Iranian prison from the inside

Beatings, no food, sleeping on the floor... Others had it much worse.

jail 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
jail 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
He is a young man who was arrested in the course of opposition protests following last month's Iranian presidential elections. He was released recently after he pledged to take no further part in such protests and after his family made a substantial bail payment. He was held in a detention facility he could not name, along with other detainees whose fate he does not know. He told this reporter he was beaten and struck with a belt. He did not consider this torture. This is his story. "I was arrested during a protest after I tried to help one of my friends from school who was being beaten by two plainclothes security people," he began. "My friend was able to escape, but I was unable to run away with him because I was hit on the back of the head with a baton by one of the riot policemen. After that, everything went black. I couldn't even hear the screams of the other people around me anymore. "The next thing I remember was my hands being tied behind my back, and all I could think of was my mother - my mother who had begged me not to go out that day. I knew this would break her heart. Then an unmarked van drove up and the Basijis pushed us in." Asked how many people were arrested with him, he said: "I honestly don't know. I was in a state of shock. Maybe there were eight or nine people with me in the van, but I could not tell even if I got my senses back, because we had been blindfolded." He did not know where he was taken, though he says "the drive seemed like forever." When he opened his eyes, he was in small and cramped room with three other detainees. "We were all so scared that we didn't even look at each other or talk to each other. But one of the other guys put his head down between his legs and started to cry. He was talking to himself, and God, saying 'What will my wife do? Oh God, what will my wife do?' "There was nothing in the room, not even electric light. There was no way to tell the time because there were no windows. I thought we were in a basement or even underground. We sat in the dark most of the time." But from time to time, the detainees were taken out of the room for questioning. "The first interrogation, the men simply beat us." They weren't questioned separately - instead, "they would beat us in front of each other." Then the real questioning began. "They asked us who had told us to come out and protest. I told them nothing, but another young guy in the room gave them some names. I don't know if he was telling them the truth or not, but they took him out of the room and he never came back… Maybe they let him go, I don't know. "When it was my turn, one of the guards took off his belt and began to strike me with it. As he did, he shouted, 'You kids don't know who you are; you want to destroy our country with the Americans and the British. It is my job to help you remind that you are Iranian.' "After the guard had said that, he repeatedly said 'Allah Akbar' as he struck me. He also said - I don't know why - 'I know who I am and I love my country.' "The beatings became routine for me," the detainee went on. "I was not afraid to be beaten. I didn't care that they made us sleep on the floor like animals and starved us just the same. To be honest, I've heard other guards did much worse to other people. I did not have any broken bones and we did not undergo torture. I think the guards really believed they were doing a service for God and protecting the principles of the Islamic Republic." There were other recollections as well. "After one of our [interrogation] sessions, when the men left the room," he said, "another detainee in the room with us began to pray out loud and we all joined him." Even as he told me this, he said, "The hairs on the back of my neck are standing up." Did he know what became of the others who were held with him? "I was lucky that my family paid my way out," he said. "All I can do is pray for them."