If 2010 turns out to be the beginning of the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it may well be because of the death of one of the regime’s founders, a man I met three decades ago in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison.
In 1977, I was a 27-year-old rebel arrested for being “detrimental to the security of the nation.” In those days nearly all critics of the shah’s regime were incarcerated under this category. Evin’s L-shaped brick prison blocks were packed with regime opponents, mostly Marxists, leftists, and university students. The facility was also home to a handful of the most famous future leaders of the Islamic Revolution, including future president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and future grand ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.
It was a relatively good time to be in Evin, as the shah nervously attempted to placate his most fervent enemies by following Jimmy Carter’s human rights policies. Instead of being allowed only an hour of fresh air per day in a small outdoor area, we had free access to the grounds. We could play volleyball around the shaky poles and raggedy string that we had woven into a net. (Rafsanjani, I remember, was an enthusiastic but clumsy volleyballer.)
But despite these changes, we were surprised when the guards permitted the clerics to hold a public prayer to mark the end of Ramadan that November — the first time in years the prisoners had been allowed to do so. To prepare themselves for the ritual, the jailed clerics organized them… >>>