Over the past few months, I have come to know a name I had never heard before, Ali Farahbakhsh. While everyone was hoping to see him finally freed, this young Iranian journalist, who had been detained at Evin prison for the past several months, was recently tried and sentenced to three years in prison, based on ambiguous and unfounded charges. His research and journalism domain is economics and finance. He isn’t even a social or a political journalist.
Farahbakhsh was imprisoned for several months, forced to “confess” to having ties to outside agencies keen on overthrowing the Iranian government. He refused to confess to something he didn’t do, hence he was handed a sentence of three years’ jail term this week. Three years. For what? My heart cries with the injustice he has had to face. I am angry that I can’t do anything to help him, to get him out, to return him to his mother, wife and one-year-old toddler, to his home where he can think, and to his keyboard where he can pour out his thoughts and soul.
All my life, I have had itchy fingers. I like to write. Some days, it is a good way to classify my thoughts. Some days it feels like a massive release of emotions and feelings which are creating havoc in my mind. Some other days it becomes such an urgent need, such an explosion of energy and thought in me that unless I sit down and pour it out, it won’t stop and will drive me crazy with anxiety. Writing is my way of expression. As a result, I have immense respect for anyone who writes. I read books, articles, blogs, and even notes others write, all the time learning, all the time connecting to the producer of those thoughts and words on a very personal level.
I have no illusions, however. I am not an author, nor a journalist. I lack the training, and more importantly, the requisite courage that goes with those professions. This makes me respect journalists, especially Iranian journalists, even more. Walking the tightrope of censorship and social taboos, they are the brave soldiers of cultural and social change in a very dangerous environment, risking prosecution, imprisonment, and torture. Whenever one of them is arrested in Iran, my heart and soul aches with horrible pain and worry. What would a writer do in jail? What would he or she do with those itchy fingers? How would those explosions of ideas, thought, and feelings fare in prison? My eyes fill with tears thinking that a decent, thoughtful, educated individual is put in a cell with criminals or worse yet, in a small cell, suffering solitary confinement.
What is Ali Farahbakhsh doing right now? Lying on his narrow bed in his cell? Counting the days he has been in that cell? Going crazy with the thought of the days and years he will have to stay there? Does he have cellmates? Who are they? Do they talk? What about? He’s probably thinking that he should have written political articles, because that way he would have been a better-known figure and there might have been a bigger outcry for his release! Writing columns on economic affairs has probably not brought him enough fame! In actuality, I don’t think he is thinking about these questions much. He is probably worried about the safety and livelihood of his family in his absence.
Today I tip my hat to all the unsung heroes of this dreadful and dangerous profession that journalism in Iran is. Today my itchy fingers salute Ali Farahbakhsh in Evin. I hope that as he sits around thinking about the nightmare that his life has become, he is hit with a warm wave of sympathy and respect that is sent to him from all these thousands of miles away. I hope this wave of affection and respect reaches him and makes this day, this minute, and this instant, a little more tolerable for him. I hope that even for a few minutes, he finds calm and peace in the knowledge that though we can’t get him out, we won’t forget him.
As for what practical steps we can take to help Ali Farahbakhsh, first we must acknowledge that we know of this injustice. Next we must spread awareness about this young journalist’s story, and appeal to human rights organizations that by now are familiar with ways for demanding Iranian journalists’ release, getting petitions signed, etc. In between our other worries and concerns, let us do make time for supporting someone who is falsely charged and imprisoned, and is serving his unfair prison term unsupported and all alone. Let us show that we respect his life, thought, and courage. Let us show that we care.
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