Political prisoner Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali was murdered in Fashafooyeh prison, a crime that was linked to two dangerous criminals with whom he shared a ward. Writing from prison, he had described how he had been arrested for his online activism and that he had been sentenced to eight years in prison.
Alireza Shir Mohammad Ali's mother Mahnaz Sarabi told IranWire that her son had been arrested because of his links with a clergyman on Telegram, which led him to be criminally prosecuted and being charged with insulting the Supreme Leader, the founder of the Islamic Republic and Islam — all charges Sarabi says are unfounded.
Sarabi believes the inmates are not the only ones responsible for the death of her son. She says somebody else ordered his murder and has called for those who issued the orders to be identified and punished along with the killers themselves.
When Mahnaz Sarabi divorced her husband 13 years ago, her son was only eight years old and she lived alone with him until he was arrested.
IranWire spoke to her about her son, prison conditions and justice in Iran.
Let me offer my condolences. Can you tell us about the last few days and how you found out about your son's death?
Alireza used to call me every few days. I was about to go to Mashhad to pray when he called for the last time. I told him I was going there to pray for his freedom. My phone does not work properly and I did not have any phone calls from him until I got back to Tehran and they told me we had to go to the hospital because he had an appendix problem. Then, while I was making my way there, they told me he was dead. I was shocked. I have not been able to shed a tear since then.
Were you able to see him in person while he was in prison?
I wanted to go see him but he wouldn’t let me. He was on hunger strike because of the horrible situation in the prison and was asking to be transferred to Evin Prison. He did not want me to see him there and under those circumstances. I used to beg him, but he swore that if I came and they called out my name for a visit, he wouldn’t come to see me. He was worried about me and did not want anything bad to happen to me. I had hip replacement surgery and can’t walk very easily. He did not want me to go and wait there for hours to see him. He said his trial was in 40 days and that we’d see each other then. I so regret that I did not go and visit him. Instead, they brought me his corpse.
Can you tell us about his funeral?
I needed some time to take care of the funeral arrangements and to plan his ceremony for Thursday, June 13, but the security agents made us do it earlier and Alireza was buried on Wednesday. I arranged eulogists, musicians and performers for the funeral, but they made us mourn him in complete silence. They did not even let us mourn our loss the way we wanted. We rented an electric generator, but when we went to pick it up, they said the security agents had threatened them and [told them] not to hire any equipment to us and they issued a refund. We just wanted to mourn our loss, but they deprived us of even simple mourning. Why? What did my son do?
Have you spoken to the authorities about his case over the last few days?
No, not at all. I, along with my brother, went to the prosecutor’s office after the funeral to file an official report. As it appears to me, they don’t want to prosecute the real killer, they spared him and only talk about the other criminal who is a narcotic convict and sentenced to life in prison. They say he is the real and only killer. But I heard that the real killer is the one who also stabbed Vahid Moradi [a prisoner who was murdered in July at Rajai Shahr Prison]. He was their contractor, and nobody touched him. And now they want to transfer him to Rajai Shahr Prison again. The judge told me I have four options: Retaliation, blood money, forgiveness, or leaving the matter to the judicial system. I said I don’t want any money and don’t forgive my son’s blood. I want retaliation.
Who do you think is supporting the criminal who killed your son?
The people who left the cell door open. I want to know who did this. They left the door open in order for my son to get stabbed 30 times in his cell. This was definitely an intentional move, because you don’t see a prison door remaining open accidentally. Alireza’s friends say that he was very kind to both [of his] killers. For example, he used to light a fire on the palm of his hand using alcohol and a lighter and take it to cells for them to light their cigarettes. This hurts me even more, that they did that to my son when he treated them kindly.
What was Alireza’s life like before his arrest? Did he work? Was he studying?
After getting his high school diploma, universities accepted him, but he wasn’t able to go because of the cost, so he decided to enter the job market. He did many jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector. For a little while, he also worked in a boutique. Recently the company near his home was manufacturing parts for a cell phone company.
Alireza’s charges included insulting the Supreme Leader, insulting the founder of the Islamic Republic and the Islamic religion, which resulted in a verdict of eight years in prison. What do you have to say about these charges?
These charges were completely baseless. When they first arrested him and we met with the prosecutor, he said it was not a serious case and he’d be released with a simple bail. But later the judge set a bail of $6,500 [80,000 tomans]. The only thing Alireza did was discuss his point of view with a clergyman on Telegram. He never insulted anything religious or holy.
Do you know the detail of their discussions?
We asked Aireza about the slogans and promises of the Islamic Revolution. He told him that they had advocated for freedom. Where is that freedom now ?Iranians don’t have the real freedom to do and say what they want. 'We can’t even choose our lifestyle. He told him that they lash a young person for drinking alcohol or being in a relationship with the opposite sex but have no problem with that same person using drugs and getting addicted. Three days after those discussions, a security agent came after my son and took him and later charged him with insulting the Supreme Leader, the founder of the Islamic Republic, and the Islamic religion. My son was on the frontline when it came to mourning Imam Hussein every year. How can he be insulting the religion? I’m still confused as to why they told these lies about him. His lawyer was very optimistic and was certain that we would win the appeal court and release him, but then they released my son’s lifeless body.
You mentioned a $6,500 bail for Alireza. What is the situation now?
No, we could not find that much money, or a property title that is worth that much. That’s why Alireza stayed in prison until they murdered him. I have a small apartment in a poor neighborhood that does not have a title. That’s why, although Alireza could stay out of prison before the appeal court, he was imprisoned and lost his life. After his death, I have no reason to stay alive. I have nobody else in this world. When the grieving is over, I’ll go back to my place and take 100 pills and die. I can’t live without Alireza.
I know you had been following up on Alireza’s request to be transferred to Evin Prison. Why was he not transferred?
I did go to the court many times to get the transfer permit but failed each time. I told the judge and his secretary that I wanted my son to be transferred to Evin Prison because he is not safe in Fashafouyeh prison and had been threatened. They told me: not everybody can go to Evin and he is fine where he is now. In general, they treated us inhumanely. The prison phone was disconnected for a while, I called the prison office and the officer threatened me and said that if I called again they would follow up and harass me.
So what do you expect will happen to the people who were responsible for taking your son’s life?
First and foremost, they should treat prisoners and their families with respect. Then I want to know who gave the order for my son’s murder. Those two [people are] the executors. I want to know who gave the order, In the beginning, my son was in Evin prison. Why did they transfer him to Fashafooyeh,where so many murderers and rapists are held? Why was the cell door to those inmates open so they were able to snatch my boy and stab him to death? What did my son go through in his last minutes? I want to know who controlled the two puppets that killed my son. My son was not a member of any political groups and since they could not find anything, they charged him with insulting the [Islamic] religion, which is completely baseless and a lie. I want authorities to if they are parents themselves — if they have a conscious — to find the real killer of my son. That’s my basic right.