“Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments.”
Reza Zoghi, who was tortured at the Kahrizak Detention Center in south Tehran where three young men died as a result of the torture, has rejected an apology from then-Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.
“His apology is an insult,” Zoghi told the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “The first night we were transferred from Kahrizak to Evin Prison, Mortazavi threatened us [and told us] to say we had not been tortured. I don’t understand his apology and more importantly, he was not the only person responsible for what happened. Without a doubt there were higher ranking officials who supported Mortazavi, but were never identified or put on trial for the deaths at Kahrizak.”
After the peaceful protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election in Iran, dozens of protesters were rounded up by security forces and taken to the Kahrizak Detention Center. According to eyewitnesses, many were tortured. Three men died as a result of their torture. Mortazavi was deeply implicated in the transfer of the protestors to Kahrizak, and then falsified the cause of their death in order to cover up evidence of torture and murder at the facility.
Zoghi, who was 23-years old when he was taken to the prison, currently lives in Izmir, Turkey.
“Those who witnessed what happened at Kahrizak were never asked to appear in court to tell their story. Also, except for Mr. [Mohsen] Rouholamini [whose son, Mohsen, died there], no one has been able to pursue his case. All the other plaintiffs were pressured into silence with threats and intimidation and many of them left Iran,” said Zoghi.
Mortazavi, the main suspect in the Kahrizak suit brought against him by the Rouholamini family, submitted a letter about the deaths of the detainees to the Appeals Court on September 11, 2016.
“As I was the Tehran prosecutor at the time, I express shame for this terrible incident, even though it happened without any deliberate intention, as God and my conscience are my witness,” wrote Mortazavi.
“The bloody incidents that happened after the great plot hatched during the June 2009 presidential election were described as a crime by the supreme leader of the revolution [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], and I, the prosecutor at the time, deeply apologize and seek forgiveness from the innocent martyrs [Amir] Javadifar, [Mohsen] Rouholamini and [Mohammad] Kamrani, and hope God Almighty would bless them with the highest rank.”
The Green Movement grew out of the widespread protests against Iran’s widely disputed presidential election in 2009. The administration of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supported by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, swiftly responded with a harsh crackdown against protestors and anyone deemed supportive of the cause. The government still views the Green Movement, referred to by hardliners as “the sedition,” as a foreign-instigated plot aimed at regime change, and has kept its leaders under house arrest since 2011.
According to former Tehran University Law Professor Ghasem Sholeh Sadi, Mortazavi’s apology could be interpreted as an admission of guilt, but it could prove difficult to hold him responsible in court.
“The court could take this apology as an indirect admission of committing a crime,” Sadi told the Campaign. “But you can’t count on that because it depends on how you look at a lot of other laws relevant to this case, especially given that Mr. Mortazavi’s apology is vague. In his apology he wrote that it was not intentional and that he was not aware of what had happened.”
Speaking to the Campaign in reaction to Mortazavi’s trial, Zoghi said: “I and many of the former detainees have wanted to take our cases to international tribunals, but we don’t know how to proceed. We couldn’t pursue it in Iran because of all the threats and intimidation, but we are victims and our voices haven’t been heard.”
Recalling the night detainees were transferred from Kahrizak Prison to Evin Prison, Zoghi told the Campaign: “That night Mortazavi visited us and warned us not to say anything about being tortured. Then a human rights group visited us and we also had two visits by a group of MPs. We told them everything and gave our criticism. Meanwhile we were being interrogated every day and they wanted us to confess to what they were telling us. They wanted us to say that we were conducting propaganda against the state or colluding against national security.”
Zoghi continued: “We received treatment in the clinic for our injuries from the very first days when we arrived at Evin Prison. They bandaged our wounds and gave us shots and pills against infections. About two weeks went by before they allowed us to contact our families. I was freed on bail about 17 or 18 days after I was detained. The others were released a day or two before or after. By that time, the torture marks on our bodies were not so visible.”
According to Zoghi, about 150 people were rounded up at a protest rally in Tehran on July 10, 2009, and taken to Kahrizak, which at the time was not officially listed among the country’s detention centers. Five days later, three detainees—Mohsen Rouholamini, Mohammad Kamrani and Amir Javadifar—died as a result of torture.
Ramin Pourandarjani, a 25-year-old doctor who was serving as a conscript at Kahrizak Prison, and who had attended the injured prisoners, also died on November 10, 2009 amid mysterious circumstances. Dr. Pourandarjani had been named as a suspect in the Kahrizak torture case, and had been repeatedly questioned. On December 1, 2009, Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi claimed Pour-Andarjani had died from “drug poisoning.”
Tortured and Threatened
In an interview with the Campaign, Zoghi recalled the events following his arrest: “We were arrested by a few plainclothes agents near Revolution Square [in Tehran] on July 9 . We were first transported in a van to a security police station where they really beat us up during questioning. They also photographed us. Then, around 10 or 11 at night, we were transferred to another police station and were again questioned until morning. Then a judicial official named [Ali Akbar] Heydarifar gave us a piece of paper with five charges listed against us, including ‘propaganda against the state’ and ‘assembly and collusion against national security.’ He forced us to sign it and told us we were being sent to Kahrizak. He said we were going to be there until the end of the summer and by that time, if we were still alive, they would investigate our cases.”
“Every day they would force us to walk on the hot asphalt,” said Zoghi. “Every day, twice a day, they would take us to the yard in front of the infirmary and beat us with pipes. During the five days we were there, we were fed half a potato and half a loaf of bread, twice a day. There were about 150 of us, plus another 30 dangerous criminals, kept in a 60 square-meter area. We couldn’t stretch our legs to sleep so some of us had to stand up and take turns sleeping. One time they tied three of the detainees to the ceiling and viciously beat them. Before they were brought to Kahrizak, many of the detainees were already in bad shape from being severely beaten during police questioning.”
Zoghi added that when they were released, about three weeks later, 124 of the Kahrizak detainees lodged complaints at the Military Court on Shariati Street.
“The day I went there I saw a lot of the detainees. A few days later we received a letter that we could get free medical treatment. I went to Imam Khomeini Hospital where I was able to get pills to treat infections,” Zoghi told the Campaign.
“At the time I was serving my compulsory military service and hadn’t showed up at my barracks for a month. So a few days after I was released from prison, I was taken into custody by military police and three months were added to my service as punishment. After that I was busy with my military service and couldn’t follow up with my complaint. But there was a Colonel Nezamdoust who visited me several times and threatened me, telling me not to pursue my complaint. Finally I gave up. It was very painful. I had been threatened so many times that I couldn’t go through with it.
“In fact, none of us were actually able to pursue our cases. In the end, only the Rouholamini family was able to drag Mortazavi to court. But what upsets me was that none of our names were mentioned during the trial. It’s true that we survived, but we were all tortured. Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments.”
“Despite all the threats and intimidation, I and the others tried to voice the truth about Kahrizak. But even as I’m speaking here [in Turkey], I’m afraid something might happen to me if I leave the house.”
More than three years after the deaths of Rouholamini, Kamrani and Javadifar in 2009, their families finally succeeded in bringing Mortazavi to trial in February 2013 at Branch 76 of the Criminal Court presided by Judge Siamak Modir-Khorasani. The former Tehran prosecutor was charged with being an “accomplice to murder and illegal detention” and “assisting in writing a false report” along with two other officials, Hassan Zare-Dehnavi and Aliakbar Heydarifar.
Mortazavi denied all the charges. But Heydarifar accused Mortazavi of ultimate responsibility for ordering the detainees to be transferred to Kahrizak. According to Mohammad Saleh Nikbakht, the lawyer who represented the family of Javadifar, seven prominent medical examiners testified that all three victims “died from blows to soft tissues on their bodies during a 72-hour period.”
In November 2014, Mortazavi was acquitted of being an “accomplice to murder,” but was permanently banned from holding state positions. He was also fined two million rials (about $60 USD) for filing a false report.
Massoud Alizadeh, another detainee who was tortured at Kahrizak, told the Campaign in August 2015: “I never thought that with all the evidence against him, Saeed Mortazavi would be acquitted. Mortazavi was the one who sent us to the detention center and then wrote a false report that the detainees had died of meningitis…. This is a great tragedy. One should feel sorry for a judicial system that lets a murderous criminal go free.”
The Rouholamini family has not stopped fighting for justice. They filed an appeal against Mortazavi for the murder of their son and the case, which was taken up by Branch 22 of the Appeals Court in May 2015, remains in progress.