Police Commander and Former Detainee Divulge Details About Kahrizak
In a November 18 interview with semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Iran’s Police Commander Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam shared unprecedented insights into several different human rights issues that over the past few years have faced the Iranian authorities, and specifically the Iranian police.
In response to a question about why, in 2009, post-election protesters were sent to Kahrizak Police Detention Center, a prison for violent criminals, Ahmadi Moghaddam said, “…I have never said this anywhere before, but on that Friday morning there was a meeting about the events of that time, and Mr. [Saeed] Mortazavi [then Tehran Prosecutor] insisted that the detained individuals be transferred to Kahrizak. I explicitly stated my disagreement and said, ‘Not only do we have no space there, that place is dangerous.’ But Mortazavi insisted that the detained individuals had been carrying knives, daggers, and chains, and hence were considered thugs and hoodlums.” Several protesters died after exposure to violent torture and horrific living conditions at Kahrizak in summer 2009, and the detention center was closed after media reports about the deaths and the living conditions.
“I said in that meeting that I wish it to be recorded and written that I oppose this decision and the Police Force’s disagreement was registered. But as a participant in that meeting, I did advise that the Kahrizak guys should be alerted to be careful to keep these individuals in a separate ward and not among the thugs and hoodlums, and that they should not be mistreated. But telling someone to tell the next person led to a failure to carry out my orders. They placed 170 people in cells with a capacity of 50 people. You have to admit that in the heat of the summer in Kahrizak, especially in a location that lacks standards, even if nothing happens, the population density in such a small space without appropriate facilities becomes a problem,” Ahmadi Moghaddam continued.
A lengthy investigation began in 2009, and in the subsequent judicial proceedings, Saeed Mortazavi was never found guilty for directly ordering the transfer of the detainees. The lower court has only sentenced him to permanent dismissal from government jobs and US$60 in cash fines, a decision he has appealed, requesting an acquittal; the proceedings have not yet ended. Commander Ahmadi Moghaddam never provided this important testimony to any of the judicial investigations into what happened at Kahrizak.
In the days since ISNA published the interview, there have been various reactions to Ahmadi Moghadam’s statements, including one provided by a Kahrizak survivor, Massoud Alizadeh. In a detailed account on his Facebook page, Alizadeh wrote about what happened at Kahrizak and described how after being picked up at a Tehran street protest and transferred to Kahrizak from a Security Police detention center, he and his cellmates were beaten, tortured, insulted, and mistreated while they watched several cellmates succumb to the horrible conditions and die. “Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam, it is true that Saeed Mortazavi sent us to Kahrizak Detention Center, but the police treated us savagely at Kahrizak. Mr. Ahmadi Moghaddam, you speak as if the police had no role in the bitter events of Kahrizak Detention Center and that Saeed Mortazavi was the main culprit. Read the report below and see what savage treatment the police dealt the Kahrizak detainees,” Alizadeh, who now lives in Germany, wrote in his open letter addressed to the Police Commander.
Throughout Massoud Alizadeh’s account of the Kahrizak event, he highlights the role of the police officers present at the detention center in the torture, abuse, and violations of detainees’ rights.
In his account, Massoud Alizadeh wrote about the extremely violent and abusive treatment of the detainees. “At about 11:00 a.m., several of the violent criminals stood behind the door of the Quarantine, holding PVC pipes…. As we stepped out of the Quarantine door, they hit us on the head and on our faces with those PVC pipes. We entered the courtyard and had to all sit barefoot on the burning asphalt for the headcount…. Our feet were burning from the heat of the asphalt, but we couldn’t object. Whoever objected would be taken out of the line and beaten severely with a PVC pipe. Under the burning sun, Officer Mohammadian ordered us to walk on all fours in the yard. All of us walked on all fours, from the 17-year old guy all the way to the 60-year-old man. The palms of our hands and our knees burned from the heat of the asphalt, and the wounds [from the blisters] kept getting bigger and bigger. I already had a broken leg, so I couldn’t walk on all fours, and Sergeant Mohammadian said, ‘I must hit those who cannot walk on all fours five times on their palms.’ … He hit us so hard, the palms of our hands started bleeding. In my opinion, Sergeant Mohammadian was a psycho who had no mercy. We were tortured under that scorching sun, hungry and lifeless…. The officer would chant a slogan and we all had to repeat it at the top of our lungs: ‘Where is this? Kahrizak! Where is Kahrizak? End of the world! Do you like the food? Yes, sir! Did you learn your lesson? Yes, sir!’ … After the torture, we were all so limp, and then we had to re-enter the Quarantine with beatings.”
Massoud Alizadeh also wrote about the food—small portions of paper-thin bread wrapped around 1/5 of a potato, comprising a “meal,” which the other inmates would frequently take from the detained protesters—sharing three plastic bottles for drinking foul smelling and tasting water, and the prison officer’s deliberate pumping of exhaust fumes from a generator into prisoners’ cells, to the point where several inmates passed out. Alizadeh also wrote about the convicted violent criminals who shared the over-crowded space with the detained protesters, and their authorized abuse of the other inmates, as well as about witnessing rape among the violent criminals. The heat inside the containers where the detainees were held led to the infection of open wounds, one of the contributing factors to the deaths of at least three detainees: Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani, and Mohsen Rouholamini.
In addition, Massoud Alizadeh describes his personal ordeal:
That night, all we could hear were moans. Sergeant Khamsabadi had taken 12 of the detainees who were kept in a cage outside to the courtyard and was doing a headcount. He told Mohammad Karami, the prisoner liaison in Kahrizak, to bring out some of the Quarantine detainees and to beat them up so, as they said, ‘That would teach a good lesson to the others and show them where Kahrizak is!’ I wanted to sleep after several days, but at that moment one of my cellmates asked me to get up for half an hour, so that he could lie down in my space and sleep a little. I felt sorry for him because I knew he hadn’t slept for three days, so I got up. I went towards the bathroom to drink some water when Mohammad Karami stepped into Quarantine One and pulled Saman Mohami and Ahmad Balouchi from among all those people and then, when he saw me standing in front of the bathroom, he called me, ‘You, come out, too!’ I knew that if I went out I would be beaten badly, so I sat in a corner, hoping that he would forget me, but he came back and he and two others started beating me and taking me out by force. Sergeant Khamsabadi started hitting me with a PVC pipe, which lasted about 20 minutes.
Then, Mohammad Karami and two others put metal footcuffs on me and hung me from a metal bar. I noticed that Saman Mohami and Ahmad Balouchi were also hanging [upside down]. The footcuffs were so sharp that when I was hung, my ankles started to bleed.
Sergeants Khamsabadi and Ganjbakhsh both started hitting me with that PVC pipe.… They brought me down after 20 minutes. I was in shock. Several of the criminals took me back to Quarantine, and a couple of my cellmates took me to the bathroom to pour water on my face and wash my wounds, and at that moment, Sergeant Khamsabadi gave a padlock to Mohammad Karami with which to beat me again. Mohammad Karami entered the bathroom and started hitting me on my head an on my face. I lost consciousness for a moment. My whole head and my mouth was bloody. He kept picking me up by my pants and throwing me to the ground. My pants started tearing and by now I was totally naked and among all that pressure and pain, my nakedness was another big pain constantly going through my mind. He then stood on my neck and kept pushing down with his feet to suffocate me. This lasted about three or four minutes. I felt the complete suffocation, unable to breathe, and slowly, the timelessness, it felt as if everything had lost color to me and a bright spot in front of my eyes kept growing bigger and bigger. It felt like death. It was death itself. I had lost consciousness, and thinking that I had died, Mohammad Karami took his feet off my neck. After a few moments I went back to breathing and regained consciousness.