In the wake of revelations of the torture of labor activist Esmail Bakhshi, others have stepped forward to join the public outcry over abuses committed against detainees in Iran by detailing their own experiences of torture in Iranian prisons. The mother of imprisoned civil rights activist Atena Daemi recently spoke to Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) about the abuse directed against her daughter.
“I cried when I saw Mr. Bakhshi talking about his torture. It made me angry,” Masoumeh Nemati toldCHRI on January 7. “I thought I should also write about the hell we have gone through. I should make the people aware that this is not just Mr. Bakhshi’s story. It’s my daughter’s story, too.”
Since November 2016, Daemi has been serving a seven-year prison sentence for meeting the families of political prisoners, criticizing the Islamic Republic on Facebook and condemning the 1988 mass executions of prisoners in Iran.
Recalling the day Judge Mohammad Moghiseh sentenced her daughter, Nemati said: “Her father and I were not allowed to go inside the court so we were standing behind the entrance door where I heard the things Mr. Moghiseh told my daughter.”
“He called my young daughter a prostitute and said she would not have been standing there if she had been a wholesome girl. He told Atena she deserved the death penalty and called her a social parasite. He said he would not condemn her to death for my sake and instead issued a 14-year prison sentence.” (The sentence was later reduced on appeal to seven years.)
Nemati continued: “It’s very hard for a mother to hear those things. I broke down right there. I got so sick the court clerks brought me some water. I wouldn’t have suffered as much if they had beaten Atena. I will never forgive the judge. There isn’t a night I don’t think about what he said.”
“The day they came to arrest my daughter, one of the agents confiscated a photo that showed Atena standing next to a few people. The agent said the photo proved Atena was a prostitute because she had not kept a distance from the men in the photo. On several occasions, the Revolutionary Guards in Ward 2-A in Evin Prison told me I had not raised my daughter properly and I let her do whatever she wanted and didn’t find a husband for her.”
Daemi’s mother added: “Atena was in solitary confinement for three months. She never told me how she had been tortured but I heard her friends and sisters say that during interrogation agents had threatened to kill me and her sisters in a staged accident. They said they could easily kill her sisters because they knew where they worked and which university they went to. Hearing these things during interrogation is more agonizing and painful than physical torture. What did my 27-year-old daughter do? They are still trying to press bogus charges against her.”
Describing the assault against her and her daughter Hanieh in front of Evin Prison in February 2018, Nemati told CHRI: “At the time Atena had been dragged and beaten during her transfer from Evin to Gharchak Prison (in Varamin, south of the capital) and we had gone to Evin to ask about her situation. Atena’s father dropped us off and went to park the car.”
“Suddenly 10-15 agents came at us with tasers and batons. They ordered us to get into a van. I stood in front of my daughter to protect her from electric shocks and baton blows. I was badly beaten. I was just trying to make sure nothing happened to Hanieh. Then the agents grabbed my feet and threw me inside the van. We were all taken to a courthouse where several men kept cursing us.”
Nemati added: “The men said I was a grown woman; I should be at home. Don’t I have a master? Was I loose? They said so many ugly things. My arms and legs were bruised and swollen. Then my back started to hurt. I haven’t been able to leave the house for a month and a half. The doctors say I need an operation on my back. I’m sure that my problem was caused by the beating I received that day and all the stress since then. Did I deserve to be treated that way? I’m a mother who was trying to get information about her daughter.”
“After the assault, when the authorities found out I was Atena’s mother, I was encouraged to press charges. The authorities claimed the attackers were plain-clothed agents who acted independently. But how could they not know what their own agents were doing? I asked, ‘Are you going to investigate if I pressed charges? You still haven’t done anything about Atena’s lawsuits, never mind mine.’”
“To this day, I haven’t pressed charges. But my question to judiciary officials and the Intelligence Ministry is: Why were I, a mother, and my young daughter, beaten for trying to ask about my imprisoned daughter?”
“If my daughter gets out of prison alive, she will describe everything,” Nemati warned.
Nemati also used her daughter’s Instagram page to discuss her Daemi’s abuse inside prison. On January 7, she wrote: “I’m the mother of Atena Daemi, a girl who has been tortured in prison many times. When my daughter was in solitary confinement, the thought that she was being tortured broke me up many times. I was never able to ask my daughter about the torture she endured during interrogations… but torture is common during solitary confinement, interrogation and imprisonment in Iran’s judicial system and prisons.”
The public revelation of Bakhshi’s torture by security and judicial agents has led to a public outcry in Iran on social media, with hundreds of journalists and activists demanding an investigation and punishment of those responsible for the violations of both domestic and international laws. Many have noted that the torture of Bakhshi was not an isolated incident.
Arash Bahmani, an Iranian journalist, wrote: “It’s very interesting to see the reaction of those who, after reading Smaeil Bakhshi’s letter, suddenly realized there’s torture going on in the prisons and though the prisons were a paradise. Torture has always been committed under all governments in the Islamic Republic since the beginning until today, especially against political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.”
The psychological and physical abuse, beatings, torture and even deaths in Iranian prisons have been long documented and condemned by the United Nations and international human rights organizations.
The February 2018 report of the UN Secretary-General on Iran stated: “The Secretary-General remains concerned about continuing reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment in the Islamic Republic of Iran persists. Such reports point to a pattern of physical or mental pressure applied upon prisoners to coerce confessions… Incidents documented and reported by civil society organizations include blunt force trauma, positional torture, burns, sharp force, electric shocks, use of water, crushing, pharmacological torture, asphyxiation, and amputation, as well as sleep deprivation, threats, humiliation, and prolonged solitary confinement.”