Monday, 12 December 2011

EA WorldView - Home - Iran Interview Special: What Has Happened to the 1000s Wounded After the Election?

Mohammad Yeganeh TabriziFrom an article in Kalemeh --- interview conducted by Masih Alinejad. Original translation by S. Ravandi and further translation by Josh Shahryar:

There are no official statistics on those killed, injured, and imprisoned after Iran's Presidential election in June 2009.


Last month Alireza Saboori, shot in the head during the mass protest of 15 June 2009, died in the US. This prompted Mohammad (Farhad) Yeganeh Tabrizi, injured during the Ashura demonstrations of December 2009 to break his anonymity: "I have already come to terms with the fact that sooner or later, I might have to face the same fate, but what tortures me is how the thousands of injured, whose pain is many times greater than the death of those who died during the protests following the election, are being forgotten."

Yeganeh Tabrizi has had several surgeries and still suffers from a bullet that is lodged in his body. Lamenting the lack of attention of the media, families, and even some Iranians living abroad to the plight of injured protesters, he says: "I always ask myself, what if Neda Agha Soltan had also been injured and not killed? What percentage of Iranians would go looking for her and her family? How many foreign reporters would interview her? How many people would go to visit her? How many journalists would write reports about her ? Would her family get information out to help to save her life? Or would she, too, die in obscurity and utter anonymity for the sake of some rational excuse by her family and the media?"

Yeganeh Tabrizi adds: "The silence of families, the media's failure to follow up, and the fact that most of these injured Iranians are forgotten and haven't received any kind of assistance basically means they have 'been buried alive'. They went out for the freedom of their country and in the process have lost their lives or are losing them. I only found out what happened to people like Alireza after I left Iran." He explains, "While in Turkey, I met with injured Iranians who lives in poverty and misfortune, without access to basic health care, waiting for an answer from UNHCR [the United Nations High Commission for Refugees] to get resettled. I still don't know what happened to many of them."

In a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Yeganeh Tabrizi wrote:

I request that you investigate why I --- an Iranian citizen - who had spent 15 years of his life ensuring I had a way to support himself, lost all of it in a single night just because I protested against an election that was rigged by the Iranian regime. I request that you investigate why such a person has to be forced to spend everything he has on injuries he has suffered on a way to smuggle himself out of the country and still spend the rest of his life slowly getting more and more paralyzed mentally and physically.

I gave a vote and it was not counted. Why should I have to give up my life and well-being for it? Through this letter, I declare that I have complaints against the Islamic Republic and want compensation in return for my physical paralysis, mental deterioration and loss of work, business and the physical torture and humiliation that I have faced.

If I could find a just source in this life, I will demand justice. Otherwise I'll take my complaint to the God who kept me alive long enough to complain about this to you.

The Complete Interview

Here's the complete text of the interview conducted by a Kaleme report with Mohammad Yeganeh Tabrizi, a protester who was injured during the Ashura protests in 2009.

Mr.Yeganeh, I asked you for an interview about your physical state once before and you told me you were being treated and remembering what happened during Ashura is too much to bear for you. Is it possible for you to tell us what happened that day during Ashura in 2009?

I was shot with a shot gun on that day, which was December 25, 2009.

Where exactly were you during that protest and how did this happen to you?

We were moving form Imam Hossain Square towards Enghelab Square while we were being continuously attacked by security forces and Basij over and over. But we kept changing our direction to avoid confrontation with them and kept changing course to finally get back to Enghelab Square until we got to College Bridge (Pole-Kalej). It was very crowded and from there on to Valiasr Square, people were beating their chests and mourning while also being there to support the Green Movement and Mir Hossein Mousavi. I was also moving from under the bridge towards Valiasr because the bridge itself was completely occupied by men in plainclothes who wouldn't allow people to use it.

As we got near the end of the bridge, suddenly riot police showed up from the direction of Valiasr with riot police vans and attacked people. There was so much tear gas that you couldn't see or breathe. We were forced to retreat when the men on the bridge started throwing stones upon us. Several people were injured on the spot. We were forced to enter Alborz Street and get to Hafez Street from there, but our path had been sealed off there. People were surrounded by the plainclothesmen and riot police. There were clashes everywhere, bullets were being shot, stones were being thrown, and tear gas was being fired.

Do you remember who exactly shot you? I mean, could you see the shooters?

Three of us got shot in the head with shotguns by security forces. One man in plainclothes was also shooting at us with a Colt. We didn't expect the police to shoot at us. Just as I saw them shooting at us, the man sitting next to me got shot in the face. I turned to help him and my back was towards the shooters when I was hit on the back of my head and the rest of my body. In totally, 150 shotgun pellets struck me.

What did you do when you got injured? Did they take you to a hospital? What hospital did they take you to and what were the circumstances like that day?

That day, people had surrounded the riot police. They were disarming them and taking off their uniforms and later letting them go one by one. Suddenly, I saw a body falling from atop the bridge. That body was a young protester that the plainclothesmen had pushed over the bridge. He fell next to us on the road and his body was mangled up. At the moment, I thought I was hit by a stone so I ran to get under the bridge. That's when I realized that I was bleeding horrifically from all over my body and head. After seeing the bodies of the other protesters who got shot like me, I realized that my own body had been filled with holes. After I got under the bridge, I lost consciousness and couldn't see or hear anything. I thought I was unconscious and dying. Then, I heard the sound of youngsters who'd gathered around me and were guessing that I was dead due to blood loss. I wanted to move a hand or foot so they'd know that I'm alive. I was only able to open my eyes and one of the youngsters that I didn't recognize along with his friends picked me up and took me out from the scene of the clashes.

I had little hope of getting out of that dead zone, but those youngsters who I only found a picture of later, took me to their car, laying me down on the backseat. The car was filling up with blood and my body had no movement. They delivered me to an ambulance in Hafez Street which quickly took me to Sina Hospital. At the gate, a security agent in plainclothes entered the ambulance and searched my pockets, then confiscated my cell phone and other belongings.

After that did you have surgery and treatment in Iran? I mean, did you have face any security issues after getting injured? Were you afraid of going to the hospital?

After assurances from one of my acquaintances, who was on the staff of the Army Hospital, I was taken to that hospital and was under the watch of intelligence. I was unconscious for 20 days and in CCU. When I regained consciousness, I realized that two of the pellets had been lodged inside my brain and had severely injured it. The doctors there did everything they could, but did not disturb my brain itself because of past experiences with wounded soldiers. They knew that if they did, it would probably cause more brain damage. Instead, they gave me very expensive and rare medications, which we procured with a great deal of difficulty to stop me from becoming brain dead. After regaining consciousness, I was questioned twice by the intelligence police and I have written about it to Ahmad Shaheed [the United Nations Special Rapporter for Human Rights in Iran.

When I was in Iran, the people who had taken over my responsibility handed my half-paralyzed body over to the intelligence police on a wheelchair on Moalem Street. After questioning, they sent me to the Enghelab Court with a guard and was handed over to an investigator of the 10th Branch of the Enghelab Court. There, before the intelligence police could question me, I said that I wanted to complain about the security forces for shooting me. The representative of the intelligence police started beating me in front of the investigator and the court clerk. I fell off the wheelchair. He told me I was a criminal because you were on Enghelab Street during Ashura and that your crime has been proven. He told me they were looking for pictures and videos of me there and once found, they would prosecute and hang me. Then, just to make things worse, they took me to the basement for taking my fingerprints, but in reality, they just wanted me to witness the brutal torture of other detainees. Hundreds of people had been enchained and were being beaten every now and then. He told me that they were all protesters from Ashura and had clashed with the police like me. He told me they would take us all to Evin Prison and kill us all.

What happened after you decided to leave Iran?

Even though my life had been miraculously saved, I had still lost my well-being. My work was being hindered with a variety of tactics. I had to let my company go insolvent. My case was continuing in the Enghelab Court. My case had been delayed because the left side of my body had been paralyzed. I was neither physically okay nor able to work or had a life left. I got in touch with different parties and groups and even contacted the leaders of the movement. After I ascertained that I couldn't find any support inside Iran, I decided to leave.

Did you get surgery and treatment outside Iran?

I'm currently in treatment in a hospital. However, even here, they've decided not to disturb the pellets that are already inside my brain. They're using physiotherapy and other limited methods to help me. In the coming weeks, though, there's going to be a new procedure to expel them through my ear. After two years, my left hand is totally paralysed and I can walk with a great deal of effort. But I have accepted these losses and must come to terms with them. I'm tired of treatment and hospitals and they of me. Maybe the pellets would move and save us all from further trouble [he means to say he wishes he'd just die]. After witnessing those scenes and days, life and death have lost their importance to me. Maybe death is more peaceful and enjoyable than this life. After all, I have witnessed it before, it was very sweet. I don't know why God sent me back to this world full of oppression and tyranny. Maybe fate wanted me to see the victimization of the people of Iran and keep my views to bear witness.

Did you expect to be shot at just because you were partaking in a protest?

Not at all. I did not expect partaking in an election to bring such a price and loss. But I had witnessed for eight months several times how people were bleeding on the streets. I was a witness to the silent march for freedom, the death of Neda; I saw them all with my own eyes. The news from Kahrizak and other such incidents at prisons I heard of. But on Ashura, we came to be like Imam Hussein and destroy the palaces of wealth and power that belong to the Yazeed of our time with our blood. Yes, I came to the streets on Ashura knowing the brutality of the government and how they confronted people like savages because I preferred death with dignity on Ashura over life in humiliation.

What was the most important thing that has pained you during this time?

What really tortures me is that during every incident of attacks on protesters, there were many more injured than killed. We don't know where they are and what's happening to them. Many of their families are forced to lie to their neighbors about the brutalities that the government has committed against them so that they can protect themselves and their loved ones from any further harm, but they don't know that they're burying the injured alive with this. Why didn't anyone know anything about Alireza Saboori and what happened to him in these past two years?

Well, as for Alireza, he was injured in June of 2009, but his family was not ready to inform anyone about his condition. After he died a refugee in Boston, only recently one of his family member outside Iran gave an interview about him.

You mean Iranians in Boston were unaware that he was in a hospital? You mean this is because of America? No, this was caused first by the families, and then you reporters outside the country didn't follow it up. You can censor what I just said because it relates to you. But this is the bitter truth that I must tell. In many cases, several people contribute to the burying alive of such victims. After Alireza Saboori, who shared my pain and died a refugee, several questions are gnawing at me. Why didn't you personally not follow up on the injured protesters whose numbers exceed that of those who were killed? I was personally in touch with some people just like Alireza Saboori in Turkey who who live in poverty and misfortune, without access to basic health care, waiting for an answer from UNHCR to get resettled. I do not have the slightest idea where they are now and what other problems befell them.

All of you who have pens and have an audience are responsible especially Kaleme and Jaras and even BBC and VOA. Were you worried that your conscience and that of others would be discomforted by the misfortunes of someone with shotgun pellets in his brain? Maybe the martyrs were better because they were buried and had no complaints, requests or needs and couldn't speak anymore. I truly ask you: if Neda Agha-Soltan were alive today, how many of these Iranians who keep saying her name would be going to visit her? How many would go to help her if she was in trouble? How many reporters and photographers would publish reports about her? It's better that you ask I and Alireza to die as quickly as possible so you could have story idea for your newspapers without much headache.

You are right. Your circumstances are understandable and without a doubt, our mistakes and the silence of families, the fear, the security situation and several other issues existed and still do. Is it possible to say what was the biggest problem you faced during these circumstances?

When I was in Tehran and was forced to go between the Enghelab Court, intelligence police and forensic doctors every day, I desperately needed a doctor and a lawyer. Every door I knocked did not respond to my calls. Was it that hard for them to introduce a doctor and a lawyer to me? Even websites like Jaras and Kaleme, who knew that I had been politically active for eight months and are supporters of the Green Movement, did not pay attention to me. Why? What's more sad is that even those who oppose the Islamic Republic outside the country told that you belong to the same regime and belong to Mousavi's group and did not pay any attention to me. My family and acquaintances too joined hands to hide the issue. Maybe now I understand what poor Alireza Saboori had to endure thanks to these reservations, inattention and forgetfulness. Maybe before the death of others like me, everyone knows how to join hands and compromise on how to bury them alive.

With all these bitter tragedies that you faced, do you have regrets? I mean, if we were back in the past, would you still take part in protests?

Look. Most of us I mean the protesters of the Green Movement had reached the conclusion that the only way to save Iran and Iranians from war, oppression and misfortune in the future is to vote in the elections and change the system by voting for the candidates that stood against the leadership so we could return towards democracy. We were convinced that we had made up our minds about saving Iran otherwise, I would be busy working at my business and [2009 Presidential candidate Mir Hossein] Mousavi would be painting and busy with his art. Students were busy studying, reporters and writers were busy in their offices and politicians kept bickering with each other. But when we saw that Iran was moving towards absolute dictatorship, war and militarism and became convinced that they wanted to destroy the economy and agriculture and replace it with the IRGC mafia, there was no time wait. We left our lives and work and entered the scene to save Iran. Now that we've failed, at least I'm sure I've fulfilled my responsibility towards my country so I'm not personally regretful. Regretful should be those who had a role in suppressing people who wanted freedom; who dragged Iran towards destruction with their apathy and silence. God is my witness; if history turns back a hundred times, I will be standing in the front lines of the Green Movement of Iran's people, more determined and strong than ever and this time, I will either save Iran or choose death so I don't have to bear witness to the destruction of Iran and Iranians.

Were you politically active before the elections?

When I was a student at the university, I clashed then too and was beaten. Therefore, I decided not to get involved in politics and stay busy with my work and business. But when I saw that this time, politics is about to destroy my country and Mousavi had come to fight with empty hands, I couldn't help but enter the scene and break my silence. However, the leaders of the regime had promise a free and healthy election. Love is easy at first [a Persian saying which implies that difficulties were not initially apparent].

If there is a question I haven't asked or something you want to say, if you could mention it.

I just want to say a few things about the people's Green Movement of Iran. This movement is the crystallization of the Iranian people's one hundred year-long struggle for a free society that stands on democratic principles. It was a peaceful and against violence which in the beginning did not want to overthrow the system and take the reins of power. However, the lack foresight by Khamenei destroyed this historical opportunity and instead, power fell into the hands of Ahmadinejad's corrupt band who only value their own personal profit over the national interests of Iran. However, this leaderless and defenseless movement had no backers within or abroad except the people who stood firm and sacrificed both their lives and livelihoods.

As someone who was injured in these events, I received virtually no help or backing from any group or party. Where are the billions that these lying leaders say the United States gave the Green Movement? Mousavi and [Mehdi] Karroubi are imprisoned. We, the activists behind the Green Movement, spent our livelihoods and belongings to save our lives like the other martyrs and detainees. Then where are the billions that the head of the supreme court and Mr. [Ahmad] Jannati swear was given to us? Even America had extended a hand towards the Iranian government and Obama and Khamenei were exchanging letters when the bodies of Iranian youth littered the streets of Tehran. Now that these men have sunk in lies and the blood of the innocent people of Iran, they must hear the voice of the shattering of the pillars of their power. This movement had a lot of activists, but few backers. The opposition abroad was angry at the movement from the beginning, Foreign powers who were under pressure by their people decided to use this as an opportunity to extend the hand of friendship towards the regime, to the point where the regime gave itself the permission to massacre to suppress the movement. Now that we, the people who have no one to support us, are on our knees, Mrs. Clinton [the US Secretary of State] is releasing statements of support and the opposition is also voicing their support. This is all a bit too little too late.