One year on from Iran's disputed election, former members of the elite Revolutionary Guard speak out:
Iran's Revolutionary Guards point to fresh dissent within oppressive regime
Six months ago Muhammed Hussein Torkaman was a young Revolutionary Guard in Iran, working in the security team attached to the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As part of this inner security force, the Sar-Allah, or Avengers of God, he was also responsible, he says, for the leaders' personal safety during the protests after the presidential elections, which were widely viewed as having been stolen by Ahmadinejad.
He witnessed increasing dissent within the guards. "We have Revolutionary Guards who defied orders, though they were severely punished, expelled from the force and taken to prison," he says.
Torkaman, 24, is in hiding in a small, nondescript flat in a backwater in central Turkey, where he is seeking asylum with his wife and two-year-old son. His extraordinary account of the depravities of the Iranian government and its crushing of dissent forms the backbone of a film by Guardian Films and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The film features the testimony of four former Revolutionary Guards, and reveals the extent of the disillusionment and division within the ranks. Most significantly, perhaps, it provides evidence that sections of the Revolutionary Guard – a core part of the regime, which controls both the nuclear programme and huge swaths of the economy – are angry with the very leaders they have been traditionally prepared to die for. ....
A former guard, Major Mohamad Reza Madhi, who fled Iran two years ago, believes there is now a policy to purge older guards, those most likely to question the motives of the regime. At a high security compound in Bangkok, Madhi tells Guardian Films that he is in constant communication with former colleagues, monitoring events via the internet.
He gasps for breath when he speaks – the result of five chemical weapons attacks during more than seven years in the trenches of the Iran-Iraq war.
"If the veteran members of the Revolutionary Guard criticise the practices saying this is against Islam … they are given early retirement or stopped from working," he says. According to Mahdi, the new breed of recruits follow orders without question. "The majority … have no idea of right or wrong – what is legal what is not. They bring these young men in … and they hand them weapons and these young people commit acts of murder."
Madhi's claims of division in the ranks are supported by the testimony of another former Revolutionary Guard, who worked for al-Qods, and who would speak to the Guardian only on the condition of anonymity. He claims that small groups meet secretly – using the internet to maintain contact – to plan how to help the opposition.
He cites the increased levels and more brutal forms of torture as one of the reasons for turning against the government. In his particular case, he says he was deeply affected by the hanging he witnessed of a pregnant woman.
"Whatever crime she was guilty with, you cannot hang her if she is pregnant. This is against Islam. Not acceptable," he says. "They kept her shivering in the air for like 15 minutes until she died. She was bleeding in front of her children. This regime will not last for long."
These descriptions match those of a former guard who was smuggled into Turkey three weeks ago. Now in hiding, with his wife and child still in Iran, he was also only prepared to talk anonymously. Going under the name Ali, he explains that he was arrested after refusing to beat protesters but was released after spending two months in prison when family members intervened.
"My sisters and brothers-in-law are agents of the regime and among the senior officials of the Ministry of Intelligence," he says. "My wife managed to find out where I was through her brother and then she bribed the commander of that district." (...)
Ali describes in detail how he was tortured daily: "I was kicked for three to four hours a day. With a whip, cable, wooden stick. One could constantly hear the shouting and the screams from other detainees."
Ali was subjected to a series of mock executions, which he describes as the worst kind of torture. "Once it was by hanging another time it was by firing squad and another time by hanging us from the scaffold – all of these would be mock executions – to be honest there was no difference between a real execution and a mock execution. The only difference was that I realised I could still breath. In effect I was a walking dead."
Ali said the torturers showed little sign of remorse. "I could not see their faces, I could only hear their voices and suffer their torture. I imagined that they were not even human.
"You cannot even call them animals since even animals follow certain discipline. They did it with so much excitement and I don't know, I cannot compare it to anything."
Ali fled to Turkey last month – since then he has not been able to contact his wife. She was pregnant before he was arrested but suffered a miscarriage. Ali believes it was a result of the interrogations and the beatings meted out by Iranian officers. "I consider the regime and its agents to be responsible for this. I am prepared to give my life for this."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is a not-for-profit foundation based at City University in London