The forgotten prisoner
Abbas Amir-Entezam, Iran's longest-serving political prisoner
By Fariba Amini
November 5, 2003
From Amir-Entezam's memoir >>> See
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
to the cause of human rights in Iran has won the hearts and minds
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
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
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
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
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.
pragmatic man who knew the delicate nature of foreign diplomacy.
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
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
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
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
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
has only served his country."
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
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
I have vehemently and openly opposed this illegal action."
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
before the Revolution and started an engineering company.
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
always reporting back to Bazargan and even Khomeini himself.
Sullivan, the last U.S. ambassador to Iran, writs in his memoirs,
Mission to Iran:
also took our case to Prime Minister Bazargan, to Deputy Prime
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
telephone numbers that they assured us were direct lines we
could use in case of
... 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
that they wished to continue cooperating with us in both the
military sphere. Bazargan and his ministers confirmed this, and
we made several
efforts to try to determine just what level of cooperation should
addition to these religious figues, a network of the ayatollah's
also centered on Mehdi Bazargan, Amir-Entezam and Nasser Minatchi,
the leaders of
the so-called Liberation Front. They too had direct contact
Ayatollah's entourage, primarily through Ibrahim Yazdi, an
Iranian immigrant to the
Untied States who had lived many years in Houston, Texas and
When he was still in Stockholm and accusations
were surfacing against him, Amir-Entezam was told that he and
would be given
refugee status and receive a
salary from the Swedish government if he chose to stay in Sweden.
declined the offer. In his mind, he had done nothing
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
taking a different direction, decisions were being made daily
without the knowledge of the government. A slow creeping coup
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
received a telegram signed by [Foreign Minister] Ghotbzadeh
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,
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
represent his country and government. He
was not a traitor nor did he abandon the ideals of
He acted professionally and honestly.
Yet, his accusers who later
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
in the secret embassy documents to indicate Amir-Entezam had
In the meantime, more than 20 years of his life
have been wasted in prison, his name has never been cleared and
health -- kidney ailment --
Excerpts from Amir-Entezam's book, On the Other Side
22 December 1979
Today one of the students, who is in his second year of medical
to see me and asked why I was not eating anything. I said in
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
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
and others. God only help our nation seeing the actions of a few
inexperienced people who are acting solely on their emotions.
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'
believed that the slow step-by-step policy of the Provisional
unacceptable and a deviation from the real goals of the Revolution.
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
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,
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
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
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
has the right to defend himself and find all the necessary documents
himself." After a minute, I said out loud, I object and deny
accusations and would not sign any documents they put in front
of me. What a te
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
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
shouted in defiance. In my trial Dr. Yazdi and Mohammad Tavassoli
spoke in my
A delegation of the Red Cross came to visit me. I told them
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
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
would not be jeopardized since life without a good reputation is
not a life for
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,
defender has been Mr. Mehdi Bazargan who has stood by me with
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
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
worth nothing, have no rights. Don't compare yourself to anyone
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
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.
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
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
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
torturing the prisoners, they make it loud so others won't
hear their cries of
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
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
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
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
Bazargan and his government wanted a smooth
the Shah's dictatorial monarchy to a democratic regime. But the
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 as an innocent figure he fell into the trap set by the
radical students and their
Today, the Islamic society the mullahs sought
at any cost has become a society of fear, economic deprivation,
loss of moral
values and terrible injustices.
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
honorable place in the political history of the Iranian nation
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