A Canadian man who has already lost five siblings and a brother-in-law to the Islamic regime in Iran now fears for the life of his sister, Mansoureh Bekhish, arrested earlier this month and currently held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.
Jafar Behkish immigrated to Canada almost a decade ago. During the 1980s, six members of his family, all communists, died violently. One was killed in a shootout with government security forces; one was assassinated; four were jailed, tortured, and executed.
Jafar’s sister, Zahra Behkish, took a cyanide tablet when she was arrested. But Jafar, who was detained at the time, learned that she had been seen alive in prison. She was reportedly revived, and then tortured and killed.
Two of Jafar’s brothers were among the more than 4,000 political prisoners massacred on Ayatollah Khomeini’s orders in 1988. They were buried in mass graves at the Khavaran Cemetery, a traditional burial ground for religious minorities, on the grounds that they were apostates and must not contaminate the resting place of Muslims.
The graves are not marked, however, and this is why Mansoureh has often been targeted by Iranian authorities. She takes part in vigils to commemorate the mass murder of political prisoners, including at the Khavaran Cemetery. Those who gather there want to know where exactly the bodies of their loved ones were dumped so that they might mourn nearby. Iranian authorities regularly ban or break up such vigils. Mansoureh has been detained several times as a result in recent years.
“All this pressure on our family is because they want everybody to forget these crimes,” Jafar said in an interview with Maclean’s.
The reason for Mansoureh’s latest is unclear. She has not been charged, and the annual commemoration at Khavaran Cemetery is not scheduled to take place until September. However, Iranian authorities have recently cracked down on any form of dissent.
“It’s a very dangerous time. This time I’m very concerned,” says Jafar.
“What we want is simple,” he continues. “We don’t know where they buried my brothers and sisters. Our families are not looking for revenge. We are against executions and mistreatment. We want to know what happened. It’s a very basic right.”