Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Mr. Khamenei and His Cell-mates
Hushang Assadi 2009.03.10
Mr. Khamenei, I close my eyes as you and I together enter the corridors of the Komiteh Moshtarak prison in Tehran. These days you go around with your Velayate Faghih (a Shite jurisprudent who is also the head of state) garment and there is an entourage following you. But I, like thirty and something years ago, come along with nothing but my dreams of freedom.
Do you remember the days when you and I together were prisoners in the Shah’s prison and stayed in the same prison cell.? Contrary to those days, today I am exiled by you. You are the Velayate Faghih leader while I am outcast and driven from my home country. Do you know what your agents eventually told me? “You are a foreigner here. Get lost,” they said. Can you believe it that they told me I was a foreigner in my own country? So I am an outsider, an outcast. But on your visit to the same prison you, as the leader of the insiders of the current regime, are now gradually approaching the very same cell that we shared together in those days. You need to know that someone has recorded your sayings word by word and has put them on a website. I will read the writing and will accompany you through the prison visit.
You spoke about going to the bathhouse. Do you remember how the four of us, ie you, me, Ali and Sasan, washed ourselves with cloth-washing soaps? You seemed ashamed. Still we laughed so much. How happy we were in that atmosphere of darkness and duress, even though we were humiliated. We were beaten up. They would pull your hair. Sasan was almost dying of torture. What sparkle your eyes displayed when you used to put food into my mouth – that “communist” - with your own hands!
I have written all of these things, in my memoirs. But I will be honest with you: I am afraid to publish the memoir because of your agents who may harm me in my age and in this foreign country.
Yes, Mr. Khamenei, I remember you crying and reading the Quran while I, a young innocent man, sat on my feet dreaming of the days when freedom would arrive. Freedom for you to read your Quran and prayers, and for me to read Sholokhov, Foroogh, and Shamloo, as we all worked to rebuild Iran. You would focus on preparing people for their life in the after-life, while we would help them in their life in this mortal life.
As we walk down the wards, a shriek fills the air coming from the torture chamber and we both become silent. You must still remember those shrieks, as you have said so and someone has written about them. It is so good that you have not forgotten the cell, the tortures and the shrieks. You have even mentioned the name of your interrogator.
In fact all the cellmates of those days have survived and live today.
Years later you became president of Iran but I was sent to prison again. The interrogators this time were a different group. They were called “brothers” this time and replaced the previous ones. How strange it is, Mr. Khamenei. This time Alireza and I had the same interrogator. His name was “Brother Hamid”. Actually you know him very well. I am talking about Mr. Nasser Sarmadi Parsa. I heard that you screamed at him when he was the prison warden for the ward where the infamous “serial murderers” were kept, which triggered a heart attack onto him. Yet, I pitied him, even more. This is ironic that at one time people were tortured to gain power while at another time heart attacks were experienced confronting the same authority. But as you have said, believers have to fear what happens in the after world.
Yes Mr. Khamenei, you screamed at someone who had tortured me for three full months when I was behind bars. He forced me to eat my own excretes. In all honesty, the interrogators in the first prison did not do these things. Did they? But “Brother Hamid” did these very things to Alireza Akbari. My will to live kept me from dying, but Alireza was not so fortunate and was executed. His crime? That is clear: According to you we were all spies by nature. According to you we all planned to topple the regime, we were sexually amoral, etc.
The ironic part Mr. Khamenei is that Alireza and I both defended “the Glorious Islamic Revolution” based on the political line of the movement to which we belonged. And we defended it wholeheartedly. As did Rahman Hatafi. Yes, that young green-eyed, brown-haired man who you must remember because he and I came to your house in 1977 which was located on Fereiduni Street in Mashhad. That was a very simple and divine house. You only had one servant who later became your poet. You and Rahman talked with each other for four hours. When parting time came, you held my hand at the door and softly said, “What a wonderful and educated young man he is, but what a shame he is a communist.”
You know that that educated young man not only defended the revolution till his last breath, but even theorized this defense for others. But what fate he had into falling in the hands of “Brother Hamid.” He and “Brother Mojtaba” together gave Rahman such hell that he cut into his own face with his nails and then bit cut his own veins.
Yes, Mr. Khamenei, as poet Shamloo – whom you never liked - has said, “Strange Times” have dawned. You were the president then and I was in a cell adjacent to the one you and I shared during our prison days under the Shah.
So you continue your visit to the “Museum of Learning”, as Komite Moshtarak prison is known today. Next to my prison cell was Behazin’s cell. Behind the window they had thrown the lifeless body of Rahman Hatafi. Neither I, nor Behazin, nor Rahman, nor Alireza had committed any crime except a holding opinions that were different from those of your government. That is all there was. Nevertheless, three of these individuals are no loner living and I have been thrown out of my own country, my own home.
As you continue to visit the “Museum of Learning” you pass by the statue of Manouchehri and Ghandi. You see a prisoner effigy being whipped, the head of another one held under water, and looking next you remember that someone was hanging from the bars there.
You see these images and displays and shake your head in misfortune as you walk by. It is a shame that there is no one to ask what was going on there between 1979 and 2001 when Komiteh Moshtarak gave way to the Museum of Learning.
You should ask after brothers Hamid, Mojtaba, Mahmud, Rahim and the others. Perhaps someone will tell you that through their behavior these “brothers” made SAVAK look good. Perhaps they will tell you that the shrieks that used to come from the torture chambers during the Shah’s days had grown louder and louder in later years.
It is interesting that all your prison cellmates who opposed the Shah have survived and are alive today. But from amongst those in the prison of the Islamic Republic, only you and I survive. And my survival is per chance. If I had not left the country in time they would have done me too. Brother Saeed Mortezavi who people say is your favorite judge told me himself: “We should not have had merci on you to let you live. And it is still not too late for that.”
Mr. Khamenei! You know the people that I have named in this piece. And these are just the first names in a long never ending list some of whose names you know and others you don’t. Thousands of them have been executed, have spent long years in prison, have been forced to leave their country, are jobless, are in self-imposed exile at home, and are mostly among the best children of Iran.
I take the very God that I have seen you worship as witness and ask: when you used to cry in the prison cells of Komiteh Moshtarak prison so that SAVAK interrogators would leave did you want them to be replaced with brothers Hamid, Mojtaba, Rahim etc? Did you just want the call of azan (call to prayers) to be heard at the Komite Moshtarak prison and a change in the torture shrieks? Did you just want the acts of torture to change merely change names from torture to taazir (the Islamic term for physical punishment including torture)? Are these the changes that you wanted?
And do you really believe that by changing the name of Komite Moshtarak to Towhid after 20 years of its existence, and then to Ward 3000 of Evin, and finally to the Museum of Learning, these issues would evaporate or be solved?
Continuing your visit of the prison and as you leave Komite Moshtarak, I go and sit in the very prison cell that we occupied together. I close my wet eyes. I close them to this bitter world. The guard locks the door. You go to resolve the issues of the world but I really wish for you to come back, and for Ali and Sasan to return as well. I wish the four of us could again sit together for a meal and launch a new goal.
Leaving the prison, you are now at your command center. You enjoy your lunch, begin to pray and forget Komite Moshtarak prison and the Museum of Learning. But I still sit in the same prison cell and cry for ever. Yes, I will cry until freedom finds its wings in my country, until the rule of law rules, power is not monopolized by anyone, and no one is estranged or outcast from his home-country.