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Iranian Protester Killed in Prison Through “Torture,” Ex-Cellmate Says

September 8, 2023
Solmaz Eikdar
7 min read
The last image we have of Javad Rouhi, a 35-year-old young man from a village north of Amol City, is a video of him dancing on the streets on September 22, 2022
The last image we have of Javad Rouhi, a 35-year-old young man from a village north of Amol City, is a video of him dancing on the streets on September 22, 2022

"They killed him. I swear, they killed him. I don't mean they physically strangled him with a rope or beat him to death, but during these three months when his sentence was overturned, they killed him by keeping him waiting."

These are the words from a former cellmate of Javad Rouhi, an Iranian man who was detained during the recent nationwide protests and died on August 31 under suspicious circumstances while in prison. He spoke to IranWire.


The last image we have of Javad Rouhi, a 35-year-old young man from a village north of Amol City, is a video of him dancing on the streets on September 22, 2022. 

He was arrested during the initial days of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protest movement. 

Rouhi had traveled to Nowshahr to meet his ex-wife and on September 22 found himself in the middle of protestors marching toward the city’s Azadi Square. 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) apprehend him and subject him to four days of relentless torture. 

According to the Committee for Monitoring the Status of Detainees, his torment was so severe that upon being transferred to the Shaheed Kazemi detention center in Sari, he couldn’t control his urinate, lost the ability to speak and was severely injured.

The detention center is under the control of the IRGC Intelligence Organization and is located within Nowshahr’s Tirkala prison.

Initially detained on charges of being a "protest leader," his jailers tortured him in an attempt to extract a confession from him that he had burned a copy of the Quran. He refused to admit that, however.

On January 10, the judiciary's official news agency, Mizan, reported that Rouhi was sentenced to death three times, with the headline reading, "The main leaders of Nowshahr riots sentenced to death."

According to this report, the Sari Islamic Revolutionary Court accused him of "undermining the nation's internal security through criminal activities," "arson and destruction of property leading to significant disruption of public order and security," "vandalism," "inciting arson and vandalism in public facilities to disrupt social order and security," "encouraging citizens to cause insecurity and conspiracy to commit crimes against the nation's internal security," and "apostasy through the desecration of the Quran by burning the Holy Quran and insulting sacred objects."

The court proceedings were never made public, and Rouhi did not have access to a lawyer of his choice. 

"I defended myself vigorously and with compelling reasoning, making it improbable for even Judge Salvati to impose a severe sentence," he told his ex-cellmate. 

According to Mizan, "the court, based on the available evidence, explicit confessions from the accused and reports from officers, determined that this accused played a role in organizing and leading the rioters."

The verdict was overturned by Branch 9 of the Supreme Court on May 23, but Rouhi was remanded behind bars.

The case was referred to the Tonekabon Revolutionary Court for reconsideration, but that court deemed itself "incompetent" to handle it.

The case was then sent to Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Amol, which forwarded it to Branch 1 of Sari Revolutionary Court.

Ultimately, as reported by Majid Kaveh, Javad Rouhi's appointed lawyer, the case was referred to Branch 8 of the Mazandaran Province Court of Appeals to determine the appropriate jurisdiction. 

The case remained unsettled until his death. 

241 Days of Torture

In the interview with IranWire, Rouhi's former cellmate vividly recalled the day when his three death sentences were overturned. 

The man was full of joy, laughing and dancing, but his case remained open for the following 107 days, leaving him in a state of fear and hope “until his body and spirit could bear no more,” he said.

Rouhi spent days on end waiting by the phone, and when his hopes were dashed, he sometimes stayed in bed for an entire week.

According to the ex-cellmate, the most profound torment came when his interrogator told him he would “not leave this prison alive." 

Agents of the IRGC intelligence even said they didn't require a judge's order to end the life of someone who had disrespected the Quran. 

Rouhi's ex-cellmate disclosed that upon his arrival in prison, he was in a state of profound distress. He would sometimes "fall silent for days, perhaps even weeks, and then spend hours in the bathroom washing himself."

He also revealed that Rouhi spoke little about the torture he endured, but his cellmates knew he was struggling to control his urinary functions. 

Amnesty International has said that Rouhi was subjected to severe beatings and "floggings, including on the soles of his feet and while being tied to a pole, given electric shocks with tasers, exposed to freezing temperatures, and sexually assaulted by having ice put on his testicles for 48 hours."

"Revolutionary Guards agents repeatedly pointed a gun to Javad Rouhi's head and threatened to shoot him if he did not make forced confessions," according to the London-based human rights watchdog. 

Ehsan Pirbornash, a journalist jailed with Rouhi, recalled his harrowing screams. 

"No humiliation was spared," according to Pirbornash. 

Rouhi’s former cellmate stated that he occasionally took sedatives to calm his anxiety, but not to a level that could lead to “suicide or self-harm."

A claim made by the judiciary regarding Rouhi's alleged history of addiction was disputed by his former associate. 

He didn’t see Rouhi using methadone or displaying any symptoms of addiction. 

"Javad mentioned being under a psychiatrist's care before imprisonment, but he never discussed addiction or attempts to overcome it," the ex-cellmate said. 

"Javad was killed through torture, physically and psychologically, inflicted over weeks by  intelligence agents, followed by the psychological torment of a death sentence hanging over him, which left him in constant fear of being executed at any moment."

The Last Night

According to a report published by Mizan on August 30, Rouhi visited the prison hospital at 5:30 p.m. and was prescribed Diclofenac, a medicine used to treat aches, pains and problems with joints, as well as cold medicine.

At 8 p.m. Rouhi returned to the prison hospital, where he received oxygen therapy, and left after 15 minutes.

The report says Rouhi suffered a seizure at 3:30 a.m. on August 31 and was taken to Beheshti Hospital in Nowshahr.

His former cellmate told IranWire that the man "had been unwell since Tuesday, yet they didn’t allow him to go to the hospital until Wednesday.”

“He displayed cold-like symptoms, but it was more serious than that. We pleaded for him to be sent to the hospital, but our requests were denied. He was taken to the hospital twice and then they locked the prison doors."

"When Javad had a seizure, one of the cellmates was awake. He noticed and woke us up. Despite our efforts to knock on the door and call the guards, no one responded," he continued.

He said that Rouhi was eventually transported to the hospital at around 6 a.m.: "His condition was extremely critical, but he left the prison alive."

The Islamic Republic’s False Narratives

Following the news of Rouhi's death in prison, the propaganda machinery of the Islamic Republic initially attempted to portray him as mentally ill.

"According to the prison health department, Rouhi had a history of seizures and prior hospitalizations in the years preceding his arrest and imprisonment," Mizan reported on August 31.

A lawyer told IranWire that "revealing an individual's medical history is prohibited by law,” adding: “Article 648 of the Islamic Penal Code prescribes penalties for those who violate this law.”

"Now, it remains to be seen whether Mizan news agency disclosed these medical details with the judge's authorization. If so, it raises the question of why the judge was swift to reveal a defendant's medical records even before a coroner confirmed any connection between his prior seizures and his death."

This lawyer also stressed that if Rouhi died due to drug abuse, the responsibility falls upon the Prisons Organization, because, under Articles 140 to 143 of the Prisons Organization Regulations, drugs should not be provided to prisoners.

And if Rouhi was indeed mentally ill, how could he have been tried and imprisoned?

"According to the judiciary, Rouhi was unwell before committing the alleged crime, and the judiciary had access to his medical records. Therefore, his arrest, trial, and detention were all conducted in violation of the law," the lawyer said. 

This might explain why media affiliated with the Islamic Republic promoted a second theory: "Javad Rouhi was a drug addict and was in the process of quitting methadone."

On September 1, Hamshahri newspaper, citing Tasnim news agency, reported that Rouhi was hospitalized at Amol Hospital about 14 months prior to his arrest to treat his addiction to crystal methamphetamine and crack.

However, the Islamic Republic's propaganda apparatus failed to address how a person can suddenly experience seizures almost two years into the process of gradually reducing methadone consumption. 

Moreover, the director of Shahrivar Hospital 17 in Amol told the official IRNA news agency that Rouhi was in good overall health when he was discharged after eight days.



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