The Forgotten Political Prisoners in Germany


I still remember Tehran Zoo when I was about five years old. There I saw for the first time insanity brought on by long-term isolation, sensory deprivation, and solitary confinement. Little did I know that it would not be the last, or that I would have personal experience with the solitary confinement, when I was locked up for “crime” I did to being an independent journalist and, while inside, a vehement history of struggles around the globe, particularly Iran in the last 100 years, embodied before my very eyes. How many years had that gorilla sat in that bare cage, I wondered, and how many years would his solitary confinement drag on? I never found out.

From Komitte to 209: The cause as the cure

While inside, I learned to know every inch of that cell. Maybe I looked crazy walking back and forth like some trapped animal, but I had no choice – I needed to feel in control of my space. I tried to make the stories and snowed myself under memories of my childhood and the years after, the questions of the past and the present struck my mind. My investigator, who was calling himself an “expert” wanted me to sit more weeks in my cell and find out how I became “like that” and wanted me to write it down, I said him once that is a great question Sir and I myself also really  would like to grasp the roots. So Islands of memory had begun to rise above the river of my life. Jean Christophe’s  Romain Rolland had begun to talk with me” At first they are little uncharted islands, rocks just peeping above the surface of the waters. Round about them and behind in the twilight of the dawn stretches the great untroubled sheet of water; then new islands, touched to gold by the sun.”  Although as I always use to say, solitary confinement, sometimes, is like a therapy place without a skilled therapist there. In fact one needs to start therapy on his own under an incredible pressure which is not an easy job to manage for everyone. There were also the moments when the memories of Nahid Kheirabi, a long-standing Marxist activist from her tortures and solitary in “Anti Vandalism Joint Committee”(Komiteh Moshtarak) and then in the first ward of women’s political prisoners in Iran’s 70th were strucking my mind. We have all experienced loneliness. I think if one multiplies that by a great degree,then one can start understanding of the situation there. However as we all know, loneliness does not require being alone and is experienced even in crowded places , thus  sometimes the burden of loneliness in one’s life might be touch the solitary’s burden.  So mom’s words about taping into that feeling of being cut off from the world, as large and deep as an ocean in her mind and her mirages, while inside, were ringing in my ears and gave me strength . I remember the days, I spent a lot of my time just crouched at the slot near the bottom of my cell door, listening for any kind of sounds. However, even one single moment I did not knuckle under the very condition and was always chorister in the kind of place you have to keep your mouth shut. The voice of Saeed Matinpour, the jailed journalist and Azarbaijan civil activist from the small window in the cell next to mine, despite our different political beliefs, also was giving me strength. He is still behind bars and one needs to go into the situation of a number of unknown political prisoners in Iran today, especially in the regions.

Nevertheless, the only moments I was shattering, were the times after confrontation with the kind of yob interrogator(also “expert”) after the third degree, having forgotten myself, I was thinking of the role of the places and the history, memory and place: geographies of a critical relationship, the two infamous prisons in the two eras and the cycle of falling behind, where are those flowers gone? What the hell is the fate of all the years of struggles and giving our eye teeth for the cause in this country and still here? Then the cure, the dialectical and historical materialism was there to help. Having thought about the upheavals in the world and particularly the final sequences of the best children of that country in a geopolitical region in  80s like a number of their own counterparts across the globe, the fact that we are only like a tear in the ocean made me feel better.

Nonetheless, I was also trying to find out the differences between  “Anti Vandalism Joint Committee”(Komiteh Moshtarak)where my mother and a number of outstanding political activist were behind bars and Prison 209, also known as section 209 of the Evin prison, an unofficial and secret detention centre in Tehran that operates under the administration of the VEVAK (Islamic Republic of Iran’s Secret Service) where I was behind bars and a number of known and unknown people are still there . “Anti Vandalism Joint Committee” was vastly expanded after the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran, and renamed Towhid Prison (The word towhid refers to one of the five pillars of Islam, monotheism). The majority of the prison’s usage was under the Islamic Republic. This unofficial detention centre in Tehran, Iran, used against opponents of the Islamic Republic of Iran until its closure in 2000. At its peak during the 1980s, it housed over 3,000 political prisoners, among the nearly 35,000 political prisoners imprisoned in the city of Tehran, the final sequence or the apogee of a number of radicals in the both Shah’s and the IR’s times including Rahman Hatefi (penname: Heydar Mehregan) a prominent Iranian Marxist journalist and political activist who was on the editorial board of the Kayhan newspaper. At the time of the incomplete 1979 Revolution, he played an important role in the publication of this newspaper. He was dismissed from his job during the purges in the spring of 1979. He was arrested on April 27, 1983 in Tehran and was taken to the Tohid Detention Center (previously known as the Joint Anti-Sabotage Committee).The details of Mr. Hatefi’s detention and interrogation are not known. He was reportedly subjected to enforced disappearance in prison. According to his co-defendants, he died due to torture sometime between April 27 and July 10, 1983. He is buried at Khavaran cemetery. Most leftist persons who were executed and buried at Khavaran are buried as “unknown individuals” and the exact location of the grave is unknown to their families.

Nevertheless, since then, I reluctant to go to the kind of Zoo, where one can see a lifetime of misery for animals behind bars, I could not get the madness I saw in that gorilla’s eyes out of my mind, though. I still see him.

Along similar lines, these days, when family members and comrades of political prisoners executed during mass executions of early years of 1980s and in 1988 massacre, gather in Khavaran cemetery to commemorate their loved ones in the last Friday of the Iranian calendar, in Esfand (March), on the occasion of New Year (Nowrooz),how one can forget a generation of Iranian kids, described as “the red diapers” by noted political scientist Michael Parenti, at the darkest days of repression at the 80s, amid the bloodshed of Iranian revolutionaries and the Iran-Iraq war, accompanied their parents or grandparents on the visits to the Evin prison. We are talking about one’s days in solitary as if it was the past, but the truth is it never leaves you. In some ways I am still there.

The day of political prisoners in Germany

From 1995 to 2000, according to a Vera Institute of Justice study, the daily prison population in disciplinary segregation increased 68 percent — more than double the growth rate of the general prison population.

In this journey together from Iran’s prisons, where Iranian people under the brutal sanctions of the so-called international community and the IMF’s prescriptions for the rentier state live and the demand for end all sanctions and free the political prisoners is going beyond the media blitz to Guntanamo and Bahrain and Syria to France and the demand for immediate release of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah  to Palestinian prisoners in Israel to aboriginals in Canada and to California’s Pelican Bay State prison and other America’s prisons, where Chelsea Manning, Barrett Brown, Mumia Abu-Jamal besides a number of unknown people are still behind bars, where Marshall Eddie Conway released after 44 years and Lynne Stewart medicaid triumphant indicates the window of hope in its dialectical notion,when the principle of hope  has become law of survival for the people with the common roots around the globe, let us turning now to the German prisons. After all,18th of march was the day of the political prisoners in Germany.

An internationalist

The international red assistance (IRH) [Internationale Rote Hilfe] declared in 1923 the 18th of march as the “international day for the political prisoners support”.
Since then and since 1996 many initiatives do celebrate this day again to remind of and campaign for the liberty of the political prisoners and against repression
Liberty for all political prisoners world-wide goes beyond any specific  geographic  area to indicate once again that human rights have no borders. Sitting in a café in Berlin’s Kreuzberg, where every single thing supposed to be “Alternative” I am talking with Şükriye Akar, a German-Turkish Marxist and civil rights activist who has been working extensively on the situation of political prisoners in Germany and Turkey and has been involved in the anti-prison movements. There is nothing that can stop her. We are sitting in Kotti, one of the most known Berlin’s Turkish neighborhoods, amid the ongoing people’s struggle with Erdogan’s neoliberal government that goes beyond the left and progressive pages these days, and hits the headlines of the Western mainstream media. If the Western mainstream media tend to focus mostly on “Moderate” versus “hardliners” in Iran today, when it comes to Turkey we are seeing the kind of  same formula, so we have mostly laicist versus religious, republican versus liberal, Kemalist versus Islamist, modern versus traditional, military rule versus civilian rule. As his government looks like a spent force for the vested interest in the West as well. ”I am a revolutionary, an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist activist from Turkey. I am also fighting for human rights and democracy in Turkey and declare myself as Internationalist.”That’s the way Şükriye introducing herself.

The “terrorist” concert

Talking about her recent activity regarding of political prisoners in Germany, she says”In January we have organized an international symposium against isolation. I am living in Germany and also fighting for the rights of migrants, among others against racism.”The Anatolian Federation is fighting very actively against NSU the Nazi gang in Germany, who was killed nine merchants of Turkish origins in recent years.”. She is one of the organizers of a sold-out concert of Grup Yorum, a Turkish band known for their political songwritingin in Germany and Turkey, attended by thousands of folks.Yorum has also given concerts in Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, Greece and Syria. On 08 June 2013,the Grup Yorum performed a concert in Oberhausen which was attended by about 15,000 people .The theme of the concert was “one heart and one voice against racism.” Grup Yorum announced before the concert ” this time we devote our songs to the bereaved families of the victims NSU” During the concert, a live connection to Taksim Square has been made and the aura of Gezi uprising was born in Oberhausen Arena.

Less than three weeks later after this concerts in Germany , on 26 June 2013, in North Rhine -Westphalia , Hamburg and Berlin, we faced raids and arresting of clubrooms and members of the Anatolian Federation. Latife Adigüzel , the chairman of the Anatolian Federation and Muzaffer Dogan, the most active member of the organizing committee of the Grup Yorum concert were arrested together with three other activists. The arrested in Austria Members of the Anatolian Federation Yusuf Tas and Özgür Aslan were after weeks of fighting , including Hunger strikes, extradited to Germany . Both are now in the high-security prison in Stuttgart master home . A strong solidarity with Latife Adigüzel , especially in Wuppertal, now led to their release . All the others are still in custody. The trial date is not fixed yet. Despite the massive repression aimed terrorizing of the Anatolian Federation, they are going to held another concert, even larger, on 07 June 2014. And this time, in a football stadium , namely in Offenbach.

Section 129b of the Criminal Code

Anti-terrorism legislation designs various types of laws passed in the aim of fighting terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, lawyers and legal advocacy groups, even those with long records as stalwart defenders of human rights, were reluctant to take on “war on terror” cases, for fear of seeming unpatriotic or worse. Not so Michael Ratner and his colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights.The situation was not that different in Germany. 2001 law was passed in an unique historical and global political situation in post-9/11. The Left party (Die Linke), criticized it at the time. German counter-terrorism strategy is based on using general criminal law statutes in conjunction with preventive measures to avert dangers.However terror laws hit German left in the past years.On 9 May 2007, more than 40 properties, including social centres, offices, bookshops and private homes in Berlin, Hamburg and elsewhere were raided by police. This was part of an investigation into the ‘forming of a terrorist association to disrupt the G8 summit’ and, under paragraph 129a of Germany’s anti-terrorist law, the supposed ‘membership of a terrorist organisation’, namely the ‘militante gruppe’ (Militant Group or mg) said to have carried out a number of acts since 2001.  I ask her what does she make out of Germany’s anti-terror law and the cases she is involve in terms of horror for civil rights.

“This is nothing but a bogus claim by German government to arrest members of Anatolian Federation and accusing them “to be a member of a foreign terrorist organization”, due to the so called §129b.” Section 129b of the Criminal Code allows the German authorities to prosecute the founding, membership, support and recruiting members or supporters for, criminal or terrorist organisations abroad (and outside the European Union), where there is a domestic connecting factor, as set out in the law. Domestic connecting factors include the involvement of a German national, either as a perpetrator or as a victim, the suspect’s activity is in Germany, or a victim or perpetrator is in fact in Germany.

“I am fighting for the rights of these political prisoners and fair trial. I am organizing information events, screening political movies, concerts and other cultural events, writing articles.” These political prisoners are all charged under the so-called anti-terrorism laws and they are accused of being members of the “militante gruppe”.

In Germany there is this infamous §129. It is already existing since the Weimar Republic. Thus, far more traditional than the Patriot act of the US or terrorism act 2000 of GB.” She says.

Checks and balances (rights of mutual control and influence) make sure that the three powers interact in an equitable and balanced way. The separation of powers is an essential element of the Rule of Law, and is enshrined in the Constitution.

“§129b is really special, because it gives a German Judge the right to pass judgement on foreign countries, mostly Turkey. It has undermined the fundamental principle of separation between the executive and judiciary.The minister of Justice decides, who will be charged and who not. So every §129b case is a political case, without any exception.”

Whereas the radical activists like the political prisoner Sadi Özpolat, who is kept in the jail of Bochum in Germany for a few years, faced with inhuman measurements andviolations of rights, and other political prisoners in Germany are in the kind of same conditions behind bars, the broad and growing movement against the wave of repression has three principal demands: freedom for the political prisoners, solidarity with all of those facing charges and the abolition of paragraph 129a.

“The German government does not call El-Nusra a “terrorist organization” “Because they support the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, but they call DHKP-C or PKK as terrorist organizations. Because these groups don´t accept to be puppets of the German state.” She says.

There are two anti -terror paragraphs in Germany. §129a- for the “German terrorist“ and §129b- for the “foreign terrorist“.  A bomb attack or armed action is necessary to be charged under §129a, meanwhile anything can be used to be charged under §129b. “So even in their anti- terror lists, racism does exist. The other feature of §129b is, that it is predestined for arbitrary.Anything can be considered as a crime.”

Turning now to the experimental evidence on this law, says the Turkish activist “spreading leaflets about the political situation of Turkey, making press statements or writing articles as I do, also the support and solidarity can be considered as terrorism and it can be applies to the things, you did years before. It is perfectly possible, that you once organized a demonstration, lets say 2001, and then 2014 they can suddenly charge you for the kind of activities.“

Since the 18th of March was publicised in 1996 as a day of solidarity with the prisoners, the public is made attentive by various activities to the issues of state repression and pursuit. Is the current campaign in solidarity with political prisoners in Germany successful? What could be done better? Şükriye Akar believes that it will be taken seriously by the radical left in Germany. Take the case of Oury Jalloh as only one of the examples of the ongoing process which hit even the headlines of German mainstream media like Der Tagesspigiegel. He was a Sierra Leonean asylum seeker who died in a fire in a police cell in Dessau, Germany. The hands and feet of Jalloh, who was alone in the cell, were tied to a mattress. A fire alarm went off, but was initially turned off without further action by an officer. The case caused national and international outrage.

“The weak side is the solidarity with the migrants as us. But it is also our fault, the fault of the migrants. We must work harder and expand the dialogs, whenever we ask the German comrades for solidarity, there is always a positive feedback out there.”

 The 11th International Symposium against Isolation

As the final declaration of the 11th International symposium against isolation declares “we condemn the brutal massacre in 20 prisons in Turkey on 19th December 2000. 28 prisoners were massacred cruelly. We never forget the prisoners, who lost their lives. Turkey, in co-operation with EU wanted to make an example. This was a warning to all “Free Political Prisoners” in the world. We will make an example of solidarity and proof how disgraceful and failed attempt this was.”

Şükriye says  ”On our international symposium we declared the 19th December  as the “International day against isolation. 19th 2000 is the day of the cruel massacre in the prisons in Turkey, when Turkish military and police carried out a massive and brutal operation against revolutionary prisoners.”  The 4th International symposium “Unity of the peoples against imperialist aggression” will be held in Istanbul, 12th -18th April 2014.

Soheil Asefi is an independent Iranian journalist in Berlin.  He left Iran some years ago after a ten-year professional experience at major Iranian media outlets.  In 2007 he was imprisoned in Iran and was released on bail.  He came to Germany as a guest of the City of Nuremberg under the “Writers-in-Exile” project funded by the German PEN Center.  He is a recipient of the Hermann Kesten Award in Nuremberg.  He can be reached on Twitter and Facebook.