Ahmad Batebi, an Iranian activist and prisoner of conscience who later fled to the United States, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.
So I will speak about things that have not already been said, and I will also speak about my personal experience of Iranian jails and things which are not so well known.
Human rights activists know some external aspects of prison, but they don’t know exactly what’s happening inside them. The Islamic Republic of Iran tries to create disorder around the world, and organizes all kinds of actions and they create also fear at the international level. And they don’t really care what happens to Iran and they don’t care about the fate of the Iranian people. The Iranian Republic, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is structured in a way which allows it very easily to pass new laws. They can, without any problems, counter the strategies of activists, for example, for women’s or children’s rights. They can easily pass a law in Parliament, which will immediately close the activists’ activity and stop anything that they’re doing. There are many, many dissidents and activists, militants, that are in prison. At the moment, there are 112 students that are in jail. The students who had to leave the country are extremely numerous. And of course, they were stopped from going to university in Iran.
The first thing that happens to a political prisoner is that they have to be told the reasons for their arrest and imprisonment, and they should have the right to contact their lawyer and to get legal aid. This is of course on paper. It doesn’t really apply in real life. When the police or the military arrest someone, this person is immediately put in solitary confinement in prison. They’re not told why they’ve been arrested, or what the causes of this arrest. If you tried to get news on the activists that have been arrested, it is usually stated that they have been contravening the State Security Act, and this is not even a reason that is legal. It’s not legally enshrined in the country. They’re usually tortured as well, even though torture is not officially permitted and cannot be used as testimony before a court.
Now, I know that President Ahmedinejad has probably arrived, and will give a press conference now. But he cannot deny that in Iran, there are political prisoners, that there is torture. As a person who has been able to leave the country in good health, I can nevertheless show you the traces that torture has left behind; the torture that I suffered in Iran. And I can give you dozens of names of political prisoners who simply disappeared and whose names have never been heard. Again, I can tell you that there were different types of torture that I suffered in prison. It may be very difficult for you to listen to this. And it may destabilize you but nevertheless, I want to give you some examples.
First of all, they wanted me to admit to things that I had never done so that they could [construct] a file against me, and then sentenced me to long term imprisonment. They started also threatening my parents. They organized mock executions and they forced me to remain awake for hours on end. They tied my hands to a chair and they kept me awake so long that eventually I lost consciousness. And then they cut me and put salt in the wound so that I would wake up from the pain. In front of me, they beat up people who were my friends, young girls who were my friends, and they also threatened these girls with rape.
There are two reasons and aims for torturing people in Iran. First of all, they want to crush a person’s spirit so that they stop doing whatever they were doing. For example, feminist activists or other human rights activists. They want them to stop doing what they were doing, and to completely take away all their motivations for carrying out these dissident or activist activities. And then what you undergo in prison, the cruel treatment, leaves scars forever. According to statistics, there is one in every four Iranians who has a police record, there’s always this sword of Damocles above your head, that you may have to go back to prison. The Islamic Republic makes not the slightest effort to change the situation, or improve anything or even to conform to international standards.
We, the human rights activists, think that it is quite possible that there might be change in Iran, because the structure of the system is such that it is impossible to make any changes through government or through Parliament. There are so many filters, so many checks of the power that it is impossible to change the system from the inside. Let me just give you an example. If someone in the Islamic Republic wishes to be elected as an MP, become a president, or work in the government, this person first has to sign a form. In this form, the person accepts as legitimate the regime which is in power at the moment and the person also has to have declared allegiance to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Now those people who can participate, of course, are all part of the system and so the system can never allow someone who’s not part of it to get any kind of position in the power structure.
We expect the international community to support the activists, the dissidents. So this can be done through the economic interests of the Islamic Republic. As an Iranian, I can tell you that they do not wish to get rid of the government or of Israel as a country. They don’t want to do that; it’s not in their interest. If the human rights organizations and the human rights activists are supported appropriately, and if those who are threatened by the government are supported by human rights groups all around the world, they’ll be reassured and they will be able to continue their activities. And this will lead eventually to a change of behavior on the part of the government. Thank you very much.