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The Price for Our Freedom was Silence

October 22, 2019
9 min read
The Price for Our Freedom was Silence

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 them was Hossein Naghibsadat. As with Nader Nour Kohan, whose story IranWire recently published, Iran’s intelligence ministry fabricated a scenario that implicated Ebrahimi and Naghibsadat in the murders. Later, when the Revolutionary Guards took over the cases, the ministry forced the couple to promise they would not talk to anyone about what they had endured, and endorse this promise in writing. Agents told the pair if they refused to sign the document the ministry had drafted for them, they would again be arrested. 

Shahrzad Ebrahimi continues to seek justice for herself and her husband, appealing to various parts of the judiciary, the prosecutor for Tehran, the Islamic Assembly, and even the offices of both the Supreme Leader and President Hassan Rouhani. She tried everything, and was repeatedly disappointed. 

“I could never arrange an appointment with Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor,” she told IranWire. “I could only meet one of his associates, Mehdi Khodabakhshi, twice. He was a very rude, unprofessional, offensive and annoying person.”

Agents repeatedly interrogated Hossein Naghibossadat at both Ward 240 and Ward 209 at Evin Prison. He described some of interrogation sessions. “They tied me to a bed. They didn't whip me and then they let me free a few minutes later. Another time, they showed me an interrogation room with a rope hung from the ceiling and told me that they can hang whoever they want for any or no reason.”

But then one day, the interrogations suddenly stopped. He didn’t see an agent for a month. He even wondered if they had forgotten him.

There was no updates from Hossein for one month. 

At the beginning of March 2013, agents  they transferred Naghibsadat to Ward 209 again, and told him they were going to take mugshots of him. “They took us out of our cells and lined us up. They drove us to Ward 209, then took me to a room and told me to take my blindfold off for the mugshots. I was frightened, really really scared. I remembered Mazyar’s [Ebrahimi] false confession. I told the interrogator that we did nothing to confess to and that I wouldn’t go in front of the camera. I was stressed and tongue-tied.”

Eventually, someone called Shahrzad Ebrahimi and told her her husband was fine. He also said that agents were accusing Naghibsadat of being involved in a November 2011 explosion at a Revolutionary Guards artillery in Bidkaneh. He also added that he might be exonerated, since the Guards’ intelligence unit and the intelligence ministry disagreed about the explosion. 

On March 9, 2013, Ebrahimi received a phone call, during which someone warned her that she was going to be arrested. The next day, she went to Evin Prison with the intention of to talking to the interrogator about her husband’s case. “The officers called the interrogator and passed the phone to me; I was screaming non-stop, letting all my anger out,” she says. “He told me it was going to be fine and that I should be patient.”

She didn’t have to wait long. On Monday, March 11 they took Hossein Naghibsadat to the interrogation room again. The agent who w charge of the interrogation team approached him and said; “Your case will soon be closed and you will be released. We have heard you are anxious and very worried. Don’t worry.” The agent passed him a cell phone so he could call his wife for a few minutes, but they stayed in the room.

"Hossein called,” Ebrahimi says. “We were all at home and we were surprised and overwhelmingly happy. For me that was a sign that the call from the agent who had threatened me had no credibility whatsoever. The other day I had been so angry by his call, I felt I could kill myself and my family.” 

After a week they summoned him again to the interrogation room, where they let him call his father. But then, around Norooz, the Iranian new year, they took him to a cell in Ward 240 that had no windows.They took his glasses from him, and he was unable to see properly. He was held in the cell for two months, interrogated every day, and not allowed any visitors. Then they took him back to a cell that had windows, which was located in the front building at Evin, and gave him back his glasses after he begged them. But he was still in solitary confinement and stayed there for two more months, where Ebrahimi said time passed very slowly for him. It was four months after his interrogator had told him that everything would be okay. 

Revolutionary Guards Take Over the Case

He remained incarcerated but faced no further interrogations. In the last week of July, authorities summoned Hossein Naghibsadat to Evin court to talk to a prosecutor by the name of Mostafapour. “When he saw me, he told me that I had lost weight,” Naghibsadat said. “When they arrested me I weighed around 117 kilograms. Later, when they weighed me while transferring me to Ward 209 Ward, and I weigh around 80 kilograms.”

Mostafapour told Naghibsadat that he wanted to send him to the common ward, and that he would be set free after the investigations. But then he discovered that he had been summoned because his imprisonment had been extended by two more months. Two new charges were added to his case. To the charges of espionage, conspiracy against national security and playing a part in the assassination of nuclear scientists they added waging war against God and "spreading corruption on earth.” Finally, after being told he would be freed after cooperating with his interrogators, he was again asked to sign a confession for the new charges. He signed the letter, but only after writing that he rejected the new charges. 

A day later, authorities transferred him from the solitary confinement in Ward 240  to the common area of Ward 209.

In July 2013,  as Hossein Naghibsadat and Babak and Shahrzad’s brother Mazyar were transferred to the common ward, Shahrzad could arrange a meeting with Morteza Tourak, the security deputy of Tehran Prosecutor at the time. “Babak’s baby is born in Syria, I told him. Let me just tell this news to him. Or let us know where they are at least? He asked me if we are originally Kurds? I confirmed and asked if this makes a difference? And he said that was only a question; and to my requests he only said that we will let you know” Shahrzad said.

It took them one month to pass the news to Babak about his child. In a September afternoon they let Babak call his parents for the first time after his arrestment since one year ago. Two weeks later his wife who traveled to Iran at that time could visit him for the first time.

Held on Evin Prison’s Ward 209

In Evin Prison’s Ward 209, Naghibsadat was held alongside someone who had been jailed for financial misconduct and an Afghan inmate. Later he was taken to a ward where the other suspects in the case of the murdered scientists were being held. They included Reza Ashrafi, who was arrested at around the same time, Mostafa Salamat, Morteza Shamekhi and Abdolvahed Ghaderi.

While on the common ward, he was also allowed visits from his family every two weeks. On September 26, Naghibsadat and Mazyar and Babak Ebrahimi met witb their families for the first time. “My father, Amirhossein, and I went to visit him,” said Shahrzad Ebrahimi. “My mother was sick and couldn’t come. The guard said Mazyar had asked for his family to bring money. As my father heard Mazyar’s name and that he was alive he was overwhelmed with emotion. Later, the doctor told us that he had suffered a mild stroke.” 

A few months later, in December 2013, the first delegation of prosecutors from the judiciary arrived at the prison to interrogate the suspects. “Some days after their visit, 

they took us for a lie detector test. It was obvious from the tests that the suspects were all innocent,” Naghibsadat said. 

A short time later, in late December 2013, they were transferred from the Revolutionary Court, which is responsible for cases related to matters of national security, to a criminal court. They were told that Judge Mohammad Shahriari was the new judge on the case, and after summoning Naghibsadat and the other suspects, he noted down their accounts of what happened. 

“That was the second time they took us to a building close to Evin Court to see Mr. Shahriari, the judge,” said Naghibsadat. “Almost all of the suspects were there. I saw Babak for the first time since the arrest, and heard news about Mazyar.” 

In their attempt to justify the arrests of innocent suspects in the case, authorities consulted a cleric, who justified the incarceration. “The state had no other choice. They have to keep you in jail until your innocence is proven,” the clerif said, adding, “For your own sake! When they set you free, it means you are innocent. But if you talk to foreign media about the case, you’ll be charged with other crimes.”

There followed a narrative and scenario set out by the Ministry of Intelligence, in which the accused were stripped of their dignity and forced to take the blame for something they did not do.

They were not allowed to talk about what had happened to them.

On February 1, 2015, after being imprisoned for 13 months, authorities finally officially registered Naghibsadat and three others as being held at Evin Prison. “We were not registered yet in Evin Prison. They took a mugshot of us, hung a plate around our necks and took our fingerprints, as if we had arrived for the first time,” Naghibsadat said.”They could do anything they wanted with us without being held responsible.” 

Hossein Naghibsadat was finally set free on February 8, 2015 after posting a bail amount of US $20,000 – and after promising to stay silent about what had happened. The other suspects, including Babak Ebrahimi were also forced to sign a document pledging not to say anything. Babak Ebrahimi was released three days before Naghibsadat. The intelligence ministry and the court also pressured family members of the suspects to remain silent Shahrzad Ebrahimi says she had to promise three times.

Upon his release, Naghibsadat’s personal belongings were returned to him, including his computer, which now had a high number of pornographic videos stored on it. He still doesn’t know if authorities had used the videos to put pressure on prisoners, or whether they enjoyed watching them during their breaks.




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