During the protests of the Green Movement in 2009, many Iranian protesters were arrested, interrogated, tortured and imprisoned. Some were lucky and were subsequently released. Others remained in jail or were sent to jail again since then. And still others died as a result of being tortured. Three of these victims, Amir Javadifar, Mohammad Kamrani and Mohsen Rouholamini died from torture at the Kahrizak prison facility. They were sent to Kahrizak by the general prosecutor of Tehran, Saeed Mortazavi, who then proceeded to falsify their cause of death as “meningitis”.
Mortazavi was not unknown to the victims: he reputedly visited the prisoners in Kahrizak and warned them to not divulge any information regarding the tortures (they did) and in order to cover up the evidence, transferred the prisoners who were set to be released to Evin prison for 2-3 weeks where they were taken care of in the clinic so that “the torture marks” on their bodies would not be “so visible”. The victims were forced to walk barefoot on hot asphalt, were beaten regularly, sometimes while being strung up to the ceiling, were forced into crowded cells, were living off meagre rations etc…For the survivors, the nightmare remains all too vivid even if they did flee the country.
While most victims and their families resolutely put their suffering behind them for fear of reprisals, the Rouholamini family decided to take Mortazavi to court on charges of murder and falsifying documents. Last month, Mortazavi was acquitted of the murder charges but was fined $60 for the falsified documents. The Rouholamini family has yet to give up and plan to appeal the decision.
During his trial, Mortazavi offered the court and victims’ families some sort of an apology accompanied by a self-exoneration: “As I was the Tehran prosecutor at the time, I express shame for this terrible incident, even though it happened without any deliberate intention, as God and my conscience are my witness…the bloody incidents that happened after the great plot hatched during the June 2009 presidential election were described as a crime by the supreme leader of the revolution (Ali Khamenei), and I, the prosecutor at the time, deeply apologize and seek forgiveness from the innocent martyrs Javadifar, Rouholamini and Kamrani, and hope God Almighty would bless them with the highest rank”. It’s hard not to notice the irony in the fact that Mortazavi elevated the statute of the victims to “innocent martyrs” (after being charged as seditionists) and that he places the “blame” on the fact that Khamenei described them as “criminals”. In short, much as many Nazi officers claimed during their trials, Mortazavi was sorry but he was just doing his job and fulfilling orders from above.
But some of the surviving victims didn’t buy his apology: “His apology is an insult” says Reza Zoghi, a survivor who fled to Turkey on his release. He was held and tortured at Kahrizak for 5 days and then sent to “recover” in Evin for 17 days until his release. Zoghi is not in a forgiving mood and feels helpless due to the fact that he is unable to take his case to court: “In fact, none of us were actually able to pursue our cases. In the end, only the Rouholamini family was able to drag Mortazavi to court. But what upsets me was that none of our names were mentioned during the trial. It’s true that we survived, but we were all tortured. Amir Javadifar died beside me as he was begging for water. I can never forget those moments”.
To be honest, Mortazavi is not blameless nor is he alone to be blamed. Mortazavi was part of the regime which exhibited zero-tolerance for anyone brave enough to voice criticism against it. Mortazavi is as guilty as the torturers of Javadifar, Kamrani and Rouholamini , as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who declared them criminals, as the president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who rigged the elections and as the intelligence and IRGC officers who handled the arrests and some of the tortures. For the survivors and the families of the victims, it’s uncertain what’s worst: the actual crime or the sham trial that exonerated the criminal and the actual people who tortured them (or led to their tortures) or the regime which orchestrated it. In any case, Mortazavi’s apology is too little too late.
The Green Movement, from its birth to its demise is a snapshot of everything that is rotten in the regime: It was born as a protest to what seems to have been a rigged election that brought Ahmadinejad into power and ended the minute Khamenei declared the movement’s leaders and participants as “seditionists”. The fate of the Green Movement remains one of the biggest fears for anyone in Iran who wants to criticize the regime or the all-powerful Supreme Leader who, as one unnamed Iranian diplomat said “is mainly interested in remaining in power…anyone who endangers that is either thrown in jail or gets shot“. Furthermore, the fate of the leaders of the Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who are still under house arrest after 5 years despite President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to release them, is a living testament to all would-be protesters – criticize the regime and lose your freedom and your human dignity, or, die. And there’s nothing that a “moderate” president can do about it as Barbara Slavin aptly put: “Probably he is the right man at the right time, and the best we can hope for…But he’s a cautious bureaucrat. He knows exactly how far he can go without riling up the supreme leader and other hardline elements of the country“.
The only hope for Iranians who do want to change their lives and increase their personal freedoms is either an implosion of the regime or a protest so massive that the regime will have to back down.