TORONTO (Reuters.com) -- For Iranian-Canadian Ezat Mossallanejed, working with victims of torture is a chance to give back to a long-suffering community and help them climb back into society after what may be years of ill treatment.
But it’s also a way to bury his own ghosts after spending four years in an Iranian jail 36 years ago, where he experienced both mental and physical abuse, after being accused -- falsely he says -- of being a leftist guerrilla seeking to overthrow the Shah.
“When there is no justice, when there is no human rights, then you can struggle for justice and human rights,” Mossallanejed, a policy analyst and researcher at the non-profit organization Canadian Center for Victims of Torture (CCVT), told Reuters ahead of the United Nation’s International Day In Support of Victims of Torture on Friday.
“There is some kind of impulse, and something - a fire inside you that keeps you going. Some kind of ecstasy. I can’t rationalize it, but it is a love for freedom, it is love for change, it is love for human rights.”
In 1973, Mossallanejed, a human rights activist, was working for the Ministry of Energy in Tehran when the secret police came to his office and took him away. At the beginning of his imprisonment, he says he was repeatedly tortured, variously tied to a metal bed and beaten with both a wooden stick and a thick electrical cable, hung upside down and subjected to verbal attacks.
He came to Canada as a political refugee in 1985.
Mossallanejed, now in his early 60s, also is the author of the book, “Torture in the Age of Fear,” which chronicles the history of human suffering and global torture.
“The experience they have gone through is beyond the normal range of the tolerance of any human being. They have suffered in silence,” Mossallanejed said, referring to victims of torture. “I have always been inspired by their fortitude, steadfastness and determination to make change in this world.”
In his work with CCVT, Mossallanejed helps counsel survivors of war, torture, genocide and crimes against humanity, using his first-hand perspective.
“He understands them better than others who have not been through a similar experience. He validates their experience without becoming judgmental,” says CCVT executive director Mulugeta Abai.
The issue of torture fueled a political firestorm in the United States after pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were published in 2004. The photos damaged the image of the United States as it fought against insurgents in Iraq. Subsequent allegations later surfaced of torture at the U.S. prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
Not surprisingly, Mossallanejed is clear on the efficacy of torture as an interrogation tool.
“Sometimes under torture, people give false information to get rid of the torture,” he said. “That makes the situation worse because then (the torturers) don’t trust you. Then they will continue torturing you, sometimes to death. Torture doesn’t produce results.”
Mossallanejed is also keenly aware of events in his home country, where a disputed election result this week led to sometimes violent protests in the streets of Tehran. He checks the news several times a day.
“I want to remove any kind of illusion from people that the choice is between this candidate or that candidate,” Mossallanejed said. “I think it’s a narrow-minded approach. The demand should be for fundamental social, economic, cultural and civil rights.”