By Assadollah Nabavi


I look through the tiny opening of my dark cell and find myself more fortunate than the guard who is standing beyond the light, since I am looking at the light and he the darkness. “Ahmad Mattar”

That day, as I was looking out to the lit ward corridor through the opening of my darkly shadowed cell in Semnan Central Prison, I was feeling the same as the poet when all of a sudden my glance stopped at something. They were pulling a man on the ground toward me.

A man leaving behind a trace of blood on the damp floor.

I tried to see his face through the narrow opening, but it was fully covered with a thick eye fold and two guards were pulling him forward with their brawny hands. The cell door next to me was opened and I suppose they must have pushed him into the cell while blood was dripping from his legs.

I tried to Morse him a welcome message by knocking at the wall (this was a common way of communication between prisoners in the Iranian regime’s prisons). But it was obvious that he didn’t have the strength to get himself to the wall and reply back because of all the blood he had lost from his leg. It was in the middle of night when I heard a calm Morse tap coming from the neighboring man and I rushed myself to the wall. I spent that night and other nights onwards deciphering his messages.

I learned that he was a certain amount of torture every day, and I also learned who his torturer was and that he was arrested because he had joined the PMOI/MEK (the main opposition of the Iranian regime).

His name was Mohammadreza…

One midnight, when he was returned from his daily torturing, I asked him, “Do you ever think about when the torture will end?”

The tapping stopped for a long while, and then his melodious Morse code echoed higher than ever before. His message was, “The day I think about the end to this torment will be the day I kneel before Khomeini (then-leader of the Iranian regime).”

Twenty seven years ago, in the summer of 1988, 30 thousand freedom fighters, including Mohammadreza, were massacred in prisons across Iran under a brutal writ issued by Khomeini.

Mohammadreza proved that he was not a man to live on his knees. But the story of choosing between resistance and surrender did not end there. It was as if the endless cycle of trials and tests must continue…

Two decades later, I am in another prison near Baghdad, ironically called “Camp Liberty.” One night, when I woke up due to the intense 48 degree Celsius summer heat, accentuated by metal trailer in which I was sleeping, I headed out of my quarters, and oddly, I found another Mohammadreza.

He had lost the use of one leg during an attack against Camp Ashraf by Iraqi thugs on April 8, 2011, and now he walks with the help of a walking-stick.

I went to him. The silence of the night was broken by the sounds of gravel moving under my feet. I assumed that he too had become alienated to sleep because of the chronic pain in his leg and the intolerable heat. One could tell by looking at his face that he was worked up due to heat and lack of sleep.

“It’s been twenty one nights that I wreath and twist in pain till the morning,” he says. “There is no medicine, I am not allowed to go to doctor, and you can’t even catch an hour’s sleep for the lack of electricity and air conditioning.”

I looked up at the sky. The stars seemed so close that I could actually see them wink consecutively. But there were no lights winking in Camp Liberty, because we are deprived of the daily ration of fuel needed to operate the camp’s power generators.

“How long is it going to last?” I asked.

My words wiped out all signs of exhaustion and pain from his face. With much effort he pushed himself to his feet. His knee was visibly swollen.

“Resistance,” he said, “is the only word worthy of a freedom-fighter. May god grant us endless forbearance to resist and uphold our pledge.”

I was suddenly reminded of another Mohammadreza, the one who was hanged 26 years earlier, and also Mattar, the Iraqi poet. Indeed we are above the guardians of darkness, since our eyes are open and looking toward the lights of freedom while theirs are folded and looking toward darkness.

Assadollah Nabavi is a Camp Liberty resident who spent many years in the brutal dungeons of the Iranian regime.