Iranian Ex-Lawmaker Alleges Torture

Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, shown being arrested June 12 during a rally for women's rights, was released briefly to attend a memorial for his father.
Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, shown being arrested June 12 during a rally for women's rights, was released briefly to attend a memorial for his father. (By Arash Ashoorinia)
By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, a former Iranian lawmaker who has been jailed without charges in Tehran for more than 100 days, was briefly released from detention last Thursday to attend a memorial service, where he shouted out allegations of torture and other harsh treatment, according to his lawyers and other witnesses quoted by a human rights organization.

"For the past 20 days, prison officials have chained my hands and feet. I am being tortured," Khoini loudly announced to bystanders at the memorial service for Khoini's father, according to several people at the event who relayed the incident to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"I am held in solitary confinement and interrogated four times a day," Khoini reportedly shouted. "They wake me up in the middle of the night to interrogate me. They are trying to turn me to a mental patient." Referring to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he added, "They are forcing me to denounce my beliefs, to repent for my activities, and to ask forgiveness from Khamenei."

Calls to the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, seeking comment, were not returned.

Khoini, the son of a cleric and a member of Iran's reformist bloc, had long challenged Iran's judiciary and intelligence services for human rights abuses during his tenure as a legislator from 2000 to 2004. He made frequent visits to prisons and publicly searched for secret detention centers in his efforts to expose what he called inhumane practices. He was disqualified by conservative clerics from seeking reelection.

He was arrested at a rally June 12 and has been held at Tehran's Evin prison with no access to lawyers, according to Human Rights Watch officials and attorneys working for his release.

Iranian news reports said Khoini's wife, Zohreh Islamian, has not been allowed to see him for the past month and only once has been able to speak to him by telephone. At the memorial service, held to mark the 40th day after his father's death, security guards prevented Khoini from seeing his wife when he arrived, according to witnesses cited by Human Rights Watch. One of Khoini's lawyers, Mohammad Sharif, told the Reuters news agency in Tehran that "Khoini's wife had noticed signs of physical impact, especially on his head."

Reuters also quoted Sharif as saying Khoini was under pressure to write a letter requesting a pardon.

Human Rights Watch called on Khamenei to order the immediate and unconditional release of Khoini. "Iran's leaders have held Mousavi Khoini for more than 100 days without charge," according to Joe Stork, the group's deputy Middle East director. "Iran has a notorious record when it comes to getting political prisoners to 'repent' under torture," he added.

"The same intelligence apparatus that he tried to hold accountable is subjecting him to torture," Stork said. "The authorities should end this vendetta immediately and release him."

Since July 30, two prisoners incarcerated for what the Iranian government considers subversive political beliefs have died under suspicious conditions in Iranian jails, according to Human Rights Watch.

Hadi Ghaemi, another official with the group, interviewed by telephone in New York, said, "The Tehran government was looking for the opportune moment to seize him when he was spotted at a women's rally on June 12 and carried away."

Ali Afshari, a former Iranian student leader, said he was greatly pained by the report of Khoini's treatment.

Afshari, 33, who came to the United States 10 months ago and is working with the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, had himself served several prison terms over three years in Iran, including 400 days of solitary confinement.

"This is all very bitter," he said. "When I heard of Ali Akbar's torture, my own experience came to life. I can feel what he is going through." He and Khoini, 36, had come together 10 years ago as central committee members in the Islamic Student Association, which grouped university student activists.

The Islamic Student Association was one of the organizations created by supporters of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic republic, and the group later became a vehicle for reformists, like Khoini and Afshari, to challenge what they considered heavy-handed tactics by the Iranian authorities.

An online journal called Gozaar, meaning Transition, devoted to the discussion of democracy and human rights in Iran, and launched this month in Persian and English, will feature an interview with Khoini's wife and the wives of other detained political activists, according to Mariam Memarsadeghi of the group Freedom House.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company