Jailed Activist Describes Torture in Letter to Supreme Leader
Abdollah Momeni, a prominent Iranian activist jailed since June 2009, has described being severely tortured, forced to make false confessions, and subjected to a “show trial” in a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Momeni is serving a four years and eleven months prison sentence in Ward 350 of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
The letter is being published for the first time by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Momeni wrote the letter to Khamenei after learning of Khamenei’s remarks at a prayer sermon saying, “Whatever accused persons say about themselves in court is credible.”
The letter provides significant documentation as a testimony about the treatment of one detained and prosecuted in a post-election trial. Momeni describes severe beatings and suffocations by interrogators until he became unconscious; his head being held in a toilet bowl; solitary confinement for 86 days in a 1.6×2.2 meter (4.8×6.6 ft) cell; repeatedly being threatened with imminent execution; being forced by his interrogators to practice false confessions before his trial; and the complete lack of independence of his Judge, Abol-Ghassem Salavati, and other judicial authorities prosecuting him. His account reveals the overwhelming influence of interrogators and intelligence agents during his prosecution, which demonstrates its political nature.
During the past 15 months, the Campaign and other human rights organizations have continuously reported on systematic post-election violence, torture, and forced confessions of prominent detained civil society activists.
Iranian officials have repeatedly denied these reports. In the February and June 2010 sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Javad Larijani, Iran’s top human rights envoy, denied any torture taking place. On 30 August 2010, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manoucher Mottaki, told the German weekly Spiegel that no false confessions are coerced inside Iran’s prisons.
Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Larijani have not taken any steps to address the violence and torture by intelligence and security agents and have denied them. However, Momeni’s letter, as well as an earlier letter by Hamzeh Karami, a political activist providing similar details, makes it impossible for the Iranian leaders to claim ignorance of these crimes.
Excerpts of Momeni’s letter are below; the full text can also be viewed here
- On His Detention:
“Beatings, verbal abuse and degradation, and illegal treatments started at the very moment of my arrest. During my arrest, tear gas was used, which prior to this had only been used in the streets and open air. Breathing teargas in a confined space made me feel as if I were choking and rendered me unable to move. Still, the security officials did not stop at that. With great spite and hostility they began to beat me, punching and kicking me, so that they could turn me over to their superiors at Evin prison with a bloody nose, mouth and bleeding teeth and shackled arms and legs … From the very beginning, I was faced with this constant proclamation that ‘the regime has suffered a crack’ and the constant promise that ‘you will all be executed.’”
- On Torture and Ill-Treatment
“During the 86 days I spent in solitary confinement I never saw the color of the sky. During the 7 months of my detention in the security wards of 209 and 240 I was only allowed to go into the courtyard on 6 occasions. After my time in solitary confinement and the end of my interrogations and my court hearing, I was only allowed to contact my family every two weeks—calls that lasted only a few moments and during which my interrogator was present.”
“They cursed at me and my family and after a good beating, while cursing at me and belittling me, they said, ‘We will prove to you that you are a bastard child and that you are the result of illegitimate relations.’ These words made me angry and I responded by fighting. They forced my head down the toilet. They shoved my head so far down the toilet that I swallowed feces and began to choke. They pulled my head out of the toilet and said that they would leave and come back at night and that I had been provided this time to confess to my sexual indiscretions. They claimed that I had to ‘explain fully who I had had sexual relations with, when, how and where.’ They even demanded that I falsely confess to being raped as a child. On many occasions I was threatened with the prospects of being raped with a bottle or a stick. This was so extreme that for example the interrogator of the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic would vow that he ‘we will shove a stick in your rear so far that even 100 carpenters won’t be able to extract it.’ He would also claim that: ‘we have informed some web-based sites about your sexual indiscretions and these details will be widely distributed via Bluetooth and CDs.’”
“The iron fist of interrogators would often result in my passing out. On several occasions the interrogator strangled me to the point of me losing consciousness and falling to the ground. For days following these strangulations, I suffered such severe pain in the neck and throat area, that eating and drinking became unbearable.”
- On Coerced Confessions
“… the interrogations had only one aim: to break the prisoner and force him to confess to what it was the interrogator wished. When we asked why it was that they used such methods to extract such confessions, we were told that, ‘According to the founder of the Islamic Republic the preservation of the Regime is the foremost obligation.’”
“During interrogations, whenever I did not respond in accordance with the ‘will of the interrogator’, or as he put it “in line with the interests of the regime,” I was told that either I had ‘to respond as we want you to, or you have to eat and swallow your interrogation form.’ This was not a threat. After refusing these demands, they would force feed the interrogation forms into my mouth.”
“From the start of the interrogations, I was forced to write against my friends and those close to me and when I resisted, besides being beaten and slapped repeatedly, I was given this response by the interrogator, ‘You have to write against others so that your own notorious personality is demoralized.’ Perhaps this logic, which was intent on demoralizing and breaking me, justified their insistence that I confess to sexual relations and indiscretions which I had not had. When I objected that these accusations were not true, and insisted that I could not implicate myself in a false confession, I would receive beatings and insults and would be told that, ‘We will bring a prostitute to your court hearing to confess against you and say that she had illegitimate sexual relations with you.’”
“More than 400 days have passed since my arrest…I just want to inform all that I continue to hold the same beliefs that I had prior to my arrest and I remain true to those beliefs. As explained earlier, the statement I read in court and under pressure does not represent my beliefs.”
- On “Show Trial”
“Following these abuses, 86 days in solitary confinement and 50 days of being completely out of touch with the outside world, lack of access to my family, lack of phone privileges or visits (which resulted in everyone outside of prison wondering whether I was actually still alive) and after practicing my lines with the interrogator to ensure I made statements implicating myself, I appeared for my court hearing. I appeared in court despite the fact that I was not allowed to have a lawyer of my own choosing representing me.”
“This was a court after all, where my testimony was dictated to me by my interrogators beforehand. The interrogators had falsely promised me that if I read the testimony they had prepared during my court hearing, they would release me, by the end of September 2009. But freedom was not my motivation for reading their statement in court and implicating myself in confessions. I was only looking for a way to free myself of the constant physical and emotional torture that was being inflicted upon me in prison… I was hoping that I would not have my head jammed into the toilet bowl in order to extract a false confession. I was hoping to free myself of the constant beatings, punches, kicks, and slaps of the interrogator. I was looking to free myself of the constant threats of execution and other promised acts of violence against me.”
- On Independence of Judicial Authorities
“Interrogators said that they were in fact the ones who issued court rulings. Perhaps it is important to note that the judge in charge of my case (Judge Salavati) had explained to me that ‘if the interrogators are satisfied with you, we will free you.’ This statement in and of itself reflects the level of independence enjoyed by judges and court officials.”
“ It is a fact that these false confessions are then used by the court system and judges, as a basis for the issuance of verdicts and sentences. This cooperation between the court and interrogators takes place despite the fact that on many occasions I personally witnessed how interrogators insulted and cursed the judges and prosecutors. The interrogators believe that the judge and prosecutors play no roles in the issuance of sentences and their opinions do not count. Interrogators believe that they are the ones who decide for the judicial system and for the regime as a whole.”
“The interrogator said “The prosecutor is a nobody and that I am the one who decides.” The interrogator told me that in my meeting with the prosecutor I should not demand the services of a lawyer. In the end and to my disbelief, my interrogator was present during my meeting with the prosecutor—the same interrogator who had tortured me, and the experience of this torture over several months was more tangible than all other possibilities. So, it was only natural that under these circumstances I did not have much to say to the prosecutor.”
Source: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran