Background Briefing

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V. Testimonies

Mohammad Hussein Sobhani

Mohammad Hussein Sobhani spent eight-and-a-half years in solitary confinement inside the MKO’s main camp in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, from September 1992 to January 2001. He was subsequently held in Abu Ghraib prison and left Iraq in 2002.49

Sobhani first came in contact with the MKO in 1977, a year before the anti-monarchy revolution. By 1979, he was working “professionally and full time” with the organization. When the headquarters of the armed wing of the organization relocated inside Iraq, he followed suit. By 1991, he had risen in the ranks of the organization and had become a member of the Central Committee. However, ever since the “ideological revolution,” when divorces were mandated, he became uncomfortable with the path pursued by the leadership. His differences with the leadership of Masoud and Maryam Rajavi and other members of the Central Committee reached a climax in 1992. Masoud Rajavi argued for remaining in Iraq regardless of the end of the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein’s defeat in the first Gulf War in 1991, he said. Rajavi still hoped that fighting between Iran and Iraq would resume, and based the organization’s strategy on such a development. Sobhani says he found the possibility of a new war highly unlikely given the dismal state of Iraq’s armed forces. Other members of the Central Committee saw his arguments as a challenge to the Rajavis’ leadership:

As long as my criticisms were mild, I was left alone. But as soon as I persevered in my questioning, their behavior changed dramatically. In the beginning, I discussed my concerns personally with the leadership, Maryam and Masoud Rajavi. I also brought up my concerns with other members of the Central Committee. These discussions reached a dead-end. Once they became certain that I didn’t share their views, on August 28, 1992, they convened a meeting (neshast taiin taklif) to determine my faith and to decide if I was staying with the organization or not. The process began with intimidation, verbal abuse, and beatings. Of course, since I was a high ranking official I was treated better than ordinary members. I was told that my criticisms and questions were just an excuse to quit the struggle. Their conclusion was that I was a quitter (borideh) and didn’t have the strength to continue the struggle any longer.50

On August 31, 1992, Sobhani was moved to a prison and kept under solitary confinement for the next eight-and-a-half years.

After the first two months in prison, all of my beliefs in the organization fell apart. Up to that point I considered my differences with them as a matter of divergent political views; I wasn’t questioning the MKO’s underlying essence. I used to mark my prison walls each time I was subjected to severe beatings. There were many occasions of lesser beatings, but on eleven occasions I was beaten mercilessly using wooden sticks and thick leather belts.51

Sobhani was handed over to Iraqi officials in January 2001. He spent one month in mukhabarat  prison and then transferred to Abu Ghraib. He was held in Abu Ghraib until January 21, 2002, when he was repatriated to Iran in exchange for Iraqi POWs. In Iran, he was detained and interrogated by the Iranian government. After three days, he escaped from a low security detention center and fled Iran. He is currently living in Europe.

Yasser Ezati

Yasser Ezati was born on May 27, 1980, to Hasan Ezati and Akram Ghadim-al-ayam. He said that his father, also known as Nariman, was a well-known interrogator inside the MKO prisons. Yasser’s mother died during one of the MKO’s military operations.52

Ezati moved to Iraq with his family at the age of three and grew up inside the MKO military camps. During the 1991 Gulf war, Ezati and other children inside the camps were separated from their parents and sent outside Iraq. During the next three years, Ezati lived with three different families in Canada. These families were MKO sympathizers. In the summer of 1994, the MKO moved Ezati to Cologne, Germany, where he lived in a group-house for the MKO children. The organization recruited Ezati for military training when he was seventeen years old and sent him to Iraq in June 1997.

After the first six months in Iraq, I realized I had no desire to stay. In Europe I had an image of a democratic organization, but in Iraq I realized the extent of censorship and control. I wanted to leave. I was repeatedly told the only way out was to go to Iran. I was too afraid to go to Iran.53

Ezati was extremely uncomfortable with the many means of thought control enforced inside the camps. He said there were many gatherings where high ranking officials lectured members not to think of any issue except those relating to internal MKO operations. “We had to write self-criticism reports on a regular basis. If we had any thoughts outside of the organizational framework we had to report them,” he said. Ezati’s most daunting experience took place in summer of 2001:

It was a gathering called to’emeh [lure, or bait] that lasted four consecutive months. All of the camp members were present during these sessions. At this time the number of dissidents who wanted to leave the organization was growing daily. First, Masoud Rajavi talked about the Mojahedin’s basic ideology. He then talked about the organization’s strategy, and finally he addressed the issue of those members wishing to separate from the organization. His purpose was to intimidate members and to say that anyone who wants to leave is a traitor. These sessions were held from morning to evening. Dissident members were brought in front of the audience and forced to self-criticize their actions and thoughts. They were expected to conclude by saying that they will remain with the organization. As soon as someone would speak their minds or criticize the organization, the attendees would attack him/her mercilessly using harsh verbal abuses. Anyone who dared to ask to leave the organization would immediately be labeled an agent of the Iranian government. It was psychologically devastating. I had to pledge my allegiance to the MKO numerous times during these gatherings. After four consecutive months of psychological pressures, I ended up signing documents that I would stay with the organization.54

After the American occupation of Iraq, Ezati managed to escape Camp Ashraf in June 2004. He is living in Europe.

Farhad Javaheri-Yar

Farhad Javaheri-Yar is a former fighter with the MKO in Iraq.55 He served in various capacities in intelligence and security operations. In 1995, he became aware of dissident members being imprisoned inside the MKO camps in Iraq. He wrote a letter to his superiors requesting to be released from his duties and expressed his desire to leave the organization. His superiors tried repeatedly to intimidate him into staying. After his refusal, he was incarcerated in various prisons inside the MKO camps in Iraq from November 1995 to December 2000. He was subsequently turned over to the Iraqi officials and held in Abu Ghraib prison until January 2002, when he was repatriated to Iran. 

Javaheri-Yar joined the MKO in August 1982 in Tehran and became active in their underground armed resistance. He was arrested in October 1984 by the Iranian authorities and spent the following four years inside Evin, Ghazal Hisar, and Gohardasht prisons in Iran. Upon his release, he contacted MKO operatives in Europe and was smuggled to Karachi and from there to Iraq. He entered Iraq in 1989 and became an active member of the MKO’s armed wing.

Javaheri-Yar became disillusioned with the MKO in 1995 after learning from a number of other MKO cadres that they had been recently imprisoned by the organization:

In July 1995, I returned to Camp Ashraf from a reconnaissance mission. During the preceding months, I had noticed a number of my friends had “disappeared.” I was told that they were inside Iran to carry out missions. I met two of them, Akbar Akbari and Ali Taleghani, who told me that they were imprisoned inside Camp Ashraf during this period and were forced to sign false confessions indicating their ties to Iranian intelligence agents and [promising] that they would never leave the MKO.

I could not believe that the Mojahedin would engage in acts of torture and forced confessions similar to what the Iranian government used. I wrote a number of reports for my superior. In these letters I expressed my disapproval of the mistreatment of members and submitted my resignation. My request was repeatedly ignored.56

Javaheri-Yar persevered with his request to leave the MKO, but was told that the organization could not relieve him of his duties because of his extensive knowledge of MKO’s activities. Once Javaheri-Yar realized he would not be free to leave, he escaped from Camp Ashraf on November 28, 1995 and attempted to reach the Jordanian border. On November 30, 1995, he was arrested by Iraqi security forces near the city of Tikrit.  He pleaded with the Iraqi forces not to return him to the MKO camp, but his pleas were ignored and he was handed over to the MKO forces in Camp Ashraf. During the next five years he was held in solitary confinement in various locations inside the MKO camps, from November 1995 to December 2000.

During the first two months, I was kept inside a pre-fabricated trailer room called a bangal. I was told that I could not leave the camp but could resume life inside the camp if I chose to do menial labor, such as making bread or sweeping streets. I refused their offer, and their response was harsh. I was moved to a prison cell in Avenue 400 of Camp Ashraf.  The cell’s dimensions were three by two-and-a-half meters [nine feet by eight feet]. It was connected to a narrow hallway— one meter [three feet] wide and three-and-a-half meters [ten feet] long—that led to a small toilet and sink.

In February 1996, I made very loud verbal protests from inside my cell. To punish me, they confined me inside a bathroom for three consecutive weeks. I was miserable. There was no room to stretch or lie down. The tiled floor was wet and cold. It was a terrifying experience.57

The MKO’s leadership, including Masoud Rajavi, promised Javaheri-Yar that he would be released “soon,” but each time they broke their promise. Javaheri-Yar was imprisoned in solitary confinement inside Camp Ashraf, as well as Camp Parsian, until December 2000, when he was turned over to the Iraqi intelligence forces (mukhabarat). He spent one month in a mukhabarat prison before being transferred to Abu Ghraib prison. He was repatriated to Iran on January 21, 2002. He left Iran and is living in Europe.

Ali Ghashghavi

Ali Ghashghavi joined the MKO as a fighter in Iraq in 1989. He was arrested in February 1995 during the “security clearance” phase and was imprisoned for four months in Camp Ashraf. He told Human Rights Watch of his experience during this period:58

One night in January 1995, I was called over by my superior and told that a member of the Central Committee wanted me in her office.  I was excited to be meeting such a high level official at such an unlikely hour. I assumed there was much importance attached to this meeting. We got into a military vehicle; it was around midnight. They took me to a place inside Camp Ashraf called Iskan. It is at the far corner of the camp where a series of apartment buildings were used to house families [before they were forcibly broken up]. It was a rather isolated spot—barren desert and frighteningly secluded.

There were a few people inside, five or six. I was taken to an empty room and told to wait. A few minutes later, another member, Hussein Nizam, was brought in. Hussein Nazim had spent many years inside the Islamic Republic’s prisons, so he knew something else was happening. I was somewhat naive and didn’t have much of a clue.

Suddenly the door opened and a group of people attacked us mercilessly, blindfolded us, tied our hands behind our backs, and put us inside a car. We were driven around for half an hour. We stopped inside an area that was approximately at the center of the camp. I didn’t know this was a prison until I was taken there. The prison was on Avenue 400 of Camp Ashraf near the water tanker. Until then, I had assumed that explosives or sensitive documents were guarded inside.

Our clothes were taken from us and we put on prison garb. We were led to a large cell holding nearly twenty-five prisoners. The prison cell was on the ground floor of the building; there was a small window near the ceiling for air circulation. A small toilet and shower were built at one end of the cell.

There was a period when prisoners were taken on a daily basis for interrogations and beatings. One method was to kick the prisoner’s legs and knees repeatedly with military boots with metal covers on the front. Another method was to put a thick rope around the prisoner’s neck and drag him on the ground. Sometimes prisoners returned to the cell with extremely swollen necks—their head and neck as big as a pillow.

I experienced the pain of leg-beatings firsthand. During one of my interrogation sessions, the interrogator told me that if I don’t give them guarantees that I will stay with the leaders forever, he would kill me right there and then. I asked him “what worthier guarantee there could be than my coming here to join your ranks and fight against Khomeini?” He replied that now that the ideological revolution had been instituted and life was harder, people like me couldn’t bear it and wanted to leave. He said, “I can see it in your eyes that you are dying to quit the organization.”

He went to the next room while he told me how he was going to beat   me up badly. He changed his shoes and put on a pair of these military boots. He came back, and two hefty guards held me. He began kicking my legs repeatedly. My legs are still unbalanced from these beatings. Interrogations sometimes lasted for up to thirty or thirty-six hours non-stop.

Ghashghavi was released in May 1995, after a meeting with Masoud Rajavi who told him, “The judicial branch of the National Liberation Army has acquitted you.” After this experience Ghashghavi, explored ways to escape Camp Ashraf. On March 20, 1998, he was imprisoned for forty-five days and then turned over to Iraqi intelligence agents. He spent another forty-five days inside the mukhabarat prison in central Baghdad before being transferred to Abu Ghraib. He was repatriated to Iran on January 21, 2002. In Iran, he was interrogated and brought before a court that sentenced him to nine years in prison. After sixteen months of imprisonment, he was given a forty-eight hour release to visit his family. He used this opportunity to escape and leave Iran. In August 2003, he fled Iran and is currently living in Europe.

Alireza Mir Asgari

Alireza Mir Asgari was a deputy director of one of the MKO’s military units in 1994 when he started to have concerns about the organization’s links with the Iraqi military. In January 1995, he was arrested and imprisoned. In June 1995, he was released after signing a contract promising to remain with the MKO’s forces. He was arrested again in 1998 and spent eight months in solitary confinement. In 2001, he arranged to escape, but his plan was discovered and he was imprisoned again until 2003, when he was turned over to Iraqi forces who then abandoned him along the Iran-Iraq border. He described his sudden arrest in 1995:59

I was arrested without notice on January 29, 1995. I was told to go to a meeting with a team who were preparing for operations in Iran. These kinds of discussions were a regular part of my duties. I was taken to a room and told to wait. Hasan Mohasel, one of the MKO’s top intelligence officers, came into the room and put a note in front of me saying that I had been arrested because I was an agent of Iranian intelligence and had infiltrated the Liberation Army. I couldn’t believe what was happening; I thought it was a joke and started to laugh. But Hasan Mohasel cursed me and told me to stand against the wall. Suddenly two or three more people entered the room and began to blindfold me and to tie my hands behind my back. I was in total shock. They put me in a car and drove around for forty-five minutes inside the camp. I was taken to a building; I didn’t know where it was. Hasan Sadat Darbandi, also known as Adel, removed my blindfold and threw me into a cell with many other prisoners. I could not believe it; I thought there had been a coup inside the organization. Each day, a number of prisoners were taken for interrogation. They were beaten badly; after they were brought back, their heads and faces were tremendously swollen.

After a couple of days, it was my turn to be taken for interrogation. They asked me why I had joined the MKO. I told them I came here to fight Khomeini’s government, but they said that wasn’t true. During the first couple of days of interrogation, they beat me mercilessly. It was very depressing; I really wanted to commit suicide. I was only seventeen years old when I left Iran and came to Iraq to join the MKO. I had spent my entire adult life in their camps.

Eventually, I gave up and agreed to sign the forced confessions stating that I had ties to Iranian intelligence. I was taken to a meeting with Masoud Rajavi, who told me that if I stayed for another two years, they would release me and send me to Spain.

Mir Asgari was released in June 1995. He spent the next two years waiting for the organization to release and transfer him to Spain. However, he was told that because of his wealth of information, he could not be released. His protests led to his imprisonment again:

On March 25, 1998, I was taken to a prison where my old case from 1995 was reopened. They said that based on my own confession, I was an Iranian agent and could not be trusted. I spent eight months in solitary confinement. During this period, I was told that my sister in Iran had been arrested and executed. Later I found this to be untrue.60

After recanting his request to leave Iraq, Mir Asgari was released. Since the organization was not going to allow him to leave, he started to design an escape plan. His plan to escape was discovered, and he was arrested again. He was kept in solitary confinement for nearly two years, from 2001 to 2003. A few months prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in February 2003, Mir Asgari was turned over to the Iraqi forces who took him to the Iran-Iraq border along the Arvandrood River [Shatt al-Arab] and released him there. He is living in Europe.

Akbar Akbari

Akbar Akbari became familiar with the MKO on the eve of the Iranian revolution in 1978. He started his professional association with the MKO in February 1979. In June 1984, he was arrested by the Iranian authorities and was imprisoned in Iran for more than four years. Within a few months of his release in September 1988, Akbari left Iran to join the MKO operations in Iraq.61

In 1993, he decided to leave the organization and wrote a number of letters to his superiors asking to be released.

My supervisor was Mehdi Abrishamchi, who was one of the high ranking members of the Central Committee. After I wrote him a letter expressing my intention to leave the organization, he called me to his office, tore the letter into pieces, threw it in a garbage basket, and said, “I don’t want to hear of this anymore. You are not to discuss it with anyone.” I was also called to private meetings with other high ranking members who reinforced the same message.62

Akbari was supervisor of a section in Communications Department (Setad Ravabit). He carried out many sensitive tasks for the organization, including working as a personal body guard of Masoud Rajavi. Akbari was arrested in December 1993 and held inside a prison in Camp Ashraf.

The interrogators were extremely rough. From the moment I entered the room, I was subjected to beatings. I was put on a chair that was fixed to the floor. My hands and feet were tied to the chair, I couldn’t move at all. I was beaten with a thick hose and kicked repeatedly with a military boot. My interrogator also used a pair of heavy plastic slippers to hit me in the face and head.

I was asked to confess to being an agent of the Iranian government. After a few interrogation sessions, the interrogator dictated a confession letter that he asked me to sign. Then he told me, “Now it is proven that you are an agent who has infiltrated our organization.”63

Akbari was then taken with a group of prisoners to meet Masoud Rajavi. Rajavi told them that he had “forgiven” them and they could return to their duties. He was let out of the prison in June 1995. Akbari escaped Camp Ashraf in February 1998 and set out for the Jordanian border. He was arrested by Iraqi security forces in Ramadi and handed over to the MKO.

When I was returned to Camp Ashraf, I was taken to a room where Hasan Mohasel told me I would be imprisoned because I was an infiltrator. High ranking members of the organization were present. I was taken to a fort called Ghaleh Afsaneh and kept in solitary confinement for a full year, from February 1998 to March 1999.64

In March 1999, Akbari was turned over to Iraqi security forces who took him to Abu Ghraib. Akbari was in Abu Ghraib until January 21, 2002, when he was repatriated to Iran in exchange for Iraqi POWs. He was detained and interrogated by the Iranian authorities. He said that during a weekend release to visit his family, he escaped and fled Iran. He is now living in Europe.

Sayed Amir Mowaseghi

Sayed Amir Mowaseghi joined the MKO in 1984 and was imprisoned by the Iranian authorities from 1984-1987. After his release, he went to Pakistan, and from there was able to travel to Iraq, where he joined the MKO forces in June 1988.65

In 2001, he chose to leave the organization, but was not allowed. A “court session” was convened in September 2001 in the presence of Maryam and Masoud Rajavi, who refused to grant him permission to leave. Subsequently, he was subjected to verbal abuse and humiliation:

I was taken to a large gathering of nearly 600 people. They led me through the crowd; I was spat on, kicked and verbally abused. I was moved to a trailer, they called it bangal, and kept there in solitary confinement until June 2, 2002, when I was handed over to the Iraqi forces. The Iraqis took me to Abu Ghraib, and I remained there until I was repatriated to Iran on 18 March 2003.66

[49] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, February 14, 2005 and May 6, 2005.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Yasser Ezati, February 9, 2005.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Farhad Javaheri-Yar, February 3, 2005 and February 25, 2005.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ali Ghashghavi, February 9, 2005 and May 6, 2005.

[59] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Alireza Mir Asgari, February 10, 2005.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Akbar Akbari, February 27, 2005 and May 6, 2005.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Bid.

[65] Human Rights Watch telephone interview  with Seyd Amir Mowaseghi, February 4, 2005.

[66] Ibid.

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