A few days before my eventual release, I put pen to paper for the last time within the walls of Evin Prison, and on a little torn-off piece of a Kleenex box, wrote an aphorism: ‘A philosopher puts himself in danger because of his thoughts; for his philosophy is like a tightrope on which he walks, with the world threatening deep below.’ My ideas had landed me in this prison. To get out I would have to convince my captors that I regretted having these thoughts. No other lifeline remained.
In the early morning of 27 April, 2006, I was on my way to Brussels to attend a conference. Inside Mehrabad airport in Tehran, after I had checked in my luggage and gone through the security check, I was approached by four men. One of them came up and called me by my first name. ‘Ramin, could you follow us?’ he said. I looked them over quickly: they wore ordinary suits without ties, and they all had beards, giving them an oddly generic quality. The one who had spoken stood impatiently waiting for me to comply. ‘I’ll miss my plane’, I said.
‘We just want to ask you a few questions’. People around us were watching, but nobody moved. Quickly I realised that I had no choice but to go with them.
I was led to a waiting car. Two of the men sat in the front as driver and passenger, and the other two got in the back with me, keeping me in the middle. Then they pushed my head down and the car took off toward another part of the airport, to a garage where another car was waiting. Here, with fewer people around, the men became more aggressive, pulling me out of the car and throwing me into the other one. Again they put my head down and this time one of them covered my head with his blazer. This blazer, which smelled of rotten onions, had a hole in it, so that I could see one of the rear windows. The car left the airport very quickly and soon we were on the highway, heading for northern Tehran. Then I heard one of them say into a walkie-talkie: ‘We have the package. The package is arriving.’
I was terrified, and feared for my life. I knew there had been cases in Iran where people had been taken away like this and executed without notice or trial. Their mutilated bodies were found in suburban areas of Tehran. Abductors similar to these men, who by now I knew had to be intelligence officers, had been picking up intellectuals and activists and killing them on the spot. An agitated voice kept escaping from me, though I felt I was not speaking. It kept echoing, bouncing around inside the car, falling back into my throat and escaping again—‘Where are you taking me? Where are you taking me?’ And the simple, hollow reply: ‘Shut up,’ over and over again.
Never in my life had I thought I would be relieved to be approaching the grim walls of Evin prison. But relief is exactly what I felt when I recognised, through the hole in the blazer, a nearby square in the area of Saadat Abad which signalled its proximity. I knew then that I would not be murdered. We passed the first gate and when we stopped at the second gate I heard the driver presenting his identification card to the guard: ‘We have a package for 209.’ I later learned that 209 was a section of Evin prison that was administered by the Ministry of Information. It was an interrogation centre where no one, not even members of the government, could enter or leave without a permit. It is the autonomous kingdom of Iranian security officers and interrogators who formulate and carry out whatever policy they like toward the prisoners. In their view, prisoners of section 209 are spies, traitors, enemies of Islam or the Revolution who deserve humiliation and sometimes the harshest treatment. Those who are less known to the public are dumped into solitary cells without any medical attention and ignored by prison staff.
Blindfolded, I was led by the arm from one room to another, and listening to their voices, I heard them say that we were going to the administrative room. In this room I heard someone say, ‘Where are his belongings? Go and bring a prison uniform for him.’ They asked me to sit down. This was when I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice that said, with an unforgettable ominousness, ‘This is the last stop.’
I recall the sound of a heavy steel door closing behind me. I took off my blindfold and found myself trapped between four cold walls. I looked around, my eyes adjusting to the blinding light as if emerging from a dream – or, strangely, as if waking up into a nightmare. It was a very small cell, maybe three by three metres. A high ceiling and old cement. All in green. An intense yellow light was coming from a single bulb high above. There were two blankets on the floor, next to a small vent by the wall. I could hear the horror of the walls somehow, the voices of past prisoners whispering a painful welcome in my ears. I could even see traces of these past guests on the wall despite the green paint that was supposed to cover years of torture in this cell. I had no way of knowing whether they had survived the time they had spent here. What about me? Would I be able to survive solitary confinement without going insane? The truth is, when you are in solitary, you never know when you will break. So many questions were storming my mind. I was isolated and bewildered. I heard my own breathing and then, as if from an impossible distance, the sound of someone moaning. It was coming through the vent. Later on I would find out that he was another prisoner who was in such a bad condition that he could barely move. He had to be helped by the prison guards to go to the bathroom. I came to the conclusion that he must have been tortured. Should I expect the same fate? Disoriented, I eventually fall asleep.
‘Wake up, wake up.’ It was the raspy voice of a burly prison officer standing in the doorway. ‘Get ready for the interrogation,’ he said. I was led into an interrogation room, concrete like all the other ones, covered with soundproof corks. Though blindfolded, I could smell the disagreeable odour and flat taste of rotten cork. I was ordered to sit on a single chair facing the wall at the far end. After what seemed like hours I heard footsteps behind me. It sounded as if two men had entered. But they said nothing, and seemed to be waiting for something else to happen. I could hear the sound of their breathing. And then I heard the low mumble of voices. I held my breath and waited. Eventually a third man came in, and he was the first one who talked to me.
‘Oh, very interesting, Mr. Jahanbegloo, the great intellectual is here. What are you doing here in prison?’ he asked ironically.
‘I think there has been a mistake in bringing me here,’ I said immediately.
‘No, no there is no mistake,’ he said drily. ‘You have been brought here because you are accused of a conspiracy against the Iranian state. You are implicated in a barandazi narm.’
I had never heard these words before. The direct translation from Farsi would be a ‘soft overthrow;’ later on I supposed that what he meant by that was a Velvet Revolution. But I asked him then, in my confusion, to clarify what he meant.
‘You know better than I what a soft overthrow is,’ he responded.
I could already see that the thread of a normal conversation was quickly slipping away. There would be no rational basis in our discussions to come.
The principal interrogator, the man who had spoken, had on old brown dress shoes, flattened at the back in the customary Persian way, and with no laces. The others referred to him as Hajj Agha, which literally means someone who has been to Mecca for pilgrimage, but it is actually the way interrogators called each other as a sign of fidelity to Islam. Hajj Agha pretended to be a ‘university professor,’ and though he tried all the time to use the word ‘methodology’, he did not seem like someone with a humanist education. The other two were much more reticent and merely served as echoes of this chief officer. Their false names were Hajj Ali and Hajj Saeed, and judging by their shoes I could tell why they were mere background characters. The first had on a pair of raggedy tennis shoes, and the second always walked around in household sandals.
After I told him that I still could not understand what I was being implicated in and what he wanted from me, Hajj Agha proceeded to lay out a conspiracy theory which they must have spent a lot of time constructing, though in the end it was nothing but a web of nonsense.
‘You see, Mr. Jahanbegloo, we know for a fact who you’re working for. We’ve been through your emails. We have two rooms full of documents – video clips and writings, newspaper clippings and voice recordings – on you and all that you have done with your life. It all testifies to your guilt. So you’re better off telling us from the beginning what your role is in this soft overthrow, and the details of how your employers have instructed you to carry it out.’
‘What employers? What are you talking about?’
Hajj Agha exhaled his cigarette smoke slowly, patiently, and I felt it enveloping me from behind like a fog of uncertainty.
‘The United States and Israel, of course. Do you think we’re stupid? We know you’ve been meeting with American and Israeli scholars, with politicians, with activists. You’ve done it all out in the open. There are video recordings of your meetings with them, countless articles and books that you’ve collaborated on with them. Shall I go on? You know best what role you’ve played in working with them, and your intention has been to change the government of the Islamic Republic to better suit their interests.’
What could I say in this situation? How could I convince these men that I was innocent? How could one talk sense to men who had swallowed the revolutionary ideology of the Islamic Republic? It was like confronting absurdity in human form. I was already guilty in their eyes, and they supposedly already knew what I was guilty of. In a way my innocence was working against me, because what in a normal society is supposed to make you a decent man actually becomes an anomaly in the Islamic Republic. There was nothing to say. I could only respond to their questions with shorter questions that clarified nothing. Our language game, with the rules all in disarray, had turned into a life or death struggle which constantly drew near to madness.
The interrogations continued. Hajj Ali used to come to Evin prison at one o’clock and ask the prison guards to take me out of my prison cell. He had made it his vocation to turn me into a good Muslim. Each time when we were alone, he would ask me to remove my blindfolds and to sit next to him on a machine-made carpet on the floor. And each time the conversation would revolve around religion and the fact that I had lost my faith. Once he looked me in the eyes and asked:
‘Do you consider yourself as a true Muslim?’
‘What exactly do you mean by this?’ I replied.
‘Do you know the names of the 12 Shiite Imams?’ he backfired angrily.
‘Yes, I do,’ I reacted with confidence and did some name dropping: ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib, Hasan ibn Ali, Husayn ibn Ali, Zayn al-Abidin….’
‘Enough. I am sure you don’t know how to pray?’ he said.
‘My grandmother taught me how to pray when I was 12, but….’ I was trying to find an answer to get out of his trap. He cut my phrase and added:
‘No wonder you became a spy. You come from a family of non-believers. Is it true that your father was a communist?’
‘My father was an idealist and his great ideal was to change himself and to enrich the world.’
‘But he failed and went to prison. In the same way that you failed because you made the wrong choices in life.’
I was listening to my inner voice murmuring in my mind: did I make the wrong choice? Maybe, because I was born in a period of history in which people have no respect for anything. But I did not choose to be born in the twentieth century. I chose neither my parents nor my country. They chose me. I got back to him with a little more confidence: ‘We usually make a living by what we get but we can make a life out of what we wish.’
He stood up and responded furiously: ‘Stop philosophising. We are not in a classroom and I am not your student. I am not here to listen to you. You have to listen to me. If I have to I will make sure that I can keep you in this cell for several years or even more. Then you would not get to see your daughter. I want to try and save you in spite of yourself, so I’m making an attempt to save you; but you need to collaborate with us.’
Now, I was no longer looking at him. I had my eyes fixed on the machine-made carpet which largely set the tone of our conversation. The designs were neither warm nor relaxing; the busy carpet patterns served to hide stains. I was fearful, shocked and terribly angry and asked him: ‘What do you mean by collaboration? I have never collaborated with any government. I am not interested in power.’
‘But power is beautiful when it is on the side of God. We are servants of Islam and Iran,’ he responded.
‘I always thought that you cannot serve God and politics at the same time. You can’t serve two masters,’ I said.
‘Well, I serve the Guide of the Revolution and his will is that of God.’
I nodded without adding a word.
‘You have to collaborate. You have to confess,’ he continued. And then he dialled a number on his mobile and started talking to another person about a business plan. I wasn’t listening to his phone conversation. I was still thinking of his words ‘collaborate’ and ‘confess,’ which hit me like a rock. This was the first time in my life that someone was asking me to confess something. What was I supposed to confess? I hadn’t committed any crimes and didn’t recognise myself as guilty. I was shivering with rage.
Hajj Ali ended his conversation on the phone. He looked towards me again and realised that I was deeply tortured by my thoughts. ‘Think of what I told you. Put your blindfolds back on and return to your cell.’ He called one of the prison guards by his number. ‘Number 430, come here and take the prisoner back to his cell.’
Fifty days passed. I kept track of the days by making scratches on the wall. In ordinary life, fifty days often carry little weight. They can pass by fleetingly as we go about our daily tasks, caught in the transient flow of life. When one is in solitary confinement, sleepless, and under constant pressure, days become heavy and oppressive. Each hour becomes another stone on one’s back. It is a different kind of suffering from physical torture; it spares the body and goes directly for the soul. And yet, despite the difficulties I was facing, I was always aware that others inside Evin were undergoing even worse tribulations. On that fiftieth day my wife, Azin, and daughter, Afarin, came. She came on a sweltering day in June to bring a hint of salvation.
While I was locked up in solitary confinement trying to keep my sanity, not knowing how my wife and child were doing, she had been outside fighting to see me and to get me out. The day after my arrest, the participants in the conference I was supposed to attend in Brussels had become concerned; and one of them, Ron Asmus, whom I had met in 2002 at an Aspen Institute conference in Istanbul, had contacted Azin to tell her I had not arrived. My wife and my mother had been left without any news from me for 48 hours, but two days after my arrest, on a Friday morning at 10:00 am, I was handcuffed and taken to my apartment for a search. I was taken blindfolded in a car with two heavy weight security officers while another car full of three men followed us. They asked me to open the door of my apartment with my key and to make sure that my wife would not make any noise. It happened that my mother and my in-laws were also present at our apartment and were all very worried about my fate. They were all happy to find out that I was in good health, though they could tell from my unshaven and tired face that I had had two rough nights at the prison. As soon as the security officers entered our apartment they started searching for any document or paper which could prove their conspiracy theory. One of the security officers was filming the whole scene and he looked in the cupboards for pirate DVDs and alcohol. My mother was trying her best to argue with my jailers, hoping to persuade them to have mercy. I was asked to sit on a chair and remain silent. I could not say a word about my situation in prison. The security officers confiscated most of my writings and photos, finishing their four hour search with five big boxes of documents that they took to prison. I never forgot the last word my mother told me before I returned to prison. ‘My son’, she said, ‘stand firm for your convictions. Your father also went to prison.’ These words gave me confidence and courage. The jailers put back the handcuffs, blindfolded me and took me back to section 209. My mother’s words rang in my ears, and they reminded me of Rumi’s: ‘Ignore those who make you fearful and sad, who degrade you back towards disease and death.’
It did not take Azin long to take up the Herculean task of contacting every person she could and pull every string to have me released. She secretly met the Italian ambassador, Roberto Toscano, throwing on a chador and going through the back door of his residence in the Farmanieh area of Tehran to tell him what had happened to me. We had been friends for many years and Roberto was ready to do everything he could to help me. With the help of Roberto talks soon began with members of the Council of the European Union. Javier Solana, the Secretary General of this council, was contacted, and a petition was started which was passed at first throughout Europe and later in Canada, the United States, India, and many other places. At the time, I had no clue that any of this was happening. I knew I had friends and sympathisers out there, but never imagined the scale of their response, the generosity and the compassion they showed during my time of crisis.
But I knew nothing of this when Azin came with our one-year-old baby in her arms and stood outside the gates in the unbearable heat until she could see me. The massive series of arrests that had been made that day following a demonstration for women’s rights had brought dozens of protestors straight to Evin, and while they were being processed, the visitors simply had to wait. Finally, when the interrogators came to my cell in the afternoon and announced that I had a visitor, I became confused, and then, when my thoughts cleared up and I knew who it was, I grew very excited. Preparing me for the visit was a ridiculous process. Hajj Ali retrieved some of my clothes from my suitcase, which I had been planning to wear to the conference, and told me to put them on. They shaved me so that I would no longer look like the Count of Monte Cristo, and Hajj Ali even insisted on spraying me with cologne. All this was meant to make me look presentable and in good shape. There was good reason for this as I was to learn later, but at the time my captors told me nothing and, to be honest, as thrilled as I was, it barely mattered to me. I was blindfolded and escorted out of section 209, then put into a car and driven past the inner gates, down from the secluded hilly area to the main gate where the visiting rooms and the guards’ dormitories stood.
We had ten minutes. Before I entered the room where she was sitting and waiting for me, Hajj Ali told me this with special emphasis. Ten minutes. And, he whispered, I was not to forget what he had told me: if I said anything about what had gone on in there I would not be able to see her again. He sat me down on the sofa next to her and removed my blindfold. She seemed very excited and I could tell her heart was beating fast as her large searching eyes looked me over. Afarin was clinging to her very tightly. It was obvious she was scared in this filthy, gloomy environment. The place where we found ourselves was not a regular visiting room. The sofa we sat on was dirty and full of holes; the walls were covered with stains and chipped paint. In the corner there were some pillows and blankets which I assumed were for guards to sleep under. This was a special meeting room that had been arranged so that other prisoners and visitors could not see me. I was nervous and didn’t know what to say. We wanted to have contact with each other, to embrace, but Hajj Ali was sitting right there, behind a desk in front of us. So we sat on the sofa staring at each other, and she would ask, ‘How are you doing? Is everything OK?’ and I would reply, ‘Yes, I’m fine. Are you OK?’
There was so much that I wanted to say, but the words kept fading as soon as they reached my lips. ‘Don’t bring Afarin here anymore. I don’t want her to have memories of this,’ I finally said. Azin gave me a knowing look, then reached into her bag and took out two books: the autobiographies of Gandhi and Nehru.‘These will help,’ she said.
Hajj Ali took the books away from me immediately and informed me that they would have to be checked. Most books were fine, he said, but any notations or sections not written by the author were forbidden; they could contain secret communications. And finishing this explanation, he quickly informed us that our time was up.
The departure was hurried – there was barely any time for the pain to set in. As we said goodbye, Azin leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Everything is OK outside. Be strong.’ I found strength in her words; even as I headed back to the bleakness of my cell, even as I was forced to change back into prisoners’ clothes, I was filled with new hope and determination. Soon, I told myself, I will leave this place, and I’ll be together again with my wife and child.
A few days later, sometime in the early hours of the morning, just as I finished my daily exercises and started my reading, I heard a banging against the iron door. The slot opened and a voice announced that I was to prepare myself for a visit. A minute later, two guards came in and led me straight outside, away from section 209 and into the Evin gardens. These gardens seemed extremely out of place in such a hostile and grim setting, but they immediately offered a little comfort – a reminder of other things out there in the world, a reassurance that such things still existed. A few trees, some patches of grass, scattered wildflowers and a bench. Hajj Ali and Hajj Saeed stood next to me, saying nothing and gazing about impatiently. A few soldiers in military clothing passed by. I looked around and, noticing a nearby hospital, realised this must be a resting area for doctors and patients, offering a brief respite from all the bleak activities of each passing day. Later I learned that many of those tortured or on hunger strike would be taken to this hospital. Ordinary people rarely know that the so-called Evin prison doctors are anything but doctors. They are not there to save lives, but to keep the prisoner alive so that the interrogations continue.
Despite the uncertainty, I tried to enjoy the moment, breathing deeply to take in the fresh air, listening to the singing birds, hoping the expected visitor would be Azin. And to my surprise, a minute later, I saw her figure emerging in the distance. She was accompanied by her father and they were both walking toward us from the main gate. Seeing her approach was like the gradual manifestation of a dream figure, a person alive every hour in my thoughts now made real, in the flesh. My interrogators had told me so many times that I may never see her again that I had started to believe them. I kept myself composed as she finally reached us, but the image I projected was one of exhaustion and desolation. I could see that in her eyes, too, there was a real sadness. She held her hands out to me and looked me over with concern.
‘How are you, my dear? How is Afarin?’
‘We’re both fine,’ she responded softly. ‘You look terribly thin.’
‘Do I? How is my mother? And the rest of the family?’
‘Everyone is well. We’re worried about you. Do you know when you’ll be freed?’
It was a painful question for both of us, and she asked it with such feeling that the words broke something in her and tears finally fell down her eyes. She had been so strong, but it was impossible to hold it back anymore. Hajj Ali and Hajj Saeed, who had been overseeing our conversation, turned away and walked off a few steps. I reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, looked her in the eyes. ‘I will get out of here eventually. Have hope,’ I said, trying to inspire in her the same feelings that her visit had brought me.
Little did I know that she had recently met with Judge Saeed Mortazavi, the city’s Prosecutor General, who had told her that it was very unlikely I would be freed. So her tears kept falling even as she handed me the copy of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit that I’d asked for. She hugged and kissed me, and as we walked away we constantly looked back at each other.
As soon as we reached section 209 again, I was unexpectedly taken to a new room where a taciturn barber gave me a quick shave and a haircut. What were they preparing me for now, I thought. When the barber finished, Hajj Ali came in with some of my clothes and told me to change.
‘Put these on. You have to look good for the camera.’
‘The camera?’ I asked. ‘Are you planning to film me for something? I don’t want to be filmed.’
‘Shut up and do as you’re told,’ he suddenly yelled. He rarely let his anger flare up like this with me. But then it became evident why he was so upset. ‘That wife of yours is creating a lot of problems for us. And now you will do something for us to cancel out those problems. Anyhow, this is part of your interrogation, and you have no say in the matter.’
I knew what he meant, even though he wasn’t willing to say it openly and Azin had had to conceal it in front of them: the campaign to secure my release had gained a lot of momentum and pressure was mounting on the prosecutors to charge me formally. And to charge me, they would require more evidence: a confession.
It was comical how they had arranged everything in such a makeshift way, considering their status as agents of the state. I walked the distance from my cell to the interrogation room blindfolded. Once in the room, they took off the blindfolds, but asked me not to move my head in any direction. One of the interrogators who never showed me his face was sitting on my far right so that I could not see him and he would not be on camera. The room they took me to was similar to all the other interrogation rooms, except that here they had replaced the usual metal chair with a brown leather chair; behind it stood a blue screen and in front of it a table with a microphone; a single plant next to it was supposed to give the place a more pleasant look. Two camera-men waiting at the other end of the table looked me over as we came in and said they were ready to begin filming. Hajj Ali sat me down on the leather chair and barked out his instructions: ‘You are to repeat everything we tell you in front of the camera. You may not change any of the words, and you have to say it all as naturally as possible. Listen closely and memorise the words well, because we don’t have all day. Most importantly, we will be standing to the side and you are not to look at us at any point in time. Keep your eyes averted, or else we will have to stop the tape and start again, and it will not turn out well for you if you keep wasting our time. On the other hand, if you comply and do exactly as you’re told, there may be some hope for you after all,’ he finished in a more reassuring tone.
It soon occurred to me how cleverly they had actually orchestrated everything. They had taken me to see my wife, and immediately afterward, knowing I would be filled with excitement and anxiety to be released, had brought me here to force a false confession out of me. More than anything they had used the element of surprise against me, so that it all happened as if in a whirlwind, leaving me no time to contemplate my next move. It was very effective. Images of Azin lingered, freshly burnt into my consciousness – her cheerless eyes, the tears streaming down her cheeks, her trembling lips. I had to do whatever I could to get out of there, to be with her and my daughter again. I was not going to be like Socrates, ready to drink the hemlock; unlike him, I had too much to lose. ‘Tell me what I have to say,’ I told Hajj Ali.
I had nothing to confess. I merely repeated their words. Keeping my eyes down the entire time and reciting it all as bluntly as I could, I explained how my work on nonviolence was directly tied to United States interests and designs, how American agents had approached me and put me in contact with people at the NED (National Endowment for Democracy), and how this gave shape to my plans and aims. I continued with the words they had asked me to repeat: I prepared a final report comparing Iranian civil society with that of Eastern Europe at the time of the Velvet Revolution. I was also supposed to have been in contact with people at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C., namely Haleh Esfandiari – who, they had told me to mention, is married to a Jew. The aim of this organisation, I explained, was to continue the work of the NED, to foment unrest and eventual revolution in Iran.
‘Now that I am looking back at my activities over the past few years from America to Iran,’ I finished with suppressed bitterness and pain, ‘I see that my activities have placed me in the camp of Iran’s enemies rather than on the side of its national interests. And I am disappointed in myself for these things and I think that I have to rectify this in the best way possible.’
To my relief, the camera was turned off here and I was congratulated on having done a good job. This, Hajj Ali told me, would really help my case. With a strange mixture of satisfaction and disgust, I returned to my cell and hoped for the best. As I lost myself in the pages of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the transcript of my ‘confession’ was distributed, so it was soon known publicly that I was a known traitor and spy who had willingly confessed. The tape itself would not be released until a year later, when it was combined with other forced confessions from Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbaksh in a programme entitled ‘In the Name of Democracy’. This short documentary, which aired on a state-run broadcast station, depicted the three of us as agents working in the interests of foreigners to undermine the Islamic Republic. It began by talking about nonviolence and revolution, and with interspersed interviews and discussions, made the usual claims about the United States’ diabolical schemes and the mechanisms it used to achieve its aims. To this day, certain labels have stuck to me because of this kind of propaganda. It is true that my intellectual work revolves around nonviolence and resistance, yet I have never been a civil activist or – it goes without saying – an agent employed by any government. One of the reasons such accusations have been thrown at me, however, is my involvement with many different thinkers, some of them known radicals.
I passed the days spreading my feet on the floor and walking silently in my cell. Freedom is all I wanted. My desire for freedom mocked absurd justice. But absurd justice denied my freedom. Then the moment I was waiting for arrived one day at the doorstep of my cell.
‘Get ready,’ shouted one of the prison guards opening the iron door of my cell. ‘Someone will take you to the Revolutionary Court.’ I had a few seconds of silence, thinking this was the end, and then replied back, ‘OK. I will be ready!’
The words ‘Revolutionary Court’ sent a shiver through my spine. I had not known such fear and I can hardly explain how I felt at the time. An hour later a man came, blindfolded me and took me to a car. He took off the blindfold. I was sitting in the back of an official car with the guard next to me. I was handcuffed and he had a pistol at his side. The driver was going fast towards downtown Tehran. He was taking the special road that is reserved for police officers and official cars. This was my first time out of Evin prison after three long months. I was in my prison uniform and unshaved and people who stopped at the red light next to our car looked at me like a circus animal. I suppose they considered me a criminal or a drug dealer. Maybe people were afraid of me because they did not understand me. For them I was just a prisoner because I was in prison uniform.
The car drove up near the bazaar and parked in front of the Revolutionary Court. I was taken to the first floor where I sat with my guard for an hour waiting for General Prosecutor Mortazavi to see me. I was surprised to see Hajj Saeed coming out of the room and asking me to follow him. Mortazavi was talking to his secretary and did not even notice my entrance. He looked shorter than he did in his photos with a three-day beard and moustache. His spectacles made him look even more atrocious than his nickname ‘the butcher of the press’ implied. I knew him for his role in the death of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian-Iranian photographer who was tortured, beaten and raped during her detention in 2003.
Mortazavi gave me a harsh look and said: ‘Mr. Jahanbegloo, you are accused of spying against the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.’
‘But I have never been connected with any foreign intelligence.’ I replied.
‘Listen to me carefully. If you contradict me you will go on trial facing charges of communicating with a hostile government and I can easily ask for death penalty,’ he responded ferociously.
‘But I am not a spy; I am a philosopher,’ I said shyly.
‘That doesn’t interest us. What interests us is with what foreign institution you are connected,’ he fired back.
‘And who recognises you as a philosopher? Americans, Canadians, the French?’
‘I… I have taught at many universities. But I haven’t done anything except serve people.’
‘Is that so? And why do you have Canadian citizenship? This is a proof that you are a spy.’
‘But many Iranians have dual nationalities,’ I said.
‘You are not an Iranian; you are an ugly Canadian.’
‘But I have lived and worked in this country. I have written books in Persian.’
‘Forget the big words. Your writings are of no use to us. They do not serve Islam and they do not serve Iran.’
Angrily, Mortazavi turned to Hajj Saeed and said: ‘Take him to the other room and read him all the accusations.’
I was taken to the next room and Saeed came with a paper on which there was a long list of accusations: spying, working with foreign intelligence, plotting against the security of the Iranian state, preparing a velvet revolution, collaboration with Jewish institutions, writing lies about the Holocaust, and so on.
‘Sign this,’ he said.
‘But I haven’t done any of these,’ I replied with a disoriented tone.
‘Look. If you don’t sign, we have to start all the interrogations from scratch. This means that you will stay here for a year or two with no contact with the outside world.’
I felt that I was signing my death sentence and that it would be used against me as long as the Islamic regime remained in place in Iran. But so many prisoners had done the same thing before me, just to save their lives and be with their families again. I was thinking of my daughter Afarin. What would she think in twenty years from now? Would she say that her father was a hero, a coward, or simply a man who met his destiny on the road he took to avoid it?
I was taken back to Evin. My supper was already waiting for me in the room; colder than usual. The blindfold was taken off. The iron door was closed behind me. That night I ate and slept with shame.