“These Walls Will Talk” is a 2016 documentary by PressTV. The film discusses the human rights abuses committed by the Iranian intelligence organization SAVAK (Organization of Intelligence and National Security). In particular, the film focuses on the period between 1963 and 1979, which was characterized by a steep rise in political activism and opposition to the Pahlavi regime, culminating with the Iranian Revolution. Featuring interviews with surviving victims, historical footage, and reenactments, the film hopes to shed light regarding the atrocities committed against the Iranian people by a corrupt and illegitimate government. Additionally, the film serves as a reminder that human rights abuses such as torture are still being committed worldwide, and that international efforts to fight against such practices need to be strengthened.
SAVAK was founded in February of 1956 under the auspices of the US and Israeli governments and initially headed by Teymur Bakhtiar. Even though the leadership of SAVAK argued that the organization served a legitimate purpose in protecting the Iranian people from national security threats, the primary purpose of the organization was to eliminate any threats to the illegitimate rule of the Shah. SAVAK symbolized the Shah’s rule during the period between 1963 to 1978, a time of political corruption, one-party rule, the torture and execution of thousands of political prisoners (conservative estimates reveal that a minimum of 160,000 civilians were executed by the Iranian government during this period), suppression of dissent, and alienation of diverse political groups within the country. During this period, SAVAK gained legal authority to arrest and detain suspected persons indefinitely and has as many as 60,000 full-time members employed throughout all Iranian cities. SAVAK was known for its brutal tactics including torture, execution, and imprisonment without trial. Due to its brutal tactics, SAVAK developed a reputation as Iran’s most feared political institution by the 1970s and became known as a symbol of US imperialism within Iran. SAVAK was closed down in January of 1979, shortly before the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy. After the Iranian Revolution, the remaining SAVAK agents were either killed by the post-revolutionary government or became part of SAVAMA, the new Iranian intelligence ministry established in 1984.
“These Walls Will Talk” includes several interviews with individuals who were either tortured by SAVAK or knew of individuals executed by the organization. One such interview is with Parvin Salihi, whose husband Morteza Labbafinejad was a physician active in the religious opposition to the Shah. Salihi notes that her husband was arrested in 1975 on false charges and was sentenced to death after a summary trial. Despite her innocence, Salihi was imprisoned and sentenced to two years without trial by SAVAK and was repeatedly and brutally tortured at their hands. Another interview is with Ghodratollah Sanjari, who was active in the anti-Shah movement as early as 1963 and a devoted follower of the ideas of Ayatollah Khomeini. Sanjari mentioned that he was arrested and tortured only for “following a religion” and that all activities related to freedom, democracy or open political environments were seriously clamped down by organizations such as SAVAK. The film also includes archival footage showing former SAVAK members who state that the organization was based in part on secret police and counter-intelligence organizations based in Latin American and established directly by the CIA and the US government.
“These Walls Will Talk” is an excellent political documentary that presents a comprehensive overview of the human rights abuses committed in Iran during the rule of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. Additionally, the film gives awareness to the fact that the international community often ignores large-scale human rights abuses and that international law needs to be changed to allow for a more effective response to such charges. The main weakness of the film is that it does not focus on the left-wing and secular opposition to the Shah and primarily focuses on the religious-led opposition to his rule. The decimation of the secular opposition within Iran during the 1960s and 1970s is considered to be the main reason as to why the current Iranian government was able to consolidate its power. To be fair, however, the religious opposition groups within Iran during this period experienced much higher levels of persecution than secular and left-wing groups. Despite the minor critique, I highly recommend “These Walls Will Talk” and feel that it is accurate in its representation of Iran during a critical point in the nation’s history.
Here is a link to the documentary: