Witness Testimony of Banu Saberi


Born in: Isfahan

Charge: Collaboration with Tudeh Party of Iran

Date of Arrest: August 1987

Date of Release: February 1988

Current Residence: Six years after her husband was executed in the prison massacre of 1988, she left Iran along with her two sons and has since been lining in the USA.

 Our family was politically active. My mother was a person who was never afraid and never prevented us from our activism. Another reason [that made me become active in politics] was that once time when I came home, I noticed that small booklets were placed behind the door. I brought it inside and showed it to my father. He said that they belonged to the Tudeh party. They allowed us to read the booklet but then they burned them. Every once in a while I would see the publications. I didn’t tell my father about it anymore but even when I did, he would no longer burn them because he had made a place for us to put them in. so we could go and read them again. After a while, my mother came and told me that a lady wanted to speak to me. I went to the door and saw that a lady was there. She said to me, “I am contacting you on behalf of Navid Group.[1]” this story goes back to prior to the revolution.

Once or twice I went to Tehran to get Navid. At the same time, it was an underground group in Isfahan. Around the same time as the revolution’s time, I had gotten in touch with them. They work within the framework of the Democratic Women’s Coalition. From that time on, I started my work with the Toudeh Party in Isfahan. I was twenty at that time and had finished university and had been working as a teacher in the village of Ghanaviyeh, a subsidiary of Mobarakeh (in Isfahan province).

The revolution happened. I was in Ghahnaviyeh when the protests of the teachers and the demonstrations started. We took part in the demonstrations and the protests and organized the teachers’ demonstrations. I remember that it was the beginning of the revolution and I had thirteen classes of primary education that I used to teach in the villages in addition to my own work. On the Tudeh Party establishment’s side, I was responsible for the division of the cities. I also was responsible for advertising for the women’s coalition and was responsible for the division in one of the party’s areas.

Our house was identified. I was constantly arrested [while selling publications and doing activities]. We were famous in the neighborhood. This was how the super religious forces became sensitive about us. One day they broke the windows to the car. The next day they slashed the tires. This was how they showed their opposition to us.

I had my goings and comings until one Monday it happened. It was April 10, 1982. At the time, veiling and other such things had not become prominent.

I don’t recall when hijab became mandatory in schools and work place but I think it was not until 1983 when it became a law. I only kept my hijab in my place of work and if I was going to a government office such as a ministry and other government centers where they would not allow you entry without a hijab. All other times, when I was going to a friend’s house or such, I would try and go without a hijab; I have forcing and being forced! I remember that I was wearing a dark grey circle skirt and a pink button up shirt. I used to have very long hair down to my hips that I had recently cut short. I was returning home. It was dusk and was getting darker. There were dark grey clouds in the sky that made it even darker. Our ally was long and our house was well inside the ally. I passed a Tee in the road and before I got to the next intersection where there was a play ground, headlights of a car shone on me from behind. Before the car gets to me, it came to a screeching halt that filled me with a sense of insecurity. I shook off the fear and didn’t allow myself to get scared. I continued to walk when they called my name. They said, “Stop!” when I stopped, one of them said to me, “we are coming from the Komiteh, you have to come with us.” I asked them what their business was with me. it was around the same time when they were announcing that if someone wanted to arrest you, ask them to show you their ID cards. He said that we should go to the light. Because the war was going on at that time, the lights would turn off after a certain hour and the only light around us was that of a store. He said, “Let’s go there and I’ll show you.” Before I could move I felt a pain in my neck and then they threw me in the back of the car. Two people were sitting there and one person in the front. One of them put his feet around where my neck was and the other put it on my legs. I could see their face as well as the drivers’ face in the dim light. I couldn’t see them clearly but I could certainly recognize them. Later on I even thought that I saw one of them, the one in the front, somewhere.

Then, I noticed that the rout they were taking would in no way end in a Komiteh. We lived off of Apadana 1. From there they turned into Apadana 2. Back then the whole street had not been built yet and was kind of barren at the end. It was then that I realized they were not going to Komiteh. I had guessed certain things from their actions—one of them pushed his boots under my skirt—but I didn’t want to believe it. I tried not to think of it.

It got fully dark outside. Where we went the ground was really hard. When they harassed me I tried to dig the earth but all I got was a few pebbles. They took turn doing their business. Initially I screamed and yelled a bit but when I did that they insulted me more. They said things like “you guys share women anyway. Isn’t this what you want?” this was why I didn’t say anything later on. I counted; I pressed my teeth waiting for them to be finished. I closed my eyes and continued to count. I remember that I was stuck on the number nine. I don’t know why I couldn’t move past it. I would count to nine and start over. I still have the same habit. For example when I go to the bathroom I count the tiles; when I walk on the balcony I count my steps. Whenever I walk up or done the stairs I count the steps I take. I usually count my steps whenever I go for a walk. When I catch myself I stop. I think this counting has remained for me form that time. Specially that whenever I encounter a problem, I start counting.

One thing that comforted me was that I was certain they would not keep me alive after they were finished with me. So I was waiting for them to be done and then kill me.

Before this incident I was a loud and happy person. I like dancing and giggling and wearing stylish clothes. I never faced violence at home. We had a regular family. I had not encountered violence until that moment. This incident was the first thing I encountered in life and it affected me deeply. I don’t recall laughing whole heartedly after that incident. I don’t remember it at all. Maybe I would laugh but it didn’t mean happiness. I was belittled greatly. This feeling of degradation bothered me a lot and continues to scar me even today.

Aside from the degradation, I felt a lot of pain. It wasn’t just them. I felt that they shoved whatever they could get their hands on inside me…

There were two houses in front of our house. They dropped me in front of a large door that they had for entering cars in the yard. They left. First I didn’t realized where I was but in a little bit of time, my eyes got used to the darkness and my head stopped spinning. I pulled myself and sat in the kitty corner of the walls. There I regain some of my consciousness. I don’t know how long it took and what happened in the meanwhile. I felt a great deal of pain in my belly and was bent over for a long time. Aside from feeling dumbfounded, the pain was also ringing in my head and wouldn’t allow me to get myself together properly and think of another thing. All I remember is that when I entered the house, everyone was sleeping. All the lights were out. When I opened the door to enter the hallway, I heard my mother say, “Honey, where have you been?” I said that I was at a friends’ house and that that person’s father brought me home. My mother said that I should have stayed there and not come home. I went to the bathroom and started washing myself with a loofa and the pumice stone. My tears started falling. I don’t recall crying until that moment. There, under the shower, I started crying. Next morning I saw black stains on my cheeks and chin and noticed that the collar of the shirt I was wearing was torn. I don’t know if my mother realized what had happened to me from the stains and my emotional state but if she did, she never said anything to me.

I no longer felt safe. Whatever I saw on the way or whenever something happened, I thought it was related to me. For this reason, I spoke to the party and told them that I don’t want to do political work anymore. [My establishment officer called on me[2]] and talked to me and I cried nonstop. I told him. He said that we couldn’t let this go so easily. He said that a criminal matter had taken place and that we should file a complaint. At the time I couldn’t think straight and thought that this matter had to take place. He was older than me and I respected him. So when he said it I didn’t object to it. I agreed because I was confused. While we were talking, he dealt a blow to me as well. He asked me if I was pregnant. It was the first time that I had thought about that matter. You can’t imagine how I felt. Suddenly I realized that I couldn’t remember when I got my period. The introversion and indifferent intensified. I didn’t want to tell anyone, my mother or anybody else. In truth I didn’t know how to tell her. I couldn’t see her break and crumble. So I got an appointment from a doctor in Shamsabadi Street. When the doctor wanted to examine me I was holding myself so tight that the doctor was not able to do anything. Doctor told me to go home and told the secretary to return my money. The examination didn’t happen. While I lay on the examination bed, I bit my hand so frequently and hard that when I was told to leave my hand was black with bruises.

I would start crying uncontrollably. For example if I was combing my hair in front of the mirror, suddenly my tears would start flowing. I had changed. I attempted suicide a few times too.

One of those times was when I thought I could be pregnant. But then I got my period and realized that I was not. Sometimes I wanted to stab myself in the stomach with a knife. This happened frequently. Every time, a force stopped me from doing that. I wondered what my mother would do, or my sisters… there were other thoughts too. On the other hands there was a force calling me to stab myself.

So my party officer said such to me but later he said nothing of the follow up or complaint. He said that they will go and speak to the Komiteh people themselves. He said that he had spoken to Zavarreh-ee and told him what had happened. They had said that it was not the first time that something like that had happened in Isfahan and they had three such cases. Apparently one of them was a girl supporter ofRah-e Kargar and another had gone mad. This is what I recall from my conversation with my officer. They had offered some solutions too. Like they had said that I should go to the Komiteh and look at photos of the members of the Komiteh and identify the ones who did that to me but then rebutted it by saying that they couldn’t expose all their members to me for the purpose of identification. They finally said that I should file a complaint at the police office and they follow it up.

At the same time Abbas[3] proposed to me. I said that I don’t want to marry anyone. He said that if it is due to that incident, he doesn’t care. This really hurt my feelings because I thought that other than my officer no one knew about the incident. How come he knew? Later I found out that [my officer had told my brother-in-law] and my brother-in-law had told Abbas. He said to me that Abbas told him about his impending proposal and he said to Abbas that if he wanted me he needs to know that such a thing had happened to me. He said that he told Abbas because he wanted to know what his reaction would be but Abbas had said that he really loved me and he now respected me even more because he thought that this matter was akin to being lashed.

I told Abbas that he had to have a lot of patience with me. In truth, for a long time, sexual relation was like a nightmare to me and it never became normal. To me, Abbas was always a friend, a comrade, a doctor and everything else combined. He really helped me later in life. [When we had a baby,] I took care of the baby very well. I changed her and did other duties and put cute clothes on her. But I never enjoyed the laughter and playing of my daughter the way I should have. I was always introverted and never felt happy from the depth of my heart.

When we got married, the second group of the party’s leadership[4] was arrested and we became homeless. We went to Bandar Abbas and then came to Tehran and lived in hiding. From 1983 to 1986 we lived in hiding. On July 31, 1986, someone knocked on our door. I looked from the window and saw the shoulders of a group of men. I asked Abbas who they could be and he said that he didn’t know. Abbas opened the door to see who they were and saw that they were inside the yard and in the hallway. There was 2-3 of them. They came and arrest Abbas and took me and the children with them. My daughter was 2 years and five months old and my son had just entered his fourth month of life.

When they arrested me I was with two children. My husband was taken but my entire fear was that the incident would repeat itself for me. Later, they did not encounter me as a political activist for a long time. I never said that I was political and Abbas used to say that his wife—me—had mental problems and didn’t do political work.

On September 27, they arrested my brother in law. They showed him to me inside the joint committee. My interrogator told me to collect me stuff. When I did and came inside the stairs they kept me there waiting for another person so arrive and I saw that Abbas had collected his things to. He was holding a blanket. Towards the end of October they took Abbas and I to Isfahan.

After they arrested my brother-in-law, they took my children and gave them to my mother. The kids were with me for around 2.5 months. In the beginning I didn’t have milk for my son. My milk had dried up and there was a food shortage. My son was just three months old. They didn’t allow me to take a bottle for him either. They told me that I was to be released and that they only had a few question. Without any milk, my son’s circumcision scab infected and the kid had bloody diarrhea; I had a lot of problems.

When they took the kids, I was a bit relieved. When they took me to Isfahan the interrogators told me that they knew I was violated. That was the word they used—ta’adi, violate. They said that I should write down what had happened.  When they took Abbas and I and kept us in a sort of a hallway that was closed in by blankets at the entrance.

First, they threatened me a lot as if to bombard me. One would be replaced with the other. Before this one would leave the other would come and ask if I was involved with this person or that person. I kept denying. They would come back again and say that so and so had written that I was involved with them. They were trying to tell me that I am a prostitute. Then they placed me with Abbas. The threats were to tell me that I was a slut and because I wanted to marry and didn’t want to cop out that I had relations with others, I blamed them for it. When they placed me with Abbas, I told him that they had said such things to me. I cried and Abbas said to me that they had told him the same things. He said that they had put 120 confessions about me in front of him and said that they had been made about me. They had told Abbas to tell me to write about my issues and be released. I said that I would not do that. Abbas asked why I wouldn’t. I said that I didn’t see the logic in making my life a point of arbitration. “An injustice has been done to me and now they want me to write such things?” further, they had told Abbas the issues and had not considered me worthy to tell me directly. They had told Abbas that I should recant the complaint that I had filed and then they would release me. Abbas asked them what guarantee they will give about releasing me and they had said that they will not give any. They had said that I should not discuss the issue of rape in the court and take it off of my case file. But I was not taken to court at all for me to even bring it up. I was released in February of 86 in the investigative stages but Abbas was kept until 1988 when he was executed.

Later on, they crushed me a lot about this issue, asking me who I was with sexually and what I do. Who my lovers are and how I satisfy myself since my husband was gone. I always said that this was a thing that happened to me and they were trying to make me seem like the guilty party! They were always trying to say that I was a slut and in relations with different people.

In 1992, they started summoning again. Each time it was for a different excuse. Or they wanted me to do something for them, which I refused. They threatened that they will take my kids from me by creating a case file that suggested that I do not possess proper moral quality. They summoned me on a daily basis.

In 1994, they summoned me again to the intelligence office. They asked me to take my son and I did. Then I realized I could no longer handle it. Three days after that I left the country.

[1] Navid Group was one of the largest affiliate groups to the Toudeh Party of Iran that was formed in the 1970’s. The group published a self titled publication between 1975 and 1977.  The archive of this publication is available at http://www.rahetudeh.com/rahetude/Navid/Navid.html.

[2] This individual who shall remain anonymous currently resides in Europe.

[3] Abbasali Monshi Roudsari, member of the Fedaian Khalq Organizaiton (Majority) was arrested in 1986 and killed during the mass prison execution of the political prisoners in the summer of 1988. For more information about him, see http://www.iranrights.org/farsi/memorial-case–5224.php.

[4] This would be the Toudeh Party’s leaders.