Jila Baniyaghoob’s letter: Mr Prosecutor! How would my expression of love endanger national security?

جمعه 8 آوريل 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Mr Tehran Prosecutor, His Excellency Ja’fari-Dowlatabadi

I last addressed you more than seven months ago (18 November 2010, http://www.zhila.org/spip.php?article328), when I asked you to be our prosecutor too from time to time; a prosecutor who years later would be described as someone who from time to time – only from time to time – would also act as the prosecutor for independent journalists and dissident citizens, not only on behalf of statesmen.

At that same time, I wrote to you that having studied law, you knew much better than me that the sentence of a thirty-year ban from journalism which had been issued for me by one of your judged did not conform even to the Islamic Republic’s own legal standards, and you were expected to object that sentence personally.

Your only reaction to my judicial and legal request was that you banned me from having any face-to-face meetings with my imprisoned spouse, Bahman Ahmadi-Amouee. You can review my letter once more – a letter with a perfectly mild tone in which no one had been insulted. Writing as an ordinary citizen, I had merely asked you to examine a totally illegal sentence. Was that too much?

I was perfectly prepared to hear you say, for any reason, that you had no wish to act from time to time as the prosecutor for us, independent and critical journalists. But, to be honest, I must confess that I did not expect that the reply to that letter would be my being banned from face-to-face meetings with my spouse.

A face-to-face meeting is not a privilege that could be revoked, but one of the basic rights of the prisoners, explicitly stated in the Prisons Organization’s regulations. I am speaking of the right which is enjoyed by all ordinary prisoners – including drug smugglers, armed robbers and violent rapists – at least once a month, without the need for your authorization. I am speaking of the same right of face-to-face meeting which has not been denied to political or, in your words, ‘security’ prisoners, under any of articles of the Prisons Organization’s regulations. I am speaking of the same right which, for no apparent reason or legal justification, can be enjoyed by political prisoners only after many calls upon officials and numerous correspondences with them, on the basis of an official letter issued by you.

You have said in a recent interview that your hands are tied by the Prisons Organization’s regulations. Please tell me which regulation or law makes it possible to deprive political prisoners of the right of face-to-face meeting, to which all prisoners are entitled? Please tell me why Bahman and many other political prisoners have been deprived of this right for months, while the Prisons Organization’s regulations say explicitly that a prisoner can be banned from face-to-face meeting at most for a month, as a punishment?

Not having addressed you or called upon your office at the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office for months, I ran into one of my former university professors who apparently has known you for a long time, as an exemplary, kind, prosecutor at the Family Court. My professor was as surprised as I had been by the thirty-year ban. He was even more surprised when he heard of the seven month-ban on my face-to-face meetings with my spouse. Based on what he knew of you, he said, it was not possible that you could have been aware of such injustices. He said you were too kind to stop a prisoner from having a face-to-face meeting, or even from going on leave from prison.

I said to him that human beings were subjects of the conditions in which they live, and maybe today’s conditions require that Mr Tehran Prosecutor should be unkind from time to time. But my professor would not accept that you could have changed, as many other human beings do. He could not accept that power could have changed such a kind person as you. He would not believe any of that, and said no matter how much people change, when the critical moment arrives, their personal traits and backgrounds would come to their rescue. Therefore, he insisted that I should meet you once more and share my difficulties with you. I thought this was unlikely to work. But I had no choice. A very respectable professor had asked me, in the light of your positive past, to visit your office once more.

Thus it was that I visited your office on one of the last days of the [Iranian] year [ending on 21 March 2011]. A wall of steel and glass had been constructed within a few meters of your office and it was not possible for me even to meet the secretaries or other staff members at your office. At long last, I was able to speak to someone who introduced himself as Afzali, and who was described by some as your deputy, and by others as your secretary. I said I wanted to meet you and handed in a letter addressed to you, in which I had asked for face-to-face meetings with Bahman.

He brought the reply back to me very rapidly: “Mr Prosecutor has stressed that you do not have the right to have face-to-face meetings.” When I smiled upon hearing the reply, Mr Afzali frowned and asked: “Why do you laugh all the time?” I looked at him, surprised. “Cry from time to time,” he said. “It would help you if you cried.”

I wanted to answer back, but I realized that, in the words of Dr Shariati, the official is of the type who would think about what he wants to say, before thinking about you are saying.

I decided instead to write to you, after many months and say: “Mr Prosecutor, please unravel this secret to us: why do your interrogators, prison warders and agents not stand our laughter? Why do they always wish to see us weeping and pleading with them?”

Maybe it is because they cannot remain calm like us and smile, and they suffer as a result. Maybe they are jealous of the smiles on my lips on the lips of my spouse and many other political prisoners and their families. My heart goes out to them because they cannot smile as we do, in spite of the hardship we go through. I am sure that thanks to our smiles, our patience and out resistance, we shall prevail. We do not need any other weapon.

Mr Prosecutor

I assure you that I will not plead with you even to secure the release of my spouse, let alone for a twenty-minute face-to-face visit. Only the guilty would plead.

Of course, I reserve for myself the right to ask you one day whose decision it was, and based on which rational argument, that I should not have the right to sit in front of Baman for a few days on the eve of the New Year, hold his hand in my hand, and say to him, without being blocked by a glass panel, and without having to use the telephone: “My darling, I love you more than ever.”

Please note that I have reserved for myself the right to ask you one day: “Who was afraid of my expression of love for my spouse? Mr Prosecutor! How would my expression of love endanger national security?”

I am sure you are not afraid. So who are those who are so worried about the prospect of me and my spouse sitting face-to-face, and do not let us?

Please note that I have reserved for myself the right to ask you one day: “Who is afraid of my expression of love for my spouse? How would my expression of love endanger national security?”

One day, I will ask you what logic led to my spouse beind deprived of a single phone call during the past nine or ten months to speak to his mother, who is ailing and unable to walk? A mother so ill that she cannot travel to Tehran to visit her son.

Do you remember the last time I met you, when Evin Prison’s Deputy Prosecutor, Mr Reshteh-Ahmadi, was with you? I asked you why you would not allow Bahman to call his mother who is more than eighty years old. You told Mr Reshtem-Ahmadi right there and then to allow Bahman to call his mother. More than seven months later, they have not allowed Bahman to call his mother even on New Year’s eve. Why, Mr Prosecutor? Please tell me how Bahman’s phone call to his elderly mother would endanger national security, if that’s why you have deprived him of this right for so many months?

If a face-to-face meeting had been a privilege, I would not have protested against your decision to deprive us of it. But I know that this is one of prisoner’s basic rights. You and the Intelligence Ministry’s interrogators know very well that I and especially my spouse have forfeited many privileges, and have accepted to end up in prison instead. I remember very well that some of interrogators would say they were surprised to learn that Bahman, who had been the economics editor and a member of the editorial board of several newspapers, lived a middle class, and sometimes a lower-middle class, life. They would point out that working in the economics section of a newspaper would allow the reporters and their editor to enjoy a variety of perks and have a good lifestyle. The interrogators would say that they had looked into all aspects of my spouse’s financial affairs and had found nothing objectionable. And I would ask such interrogators: “Is that why you have put him in prison?”

The interrogators would also express surprise that Bahman and I had not made use of the scholarships we had been offered to study at European universities. I would say to them, with dark humour: “Because we wanted to live in your prisons instead.”

Mr Prosecutor

You know very well that Bamhan’s hevy prison sentence is merely the price of his doing his job as an independent and critical journalist. He has been given a five-year prison sentence, simply because he wrote a number of critical articles about the performance of Ahmadinejad’s administration, especially in the field of economics, and because for a few months he was the editor of the website, Khordad-e Now.

I and other members of Bahman’s family have said repeatedly that government supporters who do not believe this can visit the Revolutionary Court and see for themselves that the evidence the judge has used for convicting Bahman consists entirely of the articles he wrote for newspapers or websites or for his own weblog. Surely, you also remember that one piece of evidence used against Bahman was that he had published a poem by Ferdowsi. In the verdict, the judge says: “Publishing one of Hakim Abol-Qassem Ferdowsi’s poems on 22 Khrdad 1388 (12 June 2009) with the intention of exciting and provoking the public to cause a disturbance.” Of course, 22 Khoradad was the day of the [presidential] election, and if Bahman had tried to “excite” the public, it must have been to encourage them to take part in the election. It is not clear why this should have been interpreted as “exciting the public with the intention of causing a disturbance”.

Mr Tehran Prosecutor

You did not allow me to see Bahman at the beginning of the New Year and wish him a happy New Year. But I hope you have started the New Year with heart full of serenity and kindness, with your spouse beside you.

Happy New Year, Mr Proseuctor

Jila Baniyaghoob

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