Iranians held at a Ministry of Intelligence detention center after the November 2019 protests were given psychoactive drugs and shut in a room resembling a grave in a bid to make them “confess”, an insider has claimed.
Speaking at the Aban Tribunal in London on Wednesday with his face and voice obscured, Witness 185 was introduced as a relative of a high-ranking religious figure in the Islamic Republic. In an official capacity, he had joined inspection tours of facilities run by the intelligence services and the IRGC shortly after demonstrations in his city were violently suppressed under cover of an internet blackout.
“We went to inspect the individuals who were arrested,” he said. “The prisoners were in a very bad situation, mentally and physically. They were given some pills, medication; for hours, days, they didn’t know if it was day or night because of the psychedelic pills they were given, so that they wouldn’t object later on. The head of the prison showed them to us. They did this so that they could say everything in the city was under control.”
Prisoners in the intelligence detention center, Witness 185 said, were made to walk backwards out of their cells, cuffed and with their legs in shackles, into interrogation rooms. From there, speakers “broadcast the sounds of torture”.
Some detainees were also taken into a darkened “suite” where they were told they were going to repent. “The suite was a black environment, similar to a grave. They [prison guards] were giving out Qurans and dates: trying to give the impression that individuals were going through their own funerals. They were kept there until they confessed.
“Some of them were students. Educated individuals. Until the day of my death, I don’t think I will forget those days.”
Hired Thugs, Bloodlust and a Death Toll Kept Secret
Witness 185 also told the Aban Tribunal he was close to his city’s Friday Imam, and had been privy to confidential information about how local officials handled the protests. Police and security forces, he claimed, had uniformly received the equivalent of a “shoot to kill” order.
In his city, “scattered” demonstrations had reportedly broken out on Saturday, November 15, but intensified sharply on Sunday during the internet shutdown after Ayatollah Khamenei admitted he was “not an expert” in petrol prices: the catalyst for the first protests.
“This led the city to erupt,” the witness said. Enraged citizens reportedly burned down banks, gas stations and even police stations while police used “cold weapons” in response and the Imam Ali Brigade, a volunteer paramilitary arm of the Basij, was drafted in to restore order. “They had written orders to fire at people if they couldn’t control them.” The regime’s notorious plainclothes “thugs” – conscripts from the criminal justice system, groomed by the regime to attack civilians – were also injuring protesters in his city with knives and chains, he said. The order to use them had come from Tehran and Qom via the clergy.
At an emergency meeting with the governor and local IRGC commander, he said, the Friday Imam told them: “Wrap up the protests, do whatever to get them to go home, if you have to shed blood, do it. I’ll take responsibility. The Leader’s upset, we should wrap up the situation.” He added that the initial order to do such a thing could only have come from Tehran, but declined to name the source in a public hearing.
Local jurisprudents, he said, had over-zealously applied the demands of Iran’s most senior leadership. “The religious agent I was in contact with even said, ‘Hopefully we won’t have a ceasefire; we’re going to shed blood.’ When an order comes from higher up, they implement it forcefully. They believe there’s a religious duty to protect the establishment.
“There’s a proverb in Persian: if they say ‘Bring me a head and an arm’, the person brings the arm and head together. The lower-level authorities will face problems if they don’t obey [an order]. But it would be at their discretion not to give tablets to people. It would be at their discretion not to torture people so much. When the orders come, these things happen. They don’t feel any guilt.”
In his city alone, Witness 185 said he was informed that the the official but unpublished number of people killed by the end of the protests was 120. “If you consider the same [figure] for the whole of the country, it would be huge.”