Witness Name and Surname: Withheld
Witness’s Sex: Male
Place testified about: Withheld
Witness’s condition: A member of the IRGC’s Imam Ali Battalion
Type of testimony before the Tribunal: Withheld
A couple of years ago, the Basij sent a text message to me and several others in the neighbourhood who have a good reputation. The Basij asked us to become members and report to the area Basij base; there, the Basij commander was supposed to interview us.
I was forced to join the Basij under various pressures and threats.
Usually, they promise you loans and government privileges and encourage you to become a Basij member. If those encouragements prove ineffective, they threaten you. I declined their offer and said that I could not; I did not want to have any connection with the Basij or the IRGC.
After I became a member of the Basij, they would phone me on certain days and ask me to report to the Basij Base, where they would train us. Many of those in the Imam Ali Battalion had terrible criminal records. They were vicious men; they had broken and entered people’s homes, they had raped women, they had taken women in their cars as passengers and then raped them. Many of them had been released from prisons; they had 15 to 20-year sentences. They were dangerous criminals, rapists, sodomites, and had committed other heinous crimes. Perhaps 70 percent of the members of this Battalion had criminal records. Some of them were the louts and rascals of the neighbourhood. Formerly, this was called Ashoora Battalion but now it’s called the Imam Ali Battalion. They change names after certain intervals to confuse outsiders. For instance, the Imam Ali Battalion: for six months, it was Imam Ali Battalion; after six months, it became the Jerusalem Battalion, then after another six months, it became Shahid Sameni Rad Battalion.
Like me, I know at least 25-30 people in that battalion who were forced to join it. Or, for instance, they were promised that the period of their military service would be decreased or they would be employed in a government organisation. Some of them were sent to join the police. The police are now establishing a special squad consisting of these Basijis as the police officers did not involve themselves in the skirmishes with people and withdrew themselves. The Special Unit also ran away and did not face the people. The police are absorbing a particular group of these Basijis known as the Commando Special Unit. The police command centre has one relief unit in every provincial city; the relief unit always has a force on alert which works for the police. They have established a part of it known as the Commando Special Unit. This unit was established in the winter of 2019. Their uniform is leopard-design and grey-coloured. These are brainwashed people who have no place in society. They have neither education nor specialisation. They are the unemployed children of the Basijis whose hunger and poverty are being exploited. The day the protests were held, and we were asked to come to the Basij base, there were many children under the age of 15. Promising a meal, they would say, “Boys, bring your friends here. We will give you swimming pool cards, pants, or sneakers.” Promising those things, they would absorb children of poor families into the Basij. Over 70 percent of members of the Basij are under the age of 18. They absorb students on the promise of paying their school or university tuition fee; some of them are unemployed and would take any job.
The region commander appoints the commander of the Imam Ali Battalion. The commander of the province appoints the commander of the area. The commander of the province is appointed by the commander-general of the IRGC, who in turn is appointed by the Leader (Khamenei). These battalions are attached to the IRGC Seyed al Shohada, which is the IRGC of the Province. For instance, each province has one garrison for IRGC Seyed al Shohada. Each battalion has three companies; each company has about 70 men. The battalion commander is an old Basiji or a ranked officer of the IRGC.
In the Basij base, they gave us a uniform; miniaturist, leopard-design miniaturist, and a small chequered uniform. They gave each person a vest with a Basij logo on it, but they did not give us the shoes. Some of these men were in sandals in that cold, snowy weather. They gave each person a shield, baton, and helmet with a piece of acid-proof leather on the back. When the Special Unit ran away, they also gave us gas-proof masks and tonfa. A tonfa is an L-shaped baton which has a short handle. It is a 70-centimetre piece of wood, precisely like a baseball bat. It is made of compressed plastic and coil-like. It breaks bone when it hits it.
Out of our 80-strong team, only ten had previously received training; the rest were kids. Some of them ran away when the first stone was thrown. ID cards are issued to members only during operations, inspection ceremonies, or manoeuvres. However, on protest days, no ID cards were issued to us.
When the protests against the high petrol price began, we were contacted in the morning and told to be on alert. I went to the IRGC base. They put us on a minibus and brought us empty-handed against the people. Several Basijis changed their clothes inside the minibus. They put on personal clothing and mingled with the people. They marked the (people’s) leaders with ink; then, four or five would descend upon him and arrest him. One person, who was a formal member, said, “We were in plain clothes and had mingled with the people. We would identify the leaders and suddenly hit them under the throat; he would become out of breath. We would grab him by the shoulder under the pretence of medical help. Then we would arrest him and throw him in our vehicle.”
That night, under the storm of stones thrown at us by the people, we did not last long and retreated to the base courtyard. Then, several forces from Fatamiyoun, Zainabiyoun, and Hashad Shaabi came to help us. When the protests intensified, the Special Unit and the police ran away. Some of the formal members of the IRGC changed their clothes in their vehicles. There were several Afghans and Arabs among them. The name of their battalion was the Jerusalem Battalion. Several motorbikers, too, had covered their faces with keffiyehs and handkerchiefs. They chanted ‘Mashallah, Hezbollah’. They were very dangerous. They were plainclothesmen on motorbikes who carried daggers and knives in their hands. They had chains, the tip of which was connected to a measuring stone of the old times, which weighed one kilo or two-kilo. They would spin this chain, and they could not care less if it hit someone.
The Basij does not have a regular uniform; some of them wear miniature, some khaki, some leopard-design. The Basij is a kind of irregular force; it has no particular discipline. You will see a 30-year-old member of Basij, but he has no specific skill. He is not required to put on a uniform that would identify him. During protests, people shouted slogans, threw stones, and lit fires in the middle of the road, but they did not set any place on fire. When it became chaotic, the Basijis plundered people’s shops.
Initially, they would fire practice bullets or plastic bullets with Kalashnikovs. The IRGC commander told us, “Shoot them. We have been told to stomp out the rebellion.” It was not like they would shoot only below the waist; they would shoot aimlessly to disperse the people from the street. Some of them were on rooftops and fired shots from there. There were drones which are also known as helishot. They had sent them in the air. They were grey and white and had various colours. Alleys and streets were watched through these. The quality of the pictures they relayed was very high.
They took us to one of the city squares. There, I saw they had brought one Cordless Grinder and connected it to charge. It was like a torch; it lights a fire like a lighter, you can melt a lock with it. The equipment there was used by the plainclothesmen of the Basij and the IRGC for cutting bank doors and setting banks on fire. I went with them and saw that they had cut the bank doors. One of them was throwing four litres of gas. Some of them who had broken the bank doors thought there was money in the bank and they could rush in and take away the money. They came in and saw that it was not like that; there was nothing other than tables and chairs. This arson and destruction was committed on orders (from above). Regular people couldn’t set gas stations and banks on fire.
There were two-three gas stations on our way; we went towards the gas stations. It seems that the gas station employees had been warned. No-one stopped us. They sprinkled petrol and lighted matchsticks and threw them. We stood back. There were many cameras around the gas station at that time. They told us not to get out of the vehicles so our shields could not be seen.
When we were three or four hundred meters from the people, the forces started to run towards us. We were also forced to run with them. After all, we had not gone to war; we were unprepared.
The IRGC forces were behind us; we could not see them. They fired at people from behind our backs. Whatever tear gas they threw, it would return towards us. We had become completely blind. We came to a corner. Like us, several regular citizens were stuck between the crowd and those firing pellets from behind. The burning of eyes and throat was terrible. Then, the heavy sound of shots firing was heard.
They had brought several men firing shots at people; they would shoot people in their heads, faces, and necks. They were men from the Zainabiyoun and the Defenders of the Shrine. They were all in Basij and IRGC uniforms and grey guerrilla uniforms. The Basijis of Iran were relatively calmer; it was the men from Zainabiyoun, Fatemiyoun, and Hashad Shabi who were savage, very savage. They were gathered under one nucleus called Battalion of Fatehin (Conquerors).
Initially, target practice bullets were fired by the police to frighten and disperse the people so they would not come forward. When the commanders of the Basij started firing, assault bullets were mixed in. They would fire assault bullets intermittently. The shots fired early at night were mostly practice bullets, plastic bullets, and bullets that create noise and pain; but the bullets fired late at night were assault bullets fired from Kalashnikovs. There were pellet guns too. These pellet guns are charged with gas. They had brought their equipment. It looks like a glass container, they would tie it to the gun and empty one bag of pellets into it. The shells were small metal ones. They would open it in the container for the pellets they had with them. Then they would start firing shots. Suddenly you would see fifty or hundreds of those pellets fired at a time. Anyone who was hit by these pellets would fall straight on the ground. If the shot hit the body, the victim would jump as if you had stuck something hot to his body; but if it struck the eye or the head, it was terrible. These pellets would penetrate cars. Those standing on the rooftops were snipers and camera operators. They were called helishots. The snipers’ uniforms were solid black. Their weapons were binocular-mounted guns, but the ones shooting films were plainclothesmen. In the area where I was, they were stationed on seven buildings spread over a circle (radius) of about five kilometres.
The IRGC and Basij men were on pickup trucks and Nissan vehicles; they would fire at anyone who wanted to pass by them. It was almost impossible for one to pass by intact and in one piece.
Anyone who went to the hospital as an injured or wounded person would be arrested. Several Nissan vehicles with refrigerators used for transporting meat were used for transferring the detained persons. I saw four or five dead people. There was one Nissan vehicle with a fridge in which people were shoved; their hands were tied behind their backs. Their legs would be tied too. They threw them one on top of the other. They were the arrested, wounded people; blood dripped from the back of that Nissan.
The arrested were hauled away in the trunk of a Peugeot or a Nissan with a fridge and taken to the courtyard of the IRGC garrison. There, a man said, “Remove their clothes; they may have hidden weapons under their clothes.” Their clothes were removed and they were left only in their shorts in the cold. There were about 200 arrested. The wounded were in a corner so I did not see them. One of the commanders would spin a chain, at the end of which a weight was tied, and hit the protesters with it. He also had a very long cherry cane.
(A commander) opened the Fire Brigade water hose on that older man’s body. This brought some of us to tears, but we could not help him. If we protested in the slightest, they would have thrown us among the arrested. They wet them in that cold air and then attacked them with the tube.
There were many kids under the age of 18 among the arrested. I can never forget the cries and sobs of those kids. They said that there is an edict of such and such religious authority which allows you to commit sexual assault against the opponents of the Islamic Republic. The Basij and IRGC men talked about the fatwa (edict) of such and such religious authority that allows you to commit assault against the opponents of the Vali Faghih (jurisconsult) and the Islamic Republic; you are free to torture them; you are even allowed to kill them. The one who stands up against the Islamic Government is permitted (to be tortured or killed). The theology students repeated this several times to encourage those who stood there shocked (by this edict).
The men of our battalion carried only batons in their hands on the night of 16 November. They give weapons only to those they are satisfied with and trust. The commanders of all garrisons carry weapons without exception. We did not fire a pellet or a bullet or even throw a stone at anyone because the formal forces and the commanders of garrisons were firing shots. We were used as extras. We were kept in the middle so that if the protesters threw something at us and we got wounded or killed, they could showcase us as the victims of mob violence and murder.
They brought us on the road every day for one week from 17 November and made us stand in the same neighbourhoods where the protests had taken place. They would say, “Stand up here and display the power of the Basij.”
Another point is that I saw a letter in the office of the commander of our city’s IRGC in which the Forensic Medicine Department had asked what to do with the corpses; they had written that they had no space. The medical examiner had sent this letter to all centres of the IRGC. It was written in the letter that because the hospital morgues were filled with the corpses of the deceased, they should be told, firstly, what to do about their death certificates, then about the release of the bodies to their families, and so on.