Speech by
Nina Aghdam
In Stockholm & Amsterdam
On the 11th/12th Memorial Day of Massacre
of Political Prisoners in the summer of 1988,

Association of Iranian Political Prisoners(in Exile)

Tonight we have gathered together. I do not know what to call this. There are people in Iran who are in prison, or there are people who know someone in prison. I was in various prisons in the Islamic regime of Iran including that of my home town, Kommitte Moshtarak, and Even for six years. In 1979 and 1980 after the war began in Kurdistan, all entrances and exits were blocked by the Islamic regime; garrisons and military bases were established all over Kurdistan. The regime controlled the entrance and departure of the people. The situation became worse after 1981.

In 1982, my daughter and I were arrested, and were taken to the prison in my home town. Earlier, my husband was arrested. I was pregnant when I visited him in prison. For this reason, the majority of the guards knew me. When I was arrested, I was sure my political activities were identified. When I entered the prison I experienced new things that I never experienced before. I had not even spoken to my husband about prison and torture. When I was arrested my husband's interrogator said to me: "I told you in 1981 that one day you would be in prison too. At that time you were careless about what I said. Would you be the same today?" I told him you are making a mistake I am not who you are looking for. I was going on holiday with my daughter when we were arrested. I haven't done anything wrong and I have never been involved in any political activities. However, they had information about me and they wanted me to disclose more. They started to interrogate and torture me in the presence my daughter. Without separating us, they started beating me. The interrogation room was separated by a corridor from the torture room. There were men and women in the corridor who were tortured and someone was on the torturing bed. They emptied the bed for me. They told me if I wanted to say something I should move my hand. I replied that I was not who they wanted. You are making a mistake, I said. I had heard before that parents were tortured in presence of their children for confessions, but I never believed I would be tortured in front of my one year old daughter's eyes.
My daughter was crying. The interrogator grabbed her and came closer and said " will you talk or shall I make your child cry even more". Again, I replied that I was not who they were looking for and I had nothing to say. He stopped torturing me for a few minutes and brought my daughter to me. For a moment, my daughter put her small hands around me while she was crying and said " no mamma, no mamma."

He took away my daughter and started torturing me violently. I don't remember how long the torturing went going on; when I opened my eyes, I was wrapped up in a blanket. My daughter was with me and she was cleaning blood from my legs with her T-shirt. Then she ran toward the cell door and shouted with her childish voice, " mammy there is no one here". I was feeling sick and needed to go to the toilet which was in the corner of the cell. I dragged myself toward the toilet and I heard a few people coming toward the cell. They were my interrogators who were coming to the cell to interrogate me again. When they realised I was not well and my child was crying, they left me alone.

When I was released from prison, my daughter had grown up. I told her repeatedly that I wish I would knew what you meant by saying " no mamma, no mamma . I always blame myself for the pain I have caused my daughter that has affected her whole life. I can see how she suffers when she hears about prison and prisoners. Even though at the time she was only a little girl, when she was released from prison she told everyone in the family about what she had witnessed in prison regarding me and the other prisoners. What made things worse was that my family had inconsiderately repeated my daughter's story about prison in her presence. This continued for many years even after I was released from prison.

(Question: When did the events of the paragraph below happen relative to the previous paragraph? What year was it?)

My daughter and I were driving out of the city in a prison's car which was protected by a number of guards. I didn't know our destination. When we arrived in Hamedan, I just realised where we were going: to the prison of Kommitte Moshtarak in Tehran. When we got there we entered the prison building. They took me to a dark room which had a little hole in the ceiling with a light shining through it. The ceiling was so high that it was only from the dust that you could guess it was not an electric light but a hole which lit the room naturally. Interrogators started questioning me again without noticing my child's presence in the room. I told them I was already interrogated in the prison of my home town and had nothing else to say, but they replied, "we don't accept the others' interrogation," and they started beating me up again. They put me on the floor and beat me up. During that time, I was watching my daughter from underneath the blindfold, she crouched in the corner while she cried quietly. I reminded them that I was still bleeding from the last beating, and doctors in the hospital told me if I were beaten up again, it maybe impossible to stop the bleeding.

How optimistic I was! Who would care? The beating continued. I don't remember how long they beat me. After all that torture and sleeplessness in the prison of my hometown, and considering my condition at the time, I passed out after a few strokes. When I was conscious again, I felt my daughter playing with my hair, kissing my face and calling me "mammy, mammy…" I held her hand and stood up, because I needed to go to the toilet. I asked her to knock on the door and tell the guards that I needed to go to the toilet. She went to the door and came back again and said, in her childishvoice, "mammy, if they come, they will beat you again." "Don't talk" I said, "go and tell them I need to go to the toilet." She knocked on the door. An angry Pasdar (guard) opened the door and asked: "what do you want?" She said: "my mother needs to go to the toilet." Pasdar asked me to cover myself (he meant to put on my chador), put my blindfold on and come out. With the help of my daughter, I stood up and realised I was bleeding as much as I had when I was tortured in the previous prison. I couldn't see my back, but I noticed my daughter was hiding herself behind me. Where I was sitting was covered in blood. So I asked myself why was my daughter hiding behind me? Still I could not understand what she was thinking. Was she embarrassed? I thought to myself, but a one and a half year old child doesn't understand embarrassment, or maybe she was thinking if they would see the blood, they would start torturing me again. It is not clear to me why she was hiding behind me and why she was hiding the blood. No one could understand her feelings in that situation.

All the time, during the interrogations, my daughter was with me. I wished she were not there. After the interrogation and torturing, the interrogator sent me to a place where there would be no rest for me. He sent me to the other hell. I hardly could walk. My daughter was holding my hand and blood was running from my nails. I was asked to go up the stairs. At first, I thought it would be only a few stairs. There were more than I thought . While we were going up the stairs, my daughter would sometimes go up further in order to encourage me walk up the next set of stairs. When I looked at her, I could see in her face that she was using all her power to pull me up the stairs. Afterwards, I realised I had gone up 3 to 4 floors with the help of my daughter.

We were standing in front of a big metal door, the pasdar who was with us knocked on the door, talked with someone and left. The person who opened the door lead us to a corner and asked us to sit there. At the time we sat there, my daughter said: " I have to go pee pee." I shouted that my daughter needs to go the to toilet. A female guard shouted back loudly: "shut your mouth, "If you need somthing just hold up your hand." After awhile, she came and asked us to follow her to the toilet. We passed through a long corridor. On both sides, a large number of people were laying down, some were tortured and some were under blankets and I could not see them. However, they were all young women and girls that were laying down against the wall. The toilet was at the end of the corridor, on the left-hand side. She said, "do not remove your blindfold until I close the toilet door." We entered the toilet and I removed my blindfold. Until then, I had never realised what they had done to me. With the help of my daughter, I washed my face and hands and also my daughter's hands and face. On the way back, I noticed there were doors on the left and the right sides of the corridor, and I could hear the sound of the dishes hitting each other. On the way to the toilet, the female guard (She was a Tavab. Tavab means a prisoner who collaborates with guards) told me "do not remove your blindfold until you enter the toilet." But she did not know I could see everything with or without the blindfold. I saw people with bandages on their heads, hands and legs. I could hear women moaning in pain. I don't think you need to see to feel all these things.

My daughter's hands, legs and eyes became my legs, hands and eyes. When the female Tavab wasn't around, she would go around and come back to me and say, "Mammy, Aunts are in pain, their legs are bleeding." She realised the one who had not been blindfolded and was walking freely was not one of us. Therefore, she was never kind to them. I was transferred to the other floor. My daughter stayed with the female Tavab when I was called for an interrogation.

When I came back from the interrogation, I noticed that my daughter's eyes were red and inflamed from crying. Once or twice, I demanded milk for my daughter but the female Tavabs said they were not responsible for such things, but they would discuss it with my interrogator. Once the interrogator asked me if I had asked for milk. I replied, yes I did. He said: "you knew you had a child , why did you get involved in such a matter?" I told him, I have not kept my child here of my own will, let her go to my family. You kept her here, let her go out. Then he started swearing at me and beating me, and remarked: "you are all very cheeky, we should kill you all." I replied, "Why don't you? It is better than this situation." "He added, "I will do you something that you never forget, even your daughter will remember it and avoid such matter." (By Matter, he meant struggle against the regime).
Tomorrow the children were dealt with and we were sent to Evin prison. I faced the same hospitality in Evin as I had in the previous prisons. The Interrogator of the Kommitte Mosharak didn't accept the interrogation of the prison of my home town, and the interrogator of Evin didn't also accept the interrogation of Kommitte Moshtarak. After the initial interrogation at Evin prison, I was sent to the corridor and a blanket was put on me, and my daughter was brought to me. She had been crying a lot as usual. She was also coughing.

Now I realised that her heart problem forced them to bring her back to me, crying caused her to fall sick. When I saw her, I forgot all my pains. Her lips were dark blue and her face was white. I asked the Pasdar with anger: "what have you done to her", he replied, "she was crying that is all. She sat next to me quietly, and after that she was silent. She used to go and visit prisoners in the corridor one by one when there was no one (no pasdar) around, and came back and told me that "uncle's hands were tied together or that uncle's head was bleeding, or that aunt was in pain…". She used to tell me how everyone was.
When the interrogation was completed, I was sent to a cell in ward 209. I was sharing the cell with another female prisoner. She was very friendly to my daughter and entertained her by making a doll from a sponge. One day when we were talking to each other we noticed my daughter was playing with her doll, blindfolding and covering her with a scarf, beating her and questioning her: "tell me tell me, if you do not speak I will beat you". That was exactly what interrogators had done to me before her eyes. I ran toward her and cuddled her. I wanted to cry but stopped myself. She had a heart problem and the lack of oxygen in the cell was bad for her. I mentioned this to the guards.

There were times when she suffered while breathing. During an interrogation, I asked the interrogator to send my daughter home to my family, but he didn't care. One day he said: " you belong to the administration of your hometown prison", it is up to them to decide whether to send home your daughter or not. At other times he would rather say I was still under interrogation or they have contacted my family concerning my daughter, but no has appeared. Each time, he made an excuse.

My daughter fell sick and was taken to the hospital of the prsion. Doctors diagnosed that the lack of oxygen was the problem. They told this to female Tavabs because they never let me follow my daughter to the hospital. After that I was asked to prepare the child because she was going to be sent out. After witnessing all these mental and physical tortures my daughter left the prison with lots of sad memories. For a long time she avoided visiting me in prison. Sometimes I could hear her saying: "I don't want to come in".

Part Two

There are two instances of rape: one of myself and the other is that of a former female prisoner. Even though some friends have different views on the case of rape and think of rape as a kind of torture, I must say it wasn't like that for me and the other girl. It was something beyond torture. Those friends also believe that suicide based on rape is a religious metality (what does this word mean? Do you mean Mentality? Mentality means a state of mind or outlook) Let them say what they like to say. I do not care, because they can not imagine how hard is to be raped. The interrogator wanted to crush me, and he succeeded. I was crushed. My friend who was also raped became mentally sick. After I was released from prison , I tried to find her but never found her. I got to know what happened to her. Her family denied having such a daughter.

After being repeatedly interrogated and tortured, the interrogator realised that he could not get the information he needed. One day, he said: "Outside the prsion, you were looking very self-satisfied while you were walking in the streets, surely you were proud of yourself, but I will do something such that you will never walk with such confidence again." One night, he came to me while my hands were tied to the heater and my eyes blindfolded. He said: "I realised that you would not change. Now we don't want your information anymore". He came closer and closer. (this interrogator touched my body often during interrogation). I will do something that you will never forget." He began to undress me. My hands were tied and I tried to use my legs to defend myself. First, I thought he was just trying to scare me until he started to unbutton my shirt. I began to scream because I felt what he was going to do was not only irritating me or scaring me. He was serious in what he had planed to do. Touching my body with his hand disgusted me. He tied my mouth with a piece of cloth and while I was struggling he raped me.

He then buttoned my shirt and put my trousers back on. I felt that I was crushed and couldn't move. I was weakened so much that I was not able to cover myself. My hands were bruised and inflamed because of struggling. Then they took me for interrogation again. I was feeling dreadful. I found a piece of broken glass on the floor of the interrogation room. I took it and cut my vein. My entire clothes down to my toes were covered with blood. It seemed none of the interrogators who were in room knew what was happening, even if they did they pretended they did not know. The person who was in charge of medical services came in to look at the injury and said the vein was not seriously damaged. Then he burned a piece of cloth and put it on the wound and dressed it. They moved me to the corridor in front of the torture room. The place was full of pasdars coming and going. This area belonged to the male prisoners. I can not describe my feelings. Suicide was the only thing that came to my mind. I took advantage of the time at night when the guards were praying. I took a box of tablets which was left in front of a cell (Prisoners who are sick and take tablets are not allowed to take their tablets into the cell. Tablets were kept in front of every cell). I kept all the tablets until I could find the right time to take them. To swallow such a large amount of tablets I needed water. I was sent to a cell after a few days. It was the best time to take the tablets. I knew that every few hours, they would take me for interrogation. Therefore, I chose midnight because at that time they would leave me alone. I took all the sleeping pills at once. I was pretty sure that they would effect me very soon because my physical condition was critical. They didn't give me anything to take with me to my cell, not even my blindfold and the chaddor(veil) because they were scared I would try to commit suicide again. I laid down on the floor while I waited for my death to come.

They used to serve breakfast between 6-6.30 a.m. The duty worker knocked on the door in the moning but he do not hear any answer. Afterwards he contacted the person in charge by walky-talky and reported the case. I heard the whole story from my neighbouring cell when I recovered. When the person in charge of the breakfast tried to get information, but couldn't, he contacted the others. After a few minutes several pasdars came quickly to the cell. Hajee, the duty worker explained everything. He says he threw the chaddor into the cell and called the prisoner to cover herself in order to take the breakfast but he got no response. After his word, all the pasdars entered the cell. My neighbour did not hear them. The only thing she heard was someone slapping my face. After a short while, my neighbour hears someone who loudly asked the others to be careful and make sure that did not fall over.

When I opened my eyes, I was in the hospital. I felt pain in my face and shoulders. I assumed that pressing my shoulders and slapping my face caused the pain. The doctor asked me how many pills did I take. I just shook my head. They used a pipe to clear my stomach, and I felt sick. I had serum in one hand and the other one-- the wounded hand-- was tied to the bed. It looked dark blue. The doctor said in a calm voice: "she is no longer at risk, but she should remain in hospital for a while". The pasdars (guards) insisted in taking me back to the prison but the doctor said: "the poison of such large quantity of pills she has taken may cause her to go into a coma if you take her now". They kept me in hospital for two days and then sent me back to prison.

One day I was told that I had a visitor. I was asked to tell him why I had attempted suicide. 'Doesn't he know why ?' I thought to myself, or is he pretending he doesn't know. If he knew what was happening, he never would ask me to tell my family anything about it.

They asked my father to come and visit me. But they ordered him not to ask too many questions. When my family found out about the suicide attempt, my father spent days and nights in front of the prison. I saw my father along with the interrogator in visiting room. He looked very old. The interrogator said to me: "tell us why you tried to commit suicide?" I took advantage of the situation and told my father everything. Both were surprised as they didn't expect me to speak about what was done to me, the rape in particular. My father looked at me and the interrogator and said: "I was asked by prison´s officials to come here and give you some advice but now I have nothing to tell you." The Interrogator said, "Make your own decision. Whatever your decision is don't worry about your daughter. We will look after her. Your sisters and brothers will help me with that". Then he left the room. I felt guilty about my father, a father who was still mourning for my brother who had died recently.

I would never forgive myself. My father never asked me about the rape. He only told me that this would remain between us. I just told my husband and my daughter about the rape when I was scheduled to come this memorial day.

The second rape was that of a girl named … This happened in Marivan city.

I met her when she was mentally ill. She always avoided bathrooms and washing herself. She was not able to do her day work. She smelled from some bad infection. She was brought to our ward for a while. I visited the hospital often for the problems I had. One day, we were sent to hospital together. We entered the examination room, after I had finished, it was her turn. I noticed she was not normal. So I told the nurse and that I felt she had a womb infection, and with the help of the nurse and doctor we put her on the bed. They had to use a special instrument to examine her and find out what was wrong with her. She was severely infected. I said to them: "she is not a woman, she is a girl." But the doctor said: "no she is not a girl, she is a woman." I was surprised and when we left the room I asked her why she didn't tell me she was married. She looked at me and said: "I will tell you one day." We became very close friends, even though it was for a very short time, and we had a difficult time with in prison.

They took her again to the hospital because she was ill. She gave me a letter before she went to the hospital and asked me to read it after she left. She wrote what had been done to her in this letter. She wrote that one night, while she was in Marivan prison a pasdar had entered her cell. The letter reads: "he came to my cell with a lantern ( during the Iraq-Iran war lights were off at nights and people used lanterns.) and raped me. Something that he should do to his mother"! (what does the previous sentence mean?)

She never regained normalcy. Or if she did I never found out because after I was released from prison, I tried to meet her but her father denied that he had such a daughter. And I never told him anything about her. She was one of the Komele's activists and was arrested at the Iran-Iraq border while she was trying to flee Iran.

The matter of sleeping after prison

The last point that I want to share with you tonight, concerns dreams and nightmares of prisoners after their release. Since the problems that a prisoner faces once he or she is released are severe, there is the need to be pay attention to each of the various problems. There is the issue of finding a job and a source of livelihood, coping with the new environment, especially for those who have been in prison for a long time. The fear and conservatism of relatives and friends in regards to having any form of contact with them has, in most cases, led to the isolation of the person and the tendency to become introverted for various reasons, including the assumption that no one understands them.

Tonight, however, I will address a few observations with sleeping problems once a prisoner is released. What I want to share with you tonight is based on my own experience, and the outcome of sharing my heartache with other friends who have been in prison for a long time and have similar experiences. I will start with myself. I will say that I am still suffering severely as a result of nightmares and unsettling dreams I keep having about prison. I will also say that the negative effect of these nightmares and unsettling dreams has affected every aspect of my life. While in prison, I would attribute my bad dreams to the round- the-clock interrogation and torture I was subjected to, and I used to tell myself that I would be free from these terrible dreams once I leave prison. Once out of prison, however, I realised that while I am not in prison, its psychological effect and nightmares are still there with me.

Please allow me to give you a few examples of such dreams:

I dream that I am running away from the pasdars (Islamic guards) to some place of unknown destination. They follow me, and I try to run, but no matter how hard I try, I can not move my legs, and I find myself walking like a robot in slow-motion.
Another example: I dream I am in Iran and trying to cross the border. The borderline looks like a tunnel that I need to go through in order to cross the border. Suddenly, at a little distance to the end of the tunnel, I see my interrogator holding my daughter in his hands and saying to me, "don't you want take your daughter with you ?"

The other example is that I dream that my husband and I are being arrested. We are in some kind of house, and being tortured before each other. The torturers pressure my husband to tell where his friends are and if he fails to tell, they will rape me as they had actually done in prison; this time in front of his eyes.

Another dream: I am in my house having a meal. The Chief interrogator and prison guards are there. All of them are sitting at the table and sharing the meal with me. While I'm wondering what is going on, and how we have all ended up having a meal together, the interrogator stands up suddenly and in a commanding tone, tells me: "it's finished, go back to your cell".
I have dreamt repeatedly that my brother, who was executed in 1981, was being tortured in my presence. I will also tell you one of the dreams that has terrified me the most. I dream that the pasdars take me to see the corpse of my brother which is left lying on the ground. I notice that my brother's bones are hollow and powdery. His face and skin are yellow and only his eyes move. He keeps looking at the pasdars and then at his legs. In this dream, I sense that he is trying to tell me what they have done to his legs.

All my dreams are about hiding myself from the pasdars. For example, when I am walking or doing something, at the same time I try to burrow into some hole to get away from Pasars, shouting and crying to draw attention from the people to protect me from being arrested. These shouts are so loud that I wake up people sleeping in other rooms of the house. I have asked my husband not to touch me when I scream during my dreams, this is because when I feel his hands on my body, I think that the pasdars are arresting me, and I react violently.

Now, after these examples, I would like to mention some of the effects these nightmares and unsettling dreams have. First, I'd like to say that when you wake up, it takes quite a while for you to assume full control of your mind and body, and also to realise that you are not in prison, but at home and safe. Profuse sweating is another effect of this kind of dream. Apart from the long-term physical and psychological effects of this kind of sweating, basically, your clothes get really wet; they get wet so much that sleeping becomes impossible, unless your sheets and clothing are changed. Shouting and crying while one is having these nightmare is another case. This usually wakes up others who are sleeping around you. Gnashing of teeth and making unpleasant noises are also another example.

I and some other former political prisoners who have experienced this have been forced to protect our teeth with plastic braces to prevent severe damage to our teeth. The other effect is that the constant nightmares lead to a continuous lack of sleep which results in tiredness, exhaustion, moodiness and anxiety. Finally, may I draw your attention to this fact: The aim of recounting these experiences, and some of the resultant unpleasant effects, is to give you an in-sight into the plight of former and current political prisoners. It is also aimed at drumming up support and awareness for their predicament, in the hopes that this will compel you to examine the problems, herein described, more critically in your present and future deliberations.

Unfortunately, former Iranian political prisoners have neither been well supported nor getting advisory assistance. In contrast, let us take a look at the case of the Vietnam War veterans. It has been observed that nightmares and unsettling dreams have been a common phenomenon amongst these ex-soldiers. However, three decades after that war, these veterans continue to receive treatment, support and attention from their government. In addition, post-war trauma is still a major subject of discussion in psychology research circles in their country.

However, considering the fact that these war veterans were, at the time, soldiers of a super-power, and therefore, better-equipped, it seems rather inappropriate to use their case as a befitting example, as this hardly compares to the case of a political prisoner who had to withstand the harsh conditions of the Iranian prisons.

Unfortunately, our former prisoners, with the exception of rare instances of support by Amnesty's Medical Foundation, do not receive any advice and/or support. Therefore, those in the immediate communities of these people have a significant role to play in helping them overcome their traumatic experiences.

hold by

September 2000