Sabah, 5, saw his father for the last time on his third birthday. The child still does not know that he was hanged this week.
The Kurdish family celebrated Sabah’s birthday in Iraqi Kurdistan, but circumstances led to the father, mother and toddler to leave the country.
Sabah and his mother, Bayan Azimi, ended up in Germany, while Pejman Fatehi was arrested in Iran a year ago and sentenced to death for allegedly plotting a bombing in Isfahan last summer in collaboration with Israel.
The prisoner and his three co-defendants in the case were executed in a prison near Tehran on January 29.
Rights groups say the four men were sentenced in a grossly unfair trial marred by allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.
For seven months, Sabah and his mother shared a single room in the refugee camp in Germany, cohabiting with an Afghan family that included three children.
The pair now lives in an undisclosed location in Germany.
"I have not told my son about his father's execution yet because I believe he cannot bear this heavy burden," Azimi tells IranWire. "At just 5 years old, although he thinks like an adult, I've decided not to tell him until he grows a bit older."
"When news of Pejman's execution reached us, I broke into tears. Sabah asked, 'Mum, why are you crying?' I replied that his grandfather had passed away," she recalls. "He said, 'Don't worry. Hope nothing happens to my father.'"
In the morning, Sabah frequently asks questions about his father's well-being, wondering whether he has a TV set, for instance. His mother reassures him by explaining that he is living in a kind of camp without TVs.
Azimi recounts that communications with Fatehi abruptly ended on July 13, 2022.
Before that Fatehi comforted Sabah, telling him, "Don't worry, Sabah, I will come to Europe."
Azimi has a video of Fatehi advising Sabah not to trouble his mother and assuring him that they would reunite.
Two or three days after losing contact, Azimi learned that her husband had been arrested by security forces in Iran.
"When Pejman was arrested, I couldn't stop crying and repeatedly called Pejman's name. Sabah witnessed my distress and asked what had happened," she says.
"I informed him that Pejman had been taken to prison. He responded in German, saying he had seen prison in movies, and that it's not a good place. I reassured him that Pejman would be released soon," she adds.
Azimi discloses that, for a while, Sabah would crawl under the table, holding his hands around one of the legs as if imitating the way Khodanour Lajei -- a victim of the crackdown on the 2022-23 nationwide protests -- was tied to a pole in a prison yard.
As Sabah had access to her mobile phone, he had come across pictures of Lajei and asked about it.
"He replicated the same behavior in kindergarten, where Sabah's teacher informed him that his father was on an island and would return to him," Azimi says.
The kindergarten teachers purchase gifts for Sabah, claiming that his father had sent them from the island.
However, Sabah remains skeptical, telling his mother, "Don't lie to me, prison or island?"
Images shared on social media showed Sabah's lengthy braided hair, but Azimi cut them after her husband was executed.
"Pejman had seen Sabah's hair grow slightly longer, but not to this extent. I hadn't trimmed a single centimeter of Sabah's hair…I refused to cut Sabah's hair until Pejman had the chance to see him,” she says.
"On the day of Pejman's execution, I understood that he could no longer see Sabah's hair, so I cut them and offered them to Kurdistan," she adds.
Despite his young age, Sabah actively participates in protests against the death penalty, alongside his mother, sparking negative reactions from children's rights activists who oppose children being involved in political movements.
"I never insisted that Sabah join me at demonstrations. I've always offered to leave him with a friend, but he refuses, insisting on staying by my side," Azimi says.
She recounts that after spending 19 months in custody, Iranian authorities allowed Fatehi’s mother and sister to visit him in prison for a last meeting before his execution.
"Don't cry, soldiers are here. We must be strong. You should not cry or wear black," Azimi quotes her husband as telling his mother.
During the visit, Fatehi asked questions about his son to his sister. "Yes, Sabah has turned the whole world upside down. He attends demonstrations, speaks German, and has learned Persian. He goes to the demonstrations to save your life," his sister told him.
Fatehi conveyed his gratitude to Sabah through his sister, saying, "Tell Sabah to thank you. I love him. Thank you for working so hard for me."
Azimi reveals that her husband had two wishes: see his family and a photo of Sabah. Fatehi told his sister, “I've been asking the prison officers to show me Sabah's photo for 6-7 months. They said, ‘When we’ll take you to the gallows, we’ll show you Sabah's photo. You have 2 wishes, and both will be fulfilled.'”
“I don't know if they showed Sabah's photo to Pejman or not,” Azimi says.
Azimi shares that during this emotional meeting, Fatehi's sister inquired, "Do you know when you will be executed?"
Fatehi replied, "They said probably in two weeks, but after seeing my mother and sister, I asked the officers to bring me Sabah's photo and execute me."
"What is a photo that the Islamic Republic cannot show to a father?" Azimi asks.
Azimi says that the authorities refused to hand over the dead bodies of her husband and co-convicts to their families.
"For 44 years, the Islamic Republic has been executing Kurds and Baluch and confiscating their bodies," she says. "The fate of these bodies raises unsettling questions: Are organs such as the heart, eyes, and kidneys removed and sold?"
Azimi also discloses that security forces coerced the four families of those executed into committing not to chant slogans or display pictures of their loved ones.
Their relatives are also barred from mourning them in their own homes.