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The Judge Threatened to Sentence Us to Death if We Didn’t Confess

August 10, 2019
Shahed Alavi and Maziar Bahari
19 min read
Arrested on a trumped up charge, Mazyar Ebrahimi was tortured for five months, during which his foot was broken. He spent 16 months in solitary confinement and was in prison for 26 months
Arrested on a trumped up charge, Mazyar Ebrahimi was tortured for five months, during which his foot was broken. He spent 16 months in solitary confinement and was in prison for 26 months
Maryam Zargar, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists
Maryam Zargar, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists
Behzad Abdoli, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists
Behzad Abdoli, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists
Arash Kheradkish, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists
Arash Kheradkish, Mazyar Ebrahimi’s codefendant in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists

“An hour after they returned me to my cell from the torture room, the intelligence official came again. ‘Tell me what you have done,’ he said. I started swearing in the name of the Prophet that I had done nothing. They took me downstairs again and you cannot imagine what they did to me. He told me to lie down on the bed. I had not yet completely lay down when the scoundrel hit the soles of my feet with a cable so hard that I was thrown to the cell floor wearing my blindfold. In the torture chamber he did such things to me that I said, ‘I will write whatever you want. Just take me back to my cell.’ 

‘Tell me all and I will write it down exactly,’ he said.”


The above is from IranWire’s exclusive interview with Mazyar Ebrahimi, one of the people accused of assassinating four Iranian nuclear scientists. He was tortured for five months, and sustained a broken foot during his torture. He spent 16 months in solitary confinement and was in prison for 26 months — accused of something that he knew absolutely nothing about.

Ebrahimi is currently in Europe, where he hopes to claim asylum.

IranWire spoke to Mazyar Ebrahimi about his harrowing experience over those 26 months. The first part of the interview follows and the second part was published on August 12.


Let us start at the beginning, and with your relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

I associate my childhood with television. When he was young and before Iranian National Television was founded, my father was a cinematographer in the Iranian cinema. Then he joined the national TV and he would regularly take me and my brother Shapur to the television [station]. In 1997, I studied lighting and photography at IRIB University. For years I worked as a cinematographer for IRIB. Then I took a course on underwater photography. Until 2005, when I moved to Iraqi Kurdistan, I worked with all [IRIB] networks as a freelancer.


IRIB is a security environment. Didn’t you have any problems with them in 2011, when your troubles started? Or prior to that?

I worked as a freelancer because, after completing my studies at the university, the human resources [department] of IRIB rejected me as an employee. It was in 2000 or 2001 that I went to the security department to see why I had been rejected but I got no answers. I can only guess that I was rejected because of my Kurdish origins.


And then you worked again with IRIB as the owner of the company that sold them lighting and video equipment?

Yes, I had a €1.935 million contract with IRIB and it came to €2.5 million with an addendum. The contract was for supplying lighting equipment for three TV studios: iFilm [an entertainment network in Persian, Arabic and English], the Spanish-language Hispan TV and [English channel] Press TV in [Tehran’s] Sa'adat Abad area.

The main office of my company was in Sulaymaniyah [in Iraqi Kurdistan] and, naturally, I traveled to Iran frequently. In early 2012 I returned to Iran to take care of the company’s financial problems. We owed money to the German company ARRI [one of the biggest manufacturers of movie cameras in the world] but Press TV was refusing to pay the money that it owed us and my colleagues in Tehran could not do anything about it. I had to pursue the matter myself. They claimed that I had overcharged them but this was not true and they knew it.


Why weren’t they paying for the equipment? Was somebody preventing it or did you have a business competitor?

Two brothers by the names Davoud and Mostafa Arabiun did not want the deal to go through. Mostafa, the younger brother, was expelled from IRIB and they had written orders not to allow him into any of its buildings. But Davoud, the older brother who was the technical director at Press TV, had hired him. Davoud had bought equipment from another company for two Press TV studios.


Do you mean that these two brothers had lost the bid for the work and framed you to get rid of you?

The question was not only this specific bid. Annually, IRIB purchased close to $200 million [worth of equipment]. I started my company in Sulaymaniyah with $200,000 cash but after six years I had equity of $7 million. The Iranian market was practically under my control. Besides ARRI, I was an agent for almost all companies in the field of cinematography, lighting and sound recording and, practically, I could provide all the equipment a TV or radio studio needed. They wanted to remove me from the marketplace. I heard that a close relative of the Arabiun brothers has a job at the Supreme National Security Council and it was he who helped Davoud to hire Mostafa for Press TV. They were quite capable of a frame-up.


What happened when you were trying to get the money back you were owed and when was it that they took action against you?

I took all the steps [to get the money back]. The prices were checked, the Customs Administration did its review and letters were sent but they refused to give us our money. I was at loss at what else to do. A friend suggested that I complain to IRIB’s security department. I called, made an appointment, went to IRIB’s central security department at Jam-e Jam [IRIB’s headquarters] and talked to a gentleman by the name of Bayati. He told me: “your goods and your prices are very good and we have no problems with them. We have been informed about your dispute with Press TV. The only problem is a letter that they sent us.”

Then Bayati took out a lined piece of A4 paper from a folder and gave it to me to read. I remember everything. When I read that piece of paper my eyes jumped out of my head. They had accused me of spying and being a Baha’i. “Don’t worry about it,” said Bayati. “We have given the letter to the intelligence ministry for investigation.” I had no idea that this was the start of a plan.


Was there a way to find out who had given them the letter?

My partners Mr. Erfanian and Mr. Drudian were accompanying me. I name them because I want to say that I had witnesses for what I was told. I asked Mr. Bayati who had given them the letter. He said that they had checked the CCTV [footage] and it was Mostafa Arabiun who had dropped the letter into the mailbox of Press TV’s security department.


After visiting the security department and before your arrest, did you meet anybody from the security department or the intelligence ministry?

About a month later I was told to go the Police Bureau for Aliens Affairs in Villa Avenue on a certain day. I went there around 10am. Two people were sitting there, a tall, plump gentleman whose gray hair was standing up like a porcupine, and a younger man. Later on I met them during my interrogations in prison. They asked me everything about my life, big and small — what I did, where I had been, [about] members of my family, my friends, work, how I entertain myself and everything else. The questioning took five hours and ended at 3pm. Of course, I told them everything because I had guessed that the reason for the interview was the same [as the] letter and I believed that if told them everything accurately they would see that letter was invalid. Then we said goodbye and I left.


And it was a few days after this conversation that they raided your home?

Almost 10 days after this conversation, they raided my parents’ home late at night and arrested me. They had one warrant for my arrest and another one for searching the house. My photograph was on the warrant. There were seven or eight of them. Four of them were wearing all-black outfits with the word “police” on the back. The rest wore civilian clothes. They searched my room and took papers, computer equipment and documents but did not touch anything else. Their conduct was very respectful. Then they made a record of what they were taking and [noted down] that had behaved properly and had my parents sign it.


Were you blindfolded? Could you see that they were taking you to Evin?

I was not blindfolded until we were inside the Evin compound. I must add that while we were driving one of them asked me whether I knew why I had been arrested. I said, “I don’t know but I guess it is because of the contract with IRIB.” There was no more talk after that. Inside Ward 209 they gave a prison uniform. I was in a cell with a very hot floor. Then the same gentleman who had talked to me at Villa Avenue came to my cell, asked how I was doing, said “it is now up to you cooperate” and left. From that moment until the end of interrogations I was blindfolded everywhere that they took me.


When did they tell you about the assassination of the nuclear scientists? Did they bring it up later or was it part of the interrogations from the very beginning?

The next morning they took me to Evin courthouse and read me my charges: activities against national security through spying for foreign governments. In the charges that they read to me there was no mention of assassinations. When I returned to my cell from the courthouse on the morning of June 13, 2012, the interrogations started.

They said, “tell us everything.” I said that I had told them everything 10 days ago. “No,” they said. “You tell us everything yourself.” “What do you want me to say?” I asked. They pulled me off the chair and they took me to a room on a floor below Ward 209 that later I learned is the administrative floor. “Cooperate so that we can close and finish this case in a couple of weeks,” said the interrogator. “OK then,” I said. “What should I say?” “Write that you have killed the nuclear scientists,” he said.

I thought they were saying these things to scare me and that this was a technique they used in interrogations. Then they said: “We have other ways to make you talk.” Even after the three times that they tied me to the bed and beat me with a cable, I still thought that what they really wanted was to scare me and break me and that their real objective was to investigate the truth of the IRIB’s security department letter. I had not yet put two and two together. I was very confused and dizzy.


You said they tied you to a bed and beat you with a cable. This was so you would tell them what they wanted to hear?

Yes, there is a room on the floor below, on the same administrative floor, where there is a bed and a cable. Every time they took me downstairs to that room they would say that they have the court’s permission to punish me [ta’zir in Islamic jurisprudence]. They never said “torture” but “ta’zir.”

At Evin they used something similar to a cable to beat me. They used cables of different sizes and with different thicknesses [at the place] they took me after Evin, where I was tortured more harshly. The first time they beat me with the cable was in the same room at Evin [where they interrogated me]. There was a military type of bed there, covered with a board. They would lie me down on my belly, put my feet together and tie them to a round edge under the bed. They would first tape my hands to the bed and then they would handcuff them and start to beat me forcefully with the cable. I really did not know what to write and told them, “you write whatever you want and I will sign it,” but no, they said, I must write it myself. Usually it seemed there were six or seven interrogators in the room and there was somebody from the clinic there as well, because from under the blindfold I could see that his clothes were different from the others.


In your interview with the BBC you said that your foot was broken the first time that they beat you with a cable.

I heard the sound when the bone broke. “My foot is broken,” I said. The interrogator who was beating me stopped and told the guy from the clinic to have a look at my foot. He did and said that it was not important. So they started beating me with the cable again. The bone has not mended correctly and it needs surgery.


You said that you were willing to sign whatever they wrote but the interrogators refused and demanded your own confession in writing. During the torture, didn’t they gave you a general idea of what they wanted you to write?

There were certain questions they asked every time. “Tell us about your operations,” they said. Or “talk about the assassinations” or “tell us about the Malard explosion [a 2011 explosion at a missile base 30 miles from Tehran that killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including a general described as the architect of Iran’s missile program].” They also talked about someplace near Isfahan. They said that I must confess that I had been involved in these explosions. I said fine, I would confess. They took me upstairs and told me to write. But I knew neither the names nor where they had been killed or who had been killed. They dictated all of this bit by bit. When they could not tell me exactly where my car had been parked they would give me an address. For example, one of them had been killed somewhere around Jolfa Street. He had told me, “when you drive towards Seyyed Khandan [an area of Tehran], you take Shariati Street, next to Hemmat.” I asked him,“is it Jolfa Street?” and he said yes and I wrote it down.

But then they would come again, take me and beat me because, they said, I was misleading them. Then they told me to write down my operations outside Iran. They had not found the culprits in the assassinations and wanted to use us to cover up their failure.


During the interrogations, did they bring any of your codefendants to testify against you to show you that you had no other option but to cooperate with them?

Once they brought Behzad Abdoli to the torture room [a Kurdish codefendant who was also forced to confess to the killing of the nuclear scientists], whom I did not know at the time. When he saw me he said, “do you remember when you took me to Israel? Do you remember things that we did together?” I was flabbergasted by what he was saying. I could not digest it at all. I could not figure it out as hard as I tried.

Then one time they brought somebody to the room on the upper floor whom I did not know, but later found out was Arash Kheradkish. They sat him down and asked him: “Was he the one?” “Yes,” he answered. “It was this one. We went to Malard together and the car was white.” And again they took me to the torture chamber and beat me a lot. This is how it went on. Two days later they again took me to the torture chamber and told me that they were going to remove my blindfold but I must not open my eyes. When they removed the blindfold I heard a woman’s voice. “Is this him?” they asked her. “Yeah, this dirty, stupid person is him,” she said. Later I learned that she was Maryam Zargar. [Like other defendants in the case of the assassination of nuclear scientists, Arash Kheradkish, Behzad Abdoli and Maryam Zargar were released after a period of time].


Did anybody besides the interrogators come to see you or ask you questions?

Yes, a couple of times a man came who seemed to be the interrogators’ boss or perhaps even a higher official. I have never seen anybody more savage than him in my life. He had a terrifying voice and when he talked your heart would stop beating. I was in the torture chamber and I was tied to the bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and started talking into my ear. “Mazyar, cooperate with us,” he said. “You have been under surveillance for a long time and for the last two years I have wished to see you here.” “My God, two years?” I said to myself. “I will tell them right now to untie you,” he continued. “Go, think about it and write down the right things so that this will end.”

An hour later they returned me to my cell from the torture chamber and the intelligence official came again. “Tell me what you have done,” he said. I started swearing in the name of the Prophet that I had done nothing. They took me downstairs again and you cannot imagine what he did to me. He told me to lie down on the bed. I had not yet completely lay down when this scoundrel hit the soles of my feet with a cable so hard that I was thrown to the cell floor wearing my blindfold. In the torture chamber he did such things to me that I said, “I will write whatever you want. Just take me back to my cell.” “Tell me everything and I will write it down exactly,’ he said.


You said a man who seemed to be the boss of the others came there twice. When was the second time?

After he tortured me and I agreed to write, for a couple of days I was writing and was not tortured. Then when it dawned on me what I was doing I said to myself that I was not going to continue writing, that I had written these things so that I would not be beaten for a few days. Then the interrogators came to my cell, showered me with insults, slapped and kicked me and left.

The next morning the same brute came back. He took me by the hand and took me downstairs. Then they tied me to the bed and beat me so hard that I will never forget it. My feet were bloody and so swollen that they told me that me my feet were as big as my head.

Then they took me to another room that must have been on top of the ward because light poured into it. Somebody came with a razor and shaved my head and my face. I was surprised and wondered whether they were going to release me. “Make him as pretty as he was the first day,” the interrogator told the one who was shaving me. Then another interrogator came in and told me, “you are going in front of the camera. If you say anything improper I will do something to you so that not one piece of flesh will remain on the bones of your foot. I will not let you get out of here alive.”


When they said they had you under surveillance for two years and were listening to your phone conversations, did they say what they had to show for it?

I had been living outside Iran. I had returned to Iran on April 8 and I knew that it was nonsense when they claimed that they were listening to my phone when I was outside Iran. They think you are stupid and claim that they are very intelligent and discerning and know everything but when they open their mouths you wonder. Are they human beings at all? Do they understand anything? Do they have a family? Do they have any honor? Do they know anything?


When was the TV interview that was later used in your confessions video recorded?

The interview was recorded at Evin, exactly two days before we were transferred out of that prison. After grooming us they took us downstairs and put us in a car. The car took us to what I later found out was Ward 240 and the hall for visits. It was a building that looked like a school. Before they took me inside the building, one of interrogators pulled off his stinking socks and put them on my feet to hide my injuries.

I could not walk so two people held me up and we went upstairs to a room where they were going to film us. Three interrogators were sitting in a part of the room with a raised floor, like they have in classrooms. One of them was the gentleman that I had talked with at the Bureau for Aliens Affairs. I sat in front of the cameras. There were two cameras there, one for close-ups and the other for medium-length shots.


With the condition that you were in, did they finish the filming or did you have to repeat the confession another time?

I was feeling very bad but I had no choice. Somebody was standing next to me and his only job was to wipe my sweat. Earlier they had made it very clear to me that if I did not talk no flesh would remain on the bones of my feet. During the filming, they interrupted me many times and told me to change my tone even though we had rehearsed the sentences before. They said, “why are you talking this way? Speak with energy.” Or they objected to what I had said because I was supposed to say something else or in a certain way. I thought the interruptions were so often that I had not talked consecutively for more than a few seconds, so much so that they could not use it, but later they did use it.


During your detention, when you were in solitary confinement, did you meet the judge for your case or any judiciary officials?

During the interrogations a gentleman visited me twice and said he was the judge for my case. He was really a lowlife and constantly threatened me, [saying], “I will bury you right here so you better talk.” Once he came to Evin and the other time to that place outside Evin where they tortured us for three months.

Then a man that I did not recognize came for an inspection, accompanied by a few people in suits. His left hand was cut off from the wrist and after I was released I learned that he was [Abbas Jafari] Dowlatabadi, the prosecutor. He looked into the cells and he saw me with my swollen and injured feet and my shattered face. I pleaded with him to help me. He told me: “Write down everything so that tomorrow the judge will issue his verdict and you will get out of this situation.” He ordered them to bring me a pen, a pencil, a chair and a desk. I sat and wrote down that I am innocent. He was offended and left. I was left by myself, and the torture got worse.”


The second part of IranWire’s exclusive interview with Mazyar Ebrahimi will be published on August 12.


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Iranian TV Aired My Forced Confessions. It Should be Boycotted

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