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The Mysterious Death of a Kahrizak Doctor

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI in Los Angeles

25 Nov 2009 16:09Comments
IMAGE633515500213437500.jpg[ feature ] Iran has a long undistinguished history of prisons. The best-known is Evin prison, where hundreds of political prisoners were executed before, and thousands after, the 1979 revolution. Another infamous prison was Qasr [palace] in Tehran where long-term political prisoners were held before the Revolution; it was shut down after the revolution.

Then there were the provincial jails. Because of the harsh climate in certain provinces, certain political prisoners were banished there for punishment. Examples included the prisons in Borazjan [in the province of Bushehr in southern Iran], Gonabad [in the province of Southern Khorasan], and Zabol [in province of Sistan and Baluchestan, on the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan]. These three are still used to hold political prisoners.

After the 1979 Revolution, Evin preserved its infamy. But other prisons emerged as well and quickly became notorious for their harsh treatment of political prisoners. One such place was Prison 59, a jail in Eshratabad military base in central Tehran. It was run by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and fell outside the control of the judiciary. Many journalists and members of the opposition Nationalist-Religious Coalition were held and tortured there. After reformists dominated the elections for the 6th Majles (parliament) in February 2000, they revealed secrets about the prison that prompted the IRGC to close the jail. But the IRGC then just transferred the prison to a newly built part of Evin; it still reportedly falls outside the jurisdiction of the judiciary.

Evin prison itself has the notorious "Section 209," where well-known political prisoners are held and first interrogated. Many in this section are often held in solitary confinement. After their harsh interrogation, often accompanied by torture, political prisoners are transferred to the general section.

Another infamous prison is in Rajaei Shahr (also known as Gohar Dasht), near Karaj, a town about 50 km west of Tehran. Although common criminals are held there, some political prisoners, especially young university students, are also transferred there to humiliate them.

As a result of the rigged June 12 presidential election and its aftermath, a new detention center came to light: Kahrizak. This notorious detention center is on the southern edge of Tehran near Beshesht-e Zahra, Tehran's main cemetery. Kahrizak was apparently built in 2001, and used by the government as a temporary jail for drug addicts and traffickers, and other common criminals.

In 2007 Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan was appointed to the post of Tehran police chief. He and Brigadier General Esmail Ahmadi Moghaddam, the commander of the police forces (and brother-in-law of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), devised the so-called "Public Security Plan," which was supposed to target the so-called "thugs and louts" who endanger public morality. The "thugs and louts" were reportedly detained at Kahrizak.

It was in July 2007 that the first reports of harsh conditions at Kahrizak began to emerge. A report by the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR) stated that the detention center was actually underground. The detainees were not allowed to come outside for fresh air and sunlight. They could use the toilet only once a day, and were scarcely allowed to bathe. Their water ration was one glass per day. They were given only one meal a day, which often consisted of a baked potato and a piece of bread, or at most, a boiled egg. Several detainees are known to have died at Kahrizak from 2007 to 2008, but the exact number is not known.

There were reports that some university student activists had been arrested and held at Kahrizak. Maysam Lotfi, from the University of Tehran, was one such student. She had been arrested during demonstrations at the dormitories and given a death sentence; she was later transferred to Kahrizak. The CHRR report also stated that some detainees who had been released had reported that they had been beaten by "Lebanese agents" who were working for Iran's security forces.

There were also reports that when in 2003-2004 hundreds of al-Qaeda members had escaped to Iran, they had been arrested and held at Kahrizak [most of them have been repatriated to their country of origin]. There were also rumors that the infamous detention center had even been used by the Lebanese Hezbollah to hold its prisoners, away from the chaos of Lebanon. Even if such reports are not true or exaggerated, the very fact that they exist and widely circulate are indications of the macabre nature of Kahrizak.

38940_740.jpgAfter the June 12 election, many of the demonstrators who were arrested were taken to Kahrizak. The prison supposedly has a capacity of 50, but even General Ahmadi Moghaddam admitted that 140 prisoners had been held there. The order for sending them there was issued by Saeed Mortazavi, then the Tehran Prosecutor General. [Mortazavi has since been fired and his whereabouts are unclear.]

General Radan was personally in charge of the detainees at Kahrizak. There have been numerous reports of Radan personally beating many of the prisoners. Among the prisoners was Mohsen Ruholamini Najafabadi, a 25-year-old graduate student of computer engineering at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Tehran, and a supporter of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main reformist candidate.

Mohsen's father, Dr. Abdolhossein Ruholamini [a veterinarian], is a conservative politician who was a member of the Basij militia in his youth. He was a member of the campaign committee of Mohsen Rezaei, the conservative candidate in the June 12 election and Secretary General of the Expediency Council, a former top commander of the IRGC; and head of the Pasteur Institute.

His son, Mohsen, was arrested on July 9. His parents were told that he was in Evin and that he would be released soon. Two weeks later, his dead body was delivered to his parents. He had been held in Kahrizak, where he had been savagely tortured. His jaw had been broken and severe infections had developed in his wounds. Because the authorities had not allowed proper treatment to be given to him, the infection had spread, and eventually killed him. At least two other young people died there, although there has been a report suggesting that the number killed there was actually higher.

After the crimes at Kahrizah were revealed, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was forced to order its closure. As first reported by the author, the order was first resisted by Mortazavi and Radan, but they eventually complied. Later, Mortazavi denied that he had resisted the order, and attributed the delay to miscommunication between him and the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).

The physician working at Kahrizak was Dr. Ramin Pourandarjani, who was 26. He was born on June 9, 1983, in Tabriz in northwestern Iran. In 1994, at the age of 11, he was recognized as a gifted student and admitted to a school for advanced students. In 1996, at the age of 13, he won a national poetry competition. He graduated in 2001 and was admitted to medical school in Ardabil. He then was transferred to the medical school at the University of Tabriz, his hometown, graduating with distinction in 2008. He was fluent in both English and French.

As part of his two-year military service, he had been appointed to work with the Greater Tehran police. In March 2009 he was sent to the province of Sistan and Baluchestan for one month. After returning to Tehran, he was assigned to Kahrizak.

It was Dr. Pourandarjani who wrote up the report on Mohsen Ruholamini's conditions and the others who had been tortured and injured at Kahrizak; he later issued the death certificate for him. The certificate stated that Ruholamini had suffered blows to the head. Another report, also written by Dr. Pourandarjani and submitted to the judiciary, stated that Ruholamini had died due to "physical stress, being held in bad conditions, multiple blows, and severe injuries to the body."

At first, the hardliners tried to make Dr. Pourandarjani the scapegoat. He was blamed for poor treatment of the people at the detention center, never mind the question of why they needed treatment in the first place. General Ahmadi Moghaddam said on Sunday November 22 that, "The accusation against the Kahrizak doctor [Dr. Pourandarjani] is that he did not treat the patients well."

Then, the hardliners claimed that there was an outbreak of meningitis at the detention center, possibly contributing to the death of the prisoners. They claimed that Mohammad Kamrani, one of the three who had been killed, died of meningitis, even though his relatives said that there was evidence that he had been raped. Amir Javadifar was the first to die at Kahrizak.

But Kahrizak would not go away. There were too many reports about prisoner abuse, charges amplified by Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, prompting the SNSC to investigate the crime. The report was never publicized, but a page leaked from it reportedly said, "Rape, mental and physical torture, malnutrition, and inhuman treatment of the detainees had taken place." The Majles also formed a special investigating committee to look into the matter. Dr. Pourandarjani was summoned to the special committee to testify.

Many reformist websites claimed that before testifying, Dr. Pourandarjani had been detained for one week. Jahan News, a website controlled by the IRGC, confirmed that Dr. Pourandarjani had been arrested and later released after posting bail. He was reportedly threatened by General Radan, who had told him that he would be imprisoned and lose his medical license if he spoke publicly about the real cause of Ruholamini's death [and others] at Kahrizak. Last month Radan called the murders at Kahrizak a "minor incident." Radan had reportedly pressured Dr. Pourandarjani to certify that Mohsen Ruholamini had died of meningitis, but he had refused.

Mowjcamp, a credible reformist website, reported that Dr. Pourandarjani told the committee that "He [Ruholamini] was brought to me [two days before he died] after being severely tortured physically. He was in a dreadful physical condition and I had limited medical supplies, but I did my best to save him. It was then that I was threatened by the authorities at Kahrizak that if I disclose the cause of death and injuries of the detainees, I will cease to live." The government has, however, denied that the meeting took place.

Norooz, the website that acts as the mouthpiece of Islamic Iran Participation Front [Iran's largest party and most important reformist group], reported that, "He [Dr. Pourandarjani] had received many anonymous threats to keep him from disclosing the truth [about the events in Kahrizak] as he had full knowledge about the details of what had happened there. He had told several friends about what had happened in Kahrizak, and had expressed fear for his life."

3(30)(1).jpgOn November 10, several reformist websites reported that Dr. Pourandarjani was dead. It was later confirmed by government officials, but the cause of death they presented kept changing. First, it was announced that Dr. Pourandarjani had died of a heart attack in his sleep. His father Reza-Gholi Pourandarjani said that his son was a non-smoker, led a clean life, and enjoyed perfect heath. He rejected the possibility that his son may have died of a heart attack. Then it was claimed that he had died of poisoning. But that was set aside when Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, Tehran's Prosecutor General, declared that a "preliminary autopsy revealed that he had not been poisoned."

Then it was claimed that he had committed suicide. This was also rejected by the elder Pourandarjani. He told the AP that, "Just the night before his death, my child talked to me on the phone. It was around 8:00 or 9:00 pm. He sounded great, very dignified, showing no sign of someone who is about to commit suicide. He was full of hope, making plans with his friends." His mother told Rooz, the online daily, that "Ramin was not a person who would commit suicide. God will not forgive those who accuse my child of committing suicide."

According to Mowjcamp, Dr. Pourandarjani had told his friends that he was going to visit his parents in Tabriz. He had also been admitted to a German university to receive his specialization. He was planning to move there after finishing his military service. In short, nothing in the young man's life suggested he was suicidal.

In a written statement given to the BBC, several of Dr. Porandarjani's friends stated that, "Given his [Dr. Pourandarjani's] high spirit, religious beliefs, and his emotional attachment to, and sense of responsibility toward his family, and his conversation with his family the night before his death that had indicated his high morale, the possibility that he had committed suicide is nonexistent."

Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, a Tabriz deputy to the Majles who was Minister of Health in the administration of former president Mohammad Khatami, said that, "committing suicide by someone who had no [mental] problem or illness, and was at Kahrizak when the events there took place is, in our view, questionable. The coroner's office has not declared that his death was caused by suicide. This is just a rumor."

But General Ahmadi Moghaddam insisted that Dr. Pourandarjani had committed suicide. He said that, "After being summoned by the judiciary in connection with the Kahrizak investigation, fear of imprisonment had led him [Dr. Pourandarjani] to commit suicide." But Vali Esmaili, a hard-line Majles deputy, told Mehr News Agency that, "There is no connection between the suicide of the Kahrizak doctor and the post-election events."

The day after the phone conversation between Dr. Pourandarjani and his father, the elder Pourandarjani was called from Tehran and was told that his son had been in an accident and needed surgery. He was told that he needed to go to Tehran to give his consent for the surgery. But when the elder Pourandarjani arrived in Tehran, he realized that there had been no accident. Instead, he was told that his son had passed away.

Following the Islamic traditions, Dr. Porandarjani's body was washed and shrouded in Behesht-e Zahra cemetery [not in Tabriz, his hometown], and flown to Tabriz. According to Islamic tradition, once a dead person is shrouded, the shroud is not allowed to be opened or removed, except for the head when the dead person is interned in his grave. Thus, this may have been an attempt to hide any sign that the body may have had signs of foul play [if there were such signs]. Dr. Pourandarjani was laid to rest last Thursday amid tight security. His family had been told that they were not allowed to have an independent autopsy of their son.

Norooz reported that right before Dr. Pourandarjani passed away, his mother had called Dr. Ruholamini and had told him that her son's life was in danger for "having revealed certain facts about the torture and death" of Mohsen Ruholamini.

As the London Director of Human Rights Watch, Tom Porteous, told The Times of London, "The Circumstances of [Dr.] Pourandarjani's reported death raise serious concerns. At the very least, there is a need for a full, independent and transparent inquiry."

As a young and bright medical student, Dr. Pourandarjani was also involved in medical research. He co-authored an article with colleagues Babak Rahimi-Ardabili of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences (TUMS) and Amir Mualeki also of TUMS entitled, "Finasteride induced depression: a prospective study." It was published in BMC Clinical Pharmacology, volume 6, p. 7 (2006) on finasteride, which is used for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia and rogenetic alopecia. Their study suggested that finasteride might induce depressive symptoms and, therefore, it should be prescribed cautiously for patients with a high risk of depression. This appears to be a novel result not noted previously.

The rigged presidential election of June 12 continues to claim innocent victims. As of writing of this article, no one of any stature had been punished for the crimes at Kahrizak detention center. As Mir Hossein Mousavi noted,

How can it be that the leaders of our country do not cry out and shed tears about these tragedies? Can they not see it, or feel it? These things are darkening our country, darkening our hearts. If we remain silent, it will destroy us all and take us to hell.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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