The family of Khalilullah Rezai occupies a special place in the tormented annals of Iran’s revolution. During the reign of the Shah, Mr Rezai’s children were actively involved in supporting the Mojahidin guerrillas and four of them—three sons and a daughter—were slain by government forces. He himself was imprisoned, and his wife and son-in-law tortured. When he first met Khomeini in Paris in 1978, the Ayatollah welcomed him warmly and told him how jealous he was of a father who had produced four martyrs for the revolutionary cause. But the fall of the Shah has not brought an end to Mr Rezai’s sufferings. He is now a victim of Khomeini’s dictatorship as he was earlier of the Shah’s. In 1981 he went into exile from his country while his wife and fourteen other family members went into hiding in Iran. The official television named his wife as a ‘spreader of corruption upon earth’, the current term of excommunication, and encouraged the population to report her whereabouts. His home and two shops, which sell central heating equipment, were expropriated and his employees were jailed. A nephew, Said Shahruqi was executed in the prison at Mahallat, on the Tehran-to-Isfahan road, for being a supporter of the Mojahidin. Four of Mr Rezai’s nieces are also in jail.
Mr Rezai recounts his tale with precision, dignity and some scorn for the tyrants, crowned and turbaned, against whom his family has long fought. The Mojahidin first met in his house when they were formed in 1965. His eldest son Ahmad was the group’s treasurer and the man responsible for preparing forged documents and passes. Ahmad had been in one of the nationalist youth movements which remained loyal to the memory of Dr Mosadeq, the premier ousted in 1953, and he maintained his links with the bazaar merchants from whom the Mojahidin initially drew support. As his father proudly tells it, Ahmad was very disciplined, very cool and, in the Persian term, porkar—full of work.
When the majority of the Mojahidin leadership were arrested by the Savak in September 1971, Ahmad managed to stay free and played an indispensable role in keeping the organization alive in its first of many trials by fire. In February 1972, however, he was caught in a police trap. Ahmad, age 26, died by blowing himself up together with four policemen who tried to seize him. He was the first of the Mojahidin to lose his life in the struggle against the Shah.
Mr Rezai’s second son Reza was a member of the Mojahidin central committee: arrested in September 1971 he told his jailors that he would lead them to his brother Ahmad. He was able to escape by giving his police escort the slip in a public bathhouse where a rendezvous had supposedly been arranged. He remained free until June 1973 and sent reports on prison life to the Mojahidin network in Iraq who broadcast them over Baghdad radio. But after nearly two years at liberty he was caught in an ambush outside a contact’s house and was shot by police while trying to hide behind a parked car. He was 24.
Mehdi, Mr Rezai’s third son, was one of the Mojahidin group responsible for assassinating military officials of the Shah’s government and their American advisers. He was caught one day in 1972 outside the house of Mohammad Reza Saadati, a Mojahidin leader who survived long imprisonment by the Shah only to be executed in jail in June 1981 as a reprisal for Mojahidin hostility to the new regime. Mehdi was carrying a bag containing weapons and when stopped by police he tried to run away: but he tripped and lost his bag, and his pistol then jammed. The Shah’s secret police, savak, first tortured him: they pulled out his nails, urinated into his mouth, and burnt the skin on his back—urging him all the while to shout ‘Long Live the Shah’. Later he was put on open trial and his family were allowed to visit him.
But Mehdi’s trial was broken off when the accused began to make political statements from the dock and he later received a second trial to which no reporters or relatives were allowed. This time the regime made no mistake: on 5 September 1972 the radio announced that Mehdi Rezai had been executed. Mr Rezai suspects his son died under torture, since the family were not allowed to see the body as it was buried in the cemetery of Behesht-i Zahra, on the southern outskirts of Tehran. Mehdi was 19 when he died.
In February 1974 it was the turn of the whole family to go to jail: in the night Mr Rezai, his wife, two of his daughters, a son-in-law, a three-year old grandson and another son, plus two house guests were taken to prison. Mr Rezai and his wife were put in solitary confinement and she was beaten whilst being hung from the ceiling by her wrists. But one daughter, Sedige, was away from home at the time and managed to evade capture. Her family had no contact with her until some months later, in January 1975, it was announced that Sedige Rezai had been killed in a gun battle with police in a Tehran street. She was 18 and had just finished her secondary schooling.