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Iranian Woman, No Longer Silenced, Calls for Trial of Her Torturers

Nora Boustany
The Washington Post
February 2, 2001

A woman who was once jailed and tortured in Iran is calling for creation of an international tribunal that would try officials in charge of killings in Iranian prisons.

Monireh Baradaran, who has been granted political asylum and citizenship in Germany, made the appeal last weekend, while addressing the Washington-based Alliance for Defense of Human Rights in Iran at George Washington University's Funger Hall.

"If due process is unattainable in Iran, it should be attained internationally," she argued.

Baradaran is petite and slender, with a heart-shaped face, but her delicate exterior conceals a much tougher individual who has stood the tests of hardship and has endured with grace. At 24, she was thrown into an Iranian jail for her affiliation with a leftist group and her opposition to the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. She spent nine years there and said she survived the darkest forms of physical and mental torture, which she has chronicled in a book, "The Simple Truth."

She was flogged with cables on her bare feet as she was handcuffed, with one hand reaching down her back from her right shoulder and the other clutching it from the other side behind her waist, she said. Baradaran was forced to remain in that position for nine hours at a time.

Prisoners kept on the other side of the cell wall were executed. "I heard the sounds as my friends were shot by firing squad behind the wall. . . . The prisoners were first machine-gunned and then they were shot with pistols to finish them off, one by one. We would count the single shots to know how many prisoners were killed. The night my brother Mehdi was shot, we counted 86 single shots," she said. That was in 1981, she said in an interview Wednesday.

She had to sit blindfolded facing a wall, cross-legged and isolated by boards of wood, for 10 months, she said. The prisoners could lie down only when ordered to sleep and were allowed three brief bathroom breaks a day. "The only thing we heard were Koranic verses sometimes or the taped breakdowns of other prisoners who fell apart and lost their balance," she recalled.

"The mix of state and religion in modern Iran provides the Islamic Republic with the pretext for the most violent forms of political suppression in the name of religion. What is happening in Iran today is in the context of crimes against humanity," she told her audience last weekend.

"Even a clergyman, Yousefi Eshkevari, is being tried on charges of atheism now. The only option remains the separation of church and state," she stressed in the interview later. "The investigation of these crimes is a logical response to the universality of human rights and its values."

On Saturday, a Revolutionary Court in Iran convicted 15 former security agents in connection with the killings of four dissidents and intellectuals in 1998. "The assassination of intellectuals, the torture of political prisoners happening only in one part of the world, should not be seen as isolated incidents," she added. Baradaran cited the memoirs of Hossein Ali Montazeri, once considered Khomeini's anointed successor, which confirm the massacre of more than 4,000 prisoners in 1988.

She continues to study the psychology of torture in other countries, especially in Latin America, and the importance of truth commissions and trials in South Africa, as well as the Holocaust experience in Germany. Her book, translated into German in 1998, won her -- together with the works of Iranian poet Simin Behbehani -- the International League of Human Rights award in Berlin.

Baradaran writes articles and works part time in a gallery in Frankfurt. "Rarely do those whose voice has been silenced get the opportunity to bring it out in the open. I see this as a very important possibility not only for me, but for all of us," she said at the end of the interview.


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