Iran’s Interrupted Lives

Haleh Esfandiari in the New York Review of Books:

ScreenHunter_09 Sep. 30 14.37 Sponsored by the Abdorrhaman Boroumand Foundation and the Georgetown chapter of Amnesty International, the exhibition was organized by two sisters, Ladan and Roya Boroumand. Their father, after whom the foundation was named, was an Iranian lawyer and democracy activist who was assassinated in Paris in 1991, almost certainly by Iranian agents. Among other valuable work, the Boroumands have created a database of some 12,000 executions carried out in Iran since the establishment of the Islamic Republic.

The display at Georgetown included three small school desks, the kind in which political detainees in Iran are required to sit to write responses during interrogations and, once they are broken, to put on paper their “confessions.” Roya Boroumand, who takes me through the exhibition, asks if I want my picture taken sitting behind one of these desks. I shudder and refuse. I have no desire to relive the long hours, days and months I spent under interrogation and writing answers to questions at Evin Prison.

The exhibition is aptly named “interrupted lives.” These young men and women, you think, should be playing soccer and basketball, could have gone to graduate school, might have been lawyers and doctors. Instead, jail and exile, and aborted schooling and careers, have been their fate. Manuchehr Es’haqi was arrested at age 13 and spent ten years in jail for “corruption on earth.” He now repairs coffee machines in Sweden. He looks at the camera through haunted eyes. “I am still not really living. Nothing makes me really happy,” the small inscription quotes him as saying.

Hamed Ruhinejad, a university student arrested after the 2009 elections, lingers in jail, despite multiple sclerosis and the loss of sight in his right eye. Bahareh Hedayat, the well-known human rights and women’s rights activist and a leading member of the Office for Fostering Unity, a student organization, has been in and out of jail since 2006. Only 25, she was sentenced in May to nine-and-a half years for speaking out on rights issues.

More here.