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Journalist Freed From Prison: I'll Never Forget my Fellow Inmates

July 26, 2020
Niloufar Rostami
8 min read
Journalist Freed From Prison: I'll Never Forget my Fellow Inmates

Life in Prison, a book authored by the journalist Bahman Ahmadi Amouei, journalist and former political prisoner, has now been published online in English translation. The book tells the stories of various political and ideological prisoners who were being held in Evin and Rajaei-Shahr (Gohardasht) Prisons between 2009 and 2014: that is, in the same period as Amouei. The book was first published in 2016 by Baran Publishing in Sweden and this year, has been published in Englsih by Mazda Publishing in the United States and made available on Amazon.

Ahmadi, a prominent economic journalist who formerly worked at several reformist newspapers, was arrested in June 2009 along with a number of other reporters and his wife, the journalist Jila Baniyaghoob, during the presidential elections. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was eventually released in September 2014.

While in prison, Ahmadi penned story-like reports on the experience in the form of letters to Baniyaghoob in which he tried to depict the reality he saw around him, and detail the lives of his fellow prisoners of conscience, Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Baha’i. He gave these manuscripts to his wife at face-to-face visitations or had them smuggled out by prisoners going on leave. After Amouei’s release, he made final revisions to the collection and had it published by Baran publishing house in Sweden.

To mark the occasion of Life in Prison’s publication in English, we caught up with Bahman Ahmadi Amouei.


Were you summoned for publishing your book? Or has it had any consequences for you?

No. At least, not yet. Usually when they file a case against an individual, when it comes to interrogation, the performance of the person over the past few years is inspected. So if that time comes they may ask me about the book. But fortunately nothing has happened so far. I should also say that with the language and issues I raise in the book, I naturally did not expect it to be published in Iran.


What was most important to you in writing this book?

My concern was how to be able to record the social lives of prisoners in prison from my own perspective: how a prisoner handles his or her affairs, how he or she relates to other inmates and to his or her prison guards. What happens to a prisoner emotionally when he returns from the meeting room with his family? It was important for me to record all of these and other points. In addition, it was important for me to show a cross-section of the lives of various political and ideological prisoners.

For example, when I wrote about a prisoner accused of joining al-Qaeda, or when I wrote about a Baha'i, a People’s Mujahideen (MKO) member or a Kurd, I tried to explain the details of their lives: their level of education, social class and tastes. In addition, under the text of the narratives themselves, I tried to emphasize the complexity and the intellectual diversity of Iranian society. Because of the complexity, it is not possible to develop a single prescription for all people living in Iran, and it is not possible to create change with one prescription. In my book, I tried to express the differences and disputes in the prison environment, showing that we need to tolerate one another in a larger society. We must accept each other's differences and tastes. Each of us has the right to live in this land, each one of us who cares about the fate of Iran and wishes to make it better. That's what I tried to depict in my writing.


Are there still prisoners inside who were with you in that time?

We do not know of anyone who is still in prison specifically for participating in the 2009 protests. But there are people who were arrested in 2009 for participating in the protests, and were later accused of collaborating with the MKO or other groups, and are still in prison on those charges.

Maryam Akbari, for example, was arrested for participating in the 2009 protests but was later charged with links to the MKO and was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison. She is still in prison.

Apart from this group, there were and still are people with heavy sentences who were there before I entered the prison system: mostly Kurds or actual members of the MKO.


During your five years in prison you witnessed the execution of several of your fellow inmates. Do you know of anyone still inside who has been sentenced to death?

During my time at Rajaei-Shahr, three political and ideological prisoners were sentenced to death, two of whom were executed: Zanyar Moradi and Loghman Moradi. But the verdict for the third was overturned and sentenced to life imprisonment. Of course, in Evin Prison, the number of prisoners with death sentences was much higher. Farhad Vakili, Farzad Kamangar, and Arash Rahmanipour were executed during that time, along with several others accused of supporting or belonging to the royalist movement. But there is no prisoner from that time who still has a death sentence.

How did you deal with prisoners of conscience who were in prison for other reasons?

I had no boundary lines at all. Not only was I not like that, but the other prisoners did not feel that way either. People who were imprisoned in the 2000s and 2010s are different from their predecessors. We played, ate, and participated in each other's educational and recreational programs according to our interests. Of course, prisoners who were members of the official parties of the Islamic Republic and held important positions such as minister or deputy minister before their arrest naturally found it difficult to engage in joint political activity with other prisoners, such as signing a statement by MKO members. In fact, the political activity of each prisoner was different. But in everyday life in prison, there were no boundaries, and we were all connected and lived together.


During your five years living with dozens of prisoners, are there any prisoners or inmates that are still on your mind today?

Honestly, people like Zanyar Moradi and Loghman Moradi never leave my mind. I shared a cell with them, we sat at the same table.

Or Arash Rahmanipour, who is still on my mind because of his youth and loneliness. Arash and several others were arrested before the events of 2009 on charges of supporting the royalists, and were in prison at the time of the protests, but were tried and sentenced to death for sabotage and arson during the demonstrations. In fact, they fabricated the case against them and told them that if they confessed, they would release them. They confessed but were later executed.

I can never forget the face of Farhad Vakili. His smiles as broad as the sun, his very white teeth, are still before my eyes. I lived with these people. In addition, I will never forget many others who are still in prison or sentenced to life imprisonment. Like Omar Faghihpour, Saeed Mansouri and Khaled Fereydouni who are sentenced to life imprisonment.


In part of your book, you mentioned prisoners who were imprisoned on espionage charges. In recent years, espionage charges have become very common for dual nationals or foreign travelers. Were there any dual nationals charged with espionage while you were in prison?

While I was in prison, there were no dual nationals accused of espionage – or at least I did not see any. Those imprisoned for espionage were mostly involved with the military, like pilots or Defense Ministry employees. When we talked to them, they confirmed the accusations against them were correct. One said that he did it because of his charm, another said because of money, and the other because of his hatred of the Islamic Republic. They sometimes jokingly or ironically told the political and ideological prisoners that they had done nothing, but it was them who were doing the real work to overthrow the system.


Have you been able to work as a journalist since your release in 2014?

Not officially. Both of my friends who own newspapers are reluctant to work with people who have been in the prison system, and the landscape of journalism in Iran has completely changed.

Due to severe economic problems, newspaper circulation has dropped dramatically, and we are dealing with large-scale unemployment of journalists, not just imprisonment. Many journalists have chosen to enter other jobs and manage their lives that way. Think about it: the average salary of a journalist in Iran is no more than two and a half million tomans (US$100) a month.

Furthermore, people no longer read newspapers, and cyberspace has replaced the press. In this situation, the government is also seeking to close the newspapers. Newspapers are no longer as popular as they used to be, they are less read, and their circulation is very limited. At best, the circulation of the most popular newspaper in Iran is 10 to 15 thousand. This is a bitter in with a country with a population of 80 million. In this situation, like other journalists, I have turned to research and books.

The English version Life in Prison is available on Amazon for $35 or for $20 on Kindle.



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