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Terror in Iran

No historian of the Middle East and Iran will deny that the CIA overthrew the legally elected government of Dr. Mossadeq in August 1953, brought back to the country the Shah, his wife, his brothers and sisters who had run away earlier, and reinstalled the present monarch on the throne. Imagine a more tyrannical and primitive George III being crowned 6,000 miles away by the very descendants of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin with money raised by the American taxpayer. The CIA re-created the monarchy, built up the SAVAK and trained all its prominent members, and stood by the Shah and his secret police as their powerful ally. Iran became the police state it is now.

Thousands of men and women have been summarily executed during the last twenty-three years. More than 300,000 people have been in and out of prison during the last nineteen years of the existence of SAVAK; an average of 1,500 people are arrested every month. In one instance alone, American-trained counterinsurgency troops of the Iranian Army and SAVAK killed more than 6,000 people on June 5, 1963. According to Amnesty International’s Annual Report for 1974-1975 “the total number of political prisoners has been reported at times throughout the year [1975] to be anything from 25,000 to 100,000.”1 Martin Ennals, secretary general of Amnesty International, reports in his introduction to the above book: “The Shah of Iran retains his benevolent image despite the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture which is beyond belief.”2

I believe the number of political prisoners in Iran is still on the rise. The number of announced executions in the first five months of this year is more than eighty, while the number for the whole of last year was less than forty. Assuming a proportional rate of increase, the number of political prisoners this year must have at least quadrupled, since the number of officially announced executions will have risen fourfold.

Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that an Iranian prison looks like a garden, or that Iranian writers are held in better prisons than the other prisoners. All prisoners have a common destiny. With twenty-six books to my name I was kept in a dark solitary confinement cell of four feet by eight feet. There was nothing on the floor except for a dirty old blanket. There was no bed either.

There were days when seven prisoners of diverse backgrounds were pushed into this cell. We got ourselves accustomed to sleeping while standing. Some had dysentery because of bad food and fear. Some could not stand because of sore feet or burned backs or pulled out toenails. We breathed into each other’s faces. All of us had been kidnapped by the SAVAK; none of us had seen any warrants. Nobody outside knew where we were. We didn’t know ourselves where we were, because we had all been brought to the prison blindfolded. The seven of us could have easily run a school, or a supermarket, or a factory. Imagine 100,000 educated men and women in prison while 75 percent of the whole nation is illiterate! Imagine hundreds of doctors in prison when every fifty villages in the country have only one doctor! Imagine roads awaiting construction while engineers are rotting in jails! The number and the extent of my government’s crimes against its people have no end.

At least four agents of SAVAK are used to kidnap each suspect. There have been occasions when 5,000 people have been kidnapped on one day. This puts the number of such kidnappers simply at thousands. Sometimes even tanks are used in order to get a suspect out of his lodgings. No one knows exactly what the total number of SAVAK officials and its informants is. At a press conference in 1971, a SAVAK authority said that there were, in addition to fulltime employees, informants “in various segments of society—workers, farmers, students, professors, teachers, guild members, parties, and other associations.”3

The Shah’s claim in a recent press conference that the number of SAVAK agents is between 3,000 and 3,300 is entirely wrong.4 The Shah could not hold his grip on the population if that were so. The given number is fictitious. The actual army of agents and informants numbers from hundreds of thousands to millions. Of the fourteen people I met in prison cells during my imprisonment in 1973, at least two had been asked to become members of the SAVAK, and upon refusal they had been tortured. Everything I had said during my stay in the US in the academic year of 1972-1973, before my imprisonment, had been reported to SAVAK, which operates on a global scale.

The Shah’s despotic regime has not only rendered the whole legal and constitutional process of the country meaningless, but it has also moved to brainwash a whole nation. Last year he suddenly abolished all the existing parties and decreed a new “Resurgence” party whose membership is compulsory to the entire adult population. But even this one-party system is meaningless to the Shah, because, for him, Iran is a one-man nation. Members of the royal family are at the heads of the news media, the Ministry of Information, and the Ministry of Culture. All information passes through these ministries before reaching the people. The Shah has closed down all the major press in the country and created others which are in the hands of the members of the SAVAK. Ninety-five percent of all the available press in the country is in the hands of two families who take their orders from the Shah and the police.5 There isn’t a single piece of paper in the hands of those who don’t want to write the way the Shah tells them to write. There is only one paper factory in the country and this runs at the whim of the authorities. A bestseller in Iran means a book that sells 3,000 copies. According to the Iranian papers, every Iranian studies books only twenty to thirty seconds a year.6

Every schoolteacher of some experience will tell you that in some villages schoolchildren are taken out to graze the grass for their lunch. In many villages people still exchange their daughters for a cow because they can milk a cow and till the land with it, but they can hardly do that with their daughters. A half-skilled laborer in Tabriz, the second or third biggest city in the country, gets even less than twenty-five cents an hour, while a pound of meat costs more than two dollars, onions, if found at all, are priced at fifty cents a pound, and potatoes are not to be had at any price.

In Quri-Chai, the northern slums of Tabriz, there is only one school for 100,000 schoolchildren. In most of the cities of Baluchestan, there is only one bath for the entire population (in the city of Bampour for instance), but since people are so poor that they cannot afford to pay the nickel required to go to the bath, it has fallen in ruins.7 People have frozen to death in winter in this great oil-producing country.

Yet the Shah and the Iranian government claim that Iran will have reached the standard of living of the industrially advanced nations in a matter of a few years!

We need schools, jobs, food, health facilities, democracy, freedom of the press, a revolution in our legal system. We are one of the richest countries of the world. We should be able to do wonders with our wealth. But the Shah has grabbed that wealth, is arming us to the teeth and helping the whole Middle East arm itself to the teeth. Meanwhile the majority of the people of my country stay poor, uneducated, and sick.

Iran is the country of the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. The lot of the majority of the people in Iran has not moved forward even an inch during the last fifty years of the Pahlavi dynasty’s reign, though the seven-year-old middle-class boy of fifty years ago, namely, the present Shah of Iran, has grown to be one of the richest men on earth.

The reason most of my countrymen would tell you that they carry a grudge against the United States is that the US government has given its unconditional support to a monarch who has terrorized a whole nation, plundered its wealth, and bought billions of dollars worth of military equipment which neither he nor our nation knows how to use. Iran is a dangerous quagmire in which the US is sinking deeper and deeper. The future will speak for itself. But if Iran becomes the new Vietnam, we can be sure that it was the inhumane and irresponsible policies of the US government, the excessive greed of American arms corporations, and the extreme stupidity and adventurism on the part of present Iranian authorities that led to the creation of that crisis in the history of humanity.

The Position of Iranian Writers and Why They Are Tortured

In a country where all political institutions are subjected to the vanities of a dictator, literature and the creators of literature turn into the voice of the nation’s conscience. Iran’s contemporary prose and poetry speak of the physical and spiritual poverty of humanity dominated by terror. They also articulate the spirit of protest against the injustices of despotism. Indeed, Iranian writers substitute for the political leaders who have either fallen prey to the ruler, emigrated, or been imprisoned. In the past, SAVAK had no literary sophistication. But recently spies and informants have turned into critics of literature who dissect a literary image to find a political truth hidden in it.

The government encourages sexist or lukewarm mystical literature, but if you speak about life in the streets of Tehran today, you go to jail. Almost all the prominent writers and poets of the country have suffered incarceration and torture at the hands of the SAVAK in recent years. The government searches houses one by one for books by these writers and others like Jack London, Bertolt Brecht, and Maxim Gorky. If they catch someone reading The Call of the Wild, they give him seven years in prison, calling him a terrorist. Last year the members of a theater group were given between two and eleven years in prison because they had tried to rehearse Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths. 8

No book in the country is published without the censorship’s authorization. It sometimes takes years to get permission for the publication of some book a publisher has already printed. All copies of a novel of mine have been confiscated by SAVAK. And I could cite hundreds of similar situations. In Iran one cannot stage Hamlet, Richard III, or Macbeth, because no Iranian should see the death of a prince or a king on the stage. He might jump to conclusions, as if contemporary Iranian history itself is devoid of attempts at regicide.

  1. 1

    Amnesty International Annual Report 1974/75, AI Publications (London 1975), p. 129.

  2. 2

    Ibid., p. 8.

  3. 3

    Iran News and Documents, a publication of the Ministry of Information, Vol. III, No. 8, April 12, 1971, p. 16.

  4. 4

    Kayhan, August 18, 1976.

  5. 5

    The Mesbahzadeh and Mas’udi families, who, respectively, run Kayhan and Ettela’at publications.

  6. 6

    Foreign Edition of Daily Ettela’at, February 3, 1975.

  7. 7

    Nazari be Baluchestan by Ahmad Borgheiee (Mazyar Publications, Tehran, 1973), p. 15.

  8. 8

    Fact Sheet” by the Committee for Artistic and Intellectual Freedom in Iran, December 25, 1975. Nasser Rahmani-Nejad, the director of the play, has been given eleven years in prison; Saeed Soltanpour, five years; Mohsen Jalfani, five years; Mahmoud Dowlat-Abadi, two years. They are also prominent Iranian writers and critics.

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