Interview with a former Evin inmate
October 4, 2004
It's good to leave each day behind,
Like flowing water,
free of sadness.
Yesterday is gone and its tale told.
Today new seeds
-- Jallaledin Rumi
When a man is arrested
and -- under torture -- confesses to acts he never committed, when
under duress and psychological pressure he
is told to say things that he was never involved in or admit to
participation in groups which he never belonged to, what is he
to do? Is he supposed to take all the mistreatment, Ta'zir (Arabic
word for flogging) which causes severe infection and dehydration,
or being hung from the ceiling for a long period? What is he to
do? Is he supposed to take it all or just succumb to the demands
of his torturers?
Such is the true story of two Iranians in the
Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr. Habibolah Davaran and Dr. Farhad
Behbehani. The story
goes back to 13 years ago. They were arrested and imprisoned after
signing an open letter to then President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,
expressing their ideas and pointing out that the revolution had
its original ideals. The now famous letter became known as the "90-
They were educated men in their
50's and 60's. Dr. Behbehani, had recieved his PhD in chemistry
and Dr. Davaran was a pharmacist. False charges ranging from engaging
in anti-government activities to making contact with American officials
were made against them. Both men had belonged to the Jameeyat-e
Defaa az Azaadi va Haakemeeyat-e Melli (Society for the Defense
of of Freedom
and National Soverignty/Self-Determination) which had been formed
by the late Mehdi Bazargan in 1985. The late Ali Ardalan, of the
many others were members of the group.
After undergoing torture
and finally being released, they decided to write their memoirs
in a book, titled "In the Company of Haji Agha, the Story
of a Confession" which was published a year ago, and then
quickly removed from all bookstores in Iran. Their memoirs show
a contrast: Davaran
resists torture whereas
Behbehani succumbs and goes on public TV denouncing
Dr. Davaran died of a tumor a few months ago. But I had the privilege
of meeting Dr. Behbehani during his visit to Washington.
The following are translated excerpts
from his book, and parts of an interview:
The date was 7th of Tir . There were skirmishes in prison.
It seemed someone important had arrived; at around 10:30, my anticipation
was answered. The door to my cell opened and my interrogator came
in with two other people who seemed to have a higher rank than
him. "This is Mr. Davaran," he said, "he is like that Japanese
soldier who until the end was loyal to his superiors, even to the
of Japan. So far, he has said nothing... but he doesn't know that
his friend (Mr. Behbanani) has told us everything there is to
Then they started to beat
me again: "Tell us what was your relationship with Bazargan?
What did you say to Carter's representative? What was Bazargan's
relationship with the Americans?" I said, I have never heard
single lie from Mr. Bazargan. He started to insult me again and
got worse. In the midst of it, I heard another person who said,
"Let me give him some lashing, Haji Agha, it's going to look good
on my resume!"
I was walking outside, in the prison yard; for the
first time after a long time, I saw someone familiar; it was Farhad
Then I heard a familiar voice; someone was talking to that person
and was telling him, "Shame on you, I am not American, I am an
Iranian and I am a Moslem."
Suddenly I knew who it was, it was
I heard that they had kept him in terrible conditions in prison.
it was quite cold and I couldn't tolerate the fact that so much
injustice was done to people who had served their country all
their lives. And now in old age they have to endure such humiliations
Then the torturer came and they
took me to the third floor. Haji Agha entered the room and
asked me again
that someone had transferred
money into the account of our organization and that in 1985,
a representative of Jimmy Carter had met with me. "Tell us everything
because we are aware of all the facts," he said. I again declined
and said, "Why don't you show me these allegations and documents
see for myself."
He got mad and started to slap me real hard;
was running from my nose and I fell down. I lost my composure.
They got annoyed and took me to the prison hospital. When the
doctor saw me there in that condition he said, "Why don't you
them everything so they won't do this to you anymore. If
you hadn't told me who you were, I wouldn't have recognized you.
You are going
to have yourself killed."
Both Haji Agha and "Mr. 25" (every
interrogator who tortured us had a number) asked me why I had
gone to Ankara to get a visa for the US. They wanted to hear
something that wasn't
true; that I
had in fact had contacts with Americans regarding political matters.
He asked me what I had to tell the American consul in Ankara?
I told him the exact reason. He became all upset and got up and
while leaving the room, told me, "I will have you beaten so much
that you will finally come to term and confess." I was terribly
shaken by his words.
Then "Mr. 25" entered the room and
gave me a piece of paper and a pen; he said, "before I take you
to the basement
again, write down everything." The thought of going to the basement
for more flogging and torture made me shiver. Haji Agha
was in his mid 30's it seemed and quite dedicated to the ideals
of the Islamic rRevolution and supposedly a devout religious man.
He believed that we were anti-regime individuals and anyone who
deviated from the revolution should be taught a good lesson
and a good beating.
I finally wrote: "If I have done anything to insult the
Imam and the great Islamic Revolution, or its functionaries, I
apologize; it isn't important that I never had contact with American
officials, the point is that I was member of an organization that
worked in the same line as the US and for that I am guilty."
guess at that moment, "Mr. 25" had realized that he had
broken me. I felt so weak and so helpless that I wished to God,
I had actually
had made contacts with Americans so I could confess to it and the
tortures would stop. I guess "Mr. 25" was now relieved
and said, "we don't want to see you this way," Mr. Behbehani,
"your family is
quite worried about you and so are we!"
Later they took me to shave.
I hadn't shaved for two months and now I had grown a huge beard.
They gave me some clean prison clothes
and gave me a liquid to drink; I drank it with an appetite to
regain some energy. I complained to him about my feet (it was all
and because of dehydration I had so much pain). He said "don't
worry nothing is wrong with your feet!"
Then while giving me a
pen and papers,
he said: "now tell me about Mrs. Salehian (Mrs. Farnoudi).
What do you know? What was your relationship with her and the
You haven't told us everything you know." It seemed that he
already knew everything about our organization and anything that
to conceal wouldn't have made any difference.
In the famous letter
to President Rafsanjani, a group of us, had written about the
terrible conditions prevailing in the country
and had made suggestions to make some changes. We had reiterated
that though we might face prison or other pressures, as responsible
citizens we must point out the injustices in our country.
This letter was signed by more than 90 individuals and issued in
Ordibehesht 1369 (mid-spring, 1990). Twenty three of the signatories
were arrested and imprisoned
and some have died since.
I had also pointed out that I never
belonged to any specific organization or party that only upon
the initiation of Mohandess
Bazargan, who in 1995, formed the society in defense of liberty
and national sovereignty. I had joined the said society and we
were working within the framework of the laws of the Islamic Republic.
We wanted to preserve the constitutional law and work to ensure
the rights of all the citizens.
It was after the publication
of the famous letter, that after two months, I along with 22
other people were blindfolded and taken
to prison. In prison, someone by the name of Haji Agha who seemed
to be a young man (I never saw his face but from his voice I
believe he was in his mid 30's) came to my room and asked me several
questions that had nothing to do with the present time. I had
no idea about the answers. Then he slapped me so hard that I fell
from my seat. Then, again and again he slapped me. He got agitated
and finally told me, "We are going to send you to the basement,"
and insulted me continuously.
I was laid down on my stomach and
feet and hands were tied. Then he said loudly to "Mr.
25" flog him. Then "Mr. 25" said, "Besmellah,"
and began flogging my feet. I said, "Ya Allah (Oh God)." He
got more angry and said, "What did you say? You brought up
the name of the Almighty, flog him more..." I passed out...
I wanted to wash up for prayers. So I asked the prison guard
if I could use the facilities. He got angry with me: "Why do
you want to go to the bathroom and wash up?" He said, "If you were
a true Moslem you wouldn't be here. Don't fool yourself; you
are not a true believer." I had prayed all my life and believed
religion. His words were so demeaning; it was to crush my spirit.
For three months I had not seen my family. I didn't know that
they had any news of me. Haji Agha told me that he would make
I would see them soon. He asked me about Dr. Abedi; "what were
his anti-Islamic ways? Did he use alcoholic beverages? Did he
shake the hands of women and then held on to them for a long time?
he have any kind of sexual deviations?" I should have known
while asking me these ridiculous questions, Dr. Abedi had in
fact been arrested. I heard later on that despite his old age,
been flogged. I was deeply saddened.
One other time, Haji Agha
who used sarcastic words to calm me down said, "Why don't you
just write that your wife was also involved
with you in anti-government activities. then we can arrest her
as well and bring her next to you so that you won't have to worry
anymore!" Such sarcastic remarks were so ruthless considering
my state of mind and physical health. One day, he brought a mirror
to me and said "Look at yourself, your face is the same as
before." I said, "But I have lost a lot of weight especially in
area." He said in ridicule, "You should be happy about
that. In prison, we have been able to make you lose some fat!"
I was having problems with my prostate and had asked for a physician,
which had not been granted. I had to use the bathroom constantly.
In one of the incidents, I could not hold myself and had used
a newspaper to urinate. "Mr. 25" came to my cell and said, "Aren't
ashamed to put this filthy newspaper on the Koran?" I said, "What
could I have done, I did not want to insult our holy book (I
read the Koran daily) I had no choice." I had mistakenly put
on the Koran.
I remember it was two months after my release that
I was sitting with my son Behzad and my wife Fereshteh; our son
was a member
of the Iranian national swimming team. He asked if he could have
a party for some of his friends. We both said no. Don't you know
that it might cause problems? If the revolutionary guards come
and see that there is a party in our house they might arrest everyone
since my house in under surveillance. My son, Behzad said, "Who
cares? A little flogging doesn't kill anyone." I said, "Don't you
my situation?" In a tone that I could not forget he said, "Why
we think about your situation, when you didn't think about
ours and went on public TV?" That statement was like a blow to
For families like ours, I realized it isn't important that
we go to prison, but how we come out is what makes the difference.
that moment freedom did not mean anything to me. When I was
and I finally gave in under the pressure, I realized
for the first time that I was not the person who I thought I was.
not a strong person and the only thing on my mind was to
out of the hellhole I was put in. I had made false confessions
duress and for that I knew I would feel guilty for the rest
of my life... I thought to myself, I am a terrible person.
came out of prison feeling guilty; I knew my friends were disappointed
in me but would not demonstrate it so that I would not feel bad
but deep down I knew I had let them down. I remember one of the
last times I saw the late Bazargan was when I went to the 40th
day memorial service for Dr. Mobasheri, the minister of justice
under Bazargan. He pointed out to me to come and sit beside him
and told me, "Don't you worry. For me, you are the same Farhad
Behbehani that you were." He comforted me with his kind words.
Then in my ear he said, "Just write what happened to you
in prison. Write your memoirs because even if no one reads it today,
it is important for the next generations to know what happened
to people like you. It is part of history that must be told."
is why I decided to write the book and jointly with my friend
and colleague, Dr. Davaran (he was 78 when he died). We wrote down
our prison diairies. Another reason we decided to write our memoirs,
is to let people know of our experiences and to let those who decide
to engage in political activities to foresee what may happen
to them and how to deal with such a situation. When you go to prison
for the first time, you may say or do things that are wrong but
then a second time, hopefully, you will not make the same mistakes.
the publication of the book, we were arrested again and taken to
Evin while waiting for payment of a huge bail sum before
our release. We paid for our own transportion to Evin. When we
Davaran couldn't even walk properly; I had to
his hand. There were skirmishes around the prison area. Parents
of the newly arrested students were there, looking for their
sons and daughters. They let us through the crowd who were yelling
looking for their children.We also heard that a few days earlier,
Zahra Kazemi had been killed under torture.
In front of us
were other prisoners. The Evin guard started insulting them.
Dr. Davaran asked me "Why is he so insulting?" I said,
"Don't worry he is not insulting us." As soon as a young
Dr. Davaran, he said, "Father what are you doing here? Did
the ministry of intelligence arrest you?" I said no, the Tehran
prosecution office. He
"What did you guys do anyway?" I replied, We wrote a book
a result we were arrested." He said, "Didn't you have permission?"
Dr. Davaran said, "Yes, we did obtain a permit for the publication
yet they arrested us anyway." He looked around and said
a funny tone, "What a screwed up country! (Ajab
mamlekat khar too
He told Davaran, "I am so sorry about this. I am truly sorry that
you are here." He said to a guard, "Take them to
Section 1." They wanted to handcuff us but the same guy
no handcuffs." I noticed that the prison conditions had
changed from 13 years ago. There was TV and AC in every room. I
that prisoners could call their loved ones and most prison
officials were acting more civilized. I attribute this change to
era as well as international pressure on the conditions
of Iran's prisons.
In Evin, Siamak Pourzand, Ali Afshari,
and Nasser Zarafshan greeted us. Mr. Amir Entezam had gone on a
walk in the prison yard. We
were so happy that we were at least in the company of our friends.
We sat together and had dinner. It was good to see all of them
even in the awkward situation in prison. While we were in Evin,
rumor was going around that in fact a person by the name of Bakhshi
had been involved in the death of Mrs.Zahra Kazemi. I don't
know what his exact title was but apparently he is one of the high
officials at Evin prison.
In the meantime, bail was paid and
we were released. Dr. Davaran's son was worried about his father's
health. He thought staying in prison even for a few days would
be detrimental for his father. But Dr. Davaran got all upset. He
did not want his son expressing weakness in front of the officials. "I
am not a coward and will endure prison again," he siad. He
did not want to seem weak, yet he was physically weak. He could
stand up alone; he had a tumor: even for going to the bathroom
he needed help.
When we had been called the second time, we were
treated quite differently; they were more respectful and even
the woman who was
working in the ministry had read our book. She told me I read
your book with interest and learned a great deal. They are sort
a dialogue with us. They don't look at us with the same eye as
In my opinion, it is easy to destroy things but it's
harder to build something. We must think of rebuilding our country,
the present situation; we must be informed about all the aspects
of our society. We must know about religion, about the beliefs
of the people and work in a positive way to make changes. We
must change Iran and our society from ground up.
We cannot put everyone in the same category. We must distinguish
between those who are doing good deeds even under the present regime.
Maturity is when human beings use legal means to combat ignorance
and make changes that are profound. We have to advocate the idea
of rebuilding our society not destroying it. This is a much more
We must find ways to develop our economy, which is not in a healthy
condition. Economic stagnation is the biggest hurdle to progress
in Iran. Lack of employment, closing down of factories (for
example, shoe factories have been shut down because it is cheaper
shoes from other countries) which produce goods for the society
are most vital to overcome. We must also praise and cherish those
who are doing good things in Iran. Branding people and putting
everyone in the same category is wrong, it is childish. We, Iranians,
sometimes forget the important personalities in our country.
We should not bash them but see their contributions, even those
who have made mistakes in the past. We must change our ways and
means of dealing with people and problems.
The life of every prisoner who underwent torture and spent
years or months in the prisons of the Islamic regime is changed
Only their stories must be told and their testimony read and documented.
Those who read the injustices against the prisoners will have to
commit themselves and the future generations of Iran, that torture
will be forever annihilated, that execution will never take place
again under any pretext.
Even those who have committed crimes against
humanity, those who have been the torturers themselves in the Islamic
regime shall face tribunals in a real court of law with real attorneys
present. Their crimes must be dealt with under new laws that will
safeguard their rights as citizens. It is only then and there that
we can forever erase this terrible and ugly episode from the pages
of the history of Iran.
goodbye to spam!