009.
Even though, in a letter to Tehran’s Prosecutor General, Karroubi took full responsibility for all the documents and videos submitted as evidence of rape and torture and said that Davari was solely the videographer in the interviews and had no other role in the rest of the material, his aide was charged with propagating against the regime and received a five-year prison sentence.
His family had absolutely no news of him during the first eight months of his jail term. In a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, his family expressed grave concern over the conditions of Davari. Karroubi wrote Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari Doulatabadi, “Davari has been forced to make false confessions and to denounce the validity of the documents about prison rapes.”
Mohammad Davari was a teacher and worked for the Department of Education. But after his arrest, his salary was cut off. His elderly and ill mother, who lives in Khorasan, due to physical and financial difficulties, is unable to visit her son in a prison in Tehran every week. She has repeatedly pleaded with the officials to allow telephone access, but this has been denied for almost a year. She told <em>Rah-e Sabz</em>:
I have done everything in my power so far. We have sent repeated requests to several Human Rights organizations, to investigate my son’s condition in prison, to no avail. I have spoken with the officials many times, about my son’s circumstances and the cutting off of his salary and my own psychological and financial hardship. Alas, the officials don’t want to hear me or don’t want to do anything. Every door is closed on me.
Mohammad Hossein Sohrabi Rad
Along with Davari, Sohrabi Rad had participated in production of the documentary film about the crimes of Kahrizak that were going to be submitted to the judiciary and to the Supreme Leader.
Sohrabi Rad was sentenced to four years in prison and 74 lashes. Under enormous pressure in prison, he has eattempted suicide at least once. In an interview, his mother said, “They have accused my son of lying. However, if he had in fact lied, why then have his exact words been confirmed by the Investigative Committee at the Parliament?” She continued, “I ask the prosecutor, if my son has indeed lied, then all the members of the Investigative Committee who have said exactly the same things, must also be arrested and imprisoned, as they too are liars.”
Many believe that had it not been for the killing of Mohsen Rouholamini, the son of Abdolhossein Ruholamini, one of the high-ranking regime officials, Iranian leaders would never have assumed responsibility for the deaths at Kahrizak. Immediately after his son’s murder in prison, and while officials were essentially denying the existence of Kahrizak, not to mention the death of other protesters, Abdolhossein Ruholamini said in an interview, “We trust the system....Unlike those who can’t control themselves in the face of a small crisis, I am here to say NO, I do believe in our system.”
Along with scores of other young men, Mohsen Ruholamini was arrested on Thursday, 9 July by plainclothes agents, according to eyewitnesses, and taken to the police station on Kargar Street near Enghelab Square. The following morning, he and others were boarded on several buses bound for Evin and Kahrizak prisons. On 13 July, at 1:30 p.m., he was transferred to the Martyrs’ Hospital in Tajrish as an "unidentified" person. He died six hours later.
In an open letter, a former Revolutionary Guard Commander, Hossein A’laaii. revealed the details of Mohsen Rouholamini’s death: “Someone had called the office of Mr. Abdolhossein Rouholamini and told him: 'You are one of the officials yourself; why aren’t you asking about your own son?' To which, Rouholamini responds: 'I’ve been searching for my son everywhere for two weeks and no one knows where he is.' Then during that same call, he receives words of condolence and the address where he needs to go to pick up his son’s body.”
Abdolhossein Ruholamini has said to the media, “My son was an honest boy. He never lied. I am certain he has given an honest answer to whatever questions they had asked him. Perhaps they couldn’t bear his honesty and beat him up badly and killed him under torture. With the kindness of the officials, I was able to read his records. They had concealed the location of death and his corpse was delivered to the morgue as ‘unidentified’ person. “
The elder Ruholamini has repeatedly requested the prosecution of Saeed Mortazavi, Tehran’s chief Prosecutor at the time. He firmly believes that it was Mortazavi who had issued orders to transfer the prisoners to Kahrizak and that he is the primary suspect in this murder case.
Amir Javadifar was arrested during the post-election protests on 9 July. Later, the lifeless body of this 25 year-old man was delivered to his family.
The committee in charge of investigations of the post-election events reported that Amir Javadifar had died as a result of severe beatings which left his body extremely weak and unable to survive the injuries. His father, Ali, however, has repeatedly told a different story in multiple interviews. At the time of his funeral, he told Voice of America:
Amir was at Firoozgar Hospital, undergoing a full check-up. He stayed at the hospital for one night. He was completely healthy and walked on his own feet to the police. I gave him a drink right before he left for the police station. He laughed and said “I’ll be back in couple days.” But, but my son just left….I delivered him to them with my own hands. Why then did they deliver his corpse to me??... I did it because I knew that my son was innocent of any wrong doing. If I had even the slightest doubts about him, I wouldn’t have taken him there. I would have helped him escape. I delivered him to the law. But now I think respecting the law here is foolish. To whom should I take my plea? Based on law, they should investigate this incident, then identify and prosecute those who issued and those who carried out the orders in this crime.
Bobak Javadifar, Amir’s brother, describing the beatings and injuries sustained by his brother, said:
I have found and met with every single person who was near my brother at Kahrizak. They had told us that Amir had lost his sight in his last days, due to the eye infection he had contracted after the blows to his eyes, and in the unsanitary conditions of the prison. He had lost his ability to walk alone, since he couldn’t see. I have spoken with folks who had held helped him walk by holding his arm, so he wouldn’t walk into walls. Amir became very ill on the bus that was transporting the prisoners back to Evin, at 12:30pm on that fateful day of July 9th. They stop and let him out of the bus and lay him on the ground. Someone familiar with first aid tried to give him CPR. I have also spoken with that man. He said that Amir began coughing up blood. They did not bother taking him to the hospital. Perhaps if they had, Amir would still be alive.
Amir Javadifar’s father and brother have repeatedly said in interviews with the media that the former Saeed Mortazavi is the main figure responsible for the orders issued at Kahrizak and that he must be brought to justice.
Mohammad Kamrani was only 18. He was getting ready for the national entry exam of universities when he was arrested among the protesters on 9 July. By 16 July he was dead, due to his massive injuries.
His family later said Mohammad was arrested and taken to “Camp Kahrizak”. After much running around, his brother was told to bring a car and pick up Kamrani, but the family arrives to pick him up, they were told that their son was at Loghman hospital. They insisted that he was transferred to Mehr hospital, where he died.
It later emerged that Kamrani was among a caravan of detainees being moved from Kahrizak to Evin Prison when he collapsed at the gates during the acceptance process. The then Chief Director of Tehran Prisons, Sohrab Soleimani, announced that Kamrani was released and delivered to his family, while still alive. But Kamrani's father explained that, at Loghman hospital, “They had tied my child who was feverish and comatose, to his bed, with chains until he was transferred to Mehr hospital in Tehran, where he lost his life.
After learning of his son’s death, in a letter of complaint, the elder Kamrani named Saeed Mortazavi as the person responsible for moving the protesters to Kahrizak. He also wrote a similar letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, to which the Supreme Leder responded with an official order of investigation into his son’s case.
Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani
While the judiciary had officially named Mohsen Rouholamini, Mohammad Kamrani,and Amir Javadifar as the three victims of Kahrizak, Abdolhosein Rouholamini also added Ramin Aghazadeh Ghahremani to the list, as the 4th victim of Kahrizak and said that his cause of death has not been announced by the Government, so as to avoid adding to the pain already inflicted on society’s conscience.
Recently Ghahremani’s family broke their two-year silence. His mother told <em>Rah-e Sabz</em>:
I delivered my son to them with my own hands. I thought they would release him after a few questions. And he never returned home. His father and I went to that same police station in the afternoon ….We were told not to worry; your son will not be taken to Kahrizak. I ran after a soldier begging him to tell me what has happened to my son....My heart was aching....He said ma’am, I don’t know either. Go ask them. I went and asked the men inside and again was told there is no reason to be worried and that he will be out before sunset. But they did send him to Kahrizak in the morning and that was the last trip that he made.
After the family broke their silence, a reporter brought out an unpublished interview with Ghahremani's mother. She said both his shins showed deep scrapes that were caused by the blows of a baton. The left side of his body was completely black and blue. There were deep wounds on his slull and an even worse one on his neck. He had told her that they were forced to hop around instead of walking. They were forced to roll in the dirt and they were hung by their feet.
Ahmad Najati Kargar
There is yet another victim whose mother points to the location where her son was beaten, later dying in hospital of his extensive injuries. This mother is absolutely certain that her son was in Kahrizak, but officials have not yet acknowledged it.
She is Manzelat Mohammadi, mother of Ahmad Nejati Kargar, a 24 year-old young man who was arrested in June 2009. He died from severe beatings and injuries that led to infections that brought the final collapse of his lungs and kidneys.
Regime media has repeatedly attempted to deny the killing of Kargar, with one TV programme and Kayhan newspaper even claiming that he is actually alive, publishing the stories of a fictitious blogger who was claiming to be Kargar.
According to Saham News, after much fear and trepidation, Kargar’s family had finally found their way to Mehdi Karroubi and told him that their son was killed.
In an article the Mourning Mothers’ website, Kargar’s mother had described the prison scene, quoting her son:
From 6am they would begin beating us until night time when our only meal consisting of a piece of potato and a piece of bread, was served. And then we had to sleep standing up, since we didn’t even have enough space in our tight cells, to sit down.
Ramin Pour Andarjani
Ramin Pour Andarjani was a 26-year-old military physician who was assigned to Kahrizak to tend to prisoners. Official records cited heart attack as his cause of death; however, suicide was then declared. Ultimately, the coroner announced that Pur Andarjani died from poisoning.
The officials’ contradictory information about the young doctor’s death, added to the suspicions of his family, who became more persistent in their demands for thorough investigations. It was claimed that Pour Andarjani had made appointments with members of the Parliament to explore the conditions and circumstances of Kahrizak.
Pour Andarjani's father said, “The security forces had our son on loan. They had borrowed him from us… yet they called us one day only to tell us to come get his corpse, without ever giving us a convincing answer as to the cause of his death.”