Witness No. 600
Witness Name & Surname: Withheld
Witness’s Sex: Male
Place testified about: Tehran & Alborz
Witness’s status: IRGC senior officer
Type of testimony before the Tribunal: Withheld
I would like to talk about how the clashes played out, the weapons used, and the range of unlimited powers the forces wielded in November 2019. I would also like to explain to the Tribunal what I have seen in the field: killings, interrogations, and detention centres.
I am a senior officer in the Tehran IRGC. I witnessed widespread interrogations and arrests. Unfortunately, I was one of the perpetrators of the arrests. I noticed conversations between my friends and colleagues, and I have information from very reliable sources. I also have information about people who were killed.
The IRGC has a special section with a vast budget whose job is to prepare for “riots.” To prevent “riots”, they even train security forces and other forces there. But in November, preparations had started a week before. It was ordered from above that all troops be ready. But, of course, all the forces protested that one week was insufficient to prepare. They did not talk to us about petrol and only told us to be ready for clashes and disturbances.
We knew that something was going to happen. However, from friends involved in this issue, I heard that the leaders of the three forces were probably caught unaware, and the order to increase the price of petrol came from above.
Preparation for “riots” was not just about November. The IRGC has been preparing for this for years. The IRGC has created independent units for these exercises. In the rest of the units, there is continuous and intermittent training. But in November, there was no immediate training. That is, it was decided so quickly from above that the units were practically caught unaware. They knew that if they reported the petrol issue to the units, the men would promptly tell their families, and they would spread the news of it. They knew they might be unable to control the people in that case. That’s why it was done so fast, with an immediate blow.
No special training or weapons training was considered at that time. Everyone entered the field with the same organisational weapons. If they had been prepared and planned, we would not have witnessed this number of killings, arrests, protests, and violent clashes. One of the reasons the violent clashes took place and forces lost control of the situation was that they did not have an initial plan for petrol hike. I mean that they did not plan and identify high-risk areas and ask local people for help. As a result of the unplanned work, the troops arrived quickly. On the second or third day, the situation was critical and came to a head. Another fire order was issued. Meaning they told you to shoot wherever you felt it was necessary.
In November, none of the soldiers afterwards reported shooting or how much ammunition they used. None of the soldiers said where they used the shell or whom they shot. So, this issue was very quickly swept under the rug. The soldiers know that a standard protocol is followed even in the army, the IRGC, and the Islamic Republic’s security forces. When you shoot, you have to say whom you shot at, where you shot, and how many shots you fired. You must also hand over the remaining weapons and ammunition to the weapons department and report if there are any shortages. But in November, without counting, they handed the bullet to the forces and took back the rest.
In front of us were people who did not have firearms or even simple weapons like knives. They were just chanting. They were only upset about their living conditions. Some hungry people were shouting, asking for bread. There was no violence. People blocked off the streets and protested. People had parked their cars and set fire to trash cans. It became bloody on the second or third day of the protests. They said that we might lose control of the radio and television building tonight. Troops were told they were free to shoot, arrest, interrogate, or enter homes. In other words, there was no need for a prosecutor’s order. Forces were informed that they were free to seize and destroy cars and do everything they could to suppress the protest because the country was in danger.
The troops were already trained. In particular, the strike support units, the Saberin unit, and the Imam Ali unit were trained. There are also units whose sole purpose is to suppress riots. But in 2019, there was no discussion of training or mandate. They allowed the Basij to take military weapons into the field on the third day. The Basij ranks fourth, the lowest in the Iranian armed forces. When the lowest military level of a society is allowed to bring weapons and ammunition into the field, their superiors certainly have more authority. I know from credible sources that the Commander-in-Chief issued this mandate and order; I mean the leadership.
There are always some Syrian, Lebanese, and Yemeni forces in various IRGC bases in Iran. These forces are constantly trained in bases such as Shahid Anaraki in Varamin, north of the country, and Shahid Pazouki in the Semnan desert. In 2019, all units faced a shortage of workforce. For this reason, permission was granted to fire and contain the crisis by any means necessary. When consent is given to control the situation, it is certainly logical and wise to use the trained forces and bring them to the field.
I encountered Basij forces who were children. They had military weapons: batons, electric batons, Kalashnikovs, stun guns, and spray cans. Time and time again, I saw children with military weapons in their hands; in Tehran, around Enghelab Square, Behboodi Street, Karaj, and Mehrshahr, Karaj. They had military weapons without warning bullets. A warning bullet means a gas bullet must be placed on the gun’s breechloader. I could see that they were shooting very much as a way to vent their rage and intimidate people. I even saw a Basij who was shooting at people. I reminded him they were far from us and did not pose a threat. But unfortunately, they have trained them so that they are willing to give their lives and kill all their compatriots for a sacred cause that does not exist.
It was the responsibility of people like me and me, given that the telephone lines were not secure and the security lines of the security forces were not very efficient in those circumstances, to be present in the squares, monitor the detention centres, and give informal reports to our superiors. But, overall, my responsibility was to assess the situation, analyse the severity of the crisis, and pass these assessments on to higher commanders.
This information and our reports are top-secret, at the highest level of military classification, and are set to be presented to specific individuals. This information is for significant decision-making. Given our position, wherever we went, it was open to us. Detention centres, morgues, forensics, hospitals, and bases all welcomed us with open arms, as per their duties.
I had been present in different parts of Tehran since Friday morning. I witnessed all the clashes in Karaj, Tehran, and Valiasr Square. On the second or third day, they announced they were losing control of the city and that the radio and television buildings might be lost. The order came from above that the Basij forces, the Imam Ali unit, and the Saberin details should enter and deal with the demonstrators with the utmost force. I witnessed a large number of arrests and a bus filled with protesters. It made no difference, injured or healthy, girl or boy, old or young. I witnessed their delivery to the detention centres, especially the IRGC detention centres.
The IRGC has a colossal detention centre on Takhti Street, on the stadium’s south side. I witnessed the interrogations, beatings, and cable- beating of the detainees. The detainees were stripped naked in the cold, piled up in groups of one hundred or fifty, and beaten. Not even animals are piled up and abused like that. I also saw many corpses. The IRGC intelligence forces inflicted a disaster on these people and did unbelievable things to them.
I saw three muscular men over the age of thirty-five. They had come to take their father’s body. The agents had set conditions for them; they said they would only return the father’s body if the men promised not to say that he’d been shot. The story was that he fell out of the van and died. All these muscles, yet they were begging. The agents said nothing would be written about the case in the condolence statement. The men promised to take the body to the city at night, bury it, and not say a word about their father being at a demonstration and being shot.
I saw someone whose son had been shot in the area around Bumehen. Fearing that he would be stigmatised as a counter-revolutionary and that his family would be harmed, the father kept his baby’s body frozen for a month; he kept it on ice to bury it later. Intelligence had reached him, but he had not given up.
To cover up the shooting and the fact that the agents had beaten people up and to pretend that they were oppressed, they said that some Basijis had been killed, and families were told to say that their children were Basijiis had been martyred.
I did not see anyone carrying a weapon in the demonstrations, nor did I read in the arrest reports that anyone was arrested with a gun or had been in a violent protest. They said that in Lorestan and Khuzestan, people had weapons in their homes. Those people are nomads and have weapons because of their work that involves going to and from the border. The agents stormed into people’s homes and removed many straightforward and ordinary weapons.
Due to my job situation, I could read reports from reliable sources showing that the number of victims in Khuzestan was shocking. The death toll in the three provinces was appalling. In addition, the number of clashes in Lorestan, Khuzestan, and Alborz was very high. Alborz was mentioned as a weak point of the system, and they noted that for the future, there must be a plan for how to deal with Alborz; and the number of units must increase.
The death toll was very high. I saw blankets being thrown over several people at one of the IRGC detention centres. These nude bodies were also being placed in a side shed. There was a girl and several boys of different ages. Their feet protruded from under the blanket. Their hands and feet showed that they had been killed in the conflict. Their clothes were very muddy and bloody.
I have it from a reliable source: on the second night, the House of Leadership was informed that Tehran was being lost. Reports had arrived from cities that some forces, even the security patrol, had rebelled, and there were signs of weak morale in the troops. I heard from a reliable source that Mr Khalafi and Mr Vahid Haghighian had said that they had ordered the units to go and do their job. They said to strike and have no mercy, shoot anyone who comes in the street, and do everything you can to contain the crisis. When they say repress the rebellion, that means to kill everyone, and it’s not important who. Meaning you don’t have to request permission to shoot. Then, they took semi-heavy weapons to Alborz. They took a Dushka to the Qazvin and Alborz streets. A Dushka is a semi-heavy weapon with nothing to do with urban clashes.
Mr Khalafi is the House of Leadership’s chief of protocol. In the House, it is not the case that someone has one job and only does the same thing. In a state of crisis, everyone becomes omnipotent. That is, everyone is allowed to play a role in doing something. He has solid ties with the Friday Imams; the Friday Imams of all cities are accountable to him.
Mr Vahid Haghighian was the first person after Mr Khamenei to issue orders to IRGC commanders. The IRGC commanders then passed these orders on to the unit commanders. Until last year, all the affairs of the House of Leadership were under his supervision. Mr Haghighian has been Mr Khamenei‘s right-hand man for about thirty-five years. He is in charge of Mr Khamenei’s security. He is involved in Mr Khamenei’s most minor and most private issues. I can say with certainty that all army commanders, force commanders, ministers, and Friday prayer leaders are afraid of Mr Haghighian.
Later, as we exchanged information with our friends and colleagues, we realised that the number of detainees was much higher than what people thought. In other words, in Tehran alone, about 7,000-8,000 detainees had been transferred to public detention centres and prisons. I am not talking about the Panj Hezar Detention Centre, one of the appalling ones, or the other awful centres. Some detainees were released after only a few beatings with hoses, cables, kicks, and eavesdropping. For some, charges were filed. Some of the detainees left documents and had to return later. Their families were and are still involved.
My last report on the number of casualties from reliable sources is that, for example, 427 people were killed in Khuzestan by the seventh or eighth day. In Tehran, about 417 or 420 people were killed. Many were killed in Karaj. By that time, seventeen people had been killed in Bumehen. I’m talking about reports of casualties that the government recorded. That is corpses that were under the control of the government. I’m not talking about the bodies that had been taken away and buried in secret by the families. So, when I say that my sources are pretty reliable, I mean my friends and those whose job was to collect these statistics showed me these reports.
The IRGC has a detention centre called “Shast’o Shesh”, which belongs to its forces. These detention centres become public detention centres in times of crisis. For example, dual nationals like Ms Zaghari are kept there. The “Panj Hezar” Detention Centre belongs to a special intelligence unit. This detention centre is for double national prisoners, Revolutionary Guards who become spies, and those suspected or accused of spying. That’s the world. Agents can do whatever they want in those detention centres. All kinds of mental and psychological torture take place there. They do not need any order or court verdict. They can confiscate all your property overnight. They can charge you with any crime. All judges in the judiciary are afraid of them.
The “Panj Hezar” centre is also the detention centre and nightmare for the children of the IRGC. It is said that no one sent there comes back alive. The “Panj Hezar” centre is the centre of power. This means that Mr Tayeb does whatever he wants there, to whomever. The “Panj Hezar” centre is where the personal information of all families can be easily accessed with the push of a button, and they can make any changes to this information. They can accuse you of anything without any legality. The “Panj Hezar” centre does not answer to anyone except IRGC Intelligence. IRGC Intelligence only answers to Mr Khamenei himself. The “Panj Hezar” centre is a terrifying organisation.
The army did practically nothing to help the system in 2019. They did not even volunteer to bring troops into the field. Did you see the result? All army commanders were changed. The security, mainly because they are in the neighbourhoods and are recognisable, tried to be tolerant with the people and shot less; they only shot when people approached them. Most of the reports of shootings were from the IRGC and Basij special units. For example, a special unit was sent to Lorestan.
When the order was issued, the force and unit that fired more than anyone else were the Basij. Therefore, the Basij is the primary perpetrator of these killings. The Basij ruthlessly killed people. That is, they did not care at all whom they were killing.
Basij units did most of their shooting in the cities. However, special units were deployed in special places where armed conflict occurred, such as Mahshahr, Khuzestan, Shush Daniel, Karaj, and Mashhad. A special unit has a power in the field similar to the power of the “Panj Hezar” centre or IRGC Intelligence. First, it outranks all other forces. Secondly, the others must obey if it orders something to be done.
These units are trained forces. They usually have fit limbs, battle belts, a perfect shooting score, and excellent eyesight. These forces are generally training when they are not working. These units are prepared for the final encounter. That is when the police, the Basij, and the IRGC can no longer do anything.
Border areas also send IRGC special units when it becomes crowded. Special units have been trained for violent confrontation and are not accountable to any institution. If someone is killed, no one will say who killed him. Why do they kill? Because they were sent there to end the rebellion. That is, they are the last line of the system. In urban war, the Saberin unit and the Imam Ali unit are the last lines of the system.
I know some people who enjoy doing this work. They love it and believe in it very much. They are willing to subject their own family to pressure and torture. I know several people in the Ministry of Intelligence and IRGC Intelligence who are dissatisfied like me. But they have no choice. I have dedicated my life to this system. I gave my life to them. I finally realised I was wrong.
Until two years ago, when the regime still had dollars and money, and its economic problems were not very visible, active-duty Basijis were receiving salaries called duties. The Basij is an organisation that a criminal can join. The Basij does not have a selection process like the IRGC. Most Basijis are young. They like to take up arms once a week and stop and inspect people’s cars. Some who have mental health problems want to beat and arrest girls. They are proud to take an alcoholic drink from someone and send him to court.
The Basij is a subdivision of the Revolutionary Guards. My friends and colleagues in the security confirm that the security patrol and the police cannot do anything against the Basij. This means that when the Basijis cause local clashes, shoot, and set up checkpoints, the security patrol does not dare ask why you are doing this. The Basij receives orders from the IRGC Resistance Forces. They are considered tools or unofficial members of the Revolutionary Guards.
The military knows that the order to fire is issued by the higher command of the force involved. The forces in the field receive orders from the commander of the troops. For example, the ground forces that entered Karaj must have an order from the General Staff. The General Staff also receives orders from the Commander-in-Chief. In other words, in a local situation, a soldier can shoot someone in the back, even ten times, and say that his life was in danger and write a report to that effect. But firing on all the people in all the cities because of the petrol protest requires a big order. Only the Commander-in-Chief can issue that order. I have credible sources who have told me that a command-and-control centre is in the House of Leadership. Through a series of secure line networks, the commanders are notified of an order, which is immediately enforceable. There is no need to communicate anything in writing. It’s done orally through their secure communications.
When it’s a matter of national security and the loss of Tehran, there is no need for formalities, no need for law, no need for prosecutorial orders, and no need for telex and fax. That is to say, they pick up the phone from safe lines and IRGC lines, which are internal, for example, the IRGC’s Kowsar line, and very quickly say that someone should send their forces or say they should open fire. Since they were monitoring every place and were informed where the conflicts were intense and acute, and given that the order to fire came from above, the forces rushed to the spot where the conflict was more intense to squelch it.
In military organisations, a field or military court is formed when someone does not perform his duty as a soldier and rebels, but this is not the case in Iran. It is an ideological issue. That is, if someone does not carry out an order, he has not carried out the order of the Commander-in-Chief. There is something evil in him, and he is the enemy of Imam Zaman, the revolution, and the martyrs. Therefore, they can quickly execute him. Usually, such rebels are not sent to a military court at all. They take the revolutionary to the intelligence prison for a while to make him a man, as they say. Then he is deprived of all opportunities. A depressed, disabled, and broken person is dumped back into society. Usually, these people are under observation and supervision. That means they have to go sign in once a week. They have no right to participate in any rally or group. They have no right to write books or talk on social media.
Except for a few Basij bases where people were shot from inside them, and people reacted by throwing Molotov cocktails, I did not see government buildings set on fire. All government buildings were under the protection and supervision of the Saberin Unit and the newly formed NAJA Special Unit. Snipers were usually stationed on the roofs, and no one dared approach these buildings.
In the Greater Tehran area, I knew of two or three cases in which petrol station employees had started a fire at their station for the Basij to be able to fire and force people to return home. Because the ordinary demonstrator who only came to the street and shouted, he could not be shot; there had to be an excuse. But most petrol stations were set on fire due to disagreements between people, the petrol station staff, or the security patrol guards.
There were no detailed plans for the 2019 uprising. But there was a codified plan to release violent prisoners and use them when necessary. These prisoners (don’t?) justify what they do to the crowds.