Tomorrow will mark the three year anniversary of the death of my friend and fellow student movement activist, Akbar Mohammadi. He died in Evin Prison.
For several days now I have tried to think about how to write these words. Some pain is just too hard to write, so I will start with facts, and perhaps the words will come. Akbar Mohammadi was part of the July 1999 student movement in Iran. He believed passionately in freedom for the people of Iran. He had a love of country that was remarkable. At the protests our group organized both before and after 18 Tir, Akbar was never far from me, and was outspoken in his passion for the movement. During one of the protests following the dormitory attacks a member of Ansar-e Hesbollah lunged at me with a knife. I was completely blindsided, and it was Akbar who pulled me out of reach and in all likelihood saved my life that day.
When Akbar believed in an idea he followed it to the ends of the earth. During the Iran/Iraq war at the young age of 13 years old Akbar was so disturbed by the Iraqi attacks on our country that he tried to enlist in the army. At that time he was denied entry into the war because of his age, but he persisted until a year or so later, when they finally let him in.Akbar survived the war and went on to be one of our most active members. The simple truth about him is that he wasn’t particularly interested in making strategic decisions. But once a decision was made, he was someone who executed on plans. He was our best foot soldier in the student movement. He was there to implement what we decided, and he was extremely loyal.
Akbar's strength was what set him apart from most anyone I’ve ever known. He was fiercely strong against the Islamic Republic, and it was that strength that they would ultimately be put to the test in his final days in Evin Prison.
On the day that I was captured after the protests of 18 Tir, Akbar was also arrested at Tehran University. At that time there was a secret jail reserved specifically for political prisoners that we later learned was called Tohid. It was later closed, and became a museum signifying what the Islamic Republic would have people believe was the remnants of the Shah's rule, however, the regime took it to new heights of cruelty before closing its doors.Tohid prison was the darkest place imaginable. It was the place they took us upon our arrest, and it was where they tried to break us. At times they would bring Akbar in to watch my torture sessions, or those of his brother. They did the same for me during Akbar's sessions, though I have tried over the years to put these memories away. What I will say is that Akbar could not be broken.
I also saw Akbar when we finally were given a court hearing and they put us in the back seat of a car, blindfolded and lying on our sides, our feet and legs touching. When we both realized we rode together, there was great joy for an instant.
After months of torture in Tohid prison, we got the word that they were moving us to Evin Prison. For us, this was very good news. Akbar and I believed we were going to the same area within the prison, that the hard times were over for both of us, and that we would be sent to the student section of Evin to wait out the remainder of our sentences. We shook hands in the car on the way over, locking our fingers together for a short embrace before we reached our destination. We were happy at that moment, and in his usual way, he reassured me that everything was going to be okay. When we reached Evin Prison, the unexpected happened. The guards separated us. They took Akbar to Section 209 of the prison.
While the extreme torture of Tohid had ended for me, Akbar’s would continue at Evin Prison. Eventually he was moved with the other student prisoners, but the toll his body had taken was simply too high. He suffered more than any of us for his beliefs. Akbar’s legacy in the student movement was that he came to signify torture by the Islamic Republic.
On July 30, 2006, Akbar Mohammadi died in Evin Prison. Subjected to years of torture that went far beyond what I endured, his physical health was already fragile, and after more than a week of a hunger strike, his body gave out. Whether his death was of natural causes as the Islamic Republic would have us think, or whether the torturers themselves stopped his heart from beating, at the end of the day Akbar died at the hands of the Islamic Republic of Iran. What there is to say about Akbar is that there has never been a better fighter for any cause. He was strength personified. His courage in the face of such tyranny is beyond what most of us mere mortals can conceive of. By the time he died, his body was no longer that of a thirty-seven year old man. He suffered from a loss of hearing in one of his ears, and he had major kidney problems, and internal bleeding.
Before his last days at Evin Prison he had a couple of years outside of prison walls. He was released because of his physical ailments so he could seek medical attention. During that time a book was published in the U.S. in Akbar’s name. Not long after that the Islamic authorities picked Akbar up and took him back to Evin Prison. I have often wondered why he didn’t leave Iran during one of his temporary visits home. I believe Akbar must have thought he could endure for the movement.
The circumstances of Akbar’s death have always been questionable. He was taken to the infirmary shortly before he died. He was continually beaten, even during the fast he was undertaking to protest his return to prison. It is believed that he was injected with a substance while in the infirmary, and shortly after that he died.
The events that followed were no less heartbreaking than the last several years of Akbar’s life had been. The government wouldn’t allow his family to bury him in Tehran, and neither would they agree to bury him in his home town of Amol in the Mazandaran Province. He was later buried in a small village cemetery in Changemian. His body was badly beaten, and he was almost unrecognizable according to those who witnessed his remains before he was buried.
And so to my friend, Akbar Mohammadi, I say, this year and every year, I will remember how you fought. I will remember your bravery, and just as we promised one another all those years ago, I will continue to fight in your name, and in the names of all those who have suffered at the hands of the oppressors of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I will not give up, just as you never gave up.
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