Houshang Asadi: Iran Is a Mine Field For a Writer

Speech at the Annual Meeting of the ISHR-German Section
Bonn, March 19, 2011

Houshang Asadi, Iranian writer, journalist, translator, Co-founder of the International Association of Iranian Journalists, Member of the editorial board of RoozOnline Internet newspaper

Ladies and gentlemen!

It is not difficult to be a writer in the Islamic republic of Iran. It resembles walking through a minefield. But in a sense, it is much easier to step on a mine and get killed.

This may sound like an exaggeration. So, I will use my experience as a writer to present two episodes from my book to demonstrate this point to you.

I was young and in love with freedom. I loved my country and literature. I dreamed that the world could be changed. I believed that one day love would be the rule of life. I took part in the Iranian revolution in 1979 with this dream and that freedom would eventually prevail; that bread would be available for all; and that despotism would only be found in museums.

But I suddenly found myself in hell. For three months the only other person in my physical life was a person called the interrogator. His ideology of hate arose from his religious beliefs; his instruments were the whip and the handcuff.

I was blindfolded and defenseless like a deer that was trapped by the hands of this 'brother' person. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, 'brother' is the common title of all believers. And all interrogators were 'brothers', who also carried pseudo names.

My life was in their hands, particularly in the hands of a person whom everyone called 'brother Hamid'. Anything I wanted or had to do could only be done with his permission. This included eating, sleeping, waking up, etc. I could not even go to the bathroom without his approval. He viewed himself as the exclusive owner of all rights, defended the "sacred" regime and viewed me as a traitor, spy and immoral. He was the image of God while I was Satan. I had to 'confess' to whatever he thought. Which I did.

Whenever I lost consciousness under torture, during the nights and days that I was hung from a ceiling with one arm twisted up behind my back. I was forbidden to sleep, and even forced to eat my own feces. And finally I 'confessed'.

I had been turned from a young writer to the most hateful person. I had to walk and bark like a dog.
The author of the paragraphs that I just read to you is now standing in front of you and speaking with you. The sentences that you just heard are from my book, "Letters to my Torturers". It was under those circumstances that I attempted suicide three times. But every time, they rescued me so that they could subject me to more torture.

According to the confessions that they extracted from me under torture, I was a spy for MI6 and the Soviet Union at the same time. During my six-minute trial the cleric judge called me a bastard, and asked for my execution. So, I was sentenced to 15 years of prison.

In the summer of 1988, I was tried for the second time - this time it lasted just one minute - in a court that had been set up on the orders of Ayatollah Khomeini and which had issued the execution orders of masses of prisoners. Today, those very death judges of that time, all hold senior judiciary or political positions in the Islamic republic.

The judges in those trials asked the defendants just three simple questions:
- Do you still believe in what you believed in the past?
- Do you accept the Islamic republic?
- Do you pray and are you obedient to ayatollah Khomeini?

I lied and did it to live. This is not easy. I lived and eventually returned to my home after six years of prison. Then for years I was kept under surveillance. I had to report every detail of my life to government authorities through their interrogations that were exercised initially every week and then every month. Eventually, one day they told me and my wife: "You are outsiders here. Either get out or we will take care of you."

These words were uttered by a thug as he aired his fists at us. Now it is seven years I have left that place. But unfortunately conditions in Iran are today far worse and more dreadful than they were then. Today, torture, prison and death are the principal language of those who are running the Republic of Thugs.

Ladies and gentlemen!

Despite everything, I must say unfortunately say that walking through a mine field for a writer in Iran has a history far longer than the life of the Islamic republic. If we glance at the lengthy history of Iran and stop at the last hundred years, which coincides with the arrival of modernity into the country, we will encounter heaps of artists whose life has passed through prison, torture and death. 

Suffice it to say that Bozorg Alavi, one of the founders of fiction writing in Iran, lived as an exile for almost half a century here in Germany, where he eventually passed away. Across the border in Switzerland, Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, the first Iranian short story writer faced the same fate. Paris, where I now live, is the place where Iran's greatest writer of the twentieth century, Sadegh Hedayat, is buried. It is there that he committed suicide because of what was going on in his home country. Close to his tomb is that of Gholam-Hossein Saedi, one of three major play writers of Iran.

All of these great writers, and many smaller ones like me, have been the victims of despotism. The problem that writers have faced in Iran, more than the issue with the government, is rooted in despotism and dictatorship which takes over the country like a cancer at its advance stages. I my view, the core of this cancerous tumor is the interpretation of religion that Shiite clerics present. It is this very view that prevented the success of the first revolution for freedom in Iran earlier in the twentieth century. Then, just a hundred years later, the revolution was stolen and hijacked from the Iranian people and an Islamic republic was established.

As I speak with you today, the modern part of Iran's society is in a harsh battle with religious despotism. And unfortunately, we are dreadfully alone in this battle. The free world has till now not understood the importance of the battle for freedom in Iran. It is still not understood that Shiite Taliban is far more dangerous to the world than Fascism and Stalinism. As an Iranian writer, I cannot conceal the depth of my sorrow that companies such as Siemens-Nokia are providing tools to the Islamic Republic to oppress freedom in Iran.

Ladies and gentlemen!

I thank you for your patience in listening to me. I hope such gatherings help understand that the key problem in Iran is human rights and not the nuclear issue. No nuclear weapons will be produced in Iran, as there will be no writers who will be forced to live in a minefield.