"Mr. Zarif, your Smile Cannot Hide your Fear"
Once again, one of the high ranking officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its internationally renowned Foreign Minister, denied the arrest and punishment of Iranian citizens for dissenting and using of their basic rights including freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom to express dissatisfaction with their government. In an interview with PBS America on april 19, 2015, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stressed to millions of American viewers that ''We do not jail people for their opinions.''
Mr. Zarif's speech has haunted me ever since I heard it, reviving all the bitter memories of the past five years and the situation of my father who in 2010, was tried and sentenced to death initially and then to prison for what he wrote in his blog. It's so painful and difficult to live with the fact that the dearest person in your life is living in the most deplorable conditions of solitary confinement, torture and prison, with severe health problems threatening his life every day. It is even harder to see that Iranian officials who have failed to improve the living conditions for my father and other prisoners of conscience, ignore and deny their very existence.
It was about three years ago that my interrogator, a man named "Mohammadi" from the Ministry of Information in Mashhad, glanced at me from head to toe, stared in my eyes and said: ''I have your 5-years prison sentence in my hand for informing the public about your father and communicating with foreign media, you are too young to be able to bear this time in Mashhad's Vakil Abad Prison. Your father is in our hand and try to cross the stream where it is shallowest. Those people and media abroad can't help your father at all, they just use your situation for their own benefit''.
Mohammadi's dirty and hateful gaze convinced me to leave the country for good as soon as I could. The fear of imprisonment and rape forced me to leave my father alone there and carry with me, wherever I live, my regrets, loneliness, and the pain of being separated from him.
So, why where they so apprehensive of my activities and my revealing the real identity of my father and what he was about?
Siamak Mehr, the pen name of my father, Siamak Pourshajari, the writer of ''The report to the land of Iran'' weblog, was a 50 years old man who wrote about his beliefs and personal views. In his blogs, he mainly criticized Islam, protested against Islamic Republic's policies, defended freedom of opinion and expression, and called for the establishment of a democratic and secular state in Iran. In 2010 he was assaulted and arrested by revolutionary guards and intelligence foces and was detained in solitary confinement for eight months and tortured.
His interrogators had printed and highlighted my father's blogs and showed them to him before beating him to the edge of unconsciousness. They told their colleagues to rinse the pen with which he signed the interrogation sheets because, they said, he had insulted the Prophet and is ''unclean''. They tortured my father because they believed that in one of his articles, he had insulted ''Henry Corbin'' - a French scholar of Islam. Finally, in order to stop the pressure, not repent, and avoid self-incriminating confessions, my father tried to commit suicide by breaking his eye glass and cutting his wrists. After a few days of being unconscious, it was with the slaps of an agent telling him ''You must not die, you must die from pain for having insulted sanctities and the Imams" that he woke-up. And the agent meant it.
Twice the interrogators asked my father to write his will, took him to the gallows to be executed, and then brought him back to his cell. To torture him further as a blogger and a prisoner of conscience, they incarcerated him with prisoners convicted of crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, rape and banditery.
When, I went to see, for the last time, the judge in charge of implementing sentences to protest against my father's transfer, I asked him to send him - based on the principle of separation of prisoners - to Rajai Shahr prison's political prisoners ward, the judge was clear about why my father was in prison. He told me:
Do you know who your father is and what he has written? Do you know that he has questioned and insulted all of our sanctities? In my view he is not a human being and should stay there to die, if I could, I would execute both of you right now..."
For what reason other than expressing his views in his writings is my father treated with such cruelty, insulted, and humiliated? During these years of physical and psychological pressure, my fahter has had two strokes and is still suffering from high blood pressure, kidney disease, and prostate problems. He is loosing his life, bit by bit. And yet, a high ranking official claims that stories of people like my father are lies and fabrications.
Thousands of Iranian have been murdered, executed or imprisoned and tortured in the Islamic Republic for their opinions. So many among them have done nothing but excercising their rights as authors and publishing their critical views against the regime. Their crime is their pen. If Mr Zarif believes that these people's misdeeds are not related to their beliefs, what have they done to spend so many years of their lives in prisons and torture chambers of the Islamic Republic? If charges against them are not baseless, why are you trying them behind closed doors so that Iranians and the world do not learn about their beliefs, do not hear their defense, and do not see how their right to due process is violated and how unjust your justice is?
With your hypocritical smiles Mr. Zarif, you are trying to deceive the world's public opinion on the Islamic Republic, where human rights violations are systemic and grave, and reduce international pressures to secure the longevity of a regime that survives by suppressing dissent.
Mr Zarif, if my father is not a prisoner of conscience, why then his writings were used against him? If there are no prisoners of opinions in Iran, then open the prisons' doors to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs. If you are not afraid to see the unlawful behavior of the intelligence and law enforcement forces and that of the judiciary being exposed; if you are not afraid to see the general public learn about the beliefs of my father and other opponents of the Islamic Republic; if you are not afraid to see the world realize that you are not speaking on behalf of all Iranians, open the doors of your courtrooms to the public and respond to citizens' criticism in front of TV cameras rather than in interrogation rooms.
Mr. Zarif's outrageous denial may have gone unchallenged by Charlie Rose, his PBS interviewer, but I am here to challenge him on behalf of my father and other prisoners of opinion who are wasting the lives in Iranian prisons today.