Bahareh Hedayat: "Like the Sound of the Ocean from the Depths of a Dungeon"

In this exclusive Tavaana translation, imprisoned Iranian student activist and women’s rights defender Bahareh Hedayat provides a detailed description of her interrogation by Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi after her arrest in 2009. Written on a napkin as an anniversary gift to her husband, Amin Ahmadian, Bahareh laments having only been allowed to spend a year of her married life with her husband before being jailed and recounts the story of their relationship. She also relates the pressure put on her by the Iranian judiciary to recant her previous statements and disavow her activities – pressure she resisted. Nevertheless, she describes her longing to hear her beloved’s voice, a moment she refers to as being “like hearing the sound of the ocean from the depths of a dungeon.”

Bahareh Hedayat was born on April 5, 1981, one of the most tumultuous years in post-revolutionary Iran. Bahareh began her career as a student activist after going to university to study economics, later becoming a prominent women’s rights activist and a member of the Central Committee and spokesperson for the Daftar-e Tahkim Vahdat (the Office for Strengthening Unity), Iran’s largest student organization. She also served as part of the One Million Signatures Campaign for the Repeal of Discriminatory Laws. Bahareh, who has been arrested on five separate occasions for taking part in student demonstrations, was sentenced to 9.5 years in prison in 2010. She is currently serving this sentence in Evin Prison.

Posting this letter on his Facebook page, Amin Ahmadian explained: “Saturday was both her birthday and our wedding anniversary. During my visit on Sunday, she gave me an English novel she had just translated and this note written on a napkin as gifts.”

Bahareh Hedayat

Bahareh Hedayat: "Like the Sound of the Ocean from the Depths of a Dungeon"

February 8th, 2010. Evin Prison. Prosecutor’s Office.

I sat behind a rectangular desk. A 50-year-old man with salt-and-pepper hair and beard was sitting across from me. He had several folders in front of him which he would open, take a quick look at, and close again.

“What is going on?!”

I said nothing.

Finally he raised his head: “You will get 20 years.”

The ground fell out from under my feet. My knees were shaking. My heart was jumping out of my chest.

I said: “Why so severe, Haj Agha? I have not done anything.”

My voice was shaking. I realized I could hardly control my facial muscles. I felt like I was choking. Do not cry, damn it! His head went back down to the papers and the “evidence.” He opened the first page: “Final Report of the Interrogator.” I did not have my glasses with me. I could not see well. Only the last words printed in bold letters were clear: “And triumph is bestowed by Allah [in Arabic].”

He raised his head: “You have been charged with seventeen counts. If even three or four are proven, you will get ten years.”

Ten years??? You mean ten years without Amin? Damn it, don’t you dare cry. I wish I could go back to my cell. If I cry, he will think I am sorry, that I am begging…

Is it possible that he understands what it means to love someone? I looked at him, at his wrinkled forehead and his sunken cheeks, his untidy beard and long, thin lips. Does he understand?

“Do you know Morteza [a fellow student activist]? He went to court and said his piece there. He spoke the truth.”

An alarm went off in my head. So that is why my interrogator has not asked for me the past three weeks…

“If you want, you can too…”

I almost threw up. I looked at the scar on his hand [from an assassination attempt]. He probably thinks we are all terrorists, and that if we had the chance…. So, this is Dolatabadi.  At least they replaced Mortazavi, thank God. They picked a great time to arrest me! They say [Dolatabadi] is a reasonable guy.

“Do you want to see Morteza?”

Morteza? I could barely stand him outside of prison. Why would I want to see him here? “Why would I want to see Morteza? I want to see my husband.”

“Ms. Hedayat, you will receive a 10 year sentence. We have the documents. What do you want to do?”

Ten years? He has to be kidding. How many years have I been an activist? Since 2005. How many years is that? 2006, 2007, 2008… damn, my hands are shaking. 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009… Damn it, I cannot do it. In any case, it has not been ten years. I will not see Amin for ten years? How is that possible?

“The trial…” What in God’s name is he talking about!? “The regime’s compassion…”

I will tell him about it. That it took us six years to get married, that we have been together for only a year.

“We crushed you all. Can you not see?”

“Who did you arrest, Haj Agha? They arrested anyone they saw in the streets. They brought a 19-year-old girl into our cell. What have we done to deserve this? We just told you not to kill people…”

Damn it, you were not supposed say these things! He is angry now. Do not make it worse. Say something to throw him off and make him stop saying “ten years” over and over. I am really not in the mood!

“I brought so-and-so here, their parents came too. They strongly support the regime. They accepted that they had made a mistake, and they were remorseful…”

He is lying. It is impossible!

“You want to be a hero, huh?”

A hero? Who, me? I just want to be with Amin.

“I have not done anything, Haj Agha. A couple of statements and a few interviews at most.”

“Are you prepared to recant them?” What?! Recant?

He read the first paragraph of the September 2010 statement from Tahkim Vahdat (The Office for Strengthening Unity). His mistake. He should not have done it. I was overjoyed! Abbas has written it. Good on him! He read more, from this statement, from that… I would remember, and I would get excited! I had to be careful not to let it show.

“Will you recant it?”

“We might have been a bit harsh, but I cannot refute the main argument.”

“Your interrogator warned me that you were stubborn.”

“Anyone who denied it did so under pressure and was forced to lie.”

“Who did we pressure? Morteza himself…”

“I do not know about Morteza, but I saw Abdollah Momeni’s trial. I know, you know, and he knows that what he said wasn’t true. Why would he say those things? Because you tortured him, of course.”

Oops! I should not have used the word torture. I should have said “under pressure.” No matter. It felt good. He has sat me here, says whatever he likes, and thinks I am an idiot! My hands are freezing. Would it be awkward to bring them to my face and blow on them?

“Now you wait. Everyone else will be released, but you will be left behind. Morteza went to court. He will be released. He will not stay here.” So what!

“I will release so-and-so too. They will all be home for New Year’s.”

Really? He is lying. If they release that person, they will release me too. I was about to say: “Whatever they said, I will say it too.” I hesitated, and then I said: “We had the same views on the outside. And we did everything together. Bring them here and let me talk to them. I do not know what they have said.”

“They said they were sorry.” That was impossible. “That is impossible.”

“Did you all organize the Student’s Day demonstrations last year?”

What a Student’s Day it was! Could Mehdi [a fellow student activist] leave us here? What good days those were. It is a good thing Abbas is not here. Damn it, why will you not leave us alone?

He left me alone.

“You can go.”

I got up.

“Do you need anything?”

Yes, yes I do.

“A phone. I want to call my husband.”

“Let her call.”

He pointed at the man next to him - Jafari from Ward 209, with his white hair and beard, his long face with light, evil eyes. He would interrupt our conversation every once in a while. “Mr. Prosecutor, this one is beyond redemption. I know her. Every year they bring her here. She goes out and does the same thing. This one is beyond help.”

“Haj Agha, this gentleman…”

What should I say? “He hates me. Once I set foot outside this room, he will not let me make the call.”

“Call him from here.”

He points at the phone on the table. What a cool prosecutor! Thank God it is not Mortazavi. Jafari dials the number 0912000. Oh, how happy I am! I will be hearing his voice any minute.

“Mr. Ahmadian? Husband of Bahareh Hedayat?” He hands me the phone.

“Hello?”

“Bahar? My dear…”

It was like hearing the sound of the ocean from the depths of a dungeon. It was like catching a glimpse of the endless blue of the ocean for a second out of total darkness. How I miss you. Do not cry, damn it! Talk. I cannot. Do not cry. I cannot… I put the phone to my chest. I do not want him to know that I am crying. He will think I am not well, and it will upset him. Do not cry in front of them, damn you. I cannot... my tears keep flowing without making a sound.

Jafari is standing in front of me. He pulls the phone out of my hand: “OK, you do not want to talk. I will hang up.”

I beg him: “No, no! I will talk.” I pick the phone up. My tears will not stop.

“Bahar? Are you crying?”

“Amin…”

Amin, I miss you.

“Are you alright, my dear? There are two strangers here. I cannot talk much.”

“Were they hard on you?”

They had pressured me severely. My head was spinning during the interrogations. “No, I am fine.”

“Ward 209?”

“Yes.”

“Solitary?”

“No.”

“Where are you now?”

“With the prosecutor.”

“What is he saying?”

He says I will not see you for ten years! “Nothing.”

“They brought Morteza to court.”

“I know.”

“How did you find out?”

Busybody!

“They told me.”

“Do not be afraid. Stay strong.”

“I will.”

“Promise.”

“I do.”

“I have your back. We will get you out.” You cannot get me out. “All of you will get out.”

“OK.”

“I am proud of you.” For what? I had to beg them to let me hear your voice. My hands and legs are shaking. My voice is cracking. What are you proud of?” Jafari makes a gesture. “I have to go now. Take care of yourself.” “Do not get arrested” slips out.

“Do not worry. You will get out soon.”

This time is not like the others.

“I cannot get rid of you!”

I love you.

“Do you need anything else?”

“Take care. I love you.” Me too.

“Goodbye.”

He says goodbye and I hang up the phone. The display reads: one minute and forty-one seconds!

Four years and two months has passed since that day, and I still love you. I still love the sound of the ocean!

I managed to survive your absence. Is that not strange? I am used to it. It is one of prison’s enduring and pesky habits! I live here. Sometimes, however, I remember. Human beings live for love - or at least I do. Faran says: “it is the excitement of the hormones.” Perhaps. She says: “You feel this way because you were not overwhelmed by that love.”  She is a psychiatrist. It does not matter what she says. I feel the weight of my heart when you are away, and my hormones have nothing to do with it!

I read books, watch movies, talk to my friends. I joke, I knit, I go to woodworking classes… but the longing to be with you is always with me.

Over four years and three months of those ten years have passed. I tried to be strong, the way you wanted me to be. I tried not to be afraid, the way you expected. Maybe it was inevitable…

Whatever it was, long or short, consider [this] the envious love letter of a naïve 20-year-old girl in the College of Economics’ Student Association office, who struggled for six months not to fall in love with you and ended up doing exactly that! The 21-year-old girl whose courage trumped her shyness and who told you that she loved you. The 22-year-old girl who watch you “go” and said goodbye to you in tears on that night in Narmak Square, when you kissed her hand and said goodbye. The 22-year-old girl who became one with you on March 8 (17 Esfand). The 23-year-old girl who couldn’t bear you not being there and “not loving her.” The 24-year-old girl who tried her best to forget your love and could not. The 25-year-old girl who wandered aimlessly between the earth and sky for your love. The 26-year-old girl who was disappointed with everything. Now, one of these days, I will be 30 years old and still waiting to live my life with you!

I want “an unbearable lightness.” Life weighs me down here.

Now this simple love story is my gift to you, on the twelfth anniversary of our friendship, free from politics and prison and all that chaos. Just for the sake of the feeling that kept you and me going all these years.

To learn more about Bahareh Hedayat, read Tavaana's exclusive Profile in Courage.

For more information on the One Million Signatures Campaign, explore Tavaana's exclusive case study.

What Tavaana Students Have to Say

How good that a free space for challenging and critical discussion, where questions and answers can be exchanged with the guidance of our esteemed professors, has been created to counter the current political and social situation in Iran. I thank all of those involved with Tavaana from the bottom of my heart. I know how important you are, and I hope you will be steadfast in your future steps. Do not hesitate because giving even one bit of knowledge to one person is an effective and lasting service to the nation.
- Firouzeh, Foundations of Democracy course graduate

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