Incarcerated journalist, Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, in a letter to his wife, journalist Zhilla Baniyagoub has tried to paint a picture of the living conditions for himself and the other political prisoners in Ward 350 of Evin prison.
Although his letter is addressed to the wife of this political prisoner, however, it goes beyond being a personal letter. The author has shared with the audience, with great care and scrutiny, the life of pro-Green Movement prisoners inside Evin prison.
It has been 2 1/2 years since Bahman Amouei was arrested and imprisoned. He was arrested on June 20, 2009 at his home and has been imprisoned since.
During his incarceration, he has only been allowed one short furlough. During the last 21 months he has not been allowed the use of a furlough. In the last year and a half he has only been allowed three face to face visits with family.
The most important charges that Amouei’s conviction was based on, were the critical articles he wrote in the Economics Newspaper about Ahmadinejad government’s economic performance, his personal web site and his job as the editor-in-chief of Khordade Noo web site.
Zhilla and Bahman in front of Evin March 2010, after he was released on $500.000 bail on a short furlough
The full text of Amouei’s letter as provided to Kaleme site is as follows:
Hello, my dear Zhila,
I am seated on a wooden chair, with broken arms, in the court yard of Ward 350, staring ahead.
It’s been raining for one week, there is no sign of the sun. Clouds are very thick and dense as though they want to pour down everything that they bear.
For me, the weather is cold, with the northern wind blowing and bringing cold air with it. As usual, with the start of Autumn, everyday I feel like I am coming down with a cold. By the end of winter, I will come down with a few severe colds. You know well how I am.
In these rainy days, we mostly spend our days and nights in our cells in Ward 350, on our beds, which is the most private space that we each have.
There are eighteen of us in this cell, we barely can have a cup of tea without intruding on another’s space. The prison must be out of heating fuel, it’s cold here and we don’t have hot water. It’s been a few days since I have taken a shower.
These days, more and more, I think about what is on the other side of these tall walls, and our time together.
Today, I decided, perhaps it is not a bad idea to use the excuse of writing a letter to you, to write down my feelings about being behind these thick and tall walls.
You see Zhila, how selfish we men are. Even when we want to say something to our wives, we put our self in the center of attention.
Here, sometimes we sit around and talk to each other. Every time your name comes up, I tell everyone that you have changed my views, and how much deeper I now think about things and people, and how you have taught me to pay more attention to details.
You have taught me to read books regularly with the focus on particular subjects. I owe you a lot, among them is me being in here, which is one the most important and valuable chapters in my life.
Perhaps if it wasn’t for you, I would have ended up somewhere else in life instead of here among the most elite children of my nation.
But now I have ended up in a place that I can be proud of, and the path of life that I chose. I can walk tall with pride. Yes, this is how you feel when you are a political prisoner.
From where I sit now, I am a few meters away from the tall wall that surrounds the court yard, a red brick wall with circular barbed wire on the top.
The sun shines it’s light thru these same barbed wires in the mornings, and if we are lucky we see the moonlight through them at night.
A few evenings ago, during the nightly row-call at about 6 PM, I saw the moon rising up from the east. It was a full moon. I smiled in joy. I stood on my toes so I could see the moon better from over the wall.
Alireza Beheshti Shirazi, with his usual smile asked, what are you smiling about? I showed him the moon and said, it’s been a long time since I have seen the moon. As though, the moon had been captured by the same barbed wires.
Walls, walls, walls, wherever I look, there are walls. A 50 centimeter thick red wall, as though every 10 centimeter of it tells the story of a decade of our lives.
What has happened to this country in last fifty years? Apparently this prison was built in the fifties.
As though all of us and all the previous occupants of this place share the same memories. There must be memories in each corner of this place. I stroke my hand on the wall trying to feel some of those memories.
Do you remember Mohamad Mehdi Frouzandehpour, office manager for Mir Housein Mousavi at the Academy of Art? We talk together a lot these days.
Yesterday, he was saying that, all these years they influenced our minds so much that it became like walls between us and the people. They didn’t let us see our society and our people as they really are.
They branded people with various beliefs and ideologies which were not necessarily true, and these all became taboos in our minds. Taboos that we weren’t suppose to go near.
Frouzandehpour with regret said, “In these months that I have been in prison, I have realized how much we had isolated ourselves and we didn’t see others.”
He pointed out the national-religious activists that he shares a cell with, “They are very nice and sincere people, the same with the leftist students. Why wouldn’t they let us know and see these people for the human beings that they are?”
What Frouzandehpour said was very interesting. I had been thinking about the same things recently. Walls, walls, walls and more walls.
Yesterday there was a rumor that we now have warm water. We all went and lined up to take a shower. I saw a scene that made me suddenly exclaim: Every facet of the Iranian society is represented here, all different political spectrums.
Mohsen Mirdamadi, a former governor and former Parliament member, was talking with a few leftist students. Javad Lari a amember of Mojahedin Khalgh (MEK), was washing dishes. Fayzollah Arabsorkhi was taking a shower. National-Religious activist Alireza Rejaei tapped me on my shoulder and said you’ll be the last to take a shower.
Zhilla, how distant from each other we were all these years, and how close we are now. I don’t know, but I think after thirty years of hostility towards each other, we now have put our differences aside. We are all together, though in prison. Isn’t this what the Green Movement wants?
We have had the opportunity to talk with each other. Something that we all were reluctant to do before. We all had become each others enemies. We all called each other infidels, heretics and anti-people’s revolution.
A few days ago, they took Amin Niyaeifar for flogging. He is twenty two years old and barely weighs one hundred pounds. He is very thin.
The day they brought this Tehran University Mechanical Engineering student to our ward, everyone joked with him, telling him, that now that he is here, he can eat better and not be so malnourished.
When he came back from being flogged, we could see the bruised blue lines on his back. We didn’t know what to do. Numbers of other people from adjoining cells came to our cell. We joked and laughed a bit trying to change his uncomfortable and sad mood.
Zhilla, let me tell you something interesting that we do here that is an excuse for me to think about you. In these situations I always imagine you standing in front of me.
Every Friday afternoon we gather at the 200 meter Evin court yard. Imprisoned student, Ali Malihi MC’s a program called culture and nature.
We sit around the court yard and imagine ourselves in nature with lush greenery. Some people recite a poem, some sing a song. We then praise and clap for those who performed.
We try to be very loud in praising and clapping. You know why? You probably have heard that the female political prisoners are now our neighbors just on the other side of the wall.
We clap harder and try to be very loud and happy so we can share our happiness with those who are on the other side of the wall.
We do this so we can say, we are here, and we are countless.
Labor activist, Ebrahim Madadi says hello in a very loud voice in the hopes of his voice being heard by them on the other side of the wall. Even though we don’t know if they can hear us or not.
Sometimes I imagine you being among them, next to Bahareh Hedayat, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Mahdiyeh Golrou, Atefeh Nabavi ,and the others.
What is more interesting is that sometimes we do hear their laughter and happiness as though they are trying to share their happiness with us.
When Asghar Mahmoudian, father and son Daneshvar, Vahid Laalipour and Hamed Yazerloo hear their laughter you can see tears of joy in their eyes. Their wives and mothers are among those prisoners.
Their loved ones are just a few meters away, the other side of the tall walls. It is so hard to have your loved ones so near to you, yet you can only see them every other week for 20 minutes only.
My dear Zhila, I miss you so much. Sometimes I think maybe it’s not so bad if they implement your prison sentence also, so you could be just the other side of the wall. So I, like Vahid who hears his wife Mahdiyeh’s laughter, could hear your laughter also.
On top of it all, we could have had face to face visits every other week, and if we are lucky, we could even meet at the prison clinic.
Sometimes I even think that now days, here, the prison, is the safest place in Iran for people like you. At least here, twice a day they do a row-call.
But on the outside, if a few people a day go missing, some might even be happier. For this reason, I think prison is a safer place for you now.
Zhilla, you won’t believe the people they have arrested and brought in here in the last few weeks. For example, a truck driver and a seventy-five years old man.
They both say that they were sitting in their home and watching the Islamic Republic’s TV showing a program about how unemployment rate has dropped this year and how economy has improved.
They both say they got so mad at such lies on the national TV that they picked up a marker and went out to the street to write graffiti against such lies. They were arrested.
Today, they brought in an Esfahan university professor whom they had recorded in his classroom, saying what he said in the class sounded like anti-regime propaganda. They brought him here after 35 days in solitary in Esfahan prison.
Well, Zhilla, what else can I tell you. You know for a man like me who was raised with Bakhtiyari culture, it’s very difficult to express my feelings.
May be that’s why I tried to express myself in these words that I wrote. I said all these other things so that I could tell you, that you have always been kind and forgiving towards me. You are the best thing that ever happened to me in my life.
Bahman Ahmadi Amouei
Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
3 AM, Evin Ward 350, room 9