“You cannot believe Government doing such things to their own people. You cannot believe a human being could do such things to another human being. I was in fear. I was in shock, afraid of anything.”

Amir, who is from Iran, was a 19 year old student in the summer of 1999, the time of major protests in the Iranian capital, Tehran. Amir and thousands of other students gathered to voice their anger against the country's strict religious regime. While calling for democracy and a free press, Amir, who now lives in Ireland with his parents and brother, recounts how riot police and security forces responded harshly to the student protesters. Five students were reportedly killed; dozens more were injured and over a thousand were arrested.  

When approaching the protests, Amir could see what was happening:

“I remember the way they (security forces) were brutally beating up students on the streets, in front of Tehran University. The regime attacked students with sticks, chains, knifes, machetes and hand-guns. I can still remember the tear gas all in the air, even from blocks away, burning my eyes. It was a really tough decision to make: You wanted to go away, or you wanted to stay and join them, but I had to stay. I had to show my solidarity.”

Students clash with security forces, Tehran 

And so, Amir joined the other protesters, in demonstrations that were part of a wider struggle between fundamentalists and reformers in the country. Peaceful protests began on the 7th of July after a court, answerable only to the country's Islamic Shia Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, closed down the reformist newspaper, Salaam. But on the night of 8th of July, riot police launched a bloody attack on one of Tehran University's student dorms, sparking the wider major pro-democracy protests, with the students' resolve hardening. Unfortunately for Amir, on the day he joined the protests, he was arrested and detained by police for a period of two weeks:

“I was taken to one of the unofficial custodies, without food and water… Our hands were tied behind us and there was a time they were hanging us from the ceilings, then they would beat us with sticks, or thick cables. They would come in the dark; in the middle of night, or day and just open the room. They would be shouting, abusing, cursing, saying they were going to kill us; execute us and you could easily believe that."

Amir and those who were being detained with him claimed they were passers-by on the day of their arrest, and were released after fourteen days of enduring torture. His experience, however, and his treatment while in detention had a lasting impact:

"It changed my life. You see a shadow, you fear it. I was having nightmares, most nights. I was afraid, every night and every day, that they were coming after me and were going to arrest me again. It was really shocking, especially at that age. It makes it really difficult to come-back and recover from it."

 
A protester, injured during clashes with riot police during demonstrations

Amir says it's an ordeal he will never fully recover from, yet he wasn't going to be ruled by fear and went back to college. He and his family were always interested in political affairs. Amir’s parents had been arrested when he was just a child in protest over the Iranian regime. They disagreed with Iran’s religious rule, overseen by the country’s Supreme Leader, and wanted a secular democratic government.

In 2001, on the second anniversary of the student uprising, there was a big gathering in Tehran to mark the events and Amir and his college friends went along, again showing their support for reform and improved human rights. However, Amir never imagined the events that would follow:

"This time, the intelligence agents used a different tactic. They filmed the students, and my friends and I were recognised. But, this time, you cannot say that it was an accident. They know, a second time, it was no coincidence...."

Listen to Amir’s story, in his own words, by clicking the play button at the top of the page, or subscribe to Voices on iTunes.