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“They Gave me 800 Lashes in One Night to Break me”

October 3, 2019
Shahed Alavi
27 min read
X-ray of Nader Nouri Kohan’s back, damaged by torture
X-ray of Nader Nouri Kohan’s back, damaged by torture
Nader Nouri Kohan was tortured for five months to make him confess that he played a role in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. He was released after 25 months in prison
Nader Nouri Kohan was tortured for five months to make him confess that he played a role in assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. He was released after 25 months in prison

Four Iranian nuclear scientists were assassinated and a fifth was wounded between 2012 and 2013, dealing a serious blow to the country’s nuclear program. Islamic Republic authorities believed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad carried out the assassinations — a conclusion now generally accepted — and launched a vast manhunt. Despite this, after so many years Iranian security agencies have had no success in tracking down the killers, but this has not stopped them from trying to cover up their failure by arresting innocent citizens and torturing them to extract confessions of their guilt.

One of these innocent citizens was Nader Nouri Kohan. He was arrested on June 23, 2012, and tortured for five months. 

He was eventually released on August 2, 2014, after 25 months in prison.

In the second part of an exclusive interview with IranWire, Nouri Kohan talks about the secret prison he was taken to, where his hands and feet were shackled, his interrogations continued, and where he endured repeated, brutal torture — all to ensure he admitted to a series of up to 32 terrorist acts, some which took place when he was only a child.

In part one of the interview, he describes his arrest, early interrogations, and the first bouts of torture he endured. 


You said that after 27 days of interrogations at Evin Prison’s Ward 240 they took you to another place that, according to you and Mazyar Ebrahimi, is called Prison 300, which we assume is run by the intelligence ministry, agents of which were responsible for your arrest. What can you tell us about this secret prison? 

They took me to a room with a metal door. There was a bathroom and a shower without a door on one side of the room and next to it was a cell, even smaller than Evin’s solitary cells in Ward 240. Next to the cell there was a rack for clothes... I stood, took off my blindfold and put it on the rack and entered the cell, but I could not look back until the cell door was closed behind me. There was a CCTV camera inside the cell and three powerful floodlights that were on 24 hours a day.

Even in that small cell my hands and feet were shackled day and night. To go to the bathroom I had to knock so that they would open the door. We were allowed to use the bathroom only once a day and we could take a shower once a week. For that once-a-day bathroom [trip] I had to knock on the door for hours and when they did open the door they did it with anger and with a lot of obscenities. But even while I used the bathroom or took a shower, they did not remove the shackles from my hands and feet. Going to the bathroom and trying to clean myself with my tied hands and feet was a horrible agony. But I forgot to tell you that in my first 27 days at Evin I was allowed to take a shower only once.


How were the interrogations at the new prison? What were they like when they first interrogated you?

There were no interrogations for the first three days. At nights I could hear horrifying shouts from afar. It seemed that a person or persons were being tortured. And during the day I could hear the same kind of shouting a few times. It was terrifying.

I imagined that a few people were hanging in a room and they were beating them. Later I learned that these shouts were coming from the prison’s basement and I could hear them because my room was the first one next to the staircase that went down to the basement.

On my fourth day at the new prison, the shouting of a prisoner who was being beaten was very close by. They were beating the prisoner in the room next to mine. He could not have been one of my codefendants because, in the midst of all the shouting, I heard the interrogator say that they had installed cameras and had him on film.

When they were finished with him they came for me.


When they came for you, was it the usual kind of interrogation or did they treat you like they treated the prisoner in the next room?

No, there was no beating. They opened the cell door and told me to come out. They had placed a metal table in the room. I sat down, facing the wall. There was a pen and paper on the table. Two interrogators were sitting, or perhaps standing, behind me. One of them started: “Do you know where you are? Have you heard of places where nobody can find you? You will not leave this place alive. We have people here who have been in prison for 15 years and have not seen the light of the day. You will remain here until you rot. And when you die we will bury you right here. Your ID has been invalidated. Nobody knows where you are and nobody knows where this prison is. We do not answer to anybody. Pick up the pen and write down what you have done so that you will not be hurt for no reason and save us the trouble.”

I wrote again that I was innocent and repeated the truth. He grabbed the paper, read it and tore it up. “Don’t write nonsense,” he said. “Write it again and, this time, write the correct thing.” I wrote again that I was a contractor and completely innocent. He tore it up again and said, “You are writing nonsense. We must treat you in a different way.” Then he left and I was returned to my cell.


When did they come and what did he mean by “in a different way”? How did they interrogate you after this?

They came for me again two nights later. This time they took me to the basement. After going down the stairs we crossed a long hall at the end of which, on the left side, there was the torture room. In this room, besides the metal bed for torture, there were a few chains hanging from the ceiling that, as I found out later, they could attach people to and pull them up. There was also a watercooler in the room but only the interrogators could use it.

Then they tied me to the bed and started lashing the soles of my feet. But the lashes here were more painful than the lashes at Evin. The torturer showed me the whip and told me, “You animal! We made this especially for you.” It was a cable one inch thick, or perhaps thicker, and had a metal cover so that the cable would not bend and this made it many times more painful.

They would beat me until my feet were swollen, then they walked me around until the swelling went down and they started beating me again. I fell unconscious a few times while they were beating. Somebody would come wearing a white or a blue coverall and they called him “doctor.” He would examine me quickly and would say that I was all right. Then they would begin all over again.


Was there only one torture room in the basement?

One day, when they were walking me around after the whipping so that the swelling in my feet would subside, they took me to a big, square hall with doors all around it. The interrogator told me, “In these rooms is the legacy of Savak [the Shah’s secret police]. And we have imported a lot from Russia as well. In each room we have a certain piece of equipment. We start from the first room. If you don’t talk, we then take you to the second room. If you still don’t talk, we go to the third room and then to the fourth, where it is very difficult to resist. But even if you don’t talk in the fourth room, there is this fifth room and you shall die there.”

Of course, they never opened those doors so I couldn’t know what exactly was behind them. Perhaps they only wanted to scare me.


Did you endure other kinds of torture there?

I was tortured every which way.

One night, as they were taking me to the torture room, there was blood on the floor to the right from the staircase. This blood had not been there the last time that I had been taken to the torture room. The trail of blood continued into the torture room. I could see the blood clearly from under my blindfold. They sat me on the bed. “Do you smell the blood?” the interrogator asked me. “From under the blindfold you can see that the floor is covered with blood. The head of the one before you exploded. We had him buried right in this prison. Tonight is your turn. Either you talk or we will bury you.”

There was a lot of blood. It appeared that they had really killed somebody there. Either they had lost control and had tortured him excessively or they had intentionally killed him.

After those words, somebody who was standing to my right put a noose around my neck from behind and started playing with it. Another, who was to my left, started touching my fingernails as though he wanted to pull them out. “The two next to you are the angels of death,” said the one who was sitting in front of me. “They will pull off your nails and follow it up with taking your life. I give you half an hour. If you confess in this half an hour then fine. But if you won’t talk then I will place you in the care of these two.”

I repeated the truth as I knew it. They used a stun gun on me. Many times during those four months they hit me with a stun gun on my back. The half an hour came to pass and I repeated what I had said. I did not confess to something that I knew nothing about.

The original interrogator left and the other two dragged me on the floor by the rope around my neck and took me to a big hall through the corridor. My feet and hands were tied and I was blindfolded. They started beating me with cable and sticks. It seemed that there were five of them. They talked to each other in a loud voice to scare me more. They would throw me from one side of the hall to the other side. I shouted that I had done nothing and they would say, “Shout as much as you like; nobody can hear you.”

They beat me for about an hour until I lost consciousness. They had taken me back to my cell. Their torture on that day damaged my neck and my back. I will send you the X-rays.

When they got tired of flogging, they would hook my hands and feet together, attached the hook to one end of one of the chains hanging from the ceiling and pulled up the chain. They would keep me this way for 20 minutes to half an hour. The pain was dreadful. At first I thought my hands and feet were coming off. Then, when the blood circulation was disrupted, my hands would go completely numb. I believed I was near death. Then they would pull me down so I would not die. 

[After a long pause] This happened seven years ago but now that I am describing it I feel the same way that I felt then and my whole body trembles.


An X-ray of Nouri Kohan’s head, damaged by torture


What injuries did you suffer from this tortures?

During these interrogations, two of my nails were pulled out by the impact of the cable. When they lashed the soles of my feet they concentrated on their upper extremities because they knew that it would hurt more. My nails had grown and the cable pulled two of them out. I fainted from the pain and when I regained consciousness I was back in my cell. Some of the bones in my feet were broken but they mended by themselves.

After a while I felt that all my internal organs were hemorrhaging. My stomach was hemorrhaging, I saw a lot of blood in my urine and I vomited blood. The internal hemorrhaging after the torture was discharged by my kidneys and I discharged blood every day.

I am 184cm tall and I weighed 120 kilos when I was arrested. When the prison’s medic weighed me to write a report about my conditions before I was transferred I weighed 65 kilos. I was only skin and bones. My bones were showing. My waist was bent, I trembled and I was suffering from a nervous tick.


Did they tell you exactly what you had to confess to or did they just want you to admit that your name was “Michael” and they were going to write the rest of the story by themselves?

I didn’t know what the story was. I told them, “Because of my job I meet a number of people every day. You have all the information about my family, my schooling and my job record. Every day I signed letters and forms. My life is an open book.” And they would say, “You do not have even a high school diploma. We have voided your ID. There is nobody by your name for you to claim [as your] identity. Confess that you are an spy.”

I still could not understand what they wanted from me. When I wanted to lessen the torture I would say, “Fine; at least tell me what you want from me. Tell me what I have to say.” And they would say, “We don’t have to tell you anything. It is you who must confess and tell all.” Later on I found out that, as the first step, I should have confessed to being “Michael” and then they would have helped me to write down, in minute details, the role that they had for me in their scenario.


When did you decide that you could not take it anymore and you had to cooperate and accept their scenario?

I had been in that prison and had been tortured for almost four months. Somebody whom they called “doctor” but really functioned as a medic, visited me in my cell every day after the torture. His only duty was to keep me alive for more torture. He would attach me to [a needle with] serum, inject me and put ointment on the wounds on my feet to prepare me for the next day’s round of torture.

He once told me that he was a law graduate and had never studied medicine or nursing but could not find a job and was forced to this. One day when I was suffering from a very bad internal hemorrhage, this medic came to my cell to tend to me. “I have no idea what you have done and I don’t want to know anything about it,” he told me. “My job is to give you treatment. I just want to tell you that your health is in a critical condition.”

Then he asked me to pour the blood that I discharged into a bottle so he could measure it. I did so and when he returned he told me, “With this much hemorrhaging, you will not be alive for more than a couple of days. Your kidneys are about to stop working.” This was at the time when I was hemorrhaging both in my stomach and in my urine and vomiting blood. “I suggest that you tell them whatever they want. It is going to be the same even if you resist for 10 years. I have seen people here who have died under torture. Cooperate with them.” I myself also felt that my body could not take it anymore. I felt that I was going to die in a day or two.


Then they took you away again for interrogation? Just when you were in critical condition?

Yes. Two nights after the medic talked to me, they took me to the torture room in the basement and sat me down on the bed. A person who introduced himself as “Mohammadi” said that he was the head of the intelligence ministry’s Department of Punishments. He showed me a paper that he wanted me to read from under my blindfold but I could not. He told me told that this was my death sentence and “either you talk or you will be executed tonight.”

There were other people in the room and “Mohammadi” said that they were representatives for the prosecutor and the judge and others who had come from far away to witness my execution. They were sitting around the room as though they intentionally wanted me to see their feet from under the blindfold. They were wearing regular pants and leather shoes, unlike the interrogators, who wore slippers, so it was clear that they were important and had come from outside the prison.

“You either talk right now or, according to the regulations, you will receive 100 lashes,” said Mohammadi. “We start from your feet until we reach the top of your head. When you die it means that your verdict has been carried out. If, while you are being lashed, you confess to what you have done, the flogging will not end but between each 100 lashes we stop for 10 seconds and give you a chance to talk and confess. If you don’t confess, you will be lashed another 100 times, and this will go on until you either confess or you die.” They took off my clothes, laid me down on the bed and tied me to it. “Mr. Prosecutor, I am innocent,” I shouted. “I have done nothing.” They all laughed and somebody said, “Sure, we must be mistaken.”

They started from the top of my feet and went up. One person hit me from the top and another one from underneath. That night I took eight sets of 100 lashes, each with excruciating pain, screaming and weeping. Later, Judge Shahriari asked me, “How could you take it? Here it says 800 lashes. How did you take it?” For a moment I felt that my soul had left my body. For a few seconds I saw myself from the outside. I fainted. When I regained consciousness, the same Mohammadi told me, “Say that you have been to Israel and we will end it.” I saw death with my own eyes. I saw my soul leaving my body. “Why should I, an innocent man, die?” I said. “Forgive me, I don’t feel so good.”

I thought maybe something would come up if I bought myself some time. “Will the torture stop if I say that I have been to Israel?” I asked. “Yeah, just say that you have been to Israel,” said Mohammadi. I said, “Untie me and I will say it,” He said, “No, say it as you are.” I insisted and he said, “Fine, but if you repeat that you are innocent I’ll tie you again and I’ll kill you.”

They untied me but I was unable to sit up. They lifted me and helped me to sit. They held me up so that I would not fall down. “Yes, I have been to Israel,” I said. “Now tell us how did you go to Israel?” said Mohammadi. “But you told me only to say that I have been to Israel,” I objected, And he said, “Just say how and I will send you upstairs.”

I had no idea what to say about how I had traveled to Israel. On the spur of the moment I said, “I went to Israel from Dubai.” They all laughed. “From Dubai?” said Mohammadi. “Is there a flight from Dubai to Israel? Tell the truth or I will tie you down again.” I said that I went to Israel from Iraq. He laughed and said, “How could it be? Don’t talk nonsense. Tell the truth.” I said Turkey and he said that I was getting close. I thought hard and remembered that Cyprus is near Israel. I said that I went to Cyprus and from there I took the boat to Israel.

That was it and they took me back to my cell upstairs. Then Mohammadi came to my cell and told me, “Face the CCTV camera and say that you are a Mossad special intelligence officer. The gentlemen want to see from behind the camera.” I was feeling awful but I looked at the camera and said, “I am Michael, Mossad’s special intelligence officer.” He told me to sit down and describe what I had done. I sat down and said that I had done nothing. “Do you want me to send you down again?” he said. I had no idea what the story was, why they had arrested me and what was I supposed to say.

“You were in solitary for a long time, you have been punished and you have been under pressure,” he said. “Let us start from the [2008] explosion at the factory in Isfahan [rumored to be a nuclear site]. Then we will talk about the nuclear martyrs whom you assassinated and after that we go to the [2011] Malard explosion [a missile site]. I will help you to remember. Now just rest a little bit and you will fill better.” Then he called the medic and said, “Doctor, take care of him. We need him tomorrow.” I do not know what the medic injected me with, but I lost consciousness.


So the torture was over. Did you cooperate or did you resist again when you felt better?

First let me tell you about the food that they gave me in those five months and then I will get to how things changed. During that time, my food was filled with hair and bits of trash and filth. It seemed as though they intentionally threw my food on the floor and then gathered it up again and put it in my dish. In the early days I would not eat the food but then I was overwhelmed with hunger. I washed my food with mineral water as far as was possible and then ate it. They said, “Confess and you will get good food.” I had to eat that food, whatever the quality.

But the morning after my preliminary confessions when they opened the cell door, on the table that they used for interrogations there was pastry, fruit juice and food in a restaurant’s disposable container. The food was fish and rice and the table was properly set. I sat facing the wall. Somebody came in, stood behind me and said, “Look what good food we have brought you now that you talked. You no longer have to eat garbage. Now that you have given up, life is easier for both you and us. You were really trained well. Nobody had been able to take it for four months. I really have to give it to you. Did you really expect that a helicopter would come to save you? But you see that it didn’t. You see that Israel did not come. Did you expect that an infiltrator would save you? But there was nobody here to save you. You found this out and gave in. Now eat and then sit and write what you have done.”

I ate some of the food and the fruit juice. When I felt better I thought I could resist again. “I am innocent,” I wrote. “I am a construction contractor and you have been mistaking me for somebody else.” An hour later, as I was writing the second page, the interrogator returned, read what I had written and tore it up. “Michael,” he shouted, “are you playing with us? Last night you confessed and everybody witnessed it. You told the camera that you are a Mossad intelligence agent but now you are saying that you are innocent? You feel better and you are perky.”

He threw me into the cell and shut the door. Nothing happened until that night. The door that they had to open to get into the room had a lot of locks and latches and made a lot of noise. When they were opening the first door, I could see that somebody was entering. The door to the cell also had a lock and made noises when they opened it. This time, however, I don’t know how they did it so quietly that I did not notice. The cell door opened and suddenly a few people jumped on me, beat me and called me names. They blindfolded me, dragged me to the basement and tied me to the bed. I do not know how long they beat me because I lost consciousness a few times but they would revive me and started to beat me again without saying anything. They beat me for an hour or two. I heard the medic say, “Enough! He is dying.” They untied me, sat me on the bed and gave me some water. I felt better but the sense of impending death returned.

“You felt better and you had to say such things?” said Mohammadi. “Tonight you either write things down or you will not leave this place alive. Did you go to Israel?” Yes, I said. “How did you become a Jew?” he asked. “I had a Jewish girlfriend,” I said. “I used to visit their home and got to know her father and he introduced me to Mossad. We went to parties.” I was making it up as I went on. “They converted me to Judaism there. At the time I did not know that in Judaism the child inherits the mother’s religion.”

Mohammadi said it was a good story and ordered them to take me upstairs. My whole body was shaking. I felt awful and I had developed a tick. “We are taking you upstairs but if you talk nonsense again we will bring you back downstairs again,” he said. They took me upstairs, I sat on the chair inside the room and we talked about visiting Israel and my conversion to Judaism. When we were finished I was returned to my cell.


Was it the same story the next day or did they change their methods?

The next day they changed both their methods and the interrogator. They brought me out of my cell into the room and sat me facing the wall. An interrogator arrived, sat in a chair behind me and put his feet on the back of the chair next to my ears. He started hitting my ears with his feet. A quarter of an hour passed like this. “We know that you are a Mossad officer,” he said. “We know that you have a senior position and have been trained in various things like espionage and that is why you could resist so well. We investigated and found out that you have a very high-level position and that is why they sent me to interrogate you. Your life is in our hands. You cannot escape and you cannot make a deal. You are our prisoner and here everything has just one side. Here, international law does not apply and you have no access to a lawyer. And you know very well that you must do whatever I say. If you come to terms with us we will come to terms with you. Otherwise, we have our own methods.”

This interrogator behaved as though he was talking to a real Mossad officer. I asked him to give me five minutes. “No, if you want to talk nonsense,” he said. “Give me two minutes and I will do whatever you want me to do afterwards,” I said. Then I begged a few times for one minute to say something. “Okay,” he said, “but I know that you are going to talk nonsense.” I said “Sir, you are my interrogator but I am innocent.”

The moment that I said this he kicked my head and got up. Then he kicked my face and broke the side of my eye and made it swell. A mark is still there. “Don’t you ever say again that you are innocent!” he shouted. “You were supposed to cooperate.”

Mohammadi came in a little later and said, “You were taken out of the punishment ward because you gave up and confessed,” he said. “This gentleman is your interrogator and if you cooperate things will go well for you. Otherwise, we will send you back to the punishment ward and we know what to do with returned merchandise.” Then Mohammadi left and the interrogation started. I was really broken. After five months in detention I accepted that I must confess to whatever they wanted in order to stay alive.

And, from this point on, did you start confessing based on their scenario or did you make up a scenario in your own mind based on the crimes that they attributed to you and wrote that down?

The interrogator told me to write everything that I had done against the Islamic Republic. I had no idea what to write. I had a piece of blank paper in front of me. He said that he did not want to pressure me. “I don’t know what to write,” I told him. “You committed so many terrorist acts and you have been active in Iran for so many years. How come you don’t know?”

It took a few hours. He spoke softly and there was no torture involved. “You have been deprived of light and blood and you were under pressure,” he said. “I give you time to think.” He left but a guard stayed in the room. When he returned and saw that the paper was still blank, he flew off the handle and slapped me in the face. He ordered me to write down the operations that I had been involved in. I said, “I have been hit on the head with a bar. My memory is damaged and I cannot remember.” There was a swelling on my head where it had been hit. I told him to look at and see for himself. He told me, “Write down the headings: explosion in Isfahan’s nuclear workshop, assassination of nuclear scientists, the Malard explosion.”

But my crimes were not limited to these three charges, which I shared with my codefendants. They had captured a “Mossad officer” and they had to blame him for everything that had happened in 30-some years after the revolution. Sometimes they forgot that even if I were an Israeli officer I had not been old enough to be responsible for all the acts of terror and explosions that happened after the revolution.

They said, “At the time of the explosion at the Islamic Republican Party [on June 28, 1981, which killed 73, including a large number of leading figures of the Islamic Republic], you were a child but you placed the bag containing the explosives there by the order of your father.” They said, “You assassinated Ali Sayad Shirazi [a Revolutionary Guards general who was murdered in April 1999]. You had plans for assassinating Ali Khamenei but you failed. You killed Neda Agha-Soltan [who was shot dead on the street during the protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election].” I was also told that I was responsible for the [2008] assassination of Imad Fayez Mughniyeh [the number two man in Lebanese Hezbollah’s ledership] in Syria, the assassination of the son of Marivan’s Friday Imam, an explosion at the offshore oil platform in the Persian Gulf, an explosion at the mosque in Shiraz, an explosion at the shrine of Imam Reza [in Mashhad] and many other acts of terror. It added up to 32 cases, and I took the blame for all of them as they had told me, and wrote stories about them.


Intelligence Ministry Warns Iran's Journalists About Spying. Why Now?, September 4, 2019

I had two mock executions. I wished they would execute me for real, August 12, 2019

The Judge Threatened to Sentence Us to Death if We Didn’t Confess, August 10, 2019

Iranian TV Aired My Forced Confessions. It Should be Boycotted, August 9, 2019

Spy for Us or Else: Ahmad Reza Jalali, May 21, 2019

Jalali Disowns Forced Confessions, December 20, 2017

Jalali’s Forced Confessions, December 19, 2017

Was Jalali's Lawyer Working Against Him?, December 11, 2017

Iran Sentences “Mossad Agent” to Death, October 25, 2017

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