In the Terror of Tehran

Five years ago, in January 1978, the Shah of Iran did much to seal his fate and help begin the inexorable rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. A semiofficial newspaper published an attack on Khomeini and accused him of being in the pay of the British. During the next two days some seventy of Khomeini’s students were killed at the holy city of Qom. The Shah, as an Iranian later put it, had stepped on the dragon’s tail. Almost exactly a year later the Shah fled and the secular and religious opposition marched together in triumph through the streets of Tehran. But the secular opposition never regained the initiative and before long the dragon turned on them too. Now the process of making Iran rigidly Islamic is almost complete and the opposition has been laid to waste.

During the past year the Islamic Republic of Iran has been trying to persuade the world that it is far more reasonable and successful than its enemies claim. Recently it invited a few Western journalists including myself to visit Tehran.

“Just write what you see,” said the young Revolutionary Guard as we approached the fourth massive gateway to Evin prison. “Don’t believe the propaganda.”

The “propaganda” is well-documented and cross-checked evidence collected by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. One prisoner’s account, confirmed by Amnesty International, reads:

The victim is strapped to a table in the torture chamber and the soles of the feet are whipped. Cables are the most common instrument used for whipping but in Ghezel-Hessar prison they use rubber hoses in which a metal chain has been inserted. The number of lashes usually exceeds 400, even for those charged with minor offenses. Sometimes the subject may be whipped on several successive days to worsen the suppurating wounds already inflicted. From time to time cold water is poured on the feet or the victim is walked around to revive sensation in the feet, then torture is resumed.

Other prisoners have been kept handcuffed and blindfolded for days on end. Amnesty recently stated that men who refused to cooperate were tied down and thrashed across their testicles. It is estimated that three out of ten prisoners tortured in this way died as a result.

The regime has admitted to the execution of more than five thousand people between 1979 and September 1983, but secret executions are well known, and the Mujahadeen, Khomeini’s opponents, have a list of nearly eight thousand names of executed people, some three thousand of them killed in Evin. There have been frequent reports of executions of children and pregnant women.

The prison was built by the Shah to house twelve hundred prisoners. Now it holds between six and ten thousand. It is ruled by Assadollah Lajevardi, Tehran’s public prosecutor, nicknamed “Hayula” the one-eyed monster. He is a short, stubby man with a huge head and a wide flat face. He lost an eye in a bomb blast in 1975 and his glass eye and thick glasses…

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