Escape From Iran

For the rest of his life, the shadow of his parents' executions hung over him. Two decades later, struggling to survive in Evin, Musavi began to share his interrogator's conviction that he would share his parents' fate.

"I was thinking they might come back and take me to the gallows at any moment," he says. "It had already happened to my family. I was raised with the understanding that innocent people can be captured and executed."

Lonely, but Never Alone

Musavi was raised by his aunt after she was released from prison. An older brother and sister had been divided between other relatives and lived far away, in Mahshahr and Tehran. His upbringing was difficult, marked by poverty and neglect. There was no fatherly hand on his shoulder, no motherly affection.

For years the young Musavi harbored a secret dream: "I wished that they would throw a birthday party for me and that someone would buy me a gift," he said. "But it never happened."

When attention came, it was unwelcome. Musavi was 12 when he received his first summons to the Shiraz division of the Intelligence Ministry. He had done nothing wrong to attract the gaze of the security services. In his words, he had simply reached the age when authorities saw fit to remind him of his family's history and urge him, firmly, to mind his manners.

"They questioned me and told me more about my family," he says. "When I entered high school, the interrogations became more frequent and they would always tell me not to follow politics. 'Fool around with girls, drink, use drugs -- do whatever you want, but don't get involved in politics. If you have the slightest political inclination we'll arrest you.'"

The warnings proved ineffective. After entering university in Qazvin to study industrial engineering, Musavi was called before the school's disciplinary committee numerous times for participating in student protests. "They would ask whether I prayed or why I was absent from visits to religious sites like Qom and Jamkaran. Questions that had nothing to do with the university and were meant to hurt me." Half a year before he was due to graduate -- and just a few days after the 2009 presidential election -- he was suspended.

'We Didn't Want Much'

Many claims of irregularities were made in the 2009 vote, which officially handed the incumbent Ahmadinejad a 62 percent win, with his reformist rival, Mir-Hossein Musavi, trailing with 34 percent. Outraged, hundreds of thousands of people flooded onto the streets of Iran to support Musavi and a second candidate, Mehdi Karrubi.

Hooman Musavi (no relation to the presidential candidate) was among the protesters, using his camera to shoot photographs and videos of the demonstrations in Iran. When the government responded with a forceful crackdown, dozens of protesters were killed and thousands, like Musavi, were arrested in the weeks and months that followed.

Looking back at the events, Musavi insists his activism had nothing to do with the remorse he still feels for his parents. His aim, he says, was purely rational. "We didn't want much," he says of himself and his fellow protesters. "We just wanted someone to answer our question -- what happened to the votes we had put in the ballot boxes?"

Friendship, Tears

After a few months in his tiny isolation cell, Musavi says he no longer feared his interrogators' threats of execution. To the contrary, he longed for it. "I would cry for hours in my cell, and ask God for them just to take me and execute me," he says. "Just to put an end to the situation."

After seven months Musavi got a reprieve of sorts, when he was moved out of solitary confinement and into Section 350, the ward reserved for political prisoners. Living conditions remained grim. But Musavi says after months of isolation he was happy to be with other prisoners -- especially former protesters like himself.

"They were dissidents of the regime or members of the Green Movement or prisoners of conscience, and there was so much sympathy," he says. "They gave me a jacket and a knit cap, and my morale began to improve. I really felt like I had no regrets about having gone onto the street to film the demonstrators, to help make sure the world heard their voices. It was a good feeling."
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Section 350 held some of Iran's most famous political prisoners, including Hoda Saber, a well-known journalist and activist who had been serving jail time off and on since 2000.

In June 2011, the 52-year-old Saber began a hunger strike to protest the death of a fellow activist. His health quickly failed, and he died just eight days later of a heart attack. Witnesses at Evin complained that prison authorities ignored Saber for hours after his chest pains began, even as he begged for help.

"Mr. Saber was losing weight every day and his situation deteriorated," Musavi recalls. "During the final days he was left in his bed and he could no longer see. He didn't recognize his fellow prisoners; his condition was very bad. No one attended to him; when he would lose consciousness we would take him to the prison clinic. But they wouldn't take him and he'd be returned after five minutes.

"The last time we took him to the clinic we didn't hear until the next day that he'd become a martyr at the hospital. When the news reached us, the 200 inmates in the ward, there wasn't a single person who wasn't crying. It was one of the worst days of our lives."

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