EXCLUSIVE: Bodybuilder Khaled Pirzadeh Speaks of Being Tortured in Prison 

By Roshanak Astaraki

On July 14, prison authorities in Iran reportedly transferred Khaled Pirzadeh, an advocate of constitutional monarchy and a civil rights activist, from the Greater Tehran Penitentiary in Fashapuyeh District (commonly known as Fashapuyeh Prison), where he had been kept since July 2020, to an undisclosed location.

Pirzadeh is a bodybuilding coach. He competed in the World Bodybuilding Championship 2018 in Singapore.

He is one of the many political prisoners in Iran to have been assaulted and tortured even after their interrogations, trials, convictions, and sentencing. Instead of allowing them to serve their sentences, as the law requires, they are beaten up and tortured repeatedly by agents of the Judiciary and security agencies. 

Pirzadeh had been on medical furlough since June 14 and was expected to be granted a supervised release. However, he was returned to the Greater Tehran Penitentiary on July 7 before his treatment was complete.

The bodybuilding coach has endured unspeakable hardship and suffered severe physical injuries throughout his arrest, interrogations, and imprisonment. Security forces severely beat up Pirzadeh during his arrest on May 26, 2019, before taking him to Tehran’s Evin Prison.

After seven months of imprisonment, he was finally tried at Branch 28 of Tehran Revolution Court in January 2020 and sentenced to seven years in prison. The court gave Pirzadeh a five-year sentence for “assembly and collusion” and another two years for “insulting the leadership.”

[aesop_image img=”https://kayhanlife.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Screen-Shot-2021-07-23-at-7.55.19-AM.png” panorama=”off” credit=”Khaled Pirzadeh.” align=”center” lightbox=”on” captionsrc=”custom” captionposition=”left” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]

Branch 38 of Tehran Province’s Appellate Court upheld his conviction and prison sentences in May 2020.

Authorities kept Pirzadeh at Evin prison before transferring him to the Greater Tehran Penitentiary on July 22, 2020.

Pirzadeh suffered multiple injuries during his interrogations in prison, including a broken knee, two ruptured discs in his lower back, and another five herniated discs in his spine. He also developed a heart problem while in prison.

He underwent knee surgery a few days after his transfer to Fashapuyeh Prison. However, his post-surgery physiotherapy sessions stopped abruptly.

The former coach was banned from having visitors and denied medical furlough for two years, prompting him to go on a hunger strike for two weeks on May 31 of this year. He ended his hunger strike only after authorities granted him a medical furlough a few days before the June presidential elections. Pirzadeh expected to be given a supervised release.

Pirzadeh released a statement while he was on hunger strike in which he said: “I have been in prison under horrible physical and psychological conditions for the past 25 months. I have been denied visitors and leave. My wife has coronavirus and is in poor health. She has no one to look after her.”

“My young daughter cannot be around her mother to avoid catching the virus. It is very hard on my daughter, who cannot be with her father or in the arms of her mother. How can we cope with this pain?” Pirzadeh added.

In February, Pirzadeh went on hunger strike by sewing his lips together. He ended his hunger strike on March 8 only after prison authorities signed several documents, promising to grant him supervised release and address some of his demands.

However, he went on a hunger strike again on March 13, after authorities did not keep their promises. He ended his hunger strike on March 30 after authorities granted him a medical furlough and promised to review his demands.

A few days after his conditional furlough, authorities pressured Pirzadeh and people who had put up the bail for his release. He reported back to Fashapuyeh Prison on July 7.

Pirzadeh’s lawyer, Ali Sharifzadeh, on July 16 tweeted: “At 6 a.m. on July 14, Khaled Pirzadeh was transferred, without prior notice, from the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, where he was in quarantine, to an undisclosed location. The Prisons Organization must ensure my client’s safety and wellbeing, given his poor health.”

Before returning to Prison, Pirzadeh told Kayhan Life that despite assurances that he would be granted a supervised release at the end of his medical furlough, the court ordered him to report back to prison 20 days into his leave. The court also sentenced him to lashes. Also, the Judiciary pressured the two guarantors who had put up the bail for Pirzadeh’s release, which forced him to return to prison.

Prison authorities granted Pirzadeh three weeks of medical furlough, which did not allow him to receive proper treatment and recover fully. He will have to endure lashes in prison, which will worsen his deteriorating health. Pirzadeh believes the promise that “his medical furlough would lead to a supervised release” was a propaganda ploy.

“It was during the elections when they came to me and said just live your life,” Pirzadeh told Kayhan Life. “Even before my release, several agents from the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)] Intelligence Organization visited me, warning that I should not speak after I leave the prison.” 

“I told them I was a civil rights activist and will continue to speak up and criticize if I have something to say. Don’t we have freedom of speech?” Pirzadeh argued. “They replied that ‘we also have post-speech freedom.’ I said that after my release, it would become clear that we do not have ‘post-speech freedom.’”

Pirzadeh also said that he worried the authorities were trying to trump up more charges against him. He said they had accused him of “agitating public opinion,” “propaganda against the regime,” and “insulting the Imam” (the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini).

Pirzadeh has also been accused of writing slogans and working with the political action network, Iran Revival (Farashgard), but he insists he is a civil rights activist, and all his activities are in line with international human rights laws. Pirzadeh maintains he has committed no prosecutable acts.

Pirzadeh also spoke to Kahan Life about the horrendous physical tortures he suffered in prison.

“Twice, they put a noose around my neck in a frightening [mock] execution!” Pirzadeh explained. “They showed no mercy during the first days of my interrogation and tortured me severely, especially because I was an athlete and physically very fit. I was 127 kilograms, and my biceps were 53 centimeters in diameters each. They wanted to break me. They would slam the metal door to the interrogation room on my hands.”

“Two interrogators sat on my knees before removing the support from under my legs, resulting in dislocating and breaking my knees,” Pirzadeh continued. “As a result, the anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) and posterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) in my legs were torn. I was in critical condition and was transferred to [Tehran] Arman Hospital, where I underwent surgery. I had the operation one year ago, but I am still not healed completely and have to use crutches to walk.”

“Nine of my spinal discs were injured during interrogations,” Pirzadeh said. “Disc 3 [Cervical Vertebrae (C3)] in my neck and disc 4 [Cervical Vertebrae (C4)] between my shoulders are bulging. The two bones in my Coccyx are broken and need immediate surgery. The herniated discs have damaged my spinal fluid, which means I have to receive medicine injected into my spine. 

“Is it humane that I should report to the prison while suffering such horrible physical and psychological pain?” Pirzadeh asked. “I receive no [medical] care in prison. All my medications have passed their expiration dates. Besides, most of the medicines are ineffective. It is unclear what they are good for and why they are prescribed for me. The medicines come in bulks to the prison, and it is unclear what they are.”

Pirzadeh claimed he was threatened with rape twice during his interrogations. He alleged his interrogators had threatened to rape his wife and his daughter, who is a minor.    

“They showed no compassion and even threatened to rape my young daughter, who is just a child,” Pirzadeh said. 

Pirzadeh noted that the tortures were aimed at extracting a forced confession. 

“Is this the state that they claim to be governed by Ali’s Justice? Is it justice to brutalize me for being a civil rights activist and not having committed any crime?” He asked. “I still have nightmares.”

“I am about to go back to prison and do not know what they will do to me,” Pirzadeh told Kayhan Life before his return to prison. “I do not know what they are thinking. They may plan to beat me up once I am back in prison. They may put me in solitary confinement and torture me. After my surgery, I was back at Evin Prison, where they pummeled me while I was in a wheelchair, and even when I walked with crutches under my arms.”

“When I was at the Greater Tehran Penitentiary, a prison guard by the name of Iraj Shamoli beat me up before they had removed the stitches,” Pirzadeh said. “He took the crutch from under my arm and beat me with it. He verbally abused me, using sexual insults against my wife and deceased mother. My interrogators also used the same swear words. I asked them not to insult my dead mother. They said they would dig up and defile her corpse.”

Pirzadeh also said that he was banned from receiving visitors in prison.

“I was denied furlough and banned from receiving visitors for 25 months. What law says that a prisoner cannot have visitors or be granted leave?” Pirzadeh asked. “These are all unwritten laws that they apply to prisoners. We do not have an independent Judiciary. The security agencies dictate what the Judiciary should say or do. They also order guards to torture prisoners.”

Pirzadeh alleges that Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who was convicted of financial corruption charges, was treated well in prison. According to Pirzadeh, former Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ali Najafi, who is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison sentence for murder, has been on two extended furloughs during his imprisonment. Other inmates reportedly dubbed him “a tourist prisoner.”

Pirzadeh highlighted the comments by President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who, as the head of the Judiciary, insisted that Iran’s judicial system delivered justice and upheld human rights.

“Has Mr. Raisi, who always maintains that the Judiciary protects human rights and delivers justice, must come and see what they have done to me in Prison?” Pirzadeh said. “Where was he when an athlete like me soiled himself? Or when I needed six people to bathe me — an athlete? Where was he when they insulted my deceased mother? Where was he when they put a noose around my neck in a horrifying mock execution? Is this Islamic democracy?”

“The entire governing system of this state is based on force majeure — only through the use of force and club. It does not tolerate criticism. I am one of the country’s athletes. Why should I be in this state?” Pirzadeh concluded.

There is no information about Pirzadeh’s whereabouts and condition since July 16, his lawyer, Ali Sharifzadeh, has said.

Link to the Farsi page