Before I start please let me thank Womenís Freedom Forum for giving me the opportunity to be here and to share my personal experience with the audience here.
Iíve always considered myself lucky to be alive, taking exile, live in an open society with democratic values, and have the opportunity to exercise my rights to talk about atrocities that my friends and I have experienced under Mullahís rules in Iran.
My experience goes to many, many years ago when I was 16 and considered one of the youngest political prisoners in Evin prison in 1980. I spent 2 &1/2 years in prison, one year in addition to my 1 &1/2 sentence. My mother bribe to some authorities in prison also helped. I left Iran in 1986 to come to the US and make it my home.
I have witnessed many things during the time of my imprisonment. Since then I have followed the news, read memories and stories through out years; and came to realize that, the regimeís methods of torture have not really changed much. The base line fundamental of physical and mental torture is the same.
It is painful to admit that our country men and women have gone through this hardship in the past 30 years and nothing has changed. Everyday, from the basic means of living to the core of life, they are dealing with this oppressive regime. Women are dealing with issues from not having a choice of what they wear, to not have a equal voice in their work place, to no rights of custody to their children in abusive relationship while getting a divorce.
Our female students are fighting for the right to an equal education, living conditions and treated equally by the authority. Just a few months ago, we read about a scandal regarding one of the Deans in Shiraz University who tried to expel a female student since she wasnít doing the sexual favors he was asking for. Only this particular student was alarm enough to seek her fellow students help to reverse this situation and to reveal the true intention of the sick Dean.
Our labor forces, teachers, nurses, and in general middle or lower class of our society have transformed into a political voice just to get their unpaid salaries of few months.
Subsequently, we have witnessed this regimeís revenge by increasing public hanging labeling the political prisoners to thieves or thugs which we read about it, everyday
Of course these are not new to Iranians. We have observed these violence for the past 30 years. Only now the world has come to notice it recently.
When I hear about any hangings or similar news, I canít stop remembering the very sentence of a letter that Ashraf Rajavi, the star martyr of our era, the main pioneer of modern womenís fighting against fundamentalism in our history, wrote to her husband Mr. Massoud Rajavi who was at the time in exile in Paris, in 1981. She wrote to him in one of her last mails that ďThe world didnít realize what has happened to our young men and women or our teenage supporters, what endurance and sacrifices they have gone through and what heavy price they have paid with their livesĒ. Now after 27 years, we still see no difference. Nevertheless, since then more than 120,000 people, who we know of, have been killed two of my cousins included. In only one summer in 1987, more than 32,000 political prisoners (one of my cousins, who was 13 at the time of his arrest, after 7 years in prison) were massacred with direct fatwa of Khaomeini, and still the world didnít grasp what our fellow country men and women have gone through.
Even as of this event that we all gathered today, friends and family of dissidents living in Camp Ashraf have begun the 65th day of their sit in, in front of United Nation near by around the corner, because of the same concern. The protection of Camp Ashraf in Iraq is a very important issue and the safety of these men and women living in Ashraf is real. The imminent danger to their lives is real.
As someone who has witness the execution of friends, fellow prisonersí everyday in the count of 300 or 400 at a time right behind the prison walls, I have the fear of witnessing another massacre 27 years later to this date.
In cold weather when I close my eyes I can still smell the gun powder of the execution of the political prisoners. Every day, they would call a list asking them to pack their belonging and come out. Every afternoon we knew they are going to be executed by the regime and we would say the very last sad goodbye to our friends. Then we would go to the prison yard and just stare at the sky and listen. In about an hour or so, we would hear the horrendous noise of execution (think of dropping hundreds of steels rods at the same time), which was followed by the strong smell of gun powder and finally the worst, counting the coupe de grace shots one by one. That was how we knew how many people were killed that afternoon.
At that time mothers who were in prisons with us would start to sing Molanaís poems and versus of Ghoraan in memory and honor of those gone that day.
I never forgive my self when one of my classmates and close friends, Maryam Kashani, who was called for execution, asked me to hold on to her pocket watch, she said it belonged to her mother and asked me to return it to her. I am not sure why I told her that she would give it to her mother herself. I think I was in denial and didnít want to think she would be executed. To this day I blame myself for this shortcoming on my part.
I get angry when I think why I didnít listen to her and return the watch to her mother?
A couple of days later, when I was taken for an interrogation, I saw her belongings in the hallway, I knew she was gone for ever and her watch was probably in that bundle of clothes.
Whenever I remember those times I canít stop thinking about little Zahra. My 13 year old friend in Evin prison, section 240.
To this date I donít know what her last name was, however, I knew she was deeply hated by Lajevardi, the head of Evin prison and all the interrogators at the time.
I could guess that her family was well known Mojahedin supporter or probably members of PMOI. I must mention that more than 90% of prisoners in prison were either supporters or members of Mojahedin e Kahlq of Iran.
We used to play together in the prison yard when we could. I remember one time, we had snow in early November of 1981, she sat on a plastic bag, and I pushed her around both enjoying the snow. She was missing for more than a day and I asked her where was she? She told me, ďThey keep taking me for torture but this time they took me with some other people in a mini van. They line all of us up and asked me again about my family, I told them I didnít know what they are talking about. She said some people were crying and some not. They executed everyone around me. Then they placed all the bodies in a car like an ambulance and had me sit with the bodies in the same place. The bodies were still warm and blood was around my feet. They kept me with them all night and this morning they brought me back to here.Ē Then she looked at me and said Shirin they will kill me you know.
I was shocked to hear about what had happened to her. I was familiar with the concept about shooting around someone. Only a year before that had happened to me, so I could imagine the terror she had gone through. I looked at that beautiful 13 year old Zahra and deep down asked God to give me the same strength as my dear Zahra and donít let me to get down to my knees in front of these animals who kill under the name of the all mighty.
There are many stories about people who lost their lives for the simple reason of restoring democracy and freedom in Iran.
The tale of heroic men and women that sacrifice their lives for this purpose is still going on and now we are still witnessing the crimes against our people continuing and unfortunately the world does not really understand the full dept of these sacrifices. Right now we are witnessing another tragedy about to happen and that concerns resident of Ashraf.
The question is when will the world react? Iranian people are continuing their struggle against this regime no matter what the world wants to do. More than 5000 strikes, uprising, protest has been done by every part of Iranian society such as students, women, labors, teachers, nurses and all in all. At the same time they are paying the price with their lives and we witness the increase of public hangings and disappearance of oppositions.
The question is that what we all can do to stop dealing with Iranian regime and empowering Iranian people and oppositions for a regime change by Iranian people.