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From my Iranian prison

Mohammad Khoshzough intervewed by Michel Hurtmans

La libre belgique
September 15, 1999
(Translated by the Green Party of Iran)

An opponent of the Ayatollas regime, Mohammad Khoshzough spent 11 years  in capivity as a political prisoner. From simulated executions to brainwashing, he suffered through it all. Today, he warns: do not believe that the current regime can democratize itself.

While working at the Bandar-Anzali shipyards on the Caspian Sea in the 1970s, Mohammad Khoshzough never missed an opportunity to observe the living conditions of the Iranian people. More an athiest and communist in spirit rather than someone who actively persued a philisophical or political ideology, he waited until the revolution in 1979 to become politically active. In 1980, he ran for election as a member of parliament in the country's first democratic elections. The subsequent power grab by the Ayatollas ended any hopes for freedom for the country and marked the beginning of the repression of non-islamic political activists. After spending two and a half years in hiding, Mohammad is denounced and then arrested. Thus began 11 years of incarceration simply for having convictions different than those of the  regime.

"For 17 months, I was interrogated about my political friends and was tortured almost every day. In Iran, the reasons given for torturing prisonners are many. For example, refusing to pray or to accept gifts from the regime on the national holiday is sufficient. During my trial, I was given a death sentence orally by the judge. It was only 5 days later that I learned that the written verdict was actually 20 years imprisonment. In the meantime, the prison guards turned me into their favorite 'hobby' - every morning they would wake me, blindfold me, and then simulate my execution. There have always been people who laugh heartily at the screams of terror of the others.

One of the physical tortures was to whip the bottom of my feet with steel cables. Lying down and tied to a bed with a pillow under my head, one torturer would sit on my stomach while a second would whip my feet 150 times. If a strike didn't hit exactly right, it wasn't counted. Another form of torture involved tying my arms behind my back with the left arm bent over my shoulder and the right arm tied from underneath. Then, I would be hung on the wall from the left arm, thus pulling all my back muscles to their limit. Only by standing on the tips of my toes could I avoid tearing the muscles completely. I would be left waiting in this position for hours, during which time the guards would amuse themselves by pulling our legs, saying: "Come, lets take a trip".

In addition to physical torture, we were also phsychologically tortured. The smallest pretext would be used to deny us for months our visitation rights, which under normal circumstances were 10 minutes every 15 days. Other times, our weekly 5 liters of water for cleaning ourselves would be denied. They would also regularly keep us in the cells all day and deny us our 3 daily stretching periods.

Many methods of brainwashing were also used. A mullah would often be sent into the cells to speak to us about politics and to convince us to chose an Islamic life. At other times, they would play religious music or television shows continuously in the cells. If we complained, there was always someone who would denounce us.

I was transfered from one prison to another, but the deplorable living conditions didn't change. I was either placed in an individual cell measuring 90cm by 2m, or with 2 other prisoners in a 3 by 2 meter cell, with matresses placed side by side on the floor. Lighting consisted of a single 25 watt bulb, lit 24 hours a day. There was also a small skylight through which we could only see a narrow crack of light. As for our food supplies and hygenic conditions, they were even worse.

In 1988, certain members of the regime decided to eliminate all the political prisoners who had refused to repent and to confess on state television. As a result, 222 out of 258 of the prisoners in my jail were executed. Only international pressure put a stop to the massacres (Green Party note: estimates are that 30,000 prisoners were executed within 2 months).

After 1993, prisoners could ask for parole after completing a third of their sentence. On her third attempt, my sister obtained my release in 1994. I remained however, under constant judicial control, which led me to flee a year later to Turkey. In Ankara, the United Nations took my case and I was welcomed by Norway as a political refugee.

Today, I have a single goal in my life: to fight against the current regime. I don't support any single person in particular, but rather, I support my people so that they can benefit from democracy and from the good things we find in western countries, such as woman's equality and the right to form unions, and better levels of education. Today, international opinion is such that the Islamic regime has softened and that the recent student demonstrations are the first steps towards a democratization of the country. They see in Khatami a leader who will change Iran. I'm not so sure. He is like the other hard-liners of the regime. If he lets the winds of change blow, it's only to let the opposition movements come to the surface. Afterwards, he'll only have to cut off any heads sticking out.

This doesn't stop me from keeping my spirits up. In prison, I imagined that once free, I'd start a family. Today, I'm 54 years old, and I think it's too late, but I'm still keeping my hopes on the Iranian people and on Iran's future generations.