Sattar Beheshti: When an Islamic Republic goes to ‘the abyss of hell’

While the Larijani brothers try to save their regime, citizen journalists keep tabs on their crimes.

Ahmadinejad rival becomes speaker of Iran''s parliament
Ali Larijani is currently chairman of the Iranian Parliament, while brothers Mohammed and Sadeq are in charge of the human rights council and the judiciary branch, respectively [EPA]

There are quite clear indications that the beleaguered custodians of the Islamic Republic are caving in under severe economic sanctions and getting ready to talk to the US during the second and final term of the Obama administration to accommodate anything necessary to save their widely discredited regime.

While some outside observers have offered the metaphor of getting “ready to tango” for this possible scenario, people in positions of power inside Iran have a more graphic simile for what they are willing and perhaps even about to do. “Hard-liner Mohammed Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights and brother of both the country’s parliament speaker and its judiciary head,” has recently said, according to a report in Washington Post: “To protect the interests of our system, we would negotiate with the US or anyone else even in the abyss of hell.”

The word that Larijani actually used is “nizam” [FA] which is here better translated as “regime” not “system” – the same word that you hear in the Arab revolutions: “al-sha’b yurid isqat al-nizam / the people demand the overthrow of the regime!”

In other words Mohammed Javad Larijani and his two brothers ruling Iran like a medieval fiefdom are willing to go all the way to “the abyss of hell” (no less) to save their regime, the same regime that allows three brothers to head the Legislative and the Judiciary branch of the government and leave the third in charge of “human rights” of those they thus rule – save their regime mind you and not to protect the lives and liberties of 75 million human beings trapped inside their own homeland and watched over and brutalised by a vicious military, security, and intelligence machinery.

To think that Mohammad Javad Larijani is “the secretary of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights” is to reach for your pillow – under it only to find a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 and in your insomnia marvel at his prophetic soul when he proposed the words “blackwhite” and “doublethink”: 

“…this word [blackwhite] has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.”

A dilemma?

The sheer obscenity that in a country of 75 million vastly educated and perfectly competent people, three ridiculous brothers should divvy up the ruling apparatus of a nation-sate amongst themselves as if it were bequeathed to them by their father and call the calamity a “republic” boggles the mind.

Inside Story – Saudi Arabia and Iran: Is trouble brewing?

But one has to be very careful getting too angry with these people, for an even more treacherous trap lies on the other side – and the judicious path in between passes through two deadly valleys. 

People who care about the life and liberty of those millions of Iranians trapped inside a Godforsaken Islamic Republic and thus categorically oppose the imposition of crippling economic sanctions and, a fortiori, a military strike against them – which means the overwhelming majority of Iranians themselves except a sliver minority among the so-called “expat opposition”, who are willing to destroy their own homeland and subject millions of human beings to catastrophe just to go back to rule it – now face a seeming conundrum. If they oppose these sanctions and the military strike they anticipate then they must keep quiet about the massive human rights abuses in Iran from fear of not fuelling the fire that Binyamin Netanyahu and his AIPAC-funded propaganda machinery wish to keep aflame, and if they do underline those abuses they become implicated in these vicious warmongerings. 

Having failed to mobilise a military strike against Iran over the course of the first term of Obama’s presidency in particular, Israel did not quiet know what to do with itself – so it went ahead and started bombing Gaza in mid November 2012 just about a week after Obama was re-elected into office. But crippling economic sanctions against Iranians and the constant threat of war still continue to generate much hardship and suffering in Iran, and thus the dilemma seemingly persists. 

The dilemma is not an easy conundrum – and can lead to one extreme or another, or else paralyse people into silence. The custodians of the Islamic Republic – the Mafioso Larijani brothers and the entire regime they so best represent – have in effect taken 75 million people hostage (they have a track record of hostage-taking as an effective strategy of furthering their cause) and anything one might say against their bloody regime might indeed become instrumental, willy-nilly, in seemingly manufacturing consent for a military strike against Iran that will in fact exacerbate precisely those very human rights abuses. European Union awards Iranian political prisoners humanitarian awards with one hand and imposes even more crippling economic sanctions on Iranians with another, with no evident sense of shame, irony, or paradox! 

So what to do – what to say?

As in all other cases when faced with a politcial dilemma we must go down to the first fact and phenomenon of politics – the human body and its various regimes of incarcerations, discipline, torture, and murder. In other words, when faced with a politcial conundrum, start with the body of the most recent victim, with the body of a human being that was just arrested, incarcerated, tortured, and then declared dead while in custody of the security apparatus of the Islamic Republic – and take it from there. All other political considerations must be resolved from the site of that dead body. 

Murder foul and most unnatural

His name is Sattar Beheshti.  He was a blogger – a labourer from a working class family who wanted to have a say about the urgent matters of his homeland. He was arrested, taken into custody, tortured, and then his parents were called in to collect his dead body. When his father asked why his son was dead, they told him he died of natural causes. He responded that there was nothing wrong with his son. They told him to shut up – for in those dungeons they are the ones asking questions.

Details of Sattar Beheshti’s death began to surface slowly but steadily. He was arrested on October 30 at his home in Tehran. Just before his arrest he had written a piece in defence of Nasrin Sotudeh, a leading human right activist and the brave mother of two young children, who is now on hunger strike in the bloody dungeons of the Islamic Republic and in grave danger as I write these words. On November 6 security authorities contacted Sattar Beheshti’s family informing them of his death while still in custody.

As the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) has reported, “The opposition website,, has alleged that interrogators severely beat and tortured Beheshti during interrogations, leading to his death.” As courageous Iranian journalists in and out of their homeland were following the case of Beheshti closely, and ICHRI was documenting it accordingly, a number of leading political prisoners at Ward 350 of Evin Prison published a statement verifying the charge that Beheshti was tortured. 

ICHRI reports, citing Beheshti’s mother, “[The authorities] contacted my husband and asked him to go over to them. They told him he died of illness. My husband told them he was healthy and asked for cause of death. They told him ‘Shut up, here we only talk and ask you questions. Go coordinate with Kahrizak Mortuary and obtain a plot for his burial’.” Soon after news reports emerged that Beheshti’s body was buried at Rabat Karim Cemetery in Tehran.

According to ICHRI, which remains the most reliable and judicious source of detailed information about human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic: 

“Beheshti’s death is certainly due to his circumstances in prison and once again the culture of rampant impunity inside prisons has claimed the life of another innocent victim. It is highly probable he died of injuries sustained due to torture under interrogations… Iranian prisoners of conscience suffer routine torture, ill-treatment, and denial of medical and basic rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, highlighted a ‘culture of impunity’ within the Iranian judiciary in in his latest report released on October 11, 2012.”

After the dedicated work of Iranian journalists and human rights activists – mostly based outside their own country, having fled the brutal machinery of repression in their homeland – exposed the condition of Sattar Beheshti’s death, the Larijani brother in charge of human rights in Iran promised that his brother who is in charge of the Judiciary will have Sattar Beheshti’s death investigated, and then Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ezhehei, the spokesperson for the Judiciary confirmed [FA] that yes indeed there were bruises on five parts of the late Sattar Beheshti’s body and that those responsible for this atrocity will be reprimanded.

At the same time when the scandal began to be too much to be ignored, the parliament under the control of the yet another of the Larijani brothers formed a committee to investigate the matter, and soon a member of this parliamentary committee, Javad Karimi Ghoddusi, came out and said [FA] that Sattar Beheshti’s death was quite suspicious and that BBC Persian may have had something to do with it, or even some of those political prisoners who had testified publically that he was tortured may have killed him! 

If all of this appears like a macabre apparition of a horrid joke, a page out of a Kafkaesque parody, then you have a sense of the insanity that rules Iran. 

Compound sentences, multiple subordinate clauses

No amount of revulsion against this system of criminal banality can be loud enough to express the anger and frustration it generates among people learning of Sattar Beheshti’s death. It sends shivers down the spine simply to think that in charge of the life and liberty, of the civil rights, human rights, and legal protection of seventy-five million human beings are three megalomaniac brothers delusional enough to think an ancient land and its inhabitants are the personal property bequeathed to them by their father. 

Deaths like those of Sattar Beheshti’s – one among many other innocent victims of a vicious killing machine – will never be either forgotten or forgiven. There is no punishment, no penance that can rectify such crimes – and the Islamic Republic has many such deaths on its roster of atrocities. 

How did Sattar Beheshti die? Why was he arrested in the first place? What inanity would entitle the security apparatus of a state to grab people at random just because they write blogs critical of their whims? By what authority – and who gave them this authority? The question must start from the moment that Sattar Beheshti was arrested and taken into custody by the security apparatus of the Islamic Republic. From that moment forward the entire system that calls itself “Islamic Republic of Iran”, the entire regime that is going to “the abyss of hell” to salvage itself, is implicated. 

If the Larijani brothers and the rest of the lslamist Mafioso who rule Iran think that by going to “the abyss of hell” to negotiate with Americans and thus to save their corrupt regime they can do as they please in their bloody dungeons they have another thing coming. As they can see from the case of Sattar Beheshti, Iranian people are on their case – dedicated journalists and human rights activists will not let them off the hook and hold them responsible for every drop of blood they shed in their dungeons. And from thirty odd years ago when they hijacked a noble revolution till Doom’s Day they remain accountable for every murder they have perpetrated. 

And if they think just because we care for our people and oppose economic sanctions and military strike then we will shut up about their criminal atrocities then they have another thing coming – we are all perfectly capable of compound sentences with multiple subordinate clauses, categorically opposing the murderous Israeli chicaneries, the reckless American imperialism, the nauseating Saudi opportunism, and the criminal atrocities of the Islamic Republic all at one and the same time.

Events such as the death of Sattar Beheshti expose both the noble and the ridiculous among those opposing the Islamic Republic.”

The case of Sattar Beheshti is one of the most poignant examples of the heroic job that Iranian journalists (such as Fereshteh Ghazi and numerous others like her), human right activists and organisations (like Hadi Ghaemi and his colleagues at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran), and political prisoners (like Fariborz Raisdana and scores of others like him) do in exposing the criminal atrocities of the Islamic Republic. Were it not for their relentless work, the case of Sattar Beheshti would have never received the global attention that it did and forced the Islamic Republic to admit to the crime and feign trying to address it. 

Iranian politcial prisoners in particular, suffering as they do in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic, risk everything while totally at the mercy of the punitive machinery of the vindictive theocracy to expose the horrors of their people’s sufferings. Their principled positions and heroic deeds stand in sharp contrast to the few but treacherous elements within the expatriate “opposition” wasting American taxpayers’ money from Washington, DC to Los Angeles playing one-upmanship with each other in encouraging the US to impose even harsher crippling economic sanction on Iranian people or even invading Iran (they call it “humanitarian intervention”) so these Ahmad Chalabi wannabes can go back to rule it – snow ball chance in hell! 

Events such as the death of Sattar Beheshti expose both the noble and the ridiculous among those opposing the Islamic Republic. The web of effective and enabling affiliations that has now emerged among the principled and progressive forces – investigative journalists, human rights organisations and political prisoners – is today the most solid base of what is best and most noble in the historic struggle of Iranians for their civil liberties beyond the futile ideological warfare between a corrupt ruling regime and an even more corrupt expatriate “opposition” it has generated to better justify itself.   

Meanwhile (not to lose sight of what matters most), the Larijani brothers and their cohorts are getting ready to go to “the abyss of hell”, as they put it, to negotiate with the US to save their regime. To save the Iranian people, they should feel free to stick around that neighbourhood for as long as they wish. 

As for the martyred messenger of hope cut down so violently in his bloom – Sattar Beheshti – true to his name a paradisiacal gift to the wretched of this earth, ascending to the heights of paradise precisely at the moment when the Larijani brothers were descending into the abyss of hell to save their Islamic Republic: Rest dear brother, rest in peace sweet valiant soul! Your noble life and your untimely death will not be in vain! The soil that is now sanctified by embracing your bruised and broken body will soon flower. You are the seed from which myth are made. The tyranny that murdered you will not last, and sooner than even your gallant soul had dared dream young children all across that suffering but defiant land, all the joyous interpretations of your noble dreams, will sing your beautiful name in chorus.    

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York and most recently the author of The World of Persian Literary Humanism (Harvard University Press, 2012)