The penultimate day of the Aban Tribunal featured live testimonies from Iranian witnesses impacted by all aspects of the November 2019 atrocities. They included a serving member of the Basij, and a staff member at an eye hospital who said 50 percent of patients who had been hit with pellets that weekend lost their sight. Witness 436, speaking with his face and voice heavily disguised, had been shot in the stomach and lost part of his intestine. Just days after surgery, he was taken to a warehouse by security forces where he was subjected to extreme physical and sexual torture for 2.5 months, under pressure to “confess” to being an Israeli or US asset.
Witness 362 was an internet activist who had helped to ensure footage of the protests found its way to media outlets outside Iran, who would be able to cover it. Several of his friends, he said, had been disappeared. “It’s true that you are putting the ones responsible on trial while they’re not accountable [in Iran],” he told the co-counsel. “We have to cover our faces here, but I’m sure one day, they will have to cover their faces.”
The panel also heard from a number of people who had gone through the terror and devastation of losing a family member or friend to the regime’s bullets. Many of their stories had echoes of each other. For many, this was the first and only time they will be able to speak to the wider world about what happened to their loved one inside Iran.
Mothers Who Buried Their Sons
A woman introduced as Witness 84 spoke about what happened to her son, who was arrested by plainclothes agents on his way home on Monday, November 18. The next morning at the IRGC headquarters, she and other anxious parents were told: “Go. If your children are innocent, they will be back home this evening.”
Her son returned home in a state of shock that afternoon, his body bearing the marks from having been beaten with batons. Their phones had been searched, he told her. “He said that when he was being held by the IRGC, three other children were ‘burned alive’. And nobody took care of the ones that had been shot.”
Fearing for his mental wellbeing, she took him to a psychologist who prescribed him medication as he appeared to be suicidal. He was also terrified of rearrest as he had been filmed at the protests. One of the brands of pill he was prescribed was unavailable at pharmacies, she said, and while they were out searching, they saw other, unarmed protesters being taken away in unmarked cars.
Witness 84 said: “The psychological pressure on my son was so great that on Azar 11 [December 2], he hanged himself. In his note, he said he couldn’t tolerate the pressure anymore.”
It took two days for the body to be returned to her. The death certificate did not mention any part of what had happened, but simply cited the cause of death as “Pressure on the neck”. The family were ordered not to talk to the media or write anything on his tombstone, and two women in full chador attended the funeral, ordering those present: “Be careful how you behave”.
Witness 84 said she persisted in demanding an investigation into what had happened. She only relented in the end, she said, because of what happened the last time she went to court. “I was threatened by security. He told me to safeguard the lives of my other children, I shouldn’t chase the case anymore.”
Another woman from a deeply religious Shia Muslim family, identified only as Witness 80, told the panel she had stopped believing in the Islamic Republic after the murder of her 18-year-old son. The young man, who was in his final year of high school, was on the way home at 3pm on November 16 when he was fatally shot in the head and neck.
During her frantic search of the hospital, which she said was crawling with green-uniformed security forces, a guard threw her son’s paperwork at her and told her to go and look for him in the cemetery. “I almost fainted,” she said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’.”
There was no post-mortem, and no autopsy, when they found him after three days and three nights combing the city. Her son’s death certificate gave the cause as “Operation of non-military weapons” and “Crushed brain tissue”.
The family were made to sign a commitment saying they would not talk about what had happened, “or we will take your boy out of his grave”. Six or seven armed officers stood guard at the burial and one of them aimed a Colt at her grieving relative during the rites.
Four days after her son was killed, Witness 80 said, she received a call from intelligence agents. “Your son wasn’t killed by state forces but by a number of terrorists,” they told her. “The weapons they used didn’t belong to the military. We weren’t allowed to shoot anyone above the hip, so it wasn’t us. So we deem your son a martyr, and you can legally put ‘martyr’ on his tombstone.”
The boy’s mother told the Aban Tribunal: “I said, I no longer believe in the Islamic system in Iran. We were very religious. We believed in Islamic system. But I no longer have any respect for the Islamic Republic. They talk about the Quran and Islam. Where does it say one Muslim can kill another?”
Kolbar and Poet Among the Murdered from Kurdistan
Abu Bakr Mehrabani, a political activist, told the Aban Tribunal via videolink about his nephew Usman Naderi, a 28-year-old from Kurdistan province. Usman was a kolbar who carried tea and yogurt across the Iran-Iraq border to earn a crust for his widowed mother, siblings and nine-year-old son. He was shot dead by an IRGC agent dressed in Kurdish-style trousers near Shabrang Square, Marivan, and later died in Bu’Ali Sina Hospital.
Mehrabani told the panel he was aware of 11 others, eight he could name, who were killed in Marivan that day. Usman’s mother was told not to say anything against the Islamic Republic’s security forces or “we will make your life unbearable”. Today, Mehrabani said, the woman was psychologically “destroyed”.
He added: “I want to tell you that Iranian people, especially kolbars who have to go to the borders to even eke out a living, are in poverty and the protests were because people want their rights. Wherever in the world, people should be able to protest and air their grievances. It wasn’t a riot like the regime pretends. They killed innocent civilians. It’s the human duty of the world to do something. They should know what the Iranian people have been subjected to. They took our money and spent it in Iraq and Syria, instead of on our people.”
Also on Saturday, a witness named Ali Rezaei wept as a recording was played to the court: the phone call he received by someone using his brother Naser’s phone, telling them he had been shot in the head on November 17, 2019.
Naser, from Qorveh in Kurdistan province, was unemployed and had been married for two years. He was killed in Karaj, and his body was delivered back to the family already wrapped in a shroud, only allowing them to see a small part of his face.
The family were not allowed to mourn at his burial place, even after 40 days. The IRGC coerced Ali Rezaei and his elderly father into giving a scripted TV “interview” asking then-Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi to intervene in the case. His father was also repeatedly interrogated by IRGC agents after he posted a video on Instagram demanding justice for his son. “My brother was a poet and an agricultural engineer,” Rezaei said. “He wasn’t a person who’d get involved in sabotage.”
A Friendship Remembered
One of the few to speak to the panel in person was Alireza Barakati, whose friend Ali Hosseini, a companion for two years during their military service, was killed in November 2019 in Meshkin Dasht, Alborz.
Officers handed over Ali’s body five days later, but only after receiving the “bullet money” from his family. Barakati told the panel his friend was from a poor background, and had held down a second job even while in the military. “He was an extremely kind and trustworthy person,” he said. “I’m here because it’s my duty to be here. Had Ali been in my place, believe me, Ali would be here giving testimony as well.”