The journal is a political quarterly in defense of secularism, democracy and socialism.
And Still Lives Our Story. Memories of an Iranian political prisoner by Hassan Darvish
That night they read out the list of those who were called for trial the following morning. Chavosh’s name was read out after mine. He was supposed to bear witness against me. He did not know of my organisational connections. In the Komiteh  He had said that he had seen me with people who had been executed or were in hiding. His report could be a dangerous lead. Later his reports and witness had led some others to their death.
They took us to the courtroom. This was the second time I was going to court. We sat down. While flipping though the pages of the file, [religious judge] hojjatoleslam Seidi asked: “was your father a communist too?”
“Are you talking to him or to me?
“to you, you liar. Did he have links with Asghar?
Chavosh looked at me and nodded in agreement saying: “Yes haji agha”
“Was he an activist?”
“Yes haji agha”
“Did he have links with Amir too?”
“Yes, I think he had links with Amir too.”
I had not seen Amir since our last sitting in the mountains. Silence would be disastrous. The conversation was not going in may favour. In a loud voice I shouted: “lie, complete lie. Haji agha let me please ask him some questions. If what he says is true I am ready for execution”.
He lifted his eyebrows indifferently and with the palm of his hand indicated that he saw no objection.
“Was I in charge of you, or you of me? Were either of us really in charge of each other?”
“None of us”
“Had I any acquaintance with you? Came to your house or you to mine?
“Say in front of Haji agha exactly what political activity I had done for you or any other group?
“I don’t know.”
“If I was one of you, then name one other person in the same line as you who is in prison and knows me.”
This was an inopportune risk since two of the lads who had received long sentences knew my pseudonym and had revealed these [to the interrogator]. If they were brought, there was a possibility that they would confirm my political activity. But Chavosh was unaware of this and had only named Asghar and Amir.
“Haji agha. If he could name anyone, I will accept everything” Chavosh was about to open his mouth to say that one was executed and the other in hiding, but I did not give him the chance. I stood up and angrily said to him: “Then shut up and don’t destroy innocent people!”
The religious judge who had carefully watched this scene signalled to me to sit down.
“Haji agha, these people did whatever they wanted outside and now in order to escape from their sins will do anything, and say any number of lies”
“From where did you know Mahmoud?”
“Please ask them to bring him over here, perhaps I know him. I have so many friend and acquaintances.”
He pressed a button. A pasdar [revolutionary guard] entered the room.
“Take him to the Hosseinieh, it might loosen his tongue”
The guard pushed me forwards. We came to a building which led down to a basement through a few steps. We entered the basement. The door opened. A deafening noise come after the wailing of the whip and was mingled with the recital of verses from the Qur’an. A tall, well-built pasdar with a green hand-knitted hat and a pleated leather whip in his hands was standing by the wooden bed. A prisoner had been laid on the bed with his feet tied to a horizontal stick suspended over two poles above the bed. The unrelenting moans of the whipped youth and the threats of the pasdar went on. They stopped the tape recorder. The beater was untying the feet of the beaten, all the time swearing. The pasdar who had brought me said to the guard who was lashing:
“A new guest has arrived for you brother Mehdi.” Brother Mehdi, who was still untying the ropes from the beaten youth’s feet replied: “Send him and let me entertain him”.
The flagellated lad got up. He was a good-looking youth, with delicate features. With hair and moustache. He was thin and wasted. He could not stand. His feet were swollen and bruised. His face was black and drenched in sweat and his eyes were red from crying and pain. From his face he looked twenty. They handed him to the pasdar who had brought me. The guard took him by the armpit and dragged him away.
Seyed Mehdi beckoned to me. I stepped forwards. It was my turn. He bound my hands tightly with a thin rope. I lay face down on the bed on his signal. He then bound my feet to the horizontal stick above the bed. Fear and inquisitiveness had overtaken me. I saw him as a Frankenstein; huge, broad shouldered and bony. He took the whip in his hands, stood in front of my legs and stared at them. Suddenly he screamed: “Takbir!” [glorification of god]
A huge dark pit opened up under his big nose.
My mouth opened involuntarily: “Allah-o Akbar!”
“Khomeini Leader! Death to anti-velayate faghih. Death to.. death to … death to… ”
Seyyed Mehdi signalled to another pasdar who went to a corner and started the tape machine. The sound of chanting rose once more. The whip the seyyed [desendent of the Prophet] was holding was made of thin strands of leather neatly and tightly woven. The whip rose in the air, gave a whine, sliced through space and landed on the soles of my feet. Pain and burning enveloped my brain and an involuntary cry escaped my throat.
Veezhshoo. Owe and then the voice of the Qur’anic reciter which was the sequel to the symphony of torture. The third blow and the fourth blow. “while being lashed occupy your mind with something”. In a corner of my mind I was counting the blows, and in another corner I was singing a number I had learnt in childhood: Ameneh, Ameneh, is my cup of wine! Fifth blow: my heart is on fire because of you; the sixth blow. My heart is aflame, the seventh blow. Throat and tongue had been disconnected from me. Ow..we. Your…your love is still in my heart, tenth blow. No. I cannot continue with the song. The beating had also stopped. Yes. Seyed Frankenstein had opened his wide square jaws.
“will you talk or should I go on beating?”
“I have said everything. It is all in the file”
The whip went up in the air again.
“Stop. Untie my feet”
He did. I asked for water. He brought it. After drinking it I rose. I could not stand on my feet. I was standing on two heavy painful objects. I fell. I wanted to waste time. He gave me pen and paper. On the first page I wrote “I swear that I have not said any untruth and that everything I have said is in total honesty. Is it right to ask me through lashing to say what is untrue, signed it and handed it to the seyyed. He tore it up at once and threw it in may face. He tied my feet tighter than before and said he will beat me until my filthy corpse is taken out of there.
“The religious judge’s judgement was execution after ta’zir (religious punishment), or in case of honesty, freedom”. The eleventh, twelfth blow. The voice of the chanter “kill for the sake of Allah (qatalu fi-sabil allah)
Vizhzh. The sound of the whip splits the air. Shh, the sound of the lash on the sole of feet. …Kh the sound of the body. In my chest a tiny sorrow in Ah. A…kh . A….kh twenty? … his jaws moved. I don’t know. Count it yourself.
He opened my feet. They were totally swollen. I thought it is over. I told myself that if my accusation was serious they would have used a cable, rather than lather whip. And now the sole of my feet was torn to bits. Like the feet of Dr Ja’far Tabesh or Siavash. The first pasdar said:
“You, believer, why don’t you have pity on yourself? Just say you are a supporter [of an organisation] and they will let you go on with your ordinary life. Otherwise you will enjoy ta’azir [lashes] till you die. If you do not talk it is the same story all over again”. He then gave me pen and paper again. I asked him
“brother are you a seyyed? [desendant of mohammad]
“Do you like lies?”
“Don’t waste time. Get to the point.”
“Then why do you want me to lie that I am a supporter?”
“Just write down you are a supporter and sign it. It is ok. We will take on the sin.”
“I hate lies”.
The first pasdar whispered something to the seyyed. I only heard the figure “36”. Then he said in a loud voice:
“Beat him till he dies. He is not going to reform”.
They helped each other to tie me up. The first pasdar put on the tape machine. The voice of the chanter rose; this time so lowd that I could not hear my own yelps”. All the same I counted. Thirty four, 35, 36, 37? Perhaps I had no feeling left. Habib had said that only the first blows are unbearable. I had prepared myself for more blows. Under lashing I realised that I could tolerate the pain, but not the disgrace of breaking. He untied the rope. Perhaps it was out of spite, or even out of hatred that I smiled at his large bony skull. His long yellow teeth appeared under a smile:
“Did you not have enough?”
“No thank you. It was more than enough”
“On your mother’s life?
“On my master card.”
“You haven’t seen it all. Next time I will serve you with a cable”.
I tried my slippers. It seemed to have shrunk. No, it was the feet that had become big and fat. He said: “Leave the slippers. Get up”.
I got up. I did not want them to witness my pain and torture. I kept upright with difficulty. He pointed to the corner of the hall. They had spread gravel on the mosaic. He made me walk on these. My heart was being wrenched with pain and rawness.
Suddenly everything began to go round and round and the revolving space between me and the floor became smaller and smaller. I cannot remember any more. He threw water on my face. I don’t know if it was from hunger or pain that I passed out. They took me to cell already housing three others: Dr Ja’far Tabesh, Ja’far Hedayati and Mehdi Khorrami. Dr Tabesh had his feet bangaged up. All three had been beaten. They were Mujahedin supporters. Mehdi immediately took hold of me by the arm pit and helped me down. He brought me a valium tablet and jokingly said “pop it in – it is contraband”. He was right, it was forbidden.
Once when he had undone his bandage I felt nauseous at the sight of the torn flesh on the soles of his feet. This was the second time they had done this to him. Mehdi was only seventeen. He was cheerful and full of life. Whenever the guards came to bring us food or take us to the toilet he would tease them. He would say these are the confused servants of god. He had a clear voice and would sing for us. Later I heard from Mehdi in the prison block that after the doctors feet healed he was beaten again and in the end he was executed with injured feet. His wife was in the women’s block. Mehdi and Ja’far were also taken out together and were never returned. We read their names in the paper: in the list of the executed. Mehdi’s brother, Mohammad was sixteen and had been given “life”. Ja’far Hedayati also shared a cell with his brother Javad.
I was returned to the prison after a week. The swelling on my feet had settled. Siavash, Abdollah, “Red-skin”, and my other friends greeted us from behind the bars. Siavash approached me and after hugging me whispered: “How many?”.
“A trifling thirty six”.
“Get and make a complaint! They have even promised me the cable”.
He patted me on the back and smiled.
Red-skin smiled silently; Abdollah’s eyes had become slit-like from smiling and his tidy white teeth shined. The next day Siavash told me Red-skin’s story.
In a dark rainy night, a motorcycle rider fired at a pasdaran patrol car from a distance of a few metres. After a short skirmish he was able to escape. But a woman bystander and three local shopkeepers witnessed the event and through their description “Red-skin” and a few others were arrested. The witnesses disagree as to his identity. Two confirmed that he was the motorcyclist but three disagreed. He was beaten by cable and, as he related, with a seasoning of curses, fists and kicks. In the end they decided he was innocent and there has been a misunderstanding. They had even wanted to release him before his court came up. They asked for his parents’ address so that they could take him away with a surety. But he had given a false name and address and had claimed that he had nobody to look after him since childhood, that he had always worked as a labourer to make ends meet. Instead he had given the name and address of the workshop he had worked in the year prior to his arrest. With a pseudonym. They were forced to keep him further in order to obtain more information. Meanwhile he was betrayed by one of his old comrades, a supporter of the Fadai’ minority organisation. He was taken again for lashings and questioning. In order to get him to admit to the shooting. He had been savagely beaten. Several times he lost consciousness. But he remained mum. Finally accused of being a supporter of the Minority Organisation he was given life imprisonment.
Abdollah believed that my encounter with Chavosh in front of the religious judge was correct and Chavosh’s report will not be acceptable to the court. But danger from other tavvabs [repentants] was there. Every day there was more of them. All it required was for one to turn up [who knew me] and everything would be lost.
Whenever I was tired or irritable I would go to the cell of my friend from the north, Rahim. With his tall figure, blond hair and blue eyes Rahim reminded me of the northern forest and nature, and my life there. He was a congenial fellow. He had owned a shop selling household goods in our town. He sang us Gilaki songs. When singing, he would hold hid hands on his chin, like a muezzin, and close his eyes and buried himself in his voice.
One day while we were sitting by the mosque reading a paper, we notices that on the other side a group had gathered reading in the newspaper the names of those killed. Suddenly everyone burst out laughing and they all turned round to look at Majid Niknam. Majid himself, though pale, was smiling. He played in our volley ball team. He looked about 25. He was a great joker and very unaffected. He was a supporter of the Mujahedin organisation; but unlike many of the Mujahedin he did not draw a line between himself and the left. He befriended everyone. Like me he was one of the few who had not been betrayed and was in a limbo. After ten months his closest friend was arrested and agreed to co-operate after a few slaps. Majid recognised his betrayer during his interrogation. He had a woollen hat on and knew Majid by his family name. The judge had asked him if he agreed to a videoed interview. His answer was negative. Because he had hid his name and particulars he was sentenced to whipping (ta’zir) followed by execution. That day Majid saw his name in the list of the executed, apparently since he had not been whipped his execution was delayed. The next day he was taken out of prison for both sentences.
Rahim belonged to the Rahe Kargar group. He had a calm and melancholy exterior. Hidden in the songs he sang for us at night the pain of love and the wickedness of life. But his words showed ideological confidence and stability. His optimism of humans in the future was warming. He was full of hope. After 11 months arrest they release him without having to go to court. We were all happy.
The days of 1981 were unforgettable. Boys who were close to death exercised, and joked. They created such excitement in others that they emptied one from individual selfishness and shamefaced frailty. There was still an unspoken colective unity among the prisoners. Death no longer provoked fear. It was real, but was not taken seriously. This confused the prison guards and the tavvabs.
We had set up a number of volley ball teams. By accident the best players played in our team. We won the matches. Nineteen-year old Rostam, tall and pale, was in our team. He could smash the ball in such a way on the opponents’ court as to make the earth shake underneath. After the game he would sit with some friends and learn Arabic. For the last time they had asked him to take a videoed interview. He had replied that he must consult his father. They summoned his father. He had told Rostam that if he was his son, he should die like a man. Rostam would say that he knew his father’s answer in advance but wanted to hear it from his mouth. His was accused of throwing a bomb at a mullah. It had not exploded. In court, the religious judge Seidi had asked if had he not been arrested, or if he had another bomb in his hands, would he throw it again? Rostam had replied: “Yes, you can’t leave work half-done. ”
On the afternoon of that day he was busy learning Arabic after our game. He had left his track suit in my hands. As I went up to his cell the loudspeaker read out the list. It contained his name. Everyone stood up with grief and respect. Ready for the farewell. Quietly he continued with what he was doing. He wrote the last Arabic phrases in his notebook. Closed the notebook and gave it to his friend. I was standing at the door of the cell watching him. I handed him his track suite. He said happily: “good thing you brought it. It is cold at night and I might catch cold”
What simplicity and warmth in his words. How difficult to accept that a figure so youthful and tall, with such a spirit and conviction, with so much hope and aspiration, and so much love and friendship will be broken up in a few hours with nothing left of him. He was going to die and was not afraid of death. But he dreaded catching cold. I hugged him like a brother. Seven other youths, his age, were his companion in the journey to death. One by one they said goodbye with everyone. While we all stood there silent, with choking in the throat they left our midst noisily and happily forever and became a memory.
On a cold winter afternoon, an hour after lunch, the loudspeaker announced that we should quit the block immediately and go to the yard. A pale sun spread on the snow covered surface. We knew something was up but did not know what. We grabbed whatever warm clothes we could lay hands on. We poured into the yard and amused ourselves playing with snow to escape our inner anxiety and fear. The loudspeaker announces: “return to the block in single file”. We returned to the prison block. Mullah Najafi stood there in his dark glasses and expressionless face. Some guards surrounded him and a few tavvabs stood behind him. They had hidden their face in a knitted hats. Only their eyes were visible. Whoever they pointed out was pulled by the guards. The passageway from the courtyard to the block passed under their eyes. What a dangerous corridor. A corridor of death. It needed only a pointed index finger to end a life.
Morteza Moshfegh, my friend and cell mate at the Komite, a humorous and intelligent youth, who until a few minutes earlier had been busy playing and joking was removed by one of these hidden heads. He looked pale. I never saw him again. He and his friend Mohammad Baradaran was taken out of the line-up, followed by Taghi Rezai’ a tall 18-year old with tinted lenses. They were accused of forming a prison organisation for the Mujahedin and sent for torture and trial. That day another twelve were taken out of the line-up and taken to the “hosseinieh” of the prosecutors office
They were lashed to get them to confess. A number, including Taghi Rezai’ broke down and named Moshfegh and Baradaran as leaders of the prison organisation. Morteza managed to hang himself with a bath rag there. What a waste of a person and all that revolutionary ardour.
Mohammad Baradaran was savagely tortured. He refused to admit to anything. Every time he was brought back to the cell-block his hair was whiter, his eyes deeper set and his face paler. The only thing left of him was the stubborn look of his bright eyes which spoke of a strong and resistant spirit. A beautiful smile that had found a resting place on his lips, were signs of an untroubled conscience, self-respect and dignity. Before the winter was through, a white snow sat on the short hair of this young student. He finally broke down in the spring and admitted to his role in the prison organisation. He was executed. Taghi Rezai’ however, began co-operation with the organisation of the tavvabin.
The were more and more arrests. In the revolutionary prosecutors office, the bazaar for lashings and confessions was flourishing. For every new tavvab a host of people were taken to court again and received heavier sentences, even execution. Many others remained in limbo after many months, in prison slang “melli-kesh” [meaning nationalised!]. Said Nikui’ was one. He did not know what was happening to him for a year. They had nothing on him. His careless behaviour and spirit showed that he was sure of his release. We too were sure that he will be freed until one day his name was read out in the loudspeaker and he appeared the next day in the list of executed. His cousin had betrayed him.
Despite the weekly cell search and the ban on radios and any electrical equipment, Gholmali (Ringo) gave us access to a reasonably powerful radio. He had made the radio himself. How and when? Only he knew. It fitted into a fist and looked like anything but a radio. Every day he would recount the news from foreign radios for me and I would covey these to my other friends. And after the news was came analysis, which was food for our evenings. Taking due care we would argue over political questions and positions and came to an analysis. Being away from real events makes one very fanciful, especially behind bars.
The phenomenon of tavvabs was gripping every corner of the block like an octopus. As it grew, the spirit of weakness and conservatism grew in parallel. Self-control, bravery, generocity, and humanity was mostly seen among those condemned to die.
Fahad Sharafi was a nineteen year-old handsome youth whose black eyes and eyebrows beneath his high brow gave him a particularly manly dignity. It seems that he shared a file with Baradaran. We all knew that his young figure will soon be broken. They wanted to break him under the lash and psychological pressure. They kept him for weeks in a damp cell. They threatened him with death, and arranged a mock execution; but got nowhere. They asked him to read from a prepared script in front of television cameras; he had refused. Although Farhad was a Mujahedin supporter, he co-operated with us, especially in the field of collecting information.
Every time he was brought back from the prosecutors office, he would bring us news of new arrestees and conveyed their messages to us. Some of the supporters and activists were still under torture. On a number of occasions he spoke of someone called Ahmad.
“He is from the left but I don’t know what is up with him”. He told us that Ahmad had been so badly beaten that the wounds in his feet reeked and his face was black. He always spoke of him with admiration and was worried for him. In the end he brought us the news that “he had finished under the lash”.
When I found out who he was I wished it was me they had killed. Ahmad Miri was a friend and comrade. I thought he was in hiding. He looked 25. He was a full-time political activist. For some time he had taken a job in a factory. He wanted to taste the workers’ life in person and become one with them. Many times he had distributed tracts and leaflets sitting behind Asghar on his motorbike. He always said that the “valley between poverty and riches will be filled with the ashes of revolutionaries. Frahad quoted Ahmad’s interrogator as saying that they knew everything about him but he would say nothing. His younger brother, Saeed could not take the beating and lashes. He had betrayed their sister and had promised to co-operate. Saeed was still in the cells at the prosecutors office. If he came to the prison my position would be precarious. He knew me with my pseudonym and was aware of some of my activities. I looked for him every day among the new arrivals. My period of dread and anxiety had begun. If he came how could I keep out of his gaze? He was under arrest for six months in the prosecutors’. One day Farhad assured me that they will not be sending him out on reconnaissance and betrayal missions anymore. Later I heard that Farhad had warned him to stop. Sadly Farhad’s life came to an autumn in the midst of spring. I saw his name among the list of the executed and swallowed my sobs with difficulty. Truly he was an honourable lad.
The women cell block, holding ordinary prisoners was next to ours. The small windows of their cells opened out on the north face of our courtyard. One day while in the courtyard we heard the sound of shrieking and shouting from the women’s block. From behind the windows we got glimpses of a hand with fingers giving the victory sign. A few moments later the siren sounded and the loudspeaker ordered us to leave the courtyard. It all looked strange. A protest in the women’s block, and that at a time when the regime didn’t tolerate any protest, how was that possible? We soon leant of the incident. They about to take a female political prisoners for execution when the women intervene. A scuffle took place between the officials and the prisoners.
The convicted person was Shiva Mehraban, a student supporter of the Mujahedin. She had become very popular among the women prisoners (many non political) during her incarceration. Her father was in our cell. We all called him father, even the tavvabs. He was respected by us all, regardless of political affiliation.
He was a handsome old man; with thick grey moustache which covered his lips. There was sadness in his voice which provoked respect in the listener. He loved the young prisoners like his own son. Anytime anyone took ill, father would be at his side. He was truly a father for us all. One of his accusations was that he had influenced his interrogators. The day after Shiva was executed we were sitting in the cell listening to the memoirs of father when Siavash signalled to me. We went towards the mosque. He opened the paper. I saw Shiva’s name among the execution list.
We bought a box of biscuits from the small prison shop and went back to father. We handed him the box. He understood immediately and passed the biscuits round. Oh how cruel to break the heart of the old man of the block, and how difficulties is to convey bad news. We all stood up respectfully and remained silent for a few minutes. He asked us to sit down. He hung his head in silence. His face looked so worn with sadness. He did not cry. His lips shook but he kept his composure. He un-twisted his brows and began:
“Shiva was always a cause of pride and honour for us. Like her mother she was beautiful and loveable. She was clever and could recite poetry by Hafiz by heart. The political organisation was an excuse for her; she was after the happiness and prosperity of others”
He fell silent; his eyes were wet. Then with a soft, but shaking voice, he continued: “now they have taken her from me. It is cruel”.
Some of us were quietly sobbing. Father apologised. He did not think tears were permissible. Later I saw many fathers who, with a hidden power, did not allow the death of their children to break their backs and remained firm in the hope of revenge. They did not see political organisations as entirely blameless. Two days later, with great difficulty we informed father of the shooting of his nephew. Shiva was nineteen. He had been executed alongside her. But the news were given out on two separate days.
Hasan Darwish was released as no one betrayed him. He later fled Iran and now livers in the United States His book And Still Lives Our Story, was published in Farsi by Noghteh Books in 1998.. The above is a slightly abridged version of a chapter called Lashings. It was translated by Mehdi Kia with permission from the author and Naser Mohajer, who edits these series.
1. Revolutionary Komitehs were set up in the post revolutionary power vacuum. They quickly became the organs of repression of the ruling mullahs.
2. Standard slogans of the hezbollah chanted on every occasion.
Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.