Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Iran

Born In An Iranian Prison -- And Into A Lifetime Of Consequences

Hooman Musavi fled Iran upon being released from prison after several years of incarceration for "acting against national security."
Hooman Musavi fled Iran upon being released from prison after several years of incarceration for "acting against national security."
By Vahid Pour Ostad
A young prisoner sat blindfolded, facing a wall in Tehran's Evin prison. It was April 2010, nearly a year after the disputed presidential victory of Mahmud Ahmedinejad sparked massive street protests and thousands of arrests. The room was silent, but suddenly he heard a voice, closer than he would have expected.

"What's your name?"

"Hooman Musavi."

The prisoner felt a powerful blow to the back of his head. The man standing over him opened a briefcase and took out a pile of papers. "Sign them," he said. He struck the prisoner again, this time in the face.

"The session took 18 hours," says Musavi, 26, who recently fled Iran and shared his account of the experience with RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "The entire time, the interrogator threatened me and insisted I sign everything -- documents describing whom I had been in contact with, which demonstrations I had participated in, what reports and footage I had prepared, and to whom I had sent them."

Musavi, who had been arrested for participating in and documenting the Green Movement protests, cried throughout the incident. "I felt so much pressure," he says. Finally, the interrogation ended and guards took him back to his cell in the prison's infamous Section 209, the solitary confinement ward where he was to spend the next seven months.

Any relief at the interrogation ending was short-lived. Within minutes, two men had entered Musavi's cell and handcuffed his hands to a radiator affixed to the prison wall, so high that Musavi, already exhausted, could not sit down. As the hours passed, he watched as his hands turned purple from the pressure of the handcuffs and lack of blood.

"I was so weak, and the guard would open the cell door, put some food on the floor and close the door. I couldn't move a muscle, let alone reach for the food," he says. "I lost consciousness for some time, and when I came to, I panicked when I looked at my hands. They had turned black and purple by then. It was a very strange condition. My shoulders were numb; I couldn't move them."

A day later, guards entered his room and removed the handcuffs. Musavi fell to the ground, drained of all strength, as he felt the blood begin to flow back into his hands. The guards dragged him back to the interrogation room. The pile of papers had quadrupled. Musavi, desperate, said he was ready to sign whatever they put before him, but his hands were still too numb to hold a pen. So the guard brought an ink pad, and one by one, Musavi marked each piece of paper with a single fingerprint.
Hooman Musavi's father, Shantia, was executed as a political prisoner before his son was born. Hooman's mother died in a wave of mass executions when he was 2.Hooman Musavi's father, Shantia, was executed as a political prisoner before his son was born. Hooman's mother died in a wave of mass executions when he was 2.
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Hooman Musavi's father, Shantia, was executed as a political prisoner before his son was born. Hooman's mother died in a wave of mass executions when he was 2.
Hooman Musavi's father, Shantia, was executed as a political prisoner before his son was born. Hooman's mother died in a wave of mass executions when he was 2.

Day after day the interrogations continued, much as they had since security agents had stormed his Tehran apartment on April 1, posing as gas repairmen. They kicked him in the stomach, handcuffed him from behind, and combed every inch of his home -- even the meat in his refrigerator -- before taking his computer, camera, and mobile phone to look for evidence of Musavi's participation in the postelection protests.

But it wasn't just Musavi's role in the Green Movement that had made him a target of the authorities. His family history had contributed as well. It was something his interrogator liked to remind him of, every day, as he returned him to his cell. "We're going to execute you," the man would say, in a voice that would make Musavi shiver. "Just like your mother and father."

Repeating History

Hooman Musavi was born in prison, on Yalda, the night of the winter solstice, in 1986.

A month earlier, his father had been arrested on charges of cooperating with the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), which had participated in a series of antiregime attacks in the 1970s and '80s and had fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

Musavi's father, a textile manufacturer in the city of Shiraz, had sold head scarves to female MKO members. He and an in-law were taken to the city's Adelabad prison and were executed within weeks. By then, Musavi's aunt and mother had been arrested as well. Musavi's mother, Haiedeh, gave birth in Adelabad, and Hooman spent the first two years of his life inside the prison.

"My aunt used to tell me how I was always sick during those two years; I cried the whole time," he says. "I had sores and often caught bad colds. Even when I got older those symptoms stayed with me because of the stress I had endured early on. My aunt said my mother stopped producing milk and she couldn't feed me. So some of the female inmates would give their food rations to women who were lactating and could still breastfeed children. I used to be fed by five or six different women there in order to keep me alive."
Hooman Musavi's childhood was marked by poverty and neglect.Hooman Musavi's childhood was marked by poverty and neglect.
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Hooman Musavi's childhood was marked by poverty and neglect.
Hooman Musavi's childhood was marked by poverty and neglect.

In 1988, Musavi's mother was executed as part of a five-month wave of mass executions of political prisoners. "My mother was a very simple woman. She didn't even know what the ideals of organizations like the MKO were," he says. "She never gave up under interrogation; she remained faithful to my father until the last moment. She was executed for this very reason."

For the rest of his life, the shadow of his parents' executions hung over him. Two decades later, struggling to survive in Evin, Musavi began to share his interrogator's conviction that he would share his parents' fate.

"I was thinking they might come back and take me to the gallows at any moment," he says. "It had already happened to my family. I was raised with the understanding that innocent people can be captured and executed."

Lonely, But Never Alone

Musavi was raised by his aunt after she was released from prison. An older brother and sister had been divided between other relatives and lived far away, in Mahshahr and Tehran. His upbringing was difficult, marked by poverty and neglect. There was no fatherly hand on his shoulder, no motherly affection.

For years the young Musavi harbored a secret dream: "I wished that they would throw a birthday party for me and that someone would buy me a gift," he said. "But it never happened."

When attention came, it was unwelcome. Musavi was 12 when he received his first summons to the Shiraz division of the Intelligence Ministry. He had done nothing wrong to attract the gaze of the security services. In his words, he had simply reached the age when authorities saw fit to remind him of his family's history and urge him, firmly, to mind his manners.

"They questioned me and told me more about my family," he says. "When I entered high school, the interrogations became more frequent and they would always tell me not to follow politics. 'Fool around with girls, drink, use drugs -- do whatever you want, but don't get involved in politics. If you have the slightest political inclination we'll arrest you.'"

The warnings proved ineffective. After entering university in Qazvin to study industrial engineering, Musavi was called before the school's disciplinary committee numerous times for participating in student protests. "They would ask whether I prayed or why I was absent from visits to religious sites like Qom and Jamkaran. Questions that had nothing to do with the university and were meant to hurt me." Half a year before he was due to graduate -- and just a few days after the 2009 presidential election -- he was suspended.

'We Didn't Want Much'

Many claims of irregularities were made in the 2009 vote, which officially handed the incumbent Ahmadinejad a 62 percent win, with his reformist rival, Mir-Hossein Musavi, trailing with 34 percent. Outraged, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets of Iran to support Musavi and a second candidate, Mehdi Karrubi.

Hooman Musavi (no relation to the presidential candidate) was among the protesters, using his camera to shoot photographs and videos of the demonstrations in Iran. When the government responded with a forceful crackdown, dozens of protesters were killed and thousands, like Musavi, were arrested in the weeks and months that followed.

Looking back at the events, Musavi insists his activism had nothing to do with the remorse he still feels for his parents. His aim, he says, was purely rational. "We didn't want much," he says of himself and his fellow protesters. "We just wanted someone to answer our question -- what happened to the votes we had put in the ballot boxes?"

Friendship, Tears

After a few months in his tiny isolation cell, Musavi says he no longer feared his interrogators' threats of execution. To the contrary, he longed for it. "I would cry for hours in my cell, and ask God for them just to take me and execute me," he says. "Just to put an end to the situation."

After seven months Musavi got a reprieve of sorts, when he was moved out of solitary confinement and into Section 350, the ward reserved for political prisoners. Living conditions remained grim. But Musavi says after months of isolation he was happy to be with other prisoners -- especially former protesters like himself.

"They were dissidents of the regime or members of the Green Movement or prisoners of conscience, and there was so much sympathy," he says. "They gave me a jacket and a knit cap, and my morale began to improve. I really felt like I had no regrets about having gone onto the street to film the demonstrators, to help make sure the world heard their voices. It was a good feeling."

Hooman (right) was separated from his siblings as a child and they were not reunited until they were older.
Hooman (right) was separated from his siblings as a child and they were not reunited until they were older.

Section 350 held some of Iran's most famous political prisoners, including Hoda Saber, a well-known journalist and activist who had been serving jail time off and on since 2000.

In June 2011, the 52-year-old Saber began a hunger strike to protest the death of a fellow activist. His health quickly failed, and he died just eight days later of a heart attack. Witnesses at Evin complained that prison authorities ignored Saber for hours after his chest pains began, even as he begged for help.

"Mr. Saber was losing weight every day and his situation deteriorated," Musavi recalls. "During the final days he was left in his bed and he could no longer see. He didn't recognize his fellow prisoners; his condition was very bad. No one attended to him; when he would lose consciousness we would take him to the prison clinic. But they wouldn't take him and he'd be returned after five minutes.

"The last time we took him to the clinic we didn't hear until the next day that he'd become a martyr at the hospital. When the news reached us, the 200 inmates in the ward, there wasn't a single person who wasn't crying. It was one of the worst days of our lives."

No Mercy

Nearly a year after Musavi's arrest, officials had still not scheduled his court hearing; each month, a prison authority renewed his arrest warrant in order to keep him in detention. Finally, in March 2011, he was taken to court for a closed-door session. His lawyer was barred from attending and the Revolutionary Court judge was preoccupied throughout by workmen who had been brought in to repair the air conditioning.

The trial was over in 20 minutes. The judge, delivering the verdict, referred to Musavi as the son of antirevolutionaries and pronounced him guilty of acting against national security by participating in illegal gatherings and establishing contact with opposition satellite channels. His sentence: three years in prison, prohibition from all state universities, fines, and 74 lashes.

Another 16 months passed before Musavi was taken to be lashed. A total of 14 political prisoners were lashed that day: Musavi was the first. He had taken care to put on several layers of clothing, in the hope of dulling the pain. But a judge observing the proceedings ordered Musavi to strip down to a T-shirt.

"I was the first person to be lashed and I had the feeling that the soldier didn't know how to do his job," he says. "The lash consisted of three strands of leather woven together with a knot at the end, to make the tip very heavy and painful. When the soldier was lashing me, it hit me in the chest. My chest was purple, covered with bruises. My entire torso was swollen. I was doing my best not to moan or beg for mercy, but I asked: 'Why are you lashing my chest? You should hit me on the back.'"

The last prisoner in the group was a dentist who had been sentenced to nine years and 160 lashes for his satirical writing about religion. The remaining prisoners, already reeling from their own lashings, were forced to watch. The strokes of the lashes were so harsh that they peeled away his skin. Blood gushed from his wounds, and the man screamed in pain. Finally, it ended. 

"He was quite resilient, but when we took him from the room it was like carrying a corpse," Musavi says. "His condition was critical. None of the others bled from the lashings. Their skin wasn't cut, only bruised. But this man's body was bleeding in several different parts, and his skin was slashed open. We were all crying for him."

The 14 prisoners returned to the ward. No medical care was provided. The other prisoners brought bowls of water and strips of cotton to make compresses for their injuries. "It was if all the prisoners had been lashed," Musavi says. "Everyone felt crushed."

Escape, And Uncertainty

In August 2012, Hooman Musavi was released after 2 1/2 years in prison.
But even once outside he continued to feel trapped by the thoughts of his fellow prisoners still held in Evin. He visited their relatives and went to see the graves of activists who had lost their lives in the Green Movement protests, including Neda Agha-Soltan, the student whose shooting death was captured on video and became a graphic symbol of the brutality of the government crackdown.

But even these quiet activities drew the attention of the security forces. Musavi's interrogator summoned him with a warning, reminding him of his months in solitary confinement and promising he would not escape the gallows again if he returned to prison a second time.

Left with no other option, Musavi fled the country, carrying only a small pack of possessions. (For his protection, his location has been left unstated.) He is uncertain what the future holds, but hopes that he will finally escape the destiny of the child, born and orphaned in prison, who could never outrun the Iranian regime.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Human from: Earth
February 06, 2013 17:27
Clearly written to appeal to emotions of the average Western reader. Probably parts of the report are true, but exaggerated, makes a great case to get an asylum in a Western country.

In July 2010 Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) stated that anti-Islamic Iranian reporters “have been granted a free pass to publish whatever they like in the western press. Without effective ways of verifying sources or checking facts properly, the attitude of western press has been to take whatever they get from journalists in Iran. This approach, coupled with the perception that persecuted Iranian activists find it easy to relocate to the West, has created seductive opportunities for those willing to take a few risks. ….several journalists both in Iran and abroad who, when asked about the veracity of their reports, admit to exaggerating their claims. They take the attitude that the Iranian state’s propaganda machine is so strong that it needs to be countered with equally damaging reports of infamy. Such attitudes never made much sense, but they do so even less now, when it is essential for westerners to have an accurate grasp of the situation in Iran.”
In Response

by: MF from: NZ
February 07, 2013 01:14
From what I understand of your reply, you are saying that stories such as this do nothing to help shape Westerners views on the Iranian government.

I ask you then, what would?

When a typical, educated ‘Western’ view is that of freedom, I struggle to imagine a story coming out of Iran to counter this mentality to…. “You know what, maybe political repression is a good thing and Iran have it right”.
In Response

by: Sey from: World
February 07, 2013 15:47
So what you say is that the use of predominantly false information to create slanderous propaganda about a country, its government, and its people is justified because it helps to spread feelings ranging from mild opposition to severe pathological dislike of a nation on people living thousands of kilometers away?

I would like to see what your opinion would be as a New Zealander, if you knew from inside your country that some of your own people, disguised as "activists" of any kind, openly work for the interest of foreign governments, openly spread lies about the conditions your country is in just for political purposes, and have even endorsed and supported foreign country's threats of war and destruction against your nation.

Now I don't know how they would call this in New Zealand, but I am sure the definition would be something similar to "treason".
In Response

by: Truth from: West
February 08, 2013 18:16
This story is Islam in action. It is absolutely true. Muslim prisons make Gitmo look like paradise. They need to go back to having a Shah. He was better then what they have now.
In Response

by: Frank from: London
February 09, 2013 17:19
I don't think this is exaggerated:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgPUhwUujOA

I suspect the person being beaten up in the above video is just a currency protester who was pulled out of the demonstration into a side street on one of the days when the rial plunged sharply.

I think you fail to understand just how polarised the country is and how intense the battle for the control of Iran's natural resources is. The leadership will stop at nothing to impose its will, including developing ballistic missiles with nuclear war heads if that is what it takes to force the West to accept its dogma (West = evil. Iranian regime and its doctrine= good).

In that context, I don't find anything glaringly obviously wrong with above gentleman's account. Torture (and execution) save cash in the short term. In the long term this man will probably need a lot of expensive medical help if he is ever to have a normal life.

I am in favour of removing Iran’s "weapon" of “nuclear ambiguity” by force if they don’t provide satisfactory answers about their past nuclear activities as I feel sure they would use "nuclear ambiguity" to bully their Arab neighbours just like Iran bullies its dissidents (e.g. the blogger, Sattar Behesti).

The idea of Iran bullying Israel of course is an oxymoron: Israel can take care of itself, and its acquisition of land by stealth from the Palestinians has gone far enough in my view, even if the land in question once was Jewish in biblical times. (I would be open to reasoned arguments from Shimon Perez or someone of his stature if I've got that wrong).

I think Western politicians will have to ignore the harrowing stories coming out of Iran and take a calculated decision based on the number of casualties WE are likely to suffer before attempting to put a stop to Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions by force, and of course the Iranian leadership has been clever in reducing the break-out time (the increased efficiency of and the number of centrifuges ensures that) to the point where it is likely Western politicians will make a botched decision (like on Iraq).

I just hope an Iranian Spring makes the task unnecessary. It is not rocket science to bring greater happiness to a larger number of Iranians than is currently the case. No doubt the regime would argue greater happiness now is at the expense of it in the next life. To hell with the next life. Just my view.

In Response

by: Sassan from: USA
February 09, 2013 21:39
You are no "Human". You are someone who justifies the oppression of people and attack the story of an Iranian who has suffered under this brutal regime. One Iranian out of thousands who have suffered a much worse fate. Shame on you.

by: Bill Webb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
February 07, 2013 20:59
I remember when growing up studying world history about the Persian Empire, among many other cultures around the world that had risen and waned. Nothing that I thought particularly warranted further study. When the revolution in Iran toppled the Shah, still nothing of particular interest to me, until I learned that they had taken the entire American embassy staff hostage. I had heard of embassy staffs being expelled by one country or another, but never taken hostage. That immediately got my attention, and I followed the drame in the news closely. On the day that Reagan was sworn into office as President they released the hostages, and I can imagine what promises were made by Reagan if the situation did not end on the day he became Commnder-in-Chief. Now I find myself watching Iran very critically, covering all the world's news sites, and Iran's prospects get worse every day. From the brutal repression, public hangings, fanatical Islamic anti- American rhetoric, nuclear development, strife with Israel, alignment with Hezbollah and Syria, it all points to their downfall sooner than later. I really sympathize with the people of Iran that have been swept up in this circus.

by: magdog54 from: canada
February 08, 2013 14:41
If you think this story is bad, just imagine what homeland security does to the 3000 plus they have.

by: Tala
February 08, 2013 20:12
Most likely exaggerated.
In Response

by: Michael M from: Illinois
February 08, 2013 22:42
"Most likely exaggerated"? What is your evidence? Or, rather, what is your agenda?
In Response

by: Sey from: World
February 09, 2013 19:36
Citing "Human" from above:

In July 2010 Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) stated that anti-Islamic Iranian reporters “have been granted a free pass to publish whatever they like in the western press. Without effective ways of verifying sources or checking facts properly, the attitude of western press has been to take whatever they get from journalists in Iran. This approach, coupled with the perception that persecuted Iranian activists find it easy to relocate to the West, has created seductive opportunities for those willing to take a few risks. ….several journalists both in Iran and abroad who, when asked about the veracity of their reports, admit to exaggerating their claims. They take the attitude that the Iranian state’s propaganda machine is so strong that it needs to be countered with equally damaging reports of infamy. Such attitudes never made much sense, but they do so even less now, when it is essential for westerners to have an accurate grasp of the situation in Iran.”
In Response

by: Frank from: London
February 10, 2013 19:35
Tala,

Scepticism is a healthy thing, and Iranian lying is undoubtedly a problem. However, I think it is best to be generous and believe this man's story unless there is something glaringly inconsistent in his story. For what it is worth, I lived and worked in Iran throughout the revolution (arrived Aug 78, expelled July 79). Despite all the shooting and the opportunity to be evacuated (and the parental pleas to leave) I stayed on as long as I could. Nothing however prepared me for one day a few years ago when I thought I'd boast about my investments in risky countries and I searched for a still picture of a hanging in Iran to shock someone: I got more than I bargained for: I stumbled (by searching on the French expression "pendaison Iran") on a film of 3 alleged criminals being hanged from a traffic light gantry in Qom, no doubt freshly uploaded from, I assume, a mobile phone in Iran. I never reported the film, so it may still be there. If it is, I advise you not to watch it under any circumstances. It left me quite disturbed for days afterwards (I read the reports of people claiming to have watched the hanging of Saddam Hussein, and I thought how sordid, but this clip was probably far, far worse). A man ran across three pick up trucks parked side by side under the traffic lights kicking the oil barrels (on which the victims were standing), one after the other, with such force, off the back of the pick up trucks. The whole thing took a matter of seconds. I don't recall the end: I must have stopped the film. it was the intense pleasure the hangman seemed to take in his job that really disturbed me (there was maybe an intense hatred in the way he kicked those oil barrels?). There was also a crowd of spectators: that also disturbed me, and of course the lack of dignity of the whole affair was deeply shocking (it still is). I think it is best to assume such brutality is common in Iran today. By the way, I don't think I am against the death penalty in America, but I am against it in Iran and in the UK (the UK does not have a gun problem and Iran does not have trials that are of a sufficient standard to guard against miscarriages of justice). Even Iranian journalists based outside Iran are having their families threatened in Iran. I can see no reason to disbelieve this man's story. Just my view.

P.S the link to the Youtube film I posted earlier of the beating up of what might be a currency devaluation protester is shorter than when I first viewed it. It has been sanitised perhaps to obey Youtube's terms and conditions: originally it showed the body being loaded into the boot of the car after the beating. I assume the victim was unconscious (and not dead) although the boot was closed on him in the original clip. Of course the emotional response to these events has no place in Western Governments' decision making on whether to help bring about regime change: they have to have regard to all the casualties that have not yet occurred in weighing up what to do about Iran. They also have to deal with a sceptical electorate who say Iran has never attacked anybody; that we are only doing it to steal (control?) their natural resources; and that Iran does not have a nuclear bomb (true) and that in any case Iran should have a bomb to counterbalance Israel. I'll leave it there if I may.

by: Sassan from: USA
February 09, 2013 16:27
Thank you for sharing this wonderful article. Iran is one big concentration camp holding over 70 million Iranians hostage. This harrowing story is just one story of many. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. May Iran soon be liberated.

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