Translation by Iran Press Watch
October 30, 2014
By Masoud Bastani
The Gorganis in Prison
Following the first two sections of the report on the Baha’is of Gorgan – a city in northern Iran – in Rajai Shahr prison – located in the city of Karaj in the vicinity of Tehran – we reach the last group – the prisoners guilty of only one thing: religious heterodoxy.
Koroush Ziyari, the “Happy” Therapist
Koroush Ziyari is a very happy and entertaining 50 year old man. He sometimes plays a hand-made backgammon game, comprising the cardboard and plastic bottle caps one can obtain in prison, so passionately that I think he has never enjoyed anything more. He throws the dice and trash talks and makes even his opponent laugh hard. Sometimes I call his behavior “Happy Therapy” and when I pass by him I jokingly ask: “You’re busy again Doctor, aren’t you?” When the dice do not roll in his favor, he shouts loudly: “Oh no! This time I have lost my chance!”This became a popular expression which everyone kept using in our cell.
He had been living in the city of Gonbad – a city close to Gorgan – with his family until two years earlier, when he was arrested after being summoned to Gorgan. The interesting point in his file was that the court sentenced him to 5 years imprisonment based on filling out an interrogation form with only two questions on it. According to Koroush, his lawyer objected to the presiding Judge Moghiseh on his day in court, pointing to the fact that only two pages out of a 600-page dossier were about his client! “Contrary to some who accuse us of being spies as well as other unjust charges, we regard ourselves as Iranian Baha’is, and we are not pursing politics nor seeking the overthrow of any regime,” he claims. “Our gaze is directed towards citizenship rights alone.” He adds that he voted in the presidential election in 2009 for the first time, and that he voted for Mir Hussain Mousavi. He believes he has the right to vote, so as to improve the future of his country.
The most bitter and regretful moment of Koroush’s life was when his youngest son in his infancy was paralyzed in a car accident, which severed his spinal cord. Now in his 20’s, and in perfect mental health, he uses a walker and needs assistance to move around. “My son visits me only every 6 months due to his physical handicap; the burden of attending to his needs has fallen on the shoulders of his Mom,” he says.
Koroush began to manufacture and distribute clothes with a lot of hard work; today he is a well-known and well-respected merchant in Golestan Province, in northern Iran. But the best news he heard during his prison time was the acceptance of his oldest son, Fares, at an American university, and the opportunity to pursue his education there. When this son left the country to continue his education, Koroush, perhaps, tasted the sweet savor of happiness and the prosperity of a father in solitude.
Now, he is distributing dry food rations to prisoners in corridor number 12. These rations are either dry or raw food for prisoners to cook and use according to their diet. Koroush does this with a lot of care and perseverance; at times he is forced to use his bookkeeping skills, just as in his business days, to keep track of fair distribution and to satisfy everyone.
He suffers from lumbar disc and knee arthritis, and seeks constant therapy; however, he appreciates the sense of sympathy and humanitarianism that characterizes his fellow cell mates regardless of their beliefs and political affiliations, and the help they unsparingly provide to each other. He believes that the foundation of the world is based on twin pillars – reward and punishment – and that those who are oppressing others in the name of God will eventually pay for their cruelty.
Farahmand Sanai, the most humble man, who had a dream
Sometimes dreams in prison become very important, so much so that, before introducing him, I prefer to retell the dream of a 48 year old man, whose face reflects how much he has endured through tough times. ”This was the best dream I have ever had in prison, and I felt that it meant that all my sins to that date were forgiven,” says Farahmand Sanai.
In his dream, he felt that he was soaring towards the Heavenly Kingdom in a spaceship the size of a mini-bus, along with the 19 other Baha’is of Gorgan who were arrested with him two years ago under the same charges.
In this dream of ascent, he visited Abd’u’l Baha – the successor to the Founder of the Baha’i faith – who introduced Farahmand to the prophet of Islam, Mohamed, his successor, Ali, and his grandson Imam Hussain. Paying tribute to all these heavenly figures, and on the other hand observing the clarity of their countenances in his dream was very sweet. He even visited Moses in this dream-like journey to Heaven and asked for his forgiveness for all the anecdotes about him to which he had listened in this temporal realm.
Perhaps the story of this dream is significant to help us understand the spiritual mood of this individual who is always serenely and eagerly ready to serve all the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
While serving his time, he has accepted a variety of volunteer duties, such as doing the laundry, coordinating visiting hours, and serving on the prisoner’s council of corridor number 12, with the intention of helping his fellow cellmates.
Farahmand Sanai is one of the prisoners from Gorgan who adamantly avoids involvement in politics, as he believes politics today is synonymous with lies and deceit – lies under the shadow of which various mischievous activities occur. The experience of living with political prisoners has reinforced this idea in him.
He has three daughters: ages 22, 17 and 16. Farahmand worked as a lift technician, installing automated lift doors after graduating from high school. He claims his best moment in prison is when his wife and daughters come to visit him and spend some time with him.
“Probably that is why you agreed to coordinate visiting rooms!” I jokingly asked him. “As a matter of fact, ever since I took this responsibility, I allocate less time to myself than others, lest they think I am not fair to them,” he replied with a smile.
Farahmand Sanai was arrested on October 2012 along with his wife, Farahnaz Tebyani, and other Baha’is from Gorgan. After a month of interrogation, his wife was released on $50,000 bail, but Farahmand was sent to the infamous Rajai Shahr prison. “What would you ask your judge or your interrogator under fair, just and equitable circumstances? “ I asked him. He tells yet another interesting story. He recalls that on the first days after his arrest and during his interrogation, his interrogator’s cell phone rang and Farahmand noticed him talking to his son. After hanging up, he told Farahmand that his son was complaining that his friends were not inviting him to their birthday parties, and that he was not interested in attending other parties to which he was invited. “Because of my sensative position, I cannot allow my family to attend many parties and places,” he added. “If, one day, an upheaval and change of regime takes place, all security forces like me will be more vulnerable to persecution.”
At that point, Farahmand, in all sincerity and honesty, told him that his home would be a safe haven for him and his family if such a day came. If he wished, Farahmand and his family were ready to welcome them.
His interrogator was so surprised to hear his words that day that perhaps he did not take his offer seriously, but this Gorgani man uttered these word so smoothly and sincerely that I easily believed him.
He describes his mood in prison as joyful, although it is extremely difficult for his daughters to cope with the disconnection of the emotional bond they had with their dad, with whom each of them has unforgettable memories.
In response to the question of what he thinks about the future of his daughters as a father, he decisively replies: “I had a lengthy talk with them, and I think each one has a clear picture of her future studies and career in the fields of civil engineering and construction technology.”
I ask him about his most difficult day in prison during these times. Without hesitation, Farahmand refers to the 9 hour ride every week his family takes from Gorgan to Karaj to visit him, and says: “One night, while knowing my family were on their way to visit me, I heard on the news that a Gorgan to Tehran bus had an accident and fell to the bottom of a river with all its passengers. That was the worst night of my life in prison, inasmuch as that was the same bus my family would take every week to come to visit me. I agonized until the moment I found out that my family were not on that bus.”
These weekly family commutes are the worst common concern of Gorgani prisoners. These concerns intensify the bitterness of the taste of imprisonment in exile for them. Almost all of them, through legal procedures, have requested to be transferred to a prison in their own city of Gorgan to alleviate this issue. On the other hand, they show signs of contentment and satisfaction in their conversations. Perhaps this sense of religious fatalism and submission to the will of God is predominant among those who have not committed any crimes other than helping their fellow believers. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscientious consider themselves to be representatives of a political ideology or intellectual spectrum. Although they try, to their best of ability, to play their roles by treating others well, respecting the rights of others and exhibiting moral values to make an impression on others, the reality of living day and night in the same prison for many years enables prisoners to evaluate each other’s beliefs through the immediate observation of each other’s behavior under the harshest conditions. This is the time and place in which their convictions and claims are tested to the maximum. The Baha’is of Gorgan have passed their test victoriously because their simplicity and purity of motif, voluntary service to others, and the depth of their spiritual conviction are undeniable. All of them are honest, love their families, and constantly seek to serve others. Perhaps it is because of the inability of only a few powerful people who do not tolerate other ideologies and who do not accept the rights of minorities that sadly they and their fellow believers have ended up in jail.
As a reporter and the writer of this article, I had the duty to depict impartially what I saw, and to tell the story of what I felt during the two years I spent in jail with them. But what was evident from my conversations with the Gorganis was that they all admitted that their prison life and their feeling of not being discriminated against by their fellow cellmates had been a unique experience – an experience that, ironically, is realized only in jail. Discrimination, like a filthy shadow, throughout their lives had hung over the heads of them and their fellow believers, and over the lives of those with a different ideology than the rulers of our society.
The pain of discrimination is an unforgettable pain – a pain that at every moment in life turns into an unfamiliar, inseparable phenomenon – the morbid discrimination that has been abolished in today’s world. Civil society tries to cross that and to create a new definition for relationships among human beings, and between us and our Creator. How far are we from getting there?