On Wednesday, Davoud Rahmani, also known as “Haj Davoud,” the notorious former head of Iran’s Ghezelhesar Prison, died. During his career as a prison guard, he tortured and killed thousands of Iranians, mainly women, in accordance with the misogynist ideology of Iran’s criminal regime.
Haj Davoud was a blacksmith in southern Tehran. He was known in his neighborhood as a misogynist thug who tortured his sister. Rahmani soon joined Ruhollah Khomeini’s “club wielders,” harassing Iranians on the street and stifling any voice of dissent.
Thus, he rapidly rose through the regime’s ranks and became the deputy of Assadollah Lajavardi, Iran’s most brutal prison official and torturer in Evin prison. When Ghezelhesar prison was constructed in the early 1980s, Rahmani became its chief warden.
As the head of Ghezelhesar Prison, Rahmani used many forms of torture to break political prisoners, primarily female supporters of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Rahmani invented two inhumane torture methods known as the “residential units” and “cages” to break women. Many survivors of these tortures have shared their horrific memories.
Ms. Homa Jaberi is one of these survivors. In her memoirs, she writes: “The head of Ghezelhesar prison was a big fat man called ‘Haj Davoud.’ He was uneducated and was a real thug. They said he was a blacksmith or traded iron. Haj had brought his wife and three children to the prison and spent all his time in the prison.
“It seemed that Haj Davoud did not care about the prisoners’ charges. He categorized them in his own way and tortured them accordingly. He was sensitive about those who had colored eyes or wore glasses,” Ms. Jaberi adds.
Ms. Jaberi is one of the survivors of the residential units. During an international conference on July 19, 2019, she recounted some heart-wrenching memories.
“They kept us standing face against the wall for three days without any rest. We became delirious, had lost our balance, and kept falling on the floor. On the third day, I went unconscious,” she said, adding, “The situation in the Residential Unit was that the torturers were always with us in the same room and all night long.
“We were blindfolded and facing the wall, all the time. I was there for 40 days, but some of my friends were kept there for six months, or even more than a year. There was absolute silence; no one was allowed to make any noise. We got severely tortured for coughing or sneezing. We were not even allowed to scream under torture. If anyone screamed or cried out, the torture would get worse,” she added.
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Ms. Jaberi also said that “every command was accompanied by beating and lashes. The torturer used a heavy thick cable to whip. If he hit once, it meant that we could sleep for an hour after a few days.
“Another form of torture at the Residential Unit was psychological. For example, we had to curse ourselves in writing. We had to write insults against ourselves hundreds of times. Or we had to verbally insult ourselves,” Ms. Jaberi said.
“Haji told us you should hold on to the wall. He made us stand with open legs facing the walls. I saw him as he came back and kicked those facing the wall and hit their heads to the wall. He did so while laughing and saying didn’t I tell you to hold on to the wall?” Ms. Jaberi wrote.
Martyrs’ Museum in Ashraf 3
Many inmates lost their sanity due to these tortures. According to Ms. Jaberi, “Farangis Mohammad Rahimi, Shekar Mohammadzadeh, Ashraf Fadaii, and Tahmineh Sotoudeh were among those in the Residential Unit who lost their sanity and were executed in the 1988 massacre.”
Rahmani’s other original torture, the “cage,” was built with two boards of approximately 160 x 60 cm and 70 cm in height. Ms. Hengameh Hajhassan, a MEK member who survived this inhumane torture, detailed in her memoirs, “Face to Face with the Beast,” how Haj Davoud tortured them in cages and “coffins.”
Model of the “cage” in the Martyrs’ Museum in Ashraf 3
Model of the “cage” in the Martyrs’ Museum in Ashraf 3
The following are some excerpts of her book:
After having been interrogated and tortured again in the disciplinary blocks at Evin, these prisoners were sent to the first unit of Ghezelhessar, nicknamed “the cages.” Until then, everyone was ignorant of the existence of “the last judgment unit,” “the cages,” and the “residential units.”
Even in Ghezel, we didn’t know they existed. We only knew that there were places for punishment in the first unit and that men had been taken there, without any more details.
They took me to the right under the entrance door and left me in an empty room. I don’t know how long afterward they came to fetch me, and we went towards the corridor and the sub-units. At the entrance to the corridor, I must have gone into a room where a woman took me in hand. She made me sit down in a space between two upright boards 50 cm apart. It was hot and heavy, and it smelt like a bathroom. I still had the bandage over my eyes.
All around the room, by putting boards at every 50 cm, they had made numerous cages, about 80 or 90, and in each one of them, someone was sitting facing the wall. I tried to recognize the bags so as to know who was there.
Every day, they relayed to us the deafening singing of Ahangaran and other singers and sprayed us with war propaganda. The loudspeakers poured out news of the regime’s total victory at the front, of “good over evil.” As to the “educational program,” we were fortunately forbidden to go to it, but it was retransmitted to us through loudspeakers so that “we shouldn’t lose a crumb of it.”
The worst was to suffer from insomnia. There had come a time when the flood of thoughts like “there’s no hope that this will ever finish” prevented me from sleeping in spite of my fatigue. Yet, I waited impatiently for the moment when I could lie down and sleep. Whichever way I turned, I still saw that dark, endless tunnel without an opening in front of me. And suddenly dawn came, and another day began. Heavens, how could I endure that day with all this fatigue?
Iran’s 1988 Massacre: Testimony by MEK witness Hengameh Haji Hassan, Ashraf 3, Albania, 15 July 2019
Haji came every day to see if his system was working properly and to try to destroy us even more. “Nobody will come to your help,” he used to say sneeringly. “Your adored [MEK leader] Massoud isn’t there. Not unless you decide to turn into human beings.” In the torturer’s language, all words mean their opposite. “Deciding” meant “lowering your arms,” “turning into human beings” meant “turning into vultures, into spies, into traitors!”
Haji chose a few women from among us, took them outside, beat them black and blue, then asked them to recant. As to those on whom the spies had reported, he persecuted and tortured them right there in the cage. Sometimes, he came noiselessly and covered his victim with punches and kicks. One day, a violent noise rang out. At the same moment, we heard a stifled cry, then the sound of my neighbor’s head hitting the wall opposite her. Then we heard Haji spitting insults: “You still haven’t turned into a human being?!” he howled. But not a sound came from my neighbor any longer.
One day, I, too, was his prey. I suddenly felt a weight fall on my head, and I thought my neck was sinking into my ribcage. I felt dizzy, and my vision was fogged. Then I heard the groans of Haj Davoud being vituperative. He had surprised me by a blow on the head with his enormous fist.
I realized how cruel the enemy was and how much he hated us.
I felt that he wanted to crush me and make me inferior. And this feeling gave me a motive for resisting.
Ms. Azam Hajheydari also survived the cage. In her book, “The Price of Staying Human,” she describes the horrific situation she endured in Ghezelhesar prison’s cage and how Rahmani tortured her. She recalls Haj Davoud as saying, “It’s the day of the last judgment, either you come back to the right path, or you go to Hell.” Below are some excerpts of her book:
The cage section didn’t have the same structure as the others. Each part consisted of wide corridors with a vast room filled with perhaps two hundred ping-pong tables piled up to the ceiling. A year earlier, when we had been transferred from Evin to Ghezelhesar, they had first brought us into a room filled to the ceiling with ping-pong tables. We had joked about it with the girls, laughing: “Look! They’re going to make a games room for us! Nice!”
In the space between every two tables were the prisoners, crumpled up, their eyes perpetually bandaged. The cages were separated so that nobody could speak to anyone else. A traitress was on guard night and day over the length and breadth of the place, high and low, to check on the prisoners and make sure they didn’t speak to one another.
The first time they took us to make our ablutions and prayers, Haji Davoud was there. I knew that we had to remain with our eyes bandaged all the time and not move, but I asked Haji Davoud if I could have a Qur’an or a Nahj-ol-Balagheh.
All of a sudden, Haji’s oily laugh rang out: “You want the Qur’an and the Nahj-ol Balagheh? Here!” And he gave me what felt like a bludgeon strike on the head. “And now, what else do you want? Poor hypocrite! Go and think about your misfortune, as if you didn’t know where you’ve landed! Eh?”
I had elaborated a program according to which I knew at what time I had to sing, what I had to sing, and even what I had to think about. I realized that I was beginning to learn to use my brain and how to draw from it the things that were there and that I had forgotten.
In the cage, there was a law of complete silence. We had absolutely no right to speak. In case of need, we had to raise a hand and keep it in the air for as long as it took for the Pasdaran or the traitress to see it and choose the moment to come to us. And then the person approached and pressed their wretched mouth to the prisoner’s ear to say: “Speak softly!”
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If we spoke the slightest bit too loudly, blows rained down, and the guards reported that we had tried to communicate with another prisoner. In that case, it was Haji Davoud and Ahmad who came over to beat us violently on the head. They hit the prisoner’s face and head against the wall with the aim, as they admitted loud and clear, of bringing her to death’s door in order to cure her of the slightest wish to ask for anything. Before a meal was distributed, the guards gave me a blow on the head. That meant “eat.” However, most of the time, I was deprived of meals.
Haj Davoud, the torturer, went on with a ringing, oily laugh: “We’ll keep you here till you die. I’ll make you hope to leave here with the title of tortured Mojahedin. I shan’t let you become a heroine! I’m the champion, and I’m the one who’ll make the hypocrites bend.”
One day when the pain was drowning me, I was taken to the guards’ room and forced to stay standing for half a day. Then Haji Davoud came and shouted at me: “Come on, we’ll talk. You defend your ideas, and I’ll defend the imam. We’ll see which of us will convince the other.” Almost as soon as he had finished his sentence, I fell to the ground, being unable to stand any longer.
Some torturers and interrogators who were questioning prisoners came towards me: “You see how you’re dying, you wretch? You can’t even manage to stand up. How do you expect to resist or struggle? Who are you struggling for? Who do you want to die for? Think of yourself and your family for a bit! Look what you’ve done to yourself!” While that torturer was shouting his “advice” at me, I watched our martyrs, my companions in the struggle, filing past.
Thinking of them, I recovered some strength. I rose and held on firmly to the wall so as not to fall again. Noticing my gesture, Haji Davoud, very angrily, shouted to his men: “Leave her! Leave her standing so that she’ll die! But in fact, she’s a nice girl, don’t bother her too much!” It was like a coded message among them. From then on, every time a torturer came up to me to assault me sexually, he would say to me: “But you’re still the same nice girl!” Powerless, no longer able to react as before to those ignoble acts, I was often seized with convulsions. As they didn’t manage to make a Mojahedin woman break down, they had recourse to that bestial weapon.
For a long time, as if it had been my turn to be lashed, they came and pulled me by my chador, dragged me out of the room, without saying a word for fear of alerting the other prisoners in the cage section, and inflicted sexual assaults on me right behind the door. After spending several months, night and day, in the cage without letting anyone hear me cry under that pressure and those intolerable pains, those bestial acts weakened me.
One day I decided to attack with all my strength the first man who came up to me with that aim. I concentrated as hard as I could to hear the man who tried to approach. In spite of the blindfold over my eyes, I was able to glimpse a man arriving. Then I gave him the strongest kick I could. My reaction took him by surprise, especially as he had seen me fall a short while before. Then he gave me two or three kicks before going away, and I was taken back to my cage. I was at once full of joy and filled with shame at not having done the same thing sooner. Once again, I had learned a lesson: the torturer draws back when a prisoner takes the offensive.
An endless struggle
The aforementioned shocking prison memoirs are just a part of an ongoing struggle between two forces in Iran. On the one hand, we have the misogynist mullahs’ regime that goes beyond cruelty and is clearly inhumane. This regime, represented by thugs like Davoud Rahmani, leaves no boundary in harassing and assaulting prisoners, mainly women.
On the other hand, we see a democratic force that sacrifices everything for humanity and human values, and freedom of people. We see resistant MEK women who overcame fear, torture, sexual harassment, and other forms of torture. Many of them were eventually executed, but they defeated the beast by clinging to their ideals and resisting until their last breaths.
Davoud Rahmani died on Wednesday. He, among other regime criminal officials, and the regime as a whole will be remembered as criminals and advocates for an inhumane ideology that, in the name of Islam, committed the most horrific and brutal crimes against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. But on the other hand, the MEK, as a genuine Muslim organization with heroes and heroines like Azam, Homa, Hengameh, and those who gave their lives for freedom would always be remembered for their sacrifice and commitments for human values and their love for people and their freedom. They have become the source of inspiration for Iranian women, who have been playing a major role in Iran’s major uprisings in recent years.