The Day They Arrested My Father

Majalla Editor’s Personal Experience with the Iranian Intelligence Service

When I was asked by the Editorial Board of Majalla to write about my personal experience and what happened to me and my family when my father, the political activist and researcher Yusuf Azizi, was arrested, I felt all the painful memories of those days suddenly return to me. It was if today is the day when the security forces of the Ministry of Intelligence took my father to the car from our house (located in Yusufabad district in Tehran) in front of my and my mother's eyes. I remained looking at my mother in disbelief at what had just happened. How hard those days were. This experience is not limited to me, thousands of families of political prisoners and detainees in Iran have lived and continue to experience similar and much more difficult circumstances. The day of my father's arrest is still engraved in my memory ever since. The authorities arrested my father on April 25, 2005. My father made a speech at the office of the Association of Human Rights Defenders in Iran, and Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was then president of the center. My father was invited by several members to speak about the suppression by the authorities of the demonstrations carried out by the Arabs of Ahwaz on 15 April 2005.
                                                   
The story began with a letter leaked by Mohamed Ali Abtahi, director of the office of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, published by some Ahwaz websites in the same year. The letter was signed in 1988, the second year of Khatami's rule.
 
The letter, which was later known as the Abtahi message, pointed to the need to change the demographic composition of the Ahwazi Arabs over the next 10 years so that Arabs become to the minority in the region.
 
A number of Arab citizens gathered in the city of Ahwaz in the Daira district on April 15, 2005 and staged demonstrations near the governor's headquarters to express their rejection of the message. The demonstrators marched peacefully but police opened fire on them, killing dozens of people. There are no accurate statistics on Ahwazi Arabs killed by the authorities.
 
In the following days, the demonstrations expanded to include other cities in the province, thus turning the demonstrations into a popular uprising. My father returned home at 1:00pm accompanied by an Arab Ahwazi journalist.
 
My mother was preparing the table for lunch at about 2pm. The bell rang. I could see people knocking through the video intercom and saw a man carrying a post bag.
 
This period was full of arrests and I was always worried that my father had been subjected to an assassination or arrest by the authorities. I felt a strange fear. I asked the man who he was and he said he was a postman. I was very scared because we were not expecting any post. My father was in his room and the Ahwazi journalist was in the main room.
My mother did not trust what the man said. We were on the ground floor and my mother got up and opened the main door of the housing complex to ask what was going on. I was watching and listening through the video intercom. When my mother opened the door, several plainclothes security men stood in front of her and prevented her from closing the door. I realized what was happening and told my father that the security men had come to arrest him. My father came out of his room and when he saw my pale, frightened face he tried to reassure me. I was in the last year of my university and that it was exam season. My father told me, “calm down, nothing happened.”
 
In the meantime, my mother opened the door and said that there were many of them and they had come to arrest your father. My mother told the security men to give her a few minutes to prepare me psychologically for this shocking news and that I would be traumatized if they suddenly stormed the house. I was very frightened during those moments and I thought about every possible scenario within in a few seconds. If they took my father with them and arrested him, what would happen to him in prison? Would they kill him? What if I can never see him again? What if they torture him in prison?
 
Suddenly I heard my mother say they came to arrest your father and that should not see the Ahwazi young man at home or else they will take him too. Things were happening quickly. We did not have a chance to think as any search for an explanation could lead to another calamity. The most important thing is to think about the young Ahwazi man.
 
Our house was on the ground floor and had two doors overlooking two streets, Lalah Street (Yusufabad district) and Nistern alley. My mother quickly gave the young Ahwazi man his shoes and the key to the back door to escape. It was as if I were watching a film and I could not believe it was happening to me.
 
I have heard and read a lot about arrests of intellectuals, writers and activists, but I am now at the heart of the event. My heart was beating rapidly and I was hoping that the young Ahwaz would leave through the back door safely and escape. He fled at lightning speed. All of these events occurred in only two or three minutes.
 
The security men came to the door of our apartment and knocked on the door for a minute. My mother opened the door to them and suddenly I saw 8 men from the Ministry of Intelligence dressed in civilian clothes storm the house. I sat on the couch because I was trembling but I did not know whether I was shaking from the cold or fear. I still remember all their faces, one by one.
 
The prayer mark was visible on the forehead of one of them and I could see a Colt's pistol on his belt through his shirt. The second man was holding a camera and took pictures of every corner of the house. The security man, who rang the doorbell at beginning, said they had come to arrest my dad.
 
Then three or four of them went to my father’s room and searched everything in the room. In those moments I sat in the main room and looked at them in astonishment, confusion and worry. I was looking at people whose daily task it was to knock on the doors of activists and intellectuals, storm houses and terrorize unarmed civilians and their families. And I was thinking that they would definitely wake up tomorrow and another house and another family will be exposed to the same scene that we are facing today. Not a day went by in this country where we did not hear of the arrest of an activist, a writer, an intellectual or a student.
 
Our house had 3 bedrooms and one of them was searching my room and the another was searching my brother’s room who was studying at a university in Lebanon. They scattered everything in my father's room. They left nothing its place and they took his hard drive with them.
 
My mother argued with them the whole time and told them not to touch books or the CDs in mine and my brother’s rooms. One of them was searching in my brother's room and he said mockingly to my mother, "Do you have news from him (my brother) in Lebanon? How is he?”.  I realized that they were watching our every step and movement and even my brother in Lebanon.
 




A young Iranian woman holds pictures of journalists during a gathering at Amir Kabir University in Tehran. (Getty Images)

 


 
Suddenly I felt a terrible fear that they would do something to my brother. I always noticed a parked car with one or two men in front of the residential compound where we lived or a little farther. I was sure that the house was monitored. I was very scared at first and I was afraid to leave the house because I did not want to see that car but I became used to it and it became part of our daily lives. We had to live our lives and I had to go to university and go out every day. There are a lot of Iranian citizens who live under similar circumstances.
 
Let's go back to the events of my father's arrest. My mother argued with them and even said to them mockingly, “Please have lunch.” One of them replied, “No thanks. You and Mr. Aziz can have lunch.” My mother replied, "We lost our appetite when you came." They searched the whole house and confiscated about 40 or 50 family videotapes CDs. We had a satellite dish and a receiver.
 
Iranian authorities have banned them and police storm houses that set up receivers and satellite dishes. The security man said that we have not confiscated your receiver this time because we respect you!! But next time you must throw it in the trash. It was 4 pm and the operation took about two hours. They cut our telephone lines.
 
After they confirmed that they had confiscated everything possible, even the phone book, they asked my mother to give them garbage bags to fill with books and they filled 9 large bags. My father left before my eyes.
 
A few minutes later I heard the bell of the house again and it was my father. He wanted to take his pills with him because he was suffering from a very bad cold. My father hugged me farewell and told us to take care of ourselves, to be strong and not fear anything and he left.
 
I was still in shock and tears were in my eyes but my mother told me not to cry and we must be strong to get him out of prison. After an hour or two of his arrest, several cultural and political figures, including the late poet and writer Simine Behbehani, began calling us expressing their support and solidarity.
 
My mother spoke with the BBC Persian radio station moments after my father was arrested from our neighbor's house. Many radio stations, Persian television stations and Al Arabiya channel contacted my mother inquiring about my father’s arrest. We did not know where he was detained as they did not tell us. I promised myself that I would be strong after my father was arrested and I sat my final year university exams in Arabic language and Literature under difficult psychological conditions.
 
My father was held in Karoun prison in Ahvaz for 65 days and this period was full of anxiety and fear for my father's fate. The security men exerted great psychological pressure on us by making telephone calls. A man from the Ministry of Intelligence called a few hours after my father was arrested and threatened to jail my mother if she did not stop interviewing with Arab and Persian television stations and channels and insulted her.
 
The security men exerted great psychological pressure on us by calling us on the phone. A man from the Ministry of Intelligence called a few hours after my father was arrested and threatened to jail my mother threatened if she did not stop interviewing Arab and Persian television stations and insulted her.
 
My mother and I met my father at an intelligence center in Ahvaz two weeks before his release and he smiled when he saw us, but he was very skinny. The meeting was only 15 minutes and we were accompanied by two armed men from the center who were stood behind us.
 
I was very sad after meeting him but at the same time I was delighted because he was still alive. The authorities released him on 28 June on a 100 million Toman bail which was the price of our house as the amount was substantial at the time.
 
This painful event opened the door to other sad and painful events in my life, such as being prevented from completing my master’s degree by the security authorities, the arrest of my brother and my arduous journey on a death boat to Europe.
 
 


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