For several decades, I have been grieving for someone I shared my life with for only 18 years. The last time I saw my younger brother Siamak Tobaei was in 1981. Only 18 years old, a high school senior, Siamak was arrested and imprisoned by the Iranian guards under the heartless religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who had seized power in Iran two years earlier.
Siamak was turned in by his own schoolmate for expressing his thoughts against Khomeini's autocratic rule, and for fighting for the basic human rights of the Iranian people. This story is about Iraj Mesdaghi, who keeps my brother's memory alive for me. He is also the reason the world is coming to know about the many thousands of other Iranian political prisoners who were massacred for daring to speak out against tyranny.
Siamak met Iraj through a wall. Their cells shared this wall, so they began to communicate in morse code. In this way, they formed a deep friendship before ever meeting eye to eye. These two friends survived the massacre in Gohardasht Prison in the summer of 1988, and were then transferred to the infamous Evin Prison near Tehran. It was a horrific experience to witness the murder of friends by the religious zealots who had taken over the nation. "We bonded through our tears over the loss of our friends," Iraj says.
Iraj is the only surviving member of this group of 10 friends. According to him, my brother chose nine of his most trusted friends and cellmates. Siamak told them: "The time for resisting in prison is over. We need to do whatever we can to get out and tell the world what has happened here to our friends." These young men made a solemn promise to each other that they would risk their lives to get this important story out to the world. Soon after, Siamak and a few of the others attempted to escape from Evin prison. They were recaptured, tortured and murdered in secret. To this day the regime has never taken any responsibility for the deaths of these nine friends, or countless others. While this promise led to Siamak’s murder, it also became Iraj’s life purpose.
Iraj Mesdaghi is a well-known human right activist, author, and hunter of the Islamists responsible for these crimes against humanity. He has devoted his life since securing freedom to gathering information on the criminals so they can be brought to justice. He has many publications on the origins and activities of torturers, interrogators, judges and prison officials who played a leading role during the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. Iraj has also extensively researched the theological origins and application of torture against both female and male political prisoners in the Islamic Republic, establishing a clear link between Shia traditions and human rights atrocities. He has interviewed fellow survivors and their families to prepare a list of massacre victims, identify mass gravesites, and document Islamist crimes against humanity.
Mesdaghi successfully located his own former torturer, Hamid Nouri. Nouri is responsible for the brutalizing and murder of countless others, including my brother. His arrest at Stockholm International Airport in late 2019 was a landmark in seeking justice for the victims of these crimes against humanity. Because of Iraj Mesdaghi, Nouri is currently on trial in Sweden for his role in the 1988 massacre.
After 33 years of tireless efforts, Iraj Mesdaghi became the first witness to testify at Hamid Nouri’s trial. Iraj’s book, Living in the Death Corridor, is being used as a key piece of evidence by Swedish prosecutors in the trial. Iraj has also invited former survivors of the 1988 massacre in Gohardasht Prison to come forward, provide statements to the Swedish War Crimes unit and testify against their former tormentor, Hamid Nouri.
Nouri’s trial is expected to run until April 2022. You can follow it live in Swedish and in Farsi on various social media platforms including YouTube, Clubhouse, Telegram, and others.
After the atrocities of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, we were cautioned: “Those who do not remember the past are destined to repeat it.” My family remains broken to this day because in Iran, we failed to stop the Islamic terrorists from coming to power under Khomeini.
Unfortunately, history has repeated itself all over the world. Will anyone stop the Taliban in Afghanistan? Who will stop the party of Trump in the United States? When will the atrocities in Iran come to an end?