Terror in Iran

Shah of Iran
Shah of Iran; drawing by David Levine

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…

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