Farzad Kamangar died yesteday, hanged from a crane with four other political prisoners. I re-read a half dozen times the letter he wrote last month entitled, “Be Strong Comrades.” In that letter he asks, “Is it possible to carry the heavy burden of being a teacher and be responsible for spreading the seeds of knowledge and still be silent? Is it possible to see the lumps in the throats of the students and witness their thin and malnourished faces and keep quiet?”
I woke up yesterday morning to the news that five more political prisoners had been hanged by the Islamic Republic of Iran. As many of us celebrated Mother’s Day from the safety of our homes in the United States, in Iran the lives of five more children were taken from their mothers by the Islamic Regime.
The political prisoners who died were tortured for many months during their time in Evin’s Ward 209. They were not part of the protests that followed the presidential elections of 2009. These were Kurdish political prisoners who had been sentenced back in 2008. In one of the articles I read, one of the prisoners, the only woman, Shirin Elmhooli, was promised only a week ago that her execution could be avoided if she would agree to go on Islamic television and admit her guilt. She refused. The odds are they would have killed her anyway — a message from the Islamic Regime hoping to dissuade those who are planning to come out next month in protest on the anniversary of the fraudulent elections of June 2009.
Having lived through similar treatment behind the walls of prisons in the Islamic Republic of Iran, I know these prisoners suffered greatly for their desire for freedom and equality for our homeland. Almost eleven years ago I lived through daily interrogations at the hands of the monsters who torture prisoners for a living. These beasts find great satisfaction in their jobs. They enjoy finding new ways to make their victims suffer. The physical pain is unimaginable until it becomes your reality. But the psychological torture is at least as damaging—perhaps more so because the physical brutality may have an opportunity to heal, but the mind isn’t quite as forgiving.
Night after night I was told that my execution would take place the next morning. I lived my last night on Earth thirty or forty times back then. I knew I would be hanged, and in the beginning I feared this form of death. Later, as the days went on, the constant beatings and new forms of abuse, I prayed that they would go ahead and end my life. Nothing could be worth living another day at the hands of my torturers.
Now five more political prisoners have died for freedom. They will not be the last to face a similar fate. It is only a matter of time before the next execution—particularly in these next few weeks as we near the first anniversary of the June 12 elections. The Islamic Regime does not want people in Iran to come out again in protest. They do not want those of us outside of Iran to come out in protest and support. They want our silence.
We are weary and tired. But we are also angry and heartsick. Last night supporters of the freedom movement in Iran came out into the streets of Berkeley, California, for a candlelight vigil. This was for Farzad and Shirin and the thousands of others who have given their lives for freedom for Iran for the last 31 years. We did it in remembrance of the five mothers in Iran who lost their children yesterday, and for the future students who will never benefit learning from Farzad, a teacher. We did it because we know the regime in Iran must change.