Iranian journalijst, Jila Baniyaghoob’s letter to her imprisoned husband and colleague, Bahman Ahamdi-Amouee
According to Amnesty International, 13 journalists were among the thousands of people arrested in Iran since the disputed presidential elections on 12 June. Seven have since been released; five are known to be in prison. Amnesty International says it has no farther information about one journalist, Rouhollah Shahsavar.
In its statement, “Iran: Seven Iranian Journalists Released”, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/i..., Amnesty International says those who have been released include two women: Jila Baniyaghoub, who is also a women’s rights activist, was released on a bail of nearly US$ 130,000; Mahsa Amrabadi, who is pregnant was released on a bail of almost US$ 200,000.The other five freed journalists are all men: editor of the newspaper Gilan-e Emrooz, Mojtaba Pourmohsen; freelance journalist, Fariborz Soroush; Iason Athanasiadis-Fowden, a British-Greek journalist, who was freed on 5 July and has left Iran; Mostafa Qavanloo Qajar, who works for the monthly magazine Sepideh Danaei; and Abdolreza Tajik, editor of the weekly magazine Farhikhtegan.
Amnesty International says at least five other journalists, all male, who remain in custody, have been denied legal assistance. They are: Jila Baniyaghoub’s husband, Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee, who is in solitary confinement; the editor of Etamad-e Melli newspaper, Mohammad Qouchani, despite the payment of bail for his release; Maziar Bahari, a Canadian-Iranian reporter for the magazine Newsweek, and Saeed Laylaz a writer for the magazine Sarmayeh; and Keyvan Samimi Behbehani, editor of the banned Nameh. (For more information, see Amnesty International’s statement,.)
What follows is a letter by Jila Baniyaghoub to her husband, Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee, whom she had not been allowed to see following her own release. The letter combines tender emotions; gentle reflection on deception and suffering; and the strength of spirit created by love. A week after the publication of the letter on Jila’s weblog, “We are journalists”, http://zhila.net/, the authorities allowed her to meet Bahman. Jila says she found Bahman in high spirits, but much thinner and appearing tired and less focused than before, “probably because of solitary confinement.”
Jila’s letter was translated into English by Hossein Shahidi, who wrote about Jila and Bahman last month, while they were both in prison, “For my friends in jail in Iran” in Aljazeera website.
A letter to my imprisoned spouse, Bahman
Let us turn sorrow into power
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
My dear Bahman
I came to Evin prison yesterday. I had a hunch they would not let me see you. But I came over anyway because I feel better by the walls of Evin, closer to you and my other dear friends in jail.
As ever, I prefer to call you the best friend in my life, rather than my spouse.
I come over to Evin not only on Mondays which are visiting days, but also come on other days, to feel closer to you and all my imprisoned friends. Closer to you, to the brave Shiva [Nazar-Ahari], to Mass’oud, Sa’ied, Ahmad, Abdollah, Hengameh, Fariba, to the dear Mohsen Aminzadeh, the lovely Kayvan Samimi, the ever buoyant Mohammad Qouchani, and to all the others who were arrested after the elections.
I feel that by the walls of Evin I breathe the same air that you and my other friends breathe. But what a senseless comparison. There is no chance that you in your cells could breathe the air that fills my lungs. The air in the hot cells of Evin prison has nothing in common with the fresh air on Evin’s hilltops.
My dear Bahman
You rang yesterday to say it was likely they would move you from solitary confinement to a cell with one or two other inmates. You then asked me to bring you some books. “Darling,” I said, “I’ll bring you the books tomorrow, but I don’t think they’ll let you have them.” This is what I learned from sixty days of incarceration in the same prison ward where you are now held.
“But the Doctor is standing by my side right now,” you said, “and he can hear you on the prison intercom. He says you can bring me books and they will reach me.”
I knew it had to be the same courteous doctor who, once the interrogations had been completed, would engage me and other prisoners in theoretical discussions. I used the opportunity to ask the Doctor if they would really let you out of solitary confinement. “Yes,” he said, “you can be sure.” I asked if I could bring you books. “Yes,” he said, “bring them along.”
The same evening I chose several great books from our library. The next morning, I set off for Evin, full of joy, with a plastic bag full of books in my hand. “Even if they don’t let me see Bahman,” I was telling myself, “maybe now that the Doctor has promised to let him have the books the books can help him fill some of his time in the cell after seventy days of confinement.”
The official in charge of reception took my ID card from me through the window of his office, presumably to make sure that I was related to you. Having examined the ID carefully, he said he had to ask your interrogator if you had the right to have a visitor. He was about to shut the window when I showed him the books and asked him to take delivery of them. He said he had to talk to the interrogator about that too. “Please,” I said as fast as I could before he could shut the window, “please tell the interrogator that the Doctor himself has given the permission.”
And I had to wait by the closed window as long as it would take the prison official to decide whether he felt like it, or could speak to your interrogator, and then open the window and to give me a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ reply.
Don’t worry, my darling, It is not too hard to wait, because in the same line I can see the families of many of our loved ones who are in prison: Saied Laylaz’s spouse; Mohammad Qouchani’s spouse and mother; Shiva Nazar-Ahari’s robust mother and her loveable sisters; and many others whom I don’t know, but who know me and give m support and express their hope that you will be freed as soon as possible. So, you can see, it is not so hard to pass these moments.
An hour later, the prison official opened the window and said the interrogator had told him Bahman still did not have the right to have a visitor. By the way, the interrogator had also sent me a message saying, “Don’t come over here anymore. We’ll call you whenever we want Bahman to have visitors.”
My dear Bahman,
Do I have be as optimistic as you are and take what the interrogator has said as sign that he’s being kind to me and does not want me to waste my time on pointless journeys to the prison and back? Should I thank him for that? You are so kind that if you had been near me, you would have told me, “Don’t be so pessimistic. Look at the full half of the class.” But you know that I cannot be as optimistic as you are.
I asked the prison official about the books. “We can’t accept these,” he said, “because his interrogator has not allowed it.” I wish “The Doctor” could see this letter of mine. I would like to ask him, “Now that your promise for the delivery of books has not been realized, how can I be sure that you would transfer Bahman from solitary confinement to a common cell? You were so fair-minded that when I complained to you about the inappropriate behavior of some of your colleagues towards me and said that I would reserve the right to complain to higher authorities, you said I was right; that you were sorry about the inappropriate behavior; and that you would follow up this case carefully and would ask your colleagues to make up for what they did. Thank you, Doctor, but I do not need your colleagues to make up for anything. However, I do expect you to put yourself in my shoes for one moment. Do I not have the right to be skeptical?”
Today, I saw Massoud Bastani’s spouse, Mahsa Amrabadi. “Jila,” she said to me, “it’s as if we were better off inside prison than now that we are free. At least we knew then that we were close to our loved ones. Out here, we keep worrying about them.” You see, Mahsa feels the same way that I do. I am not the only person who finds it difficult to bear the weight of this freedom.
My dear Bahman,
Why is it that your interrogator, who also interrogated me, does not allow me to see you? The first month that we were in prison together, he did not allow us to see each other. The second month, though, we met a few times in his presence. Brief though they were, the meetings were so nice and reassuring. You thanked the interrogator so many times. While I’m not into thanking people very much, you always thank everybody, even your interrogator, even if all they’ve done is to return your own rights to you, long after they have taken them away from you.
I once asked our mutual interrogator, “Why have you kept Bahma in solitary for such a long time? What do you want from him that he has to suffer so much for it?”
“Do you mean we’re torturing him?” he asked. “We don’t keep prisoners in solitary to torture them.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “why do you send them to solitary, then?”
“To stop prisoners from sharing ideas,” he said.
I suddenly remembered that a leading figure in the Islamic Republic had said, “During the Shah’s reign, I myself was in solitary for seventeen days and I can confirm that solitary confinement in itself is a form of torture.” I put the same point to the interrogator.
“If I had wanted to torture him,” the interrogator said, as calmly as ever, “the best thing would have been not to allow him to see you. For him, this would have been the worst pain. But I have allowed you two to see each other several times.”
Whatever his faults, and unlike most of his colleagues, this interrogator was very patient. He would not get angry; would now lose his temper easily; and would not insult. That’s why I was tempted to try to impress him by showing how much I had read about the impact of solitary confinement on prisoners; how it could totally break up the prisoner’s mind and character. But I gave up as soon as I remembered what you had told me so many times: “The prisoner is not there to persuade the prison warden.”
The interrogator was right. We had met each other several times, in his presence. I had to be grateful that you were only suffering from solitary confinement, unlike many other prisoners who were also suffering from not seeing their spouses. You were lucky to have been arrested along with your spouse; lucky to have been kept in the same prison as her; and lucky to have the same interrogator! How much luckier can one be? I know that you did not consider any of this to be good fortune. You would have preferred for me to have been outside prison, even if that meant that you could not see me for months.
My friend, my kind Bahman
In your opinion, now that I have been released, why does the interrogator not allow us to see each other? He himself said that the best way to hurt you would have been for them not to allow you to see me. Do you think he meant it? Is he trying to hurt you? Or maybe he’s trying to hurt me?
A few days ago, my younger sister, Taraneh, was criticizing me. “Jila,” she said, “it looks like you are only capable of tolerating prison. You need to be strong outside prison too. This time, try to train yourself for that.”
Do you remember you would always tell me that young though she is, Taraneh can sometimes notice fine points that you and I would miss? This is one of those fine points, isn’t it? Taraneh is right. I have now decided to learn to be strong and steadfast when my loved ones are in prison. I promise you I will learn fast.
I have made great progress already. Last Monday, for instance, when they said you still did not have the right to have a visitor, I sulked for a moment. But today, when I heard the prison official’s negative reply, not only did I not sulk, I even managed to smile.
Do you remember that you always used to remind me of the Asian motto, “Let us turn our sorrow into strength”? I promise you to turn all the sorrows that I face into strength. I hope you yourself have not forgotten the motto and will turn the pain and sorrows of prison into strength. I am sure you can.