Farhad Meysami is a doctor, teacher, civil rights activist and political prisoner at Rajaei Shahr Prison near Tehran, also known as Gohardasht. He has provided IranWire with a written account of recent executions in that prison.
Meysami was arrested on July 31, 2018 by agents of the Intelligence Ministry who found badges bearing a message against forced veiling at his place of work. He was charged with “gathering and conspiracy to undermine national security by inciting women to go to streets without hijab”, “propaganda against the regime” and “insulting hijab as a sacred principle of Islam”, and sentenced to six years (five years of them mandatory) in prison by the Revolutionary Court’s Judge Abolghasem Salavati. The sentence was later upheld by Branch 36 of the Revolutionary Court of Appeal.
He was initially sent to Ward 209 of Evin Prison but was transferred elsewhere after he led a group of prisoners calling on the judiciary to remove new restrictions placed on them behind bars. On May 5 of this year, he then went on a strike to protest the planned execution of the Swedish-Iranian doctor Ahmad Reza Jalali. He broke it on May 23, after the scheduled execution date came and went. These notes were written after his release from hospital on May 25.
After joining the actions to prevent an execution, and five days in hospital, I was returned to prison in the afternoon of May 25. As it happens, 11 executions were to be carried out at Rajaei Shahr Prison at dawn on that same day. However, following two unanticipated off-days (on the pretext of air pollution, but in fact to prevent protests), some bureaucratic procedures had been disrupted and the executions had taken longer to carry out.
As a result, unlike other execution days when everything is finished before sunrise, this time the ordinary prison staff who had arrived at the gates for around 7am had to deal with an unexpected crowd of families, police cars and emergency vehicles on top of the usual traffic.
The night before, as I was lying in the hospital bed, I had learned that they were in the process of transferring a woman from Qarchak Prison to Rajaei Shahr Prison to hang her. That day not all 11 were executed but a few were.
The executions are conducted in an outbuilding that is at most 30 steps from the big door of Ward 4’s recreation area, which is always closed to us. Every year around 200 executions are carried out this close to us. In that outbuilding they have built platforms with two sets of five nooses for men, and a separate, single one for women. Underneath each noose is a trapdoor operated by pulling a lever. There are as many levers and trapdoors as ropes and so, to carry out 10 executions, they must pull 10 levers one by one.
They used to give the job of pulling the levers to young soldiers. Many of them suffered intense and long-term psychological disorders and needed therapy for a long time. Then they gave the job to the commander of prison’s special unit on a permanent basis. I have no idea if anything has changed since then.
I am not talking here about qisas [the legal punishment retribution in kind or “an eye for an eye”], which has its own complications. Of course, all great ones have always recommended forgiveness, which is a noble thing to do. But the law must be amended to make it easier to forgive.
It is very difficult for the family of a murder victim to see, the day after they have forgone qisas, the murderer walking tall in the street. Declining qisas becomes much easier if the laws are revised in such a way that, if the plaintiffs forgo qisas, a long prison sentence is imposed (for example, from 25 years to life in prison, depending on the case).
Here, however, I am mainly talking about death sentences where the government is the plaintiff. In these years I have been in prison I have repeatedly come across individuals who have been sentenced to death but it later turned out that the verdict had been either incorrect or could have been overturned.
One example was Houshang Rezaei who lived under a death sentence for nine years. His appeals were rejected four times; they finally accepted his fifth and when his case was reviewed, it turned out that his death sentence had to be repealed and replaced by 14 years in prison. In other words, two years from now, he can return to the society as a free man.
If during those nine years these gentlemen had carried out the death sentence against Rezaei (which we now know would have been an error, and the ultimate injustice), could they have brought back to life a person they had killed, and who had the right to live as we now know?
When Six out of Six Death Sentences Were Invalid
Of the twenty-something people on Rajaei Shahr’s ward for political prisoners only six had been sentenced to death when they were transferred here. What’s interesting is that, as time passed, it turned out that the death sentences against all six had been wrong. The sentences were eventually revoked for different reasons, including appeals, changes to the law, pardons, lesser sentences, and so on. Isn’t that remarkable, six out of six?
By the way, what would have happened to a person in this situation who couldn’t afford a skilled lawyer? Or if they couldn’t find an honorable, responsible lawyer who wants to act to save the life of a human being? What if he hadn’t been educated enough to know that he could pursue the matter, or if he’d had nobody to support him, or was suffering from depression, or... Would he have had to meet death when he had the right to live?
These simple observations lead me to call on the judiciary or universities’ research centers to survey the executions carried out down the years and estimate what percentage of them could have been revoked if they had been appealed today. In other words, how many people have been sent to the netherworld who could have stayed alive? Wouldn’t this probably provide the simplest reason to halt these damned executions, at least for a while? And wouldn’t, in the future, civil society hold accountable those who issued and carried out such verdicts? Would the excuse of ‘I was just doing my duty’ be accepted then?
Mr. Azizi [the current head of Rajaei Shahr Prison]: Do not attend execution ceremonies and do not allow the stain of this infamy to remain on your brow.
Mr. Hassan Ghobadi [the chief warden’s deputy for health]: I have no idea what being in charge of “health” has got to do with sending inmates to solitary confinement, or reading letters addressed to me and deciding whether I receive them or not, when you have never responded to my entreaties about keeping the prisoners in good health. Isn’t it better to concede this title is a mere cover for performing duties that are in fact related to security? Do you really attend the executions to make sure that the people who are killed are “healthy”? I ask you not to attend this homicidal carnival as well.
Mr. Nademi [head of prison security and intelligence] and Mr. Shahriari [supervisor of District 27 Courthouse]: Stop attending executions and, if necessary, resign from your jobs.
Mr. Nader Bagheri [commander of prison’s special unit]: Is it true that the duty of pulling levers has been entrusted to you? If so, save yourself and your family from living on this tainted bread as quickly as you can. And more importantly, save your conscience.
I also ask the physician from outside the prison who issues death certificates: Where in your physician’s oath it says that you must play this role, and what has it got to do with the spirit of the medical profession and restoring people back to health?
Gentlemen: Have you ever talked with those you send to clean the platforms after the killings? Have you asked them how they feel while cleaning them? Platforms that are covered in the vomit of distressed convicts who see others drop before their turn comes? Or the involuntary discharge from the bladders and intestines of the hanging convicts when they are in the throes of death? I’d better stop here.
I hope the regime will seriously consider suspending these damned executions. Believe me when I say there is no glory in putting the beautiful name of our dear country next to the Saudis, who executed 80 people that savage way [by beheading] in one day.
Once again I hear the sound of your Chariot of Death, the same white pickup truck with cold storage, the same one that, instead of one back door, has three doors on its right-hand side so you can put the bodies in the vehicle one on top of each other. Retire this vehicle as well. Send it to the scrapyard along with all those ideas that should be sent to the scrapyard. Of course, I hope that none of you have sent your consciences to the scrapyard already.