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The forgotten prisoner
Abbas Amir-Entezam, Iran's longest-serving political prisoner

By Fariba Amini
November 5, 2003
The Iranian



From Amir-Entezam's memoir >>> See excerpt

Iranians all over the globe received the news of Shirin Ebadi's Noble Peace Prize with great pride and admiration. Ebadi is an attorney whose devotion for the freedom of her clients and her lifelong commitment to the cause of human rights in Iran has won the hearts and minds of peace loving people. However, many remain in the Islamic regime's prisons on political charges. Abbas Amir-Entezam is among the most notable. Why is he still in prison? Why has he not been given a public trial?

Amir-Entezam remains the longest held political prisoner in the Islamic regime's jails. He has been in and out of prison since 1979. Deputy prime minister under Mehdi Bazargan's government and ambassador to Scandinavia, Amir-Entezam was branded as a spy working with the CIA shortly after the occupation of the American Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. The students who took over the embassy discovered secret documents that revealed repeated meetings between Amir-Entezam and American officials both in Stockholm, and Tehran.

Amir-Entezam, the spokesman for the provisional government, had direct orders from Bazargan as well as the Revolutionary Council, to get in touch with US officials after the fall of the Shah's regime. He was not hiding anything nor had he attempted to make any contacts on his own. For any new government, especially one emerging from a revolutionary period, establishing diplomatic relations with all governments, especially the U.S., was essential. After all it was a time when very sensitive issues were at stake: The Shah's return to stand trial, billions of dollars of Iranian funds held by US banks, and future relations with America and the West.

Bazargan was a pragmatic man who knew the delicate nature of foreign diplomacy. However, the inexperienced radical students who were in the heat of the revolution did not see contacts with the U.S. favorably. Ayatollah Khomeini, who had endorsed such contacts earlier, changed his mind and under the auspices of Hojatoleslam Moussavi Khoeiniha, blessed the embassy takeover and the capture of American hostages for 444 days. It was this foolish and irresponsible act that altered the entire course of the revolution and the future of Iran.

Amir-Entezam has repeatedly asked for an open public trial with a jury in the presence of international observers in order to obtain justice. But Islamic Republic officials have denied his request. Instead they have offered him amnesty on the condition that he accepts guilt, an offer Amir-Entezam has adamantly rejected. As a result he has spent most of the past 24 years in jail, with periodic release for medical treatment or short stays at his residence. His health meanwhile has deteriorated.

In his published prison diary, On the Other Side of Accusation, Amir-Entezam denounces accusations against him with facts and reveals the reasons behind his arrest and life imprisonment. He writes of his meetings on behalf of the government, Khomeini himself, and other senior clerics. He recollects his arrest first at the hands of the students inside the embassy compound then at Evin prison, numerous letters to regime officials, as well as meetings with various clerics and American officials prior to and immediately after the fall of the monarchy in February 1979. He writes,

In my meeting in Stockholm with a person by the name of Kennedy at the US Embassy I said: the US government has always meddled in Iranian affairs since the coup of 1953 and has supported the Shah in creating a repressive regime in Iran. The Iranian nation is worried about the future role of the American government in our attempt to get rid of the monarchy. We expect the US to support the freedom movement in Iran. We have no quarrels with the US or the American people. We want to create a new and prosperous Iran.

All through his ordeal, when the hardline students arrested him on baseless grounds and kept him in isolation, Amir-Entezam's boss defended him unconditionally. Prime Minister Bazargan, seen by many as too weak towards Khomeini and his cronies, defended his deputy in press conferences and spoke in his favor during the mock trial which condemned Amir-Entezam to life imprisonment. Amir-Entezam writes:

Bazargan entered the courtroom and I got up as a gesture of respect. He brought his briefcase and sat down. Then he began to speak in my defense. "I have known Mr. Amir-Enezam since 1951 when I met him at the technical institute. He worked within the national resistance movement at the university." He spoke of my services during the time I was appointed as deputy prime minister: "The accusations against him are totally false. They are against the very principles we have fought for and against the essence of the revolution, against Islam and the rule of law. He should be exonerated. The student followers of [Khomeini] had no right to make such accusations against a decent man who has only served his country."

By arresting Amir-Entezam and labeling him an American agent, the Islamic Republic leaders wanted to send a clear message to nationalists that in effect: "We are taking over! And those of you who have the slightest doubt about our version of Islam will vanish." In fact Amir-Entezam was the first of many moderates to be arrested or executed for their defiance of the oppressive policies of Khomeini and his staunch followers. Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who was foreign minister at the time, and later executed on charges of plotting against the regime, wrote at the time of Entezam's arrest, "I must point out that Mr. Amir-Entezam's arrest was without my prior knowledge and I have vehemently and openly opposed this illegal action."

Amir-Entezam was a passionate young man when he joined the National Resistence Movement (Nehzat Moghavemat Melli) -- a group which later united with the Freedom Movement (Nehzat Azadi) and the National Front. He later left Iran to study in the U.S. at the University of California in Berkeley and at the Sorbonne in Paris. He returned to Iran eight years before the Revolution and started an engineering company.

After the Revolution, Bazargan chose Amir-Entezam to serve as his deputy as well as the spokesman for the Provisional Government. He was charming, well dressed, spoke eloquently, and represented Iran when it was most vulnerable. He began his talks with American officials in Tehran and later as an ambassador in Stockholm, always reporting back to Bazargan and even Khomeini himself.

William Sullivan, the last U.S. ambassador to Iran, writs in his memoirs, Mission to Iran:

We also took our case to Prime Minister Bazargan, to Deputy Prime Minister Entezam, and to [Foreign Minister Ibrahim] Yazdi, all of whom were in the process of attempting to settle into their new government offices. Both Bazargan and Entezam gave us telephone numbers that they assured us were direct lines we could use in case of emergency.

... In the days following the [first] assault on our embassy, I met several times with Prime Minister Bazargan and membesr of his government, proceeding from the assumption that our relations would be considerably different from what they had been during the time of the Shah. Nevertheless, I took for granted that the Iranians wanted to continue friendly relations with the United States and that they wished to continue cooperating with us in both the economic and military sphere. Bazargan and his ministers confirmed this, and we made several efforts to try to determine just what level of cooperation should remain...

In addition to these religious figues, a network of the ayatollah's supporters also centered on Mehdi Bazargan, Amir-Entezam and Nasser Minatchi, the leaders of the so-called Liberation Front. They too had direct contact with the Ayatollah's entourage, primarily through Ibrahim Yazdi, an Iranian immigrant to the Untied States who had lived many years in Houston, Texas and acquired United States nationality.

When he was still in Stockholm and accusations were surfacing against him, Amir-Entezam was told that he and his family would be given refugee status and receive a salary from the Swedish government if he chose to stay in Sweden. Yet, he declined the offer. In his mind, he had done nothing wrong and returned to Iran. In no way did he even imagine that he would be arrested. Upon his return, though, he knew he had miscalculated his fate. The country was now taking a different direction, decisions were being made daily without the knowledge of the government. A slow creeping coup by the clerics was taking place.

In fact, Amir-Entezam was coerced into returning to Iran by a fake telegram from the Foreign Ministry. In The Amir-Entezam Case Dr. Ramin Ahmadi writes,

I received a telegram signed by [Foreign Minister] Ghotbzadeh which had been forged by Dr. Kamal Kharazi the deputy foreign minister, to wrap up my work in Stockholm and return at once to Tehran. Since I had to change planes in Frankfurt and I was the ambassador at large for European countries, the German representative met me at the airport and warned me, 'Do not go to Iran, they have planned a plot against you'."

Amir-Entezam, according to many witnesses and later those who have written the accounts of the last two decades, was in fact a scapegoat whose only crime was to represent his country and government. He was not a traitor nor did he abandon the ideals of the revolution. He acted professionally and honestly.

Yet, his accusers who later became the voices of the revolution, or people like Moussavi Khoeineha (prosecutor general at some point, now reformed!) or Abbas Abdi (who has since apologized for his role in the U.S. embassy takeover and is now in prison for criticizing the Islamic Republic), found nothing, not even a shred of evidence in the secret embassy documents to indicate Amir-Entezam had acted improperly.

In the meantime, more than 20 years of his life have been wasted in prison, his name has never been cleared and his health -- kidney ailment -- has worsened.

Excerpts from Amir-Entezam's book, On the Other Side of Accusation

22 December 1979
Today one of the students, who is in his second year of medical school came to see me and asked why I was not eating anything. I said in defiance of your illegal and inhuman act, I am on a hunger strike... How can you allow yourself to treat me with such dishonor? Just because you found my name in the documents at the American Embassy doesn't mean I was a spy. All affairs concerning different embassies and foreign consulates were under my jurisdiction. I was only in touch with the US embassy with the permission and full knowledge of Bazargan and Ayatollah Ardebili and others. God only help our nation seeing the actions of a few inexperienced people who are acting solely on their emotions.

Seyed Mohammad Moussavi Khoeinha, following a press conference in front of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, declared that the Freedom Movement contacts with the U.S. He supported the students' actions. He believed that the slow step-by-step policy of the Provisional Government was unacceptable and a deviation from the real goals of the Revolution. And to those who believe such accusations should be proven in a court of law, he said there is no need for any public trial and Amir-Entezam does not need nor deserve such a trial!

In a letter to Mehdi Bazargan from the detention center I said that in my spare time I translated the Kermit Roosevelt's book, Counter Coup, and sent a copy to the Imam [Khomeini] accompanied by a letter pointing out to the documents revealed in the book as to the role of the U.S. in the 1953 coup which could be used for any future legal action or law suit by Iran against the U.S. interventions in our affairs.

What is so outrageous is that these people (IRI leaders) are publishing any and all letters of anti-revolutionary elements in the newspapers and in the news media. Not one of my letters has been printed. Is this freedom or Islamic justice, I ask? What about my rights? I believe this group is acting against the principles of Islam, against all humanitarian principles and all international laws. They are offering me as a sacrifice at the "temple of the US embassy"...

Mohammadi Gilani head of the court also brought up my objection to the formation of the Assembly of Experts, which I plead guilty as charged. Yes I had opposed the assembly from the beginning pointing because in many aspects it is unconstitutional. I believe this was one of the main reasons behind my arrest.

At my trial, I became furious and agitated. I couldn't believe the accusations against me. For God's sake what have I done except to believe in the movement of my people and their righteous revolution. Gilani said: "Amir-Entezam has the right to defend himself and find all the necessary documents clearing himself." After a minute, I said out loud, I object and deny all these accusations and would not sign any documents they put in front of me. What a te rrible joke.

Among my accusations were the following:

-- Rejecting God, the Islamic Revolution and Imam Khomeini
-- Having ties with the Tudeh Party
-- Being a member of SAVAK
-- Using the word "dear" when referring to American officials in letters addressed to them
-- Allowing members of the royal family escape the country
-- Monitoring money coming to Iranian banks from the U.S.
-- Being a Bahai (at some point I was also Jewish)
-- Having improper relations with a woman
-- Being extremely rich and having X amount of money in my bank account!

After denying all the accusations against me, Mojtabah Mir Mehdi read the following:

"Various reports indicate that several people were part of the espionage team at the American Embassy. Among them, Dr. Madani who had asked for a visa for his cousin, therefore he is a spy! Amir-Entezam is also another spy."

I shouted in defiance. In my trial Dr. Yazdi and Mohammad Tavassoli spoke in my defense.

A delegation of the Red Cross came to visit me. I told them I hadn't heard from my wife and children for a while. They promised me they would contact them upon their return. Before they left, one of the members of the delegation told me something really interesting: "You know, you will stay here in prison until the end of this regime!"

Tonight Mr. Bagheri came to see me. I was going to give him a letter addressed to Mohandess Bazargan. He said it isn't necessary. Tomorrow Dr. Sahabi will come to visit you. He said that until the election of a new President I would be in jail and released shortly thereafter. Or there would be a short trial and my case would be looked as part of the Bazargan government and I would be vindicated. I do not know how much his prediction is correct. What is important for me is that my social standing would not be jeopardized since life without a good reputation is not a life for me.

7 February 1980
Today is the 50th day of my arrest in a solitary confinement. My arrest is against all principles of law, Islam and humanity. I am under tremendous mental torture by the Students Following the Line of the Imam. Their accusations are by far the most slanderous against a decent human being. In all this time, my only defender has been Mr. Mehdi Bazargan who has stood by me with honor and compassion.

18 February 1980
Sixty days after my arrest, I was given a medical examination and was told that Mohandess Bazargan would send me some medications. Yesterday one of the students whose name is Hassan Abdi (Abbas Abdi) came to see me. He took all the telephone lines out and was furious with me because I had called Dr. Bani Sadr. He slammed the door like a child. These students don't know who I am; after all I was the ambassador of this country. I wasn't just an unknown person. Someone should take a look at my case. They call me names, like you are worth nothing, have no rights. Don't compare yourself to anyone important. God please have mercy on me. What am I doing here?...

... To Rafsanjani I wrote: Today 284 days have passed since my illegal and anti-Islamic arrest in an Islamic government. I wonder how you and other officials can answer God, how can you condone this terrible injustice? Isn't it time I should be cleared of these accusations and this shameful stain removed from the record of the Islamic Republic? Mohammad Montezari (son of Ayatollah Montazeri) had made many derogatory remarks against Mohandess Bazargan and myself . He used foul language and was very rude. He used to write for the newspaper Payam-e Shahid. Slander after slander against the government. God, how dare they act and write in your name, in the name of religion, in the name of the prophet?

21 February 1981, solitary confinement , Evin Prison
Last night more than 20 prisoners were taken from this cellblock. Where did they take them? I don't know. All the doors and windows are shut. I cannot see anything. This morning they brought more people. All the cells are full. What I can say is that the number of prisoners is very large. And it is the worst torture to spend your days without knowing what happens next. In cell number 209 I have the right to exercise for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. I have objected to my transfer from the medical center to this cell to [Evin warden] Kachouie and my prison guard. I wanted to get a book to read and they gave me a copy of the Koran.

One of the routines in prison is that the Koran is read very loud at different times of day or night. It is so loud that it hurts your ears. First I had no idea why this was done but then I heard it's because whenever they are torturing the prisoners, they make it loud so others won't hear their cries of anguish.

One day someone came into my cell and sat on the blanket. He started asking me questions about my contacts with the Americans and the embassy officials. I told him everything. He knew about these contacts; they were not hidden from anyone. He kept coming to my prison cell asking more questions. I knew he was one of the jailers but didn't know his name. Later I learned he was none other than Assadollah Lajevardi [head of prisons organization].

19 February 1981 - 426 days after my arrest (medical ward)
Today is another cold day. There is no electricity because of the Iran-Iraq war. They brought a sick girl into the ward. There was a lot of activity around her. She was a political prisoner who had tried to commit suicide by taking cyanide. They had tied her to the bed so that when she regained consciousness, she wouldn't move. She finally woke up and started shouting to the guards, 'Why didn't you let me die. I can't tolerate this situation. I want to die to be free of you'. I could hear her in my cell. Finally Kachoui went and started cursing her. After a while the noises subsided.

20 February 1981
It is a cold day; my right kidney hurts. I slept facing the window and caught a bad cold. Eleven days now we haven't had heat in prison. It is so extremely cold in the whole prison area.

They brought a girl here and were interrogating her all night and finally they took her to be executed. One of the revolutionary guards, whose name is Mohammad and who likes me, came to my cell and talked about the executions last night. He knew only the name of a few of them.

A few days before the end of my trial I was taken to the prison hospital. They took me and gave a red receipt to the medical guard. Later I found out that they were members of the execution team. They took me blindfolded to see Lajevardi in his office. Then they took me to the courtroom. There were those who sat on the prosecution side. A young man was taking a video of the trial. I didn't know what was going on. I was sure that I would be executed after they read my sentence.

They read the accusations against me. I denied everything. I said loudly, "It's all a lie. They are all lies." They told me to sign the papers. I refused. I dared every single person in my unjust trial to stand before God in a public trial. I said I would refuse any letters signed in my name in any newspaper.

They took me back to the hospital ward. The guard embraced me and started to cry. He said you don't know what happened. Those who took charge of you were part of the execution team. They were going to kill you. I am so glad you returned safely to us. They were going to take me to solitary again but the medical guard persuaded them to let me join the other prisoners in the general prison. I am now with other cellmates.

The case of Amir-Entezam has remained unresolved. There has never been a public trial despite his repeated requests. Many of the students who tookover the U.S. embassy have now joined the ranks of reformists. The taking of the American hostages was a clear blow to the moderate government of Mehdi Bazargan who wanted to establish a genuine relationship with the West, including the United States.

Bazargan and his government wanted a smooth transition from the Shah's dictatorial monarchy to a democratic regime. But the mullahs and those behind them did not see Bazargan's course in their favor. With each passing day, orders were changed, people were replaced and one by one the real wheels behind the revolution were put aside. Amir-Entezam was the first casualty of this cruel and unfair political diversion. And as an innocent figure he fell into the trap set by the radical students and their leaders.

Today, the Islamic society the mullahs sought to establish at any cost has become a society of fear, economic deprivation, loss of moral values and terrible injustices. Yet, people like Amir-Entezam and other courageous prisoners, who have stood firm in their belief for a just and fair society, are still struggling and are paying for their principles. In the eyes of many Iranians, Amir-Entezam has paid his dues more than anyone. And once Iran is free of the rule of Velayat Faghih, his honorable place in the political history of the Iranian nation will be acknowledged.

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By Fariba Amini





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