The Interrogation of Navid Khanjani
(CHRR, 3 June 2010) — Navid Khanjani is a founding member of PCED as well as a member of CHRR. He has been banned from continuing his university education because of his Baha’i faith. Khanjani was arrested in Isfahan on March 2, 2010, before being moved to Tehran a day later, where he was placed in Ward 2A of the IRGC run Evin Prison. On May 3, 2010, Khanjani was released from Evin Prison after posting bail. The following is the English translation of an interview with Navid Khanjani conducted by PCED, where he explains in detail the illegal and inhumane interrogation methods that were used by intelligence authorities and the IRGC to force him into making televised confessions. Editor note:
CHRR stands for: Committee of Human Rights Reporters, an Iranian human rights group PCED stands for: Population of Combat against Educational Discrimination, an Iranian advocacy group defending educational rights HRA-Iran stands for Human Rights Activists in Iran, an Iranian human rights group First of all, Mr. Khanjani, were you ever indicted during your detention, and, if so, could you elaborate on the charges that were leveled against you?
Yes, I was indicted 3 days after my arrest. I was arrested on March 2, and on March 5, I was taken before Mr. Kiamanesh at the 3rd unit of the Evin magistrate court. I was indicted for anti-regime propaganda activities, anti-national security actions through active membership in human rights groups (HRA-Iran), and having ties to the MKO through the intermediary of HRA-Iran.
You said “active membership in human rights groups”, mentioning HRA-Iran specifically. Were you a member of that group?
No, and this is what makes my indictment interesting. Presently, I am not a member of that group nor do I have any collaboration with them whatsoever. It has been nearly 10 months since I worked for that group or had any contact with them. My activities with them prior to my separation were limited to advocacy for the rights of those who have been deprived of education, me included. As I mentioned before, I separated from them about 10 months ago, and wrote about it in detail on my blog and other articles that have been published. Currently, I am a member of PCED and CHRR.
So you were not charged as a member of the CHRR or the PCED?
On the indictment, there was no mention of CHRR or PCED; however, as my interrogations continued at Ward 2A of Evin, the majority of the questioning was regarding CHRR, PCED, and my activities for educational rights. What struck me as interesting during my detention was the fact that the IRGC was completely unaware that I was not a member of HRA-Iran, have not had any contact with them for 10 months, and have written about my separation on my blog. Or perhaps they knew about it, but my arrest was made with other objectives in mind.
You said other objectives. Can you clarify?
Look, on the same day I was arrested by the IRGC’s intelligence unit, a large number of human rights activists were also detained, including Behzad Mehrani, Mahboubeh Karami, Hesam Firoozi, Abolfazl Abedini, Nasour Naghipour and others. Not all the arrests were made by the IRGC’s intelligence unit. For example, Behzad Mehrani was arrested by the Intelligence Ministry and taken to Ward 209 of Evin. Therefore, through the arrests related to the HRA-Iran case, you can see an obvious rivalry between the IRGC and the Intelligence Ministry. Let me explain the matter further for your readers. I was a member of the CHRR, and at the time of my arrest, 6 other CHRR members, Shiva Nazar Ahari, Kouhyar Goodarzi, Saeed Kalanaki, Saeed Jalalifar, Saeed Ha’eri and Mehrdad Rahimi were already detained at Ward 209 of Evin. The CHRR case was being handled by the Intelligence Ministry, and other members, including me, Saeed Habibi, Hesam Misaghi, Parisa Kakaee, Ali Kalaee and Sepehr Atefi had either just been arrested, were out on bail, or had been summoned and threatened with arrest. The Intelligence Ministry was trying to put an end to the activities of the CHRR and shut down its website. On the other hand, the HRA-Iran case was being handled by the IRGC’s intelligence unit; therefore, my arrest by the IRGC can be qualified as an act of settling scores.
Settling scores with the Intelligence Ministry? Do you believe that, in addition to the lack of coordination between the IRGC and the Intelligence Ministry, there are disagreements between the two groups as well?
Look, I won’t comment on whether there are any differences; I can only talk about what I witnessed. There are also some points that I cannot talk about, as I am currently out on bail. I have yet to present my final defense before an upcoming court. Therefore, let me start by saying that, a few hours after Behzad Mehrani was arrested at his home by agents from the Intelligence Ministry and taken to Rajai-Shahr Prison, IRGC agents went to his house, where they realized that he had already been taken into custody by the Intelligence Ministry. In my case, the same thing happened, but it was the IRGC that had arrested me. I was later told by the IRGC interrogators that, 2 hours after they had arrest me, agents from the Intelligence Ministry had gone to my house to arrest me, realizing then that I had already been taken in by the IRGC. Let me bring to your attention the preliminary reports published by the Gerdab website (which has close ties to the IRGC) and a number of other newspapers during my detention. Please note that in all those reports I was accused of membership and cooperation with HRA-Iran, and that there is no mention of CHRR. Now, please note a report titled “IRGC Cyber war against groups actively working in the destabilization project” which was published later, on March 24, by Farsnews, Gerdab, and some newspapers such as Ebtekar. The report named 3 groups: CHRR, HRA-Iran and the Center of Defenders of Human rights. Additionally, it listed me as one of the 10 members of the CHRR central board, and not as an HRA-Iran member. On March 25, I was named again as a CHRR member in another report. Therefore, the charges on my indictment are in contradiction with the reports published by the state and IRGC media.
Mr. Khanjani, during your detention in Ward 2A, were you ever placed in solitary confinement, and, if so, can you tell us for how long and under what conditions?
Yes, I arrived at Evin’s Ward 2A on March 3, where I remained in solitary confinement until March 26. During that time, my cell was changed on 2 occasions. The first solitary cell was very small and did not have a toilet.
I was moved to another cell that had washroom facilities after I went on a hunger strike to protest my unlawful detention and the deplorable conditions of the cell. Between March 26 and May 3, I was held in a cell which I shared with 2 other prisoners, Ighan Shahidi and Sama Nourani, both of whom are Baha’is who have been deprived of a university education. I have to emphasize that my hunger strike was not only in protest to the conditions in the solitary cell, but I also wanted all my rights as an accused to be respected; it was in protest to the first day of my interrogation, during which I was blindfolded and beaten; it was in protest to my beating by the Ward 2A IRGC guard, as well as the deplorable conditions of my solitary cell. I wanted to be allowed to call my family and tell them that I was being held in Evin. On the second day of my hunger strike, my condition deteriorated, and I was taken to the infirmary. I ended my hunger strike, following the advice of the doctor and the officer on duty. Eventually, all my demands were met, and I was allowed regular phone calls. I was also moved to another cell, and my interrogator was replaced with someone who treated me in an acceptable way and conducted the sessions without blindfolding me.
Overall, I achieved my goals, and my rights as an accused were largely respected from there on.
You talked about beatings. Can you elaborate on these beatings during the detention? Do you believe that you were tortured?
Regarding the beatings, I have to say that, on the first day of my interrogation, I was beaten, insulted and cursed by the interrogators while I was blindfolded. I received blows to my shins and sides. The same day, I was severely beaten by one the guards, who pounded my head against the wall and tried to strangulate me. Later on, after my interrogator was replaced, the beatings stopped and I was treated acceptably by the new interrogator and the guards. With the exception of the guard who beat me the day of my arrival, the rest of them acted reasonably legally. Then, in mid-April, they started talking about a TV documentary and asked us to speak in front of a camera. My 2 cellmates and I refused to comply. I was assaulted in the prison yard later for not appearing before a camera and was told that I would be spending the next 6 months in solitary confinement. As to your question about whether I believe that I was tortured during my detention, I have to say that torture is not strictly physical; often, psychological torture is far worse. I have described my treatment and the events, and it is up to your readers to draw their own conclusions.
You mentioned that you were being forced to appear in a TV documentary. Can you clarify?
Even before there was talk about appearing in the TV documentary, I had told my interrogator not to even mention it, as I would never sit or talk in front of a camera. My interrogator, however, kept insisting that everyone must appear and talk in front a camera, that this was part of the normal procedures and that the films of our remarks would not be broadcast on television. I, for my part, kept refusing and told him that I had given written answers to all their questions, and, therefore, would never say anything in front of a camera that could be later used against us in TV and other programs, as was the case with the Ashura detainees. It was in mid-April that they came to our cell and gave us (myself and my 2 cellmates, Ighan and Sama) a haircut and shaved our beards. The whole episode alarmed us as we knew about the TV interviews. 2 days later, we were taken out of our cell in the morning. I was taken into an interrogation room they called the “Glass Room”. I could not see the interrogator and was facing a mirror, but he could see me. There was an individual who introduced himself as a representative of the prosecutor and said that he was there to review and process my file. I became suspicious, and unlike other interrogation sessions where I used to remove my blindfold, I put my blindfold on. They reacted by saying, “Remove your blindfold; we want to see your face.” At that point I was certain that my doubts were true and told them, “You have placed a camera on the other side, and, under these circumstances, I refuse to talk. If you have any questions, come to this side so we can speak and I can answer your questions.” They kept trying for a while to make me speak, but when they saw that their efforts were to no avail, they said that I would be in trouble and my case would be marked as incomplete.
I answered that I had no problem with that, at which point they started to act more openly. I was taken to another interrogation room which was located on the floor above, where I saw what I was expecting to see: It was a clean, furnished room and there was a camera in front of a red chair. The backdrop was comprised of curtains and other fabrics.
They gave me a T-shirt to put on, taking away my prison uniform, and said, “Now you have to answer our questions.” I did not say a word in response to their questions. When they saw that their efforts were yet again to no avail, they took me out of the room. I was then escorted to the prison yard, where someone called out my name, saying,”Khanjani, go and stand next to Nourani and face the wall.” I had my blindfold on, and therefore could not see anything while I was standing next to Sama Nourani. Then, all of a sudden, I felt that I was being choked.
Someone was trying to strangulate me. When I started to asphyxiate, he then pounded my head against the wall. When he was lifting me back up, I could see Sama’s hands angrily curling up into a fist. After they lifted me up, they started cursing and slapping me. Their loud voices were increasingly upsetting Sama. They said, “You 4 kids have come here to resist? We have broken people far bigger than you, like those 7 Baha’is (he was referring to the 7 Baha’i leaders). Compared to them, you are nothing.” They told Sama and me, “Both of you will be in solitary for the next 6 months to learn your lesson.” They told me, “We were listening to you train these two on how (Sama & Ighan) to act. You have incited them not to speak in front of a camera.” During that time, the only thing I did was to laugh, as he kept beating and insulting me. Finally, in contrary to what they had promised, I was not taken to solitary confinement, but to my cell with Ighan and Sama. The entire TV interview charade was never mentioned again, and my interrogator was very upset when he learned about my beating. He asked me about it and promised to follow up and reprimand the person who was responsible for it. He said that he did not know about it and regretted that it had happened.