By Jila Baniyaghoob
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
I wrote this letter one day before Bahman(1) and his friends ended the hunger strike they had started in protest against the martyrdom of Hoda Saber( 2)and Haleh Sahabi(3). The letter was first published on the Kalameh website.
Dear Bahman, it was only last Monday when I saw you again from behind the opaque window of the visitor’s cabin. The window was so blurred that I repeatedly told you to change your sitting position so I could see you. And both of us changed our sitting positions repeatedly so we could see each other better through the cabin’s blurred window.
Of course, this was not the only problem during the meeting. Like all prisoners, you now have to keep your finger pressed on the button that they have recently installed on the phone handset in the visitor’s cabin. Your voice is lost when you get tired and release the button. It’s not at all clear why this button should be there, and why you should have to keep it pressed throughout the visit so I can hear your voice.
‘Bahman,’ I say, ‘I’ve heard the button is there so the conversations between the prisoners and their relatives could be monitored.’
‘I don’t know if that’s true’, you say, ‘but if it is, I wish they could buy a more sophisticated piece equipment so we would not have to keep this button pressed throughout the visit.’
Bahman, Monday was the third day of our hunger strike. Today is the ninth day. I said to you, ‘Everyone says a hunger strike must have a specific demand, but your hunger strike does not have a specific and tangible demand.’
‘Who says it doesn’t?’ you say. ‘Is the demand for an investigation into the deaths of Hoda Saber and Haleh Sahabi not specific?’
You then add that of course we all know that the authorities will not listen to us and will not conduct an investigation, but maybe the people will hear our voice. You then pause and say, ‘It doesn’t matter if our voice does not reach the people, because ...’
‘Because of what, Bahman? Why have gone on hunger strike?’ I ask.
You don’t seem to be listening to me. You seem to be gazing at the window on the wall behind me, as you say: ‘Saber loved Mohammad Hanif-nejad and Majid Sharif-Vaqefi [members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organizaion who were killed, respectively, by the Shah’s regime and by a splinter group within the organization]. That’s why he named his sons Hanif and Sharif. He loved the Sahabis’ character, manners and ethical values. The death of Ezzat followed by Haleh’s death was a big blow to Saber and ended his patience [‘Saber’ means patient].’
I return to your unfinished sentence and ask you about the reason behind the hunger strike. You don’t seem to hear me and carry on: ‘Saber was really committed to principles and ethical values. He was not like the so-called ‘principlists’ in Iranian politics. What I mean is that he was really committed to the principles in which he believed. He looked after all the prisoners and was sensitive to their slightest illnesses. Whenever a prisoner would fall ill, Saber would nurse him like a mother. Whenever a new prisoner would enter the cell, Saber would immediately go to him so he would not feel lonely and depressed.
Your voice is lost. You have gotten so carried away with praising Saber that you have forgotten to keep the damned button pressed. I wave my hand to tell you that I cannot hear you and you press the button again.
I can now hear you say, ‘Saber was very serious and committed to the struggle. He kept saying we must stand firm and resist to the end; that we must not give in even an inch. And he stood firm to the very end and did not give in an inch. He would always speak to the interrogators authoritatively, in a loud and confident voice. Saber would give counsel to his interrogators, telling them, “This is so pitiful. Don’t do this to yourselves. Abide by human value and respect human dignity.”’
You pause again and I am worried that you might again have forgotten to press the damned button. But I hear your voice again, as you say, ‘Saber was very unhappy with the lack of serious studies among political and social activists. He himself had a serious program of studies. He had organized history classes for prisoners and would read the Qoran three or four hours a day.’
Once again, I want to ask you about the hunger strike. You hold your hand up to my face and say, ‘Wait. Wait a few minutes.’
‘The way Haleh Sahabi died was a big blow to Mr Saber and ended his patience,’ you say.
‘You said this, darling’, I say.
‘When Saber went on hunger strike,’ you say, ‘one evening, as he has walking around the prison yard, I asked him, “Why have you gone on hunger strike? You were opposed to hunger strikes.” Saber said, “The tragedy of Haleh’s death has caused me severe ethical and moral anguish. I pursue no demands through this hunger strike. I want to calm myself down, and I have calmed down.”’
‘Bahman,’ I ask, ‘are you and your friends also trying to calm yourselves down by going on hunger strike?’
‘Saber lost his patience because of Haleh’s death,’ you say. ‘We have also lost our patience because of Saber’s death. The death of our fellow inmate who left us so swiftly, while no one is held responsible for his death.’
Dear Bahman, tomorrow, on the 10th day of the hunger strike by you and your friends, and on the second anniversary of your detention, I will come to visit you to say that I know that you and your friends have lost your patience, just as Saber lost his, and that you do not expect anything from anyone as a response to your hunger strike. But already many have heard the sound of your patience running out. You and your friends can be sure that your voices have been heard outside the Evin and Rajai-shahr prisons.
I must remember to tell you that many of your friends outside prisons, in Iran and around the world, have gone on hunger strike, or started a political fast, to declare their solidarity with you. They have sent you hundreds of message and held tens of solidarity rallies.
Translated by Hossein Shahidi
1-Bahman Ahmadi Amouee who was arrested on June 20, 2009, is currently serving a 5 year mandatory prison term in Evin prison, Tehran.The only crime committed by Bahman has been that of carrying out his professional responsibilities as a journalist. In other words, Bahman is a prisoner of conscience. In fact, his articles published by official papers and websites have been cited by interrogators at the Intelligence Ministry and the courts as evidence supporting charges against him, including the charge of charge of “spreading of propaganda against the state” and “acting against national security.
2-Hoda Reza Zadeh Saber (19 March 1959 — 10 June 2011) was an Iranian journalist, translator and political activist. He served several prison terms since 2000,and died while on a hunger strike in prison protesting the death of Haleh Sahabi.Saber played a leading role in the magazine Iran-e Farda (Iran of Tomorrow), which was published from 1992 to 2000.Saber was devoted to social justice. In recent years he had been working in Sistan and Baluchestan, both major drug-trafficking routes from neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Saber’s employability-training programme, aimed to help over a thousand underprivileged young people escape the poverty of their drug infested
3-Haleh Sahabi, An Iranian opposition activist has died after scuffles with security forces at her father’s funeral.Haleh Sahabi (1957 – 1 June 2011) was an Iranian humanitarian and democracy activist.