The Iran I saw — in 781 days in Evin Prison

Josh Fattal in the Los Angeles Times:

ScreenHunter_499 Feb. 19 16.14On the morning of my appearance before an Iranian Revolutionary Court, where I was convicted on a fabricated charge of espionage, I heard the chant “Death to America!” from the world beyond my prison window. The chant, and the associated stereotype of Islamic Iran, was quite different from what I heard in Section 209, the grim area of Evin Prison where political detainees are beaten, tortured and held without charge. As Americans, my friend and cellmate Shane Bauer and I were denied contact with Iranian inmates during our imprisonment there. Yet time and again, they found the courage to defy that rule and lift our spirits.

When I'd sing anguished songs to the emptiness, I'd hear a knock of solidarity on my wall from an adjoining cell. Then another knock. Then a whisper from the hallway, and the soothing words in English, “We hope you become free!” Prisoners would hide candies in the washroom for us to find. I'd repay the kindness by sneaking chocolates, which my interrogators let me have, into the shower for my hall mates to discover.

Over the 781 days of my incarceration, I developed a deep sense of solidarity with these Iranians. I landed in Evin Prison by happenstance in the summer of 2009. Shane and his girlfriend, Sarah Shourd, were living in Damascus, Syria, at the time, and I had gone to visit them after completing an international teaching fellowship. The idea of escaping the bustle of Damascus with a trip to the placid mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan appealed to us all. Without us knowing, our hike took us up to the unmarked frontier with Iran, where border guards detained us.

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