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Behind bars
The poetry of Khalil Rostamkhan

August 21, 2002
The Iranian

The poems below have been written by the Iranian political prisoner, Khalil Rostamkhani, who is serving an eight-year sentence in the city of Saveh near Tehran.

Cause and Effect
Pulled up!
The Sky
Living Husband, Dead Son

Rostamkhani, a translator and journalist, was arrested on 8 May 2000 for his involvement with the conference held in Berlin Conference, 7-9 April 2000, by Germany's Heinrich Böll Institute to discuss Iran's future political developments.

Rostamkhani was released on bail on 15 November 2000, but on 13 January 2001 Bench 3 of Tehran's Revolutionary Court announced that he had been convicted and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment.

He remained free on bail pending appeal until 26 August 2001, when the Supreme Court upheld the verdict against him and he was taken into custody. The Supreme Court reduced his sentence from nine to eight years, butstated in the final verdict that the sentence is due in part to his "bad political record".

Khalil Rostamkhani, aged forty-nine, is a former co-publisher of the English-language news bulletin, Akhbaar (Daily News), and the magazine Iran Echo. In 1984 he and his wife, the writer Roshanak Daryoush, set up a translation service in Tehran, and their clients have included Iranian government authorities, international companies, foreign embassies and journalists.

In 1999, Rostamkhani published a translation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel Mashenka. He has also translated Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, and Isabel Allende's Eva Luna. His Persian translation of Ellen Meiksins Wood's Capitalism at the End of the Millennium was published recently.

At the time of Khalil Rostamkhani's detention, on 8 May 2000, an arrest warrant was also served for Roshanak Daryush, who has been living in Germany since January 2000 on a scholarship and who served as a translator at the Berlin Conference. She remained in Germany, and in January 2001 the couples' twelve-year-old son was allowed to join her.

Doctors in Germany have confirmed that a brain tumor first discovered a decade ago is inoperable, and though she is currently undergoing chemotheraphy, her condition has declined in the past year. She now suffers from seizures, memory loss, and exhaustion from the treatment. Her treating physicians have specifically pointed to stress resulting from her husband's imprisonment as a factor that could compromise the effectiveness of her treatment.

Roshanak Daryoush has translated the works of several German authors into Persian, including Gunther Grass, Mannes Sperber, and Leon Feuchtwanger. In August, Roshanak was awarded the Hellman/Hammett grant for writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need. For more details on the Hellman/Hammett award see here.

For further information about Khalil Rostamkhani and Roshanak Daryoush, please contact:

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Cause and Effect

Where am I?

Where am I?

Within high walls,

Topped by wire netting and barbed wire,

Two soldiers patrol the roof,

Kalashnikovs ready on their shoulders.

Where am I?

Where am I?

Men are walking two by two,

Up and down the yard.

What are you here for? I ask.

- I am a thief.

- I killed my son.

- I raped a woman.

- I assaulted a little boy.

- I cheated people out of their money.

- I was smuggling 25 kilos of opium.

- I had a kilo of heroin.

What are you here for?

It is their turn to ask.

I - It seems I have to be here,

Once every few years,

For some political reason or another.

This time it is for the Berlin Conference.

- Oh, where that woman danced,

and the others shed their clothes?!


"You have been in this business for 30 years.

"I could sentence you to death.

"But I'll do you a favour!

"You'll get 8 years exile in prison,

"And he'll get 10 years."

- Thank you sir,

How kind of you!

But, how come the thief got 3 years,

The smuggler was fined,

The son killer went free,

And the fraud got 2 years?

"Oh, them!

"They are the effects,

"You questioned the cause,

"This, hence, is your lot."

- Thank you sir,

That is a powerful argument,

I'm at a loss to answer!

-- March 4th  2002
Saveh Prison

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I look around.

A courtyard, ten by ten,

Walls, walls and more walls,

Doors of iron bars,

Steel doors and armed guards.

I look up.

Wire netting spreads

Over a steel structure,

A massive telecom pylon,

Telecom antennas and TV aerials,

And two armed guards.

An officer comes round

To supervise the change of guard,

Kalashnikovs change hands,

Bullet magazines are fitted in,

With a sound that makes me jump every time.

Ready to fire now,

Two fresh conscripts eye the yard,

Their watch has begun.

In the vast blue sky,

Of which only a rectangular piece is my ration,

White, golden or purple clouds,

Or little shiny stars,

- If the spotlights let me, that is -

Or even the full moon,

Do I also see,

Albeit through little hexagons,

Or the slightly larger squares.

That is not all, though.

Tops of two fir trees,

Can I also see,

From a corner of the yard,

If nobody has occupied it.

And I don't mind to stand

By the three big filthy stinking rubbish bins.

-- Saveh Prison
March 27th  2002

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Pulled up!

Just back from 'leave',

I see no sign

Of the chubby, good-tempered 'drug-smuggler.'

It takes only a few minutes

To hear the dreadful news:

"He was 'pulled up'."

As the prison jargon goes.

You are joking!

You are joking!

But the faces around are too serious

To be joking.

True, life is so easy to take,

Though it is so hard to give.

Still, it is difficult

To believe death of someone

You used to see everyday,

Sleeping on the opposite bed,

Talking, eating, walking.


"Oh, they woke him at 3 a.m.,

Took him to the gallows,

His wife and daughter cried and screamed,

He begged and offered everything,

In exchange for his life!"

'Take all my possessions and spare my life!'

Alas, there was nothing to exchange.

They'd already dispossessed him.

Thus, they kicked the chair,

At the signal of a finger.

Saveh Prison
23 June 2002

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The Sky

Is this the blue sky I used to know?

I can't help wonder why:

It is never the azure

It was even in Evin,

Not to mention Mykonos or Costa Brava.

Is it again the cursed blackish wire-netting above,

That dulls the blue so much

To look somewhat gray?

Is there not a single cloud

To be seen today in the entire sky?

Am I in a position

To talk of the 'entire' sky,

While my vista is no wider

Than the hole above?

-- Saveh Prison
30 June 2002

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Living Husband, Dead Son

A lone star is shining

In the pitch-black sky,

Made ugly as it is,

By the spotlights

And the wire-netting overhead,

With the red warning light beyond

At the top of the Telecom pylon.

It's time for the nightly stroll,

In the crowded, smoky, small prison yard.

A thief, highly doped,

Is singing his usual tune by the wall.

A murderer passes on my right,

The serial killer on the left

As always seeming to hold his head high,

As though he is a hero.

How many lives has he taken?

Not confessed to even one

Under the CID's "technical interrogation",

Press jargon for the old plain 'torture'!

'Twelve', claim his accomplices

Fearing him now for their lives.

Here comes the new son-killer.

Not punishable as any murderer,

For he is the principal owner

Of the blood shed!

Just like the other,

Who went free last month,

For his wife refused to complain.

Had she complained though,

He'd probably get 3 years,

In a country where,

Not so long ago,

Young people were hanged

For a leaflet or two.

And she'd lose both son and husband.

A living husband, the bread earner,

Albeit a killer,

Is dearer than a dead son!

-- Saveh Prison
First Week of July 2002

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Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for Roshanak Daryoush


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