Civil Courage Prize
for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk

Maryam Baghi's Letter to Her Father Emadeddin Baghi on the Occasion of his Hundred and eightieth Day of Incarceration

Emad Who Does Not Have Support

My dearest father, salaam. Greetings to your sublime spirit, greetings to your dignified and love-filled existence, greetings to your strong morale, and greetings to your ailing body. My heart beats strongly for your health of which you became deprived in a difficult and unsuitable cell in your last period of incarceration. The Iranian year 1388 ended while you were not with us and today is the 4th day of the second month of spring, 118 days after your arrest. Until the turning of the year we were so hopeful the doorbell would ring and you would enter. But we heard later that you were a guest at the hospital… They had accepted your bail and had said that you would come. The Wednesday night before New Year we stared at the prison door until midnight and we were hoping that at the moment of the year turning we would be praying together… But they didn’t let us. It was the same for Mohammad. You stood with us until the middle of the night in front of Evin Prison, and he was not released that night either. But we continue to rely on the Creator who is aware of all hidden secrets. On the first night of the New Year, when after three weeks we heard your voice, although briefly, on the phone you recited this Hafez couplet: Don't lose hope as you are not aware of the invisible/Behind curtains there are hidden games, don’t grieve.

This is the fifth spring that for us there is a feel of prison and you are in prison. Dear father I am sorry that because of unwanted self-censorship I am forced to leave some of the stories of the days without you for another time. Perhaps it will have to wait until you come and I can recite in your ears what has happened and what have they done to us. This is the third time that imprisonment — the approach used in undeveloped and Third World countries in order to limit thinkers and as a punishment for speaking – has become your share. It was less than a year after your last release that the June 12 elections occurred and our house was emptied from Mohammad’s presence. Not much had passed from his release that the demise of that great Faqih (The late Ayatollah Montazeri) left cold sweat on our foreheads and it was the seventh day after the demise of that departed dear and on the occasion of Hussein's Ashura that they took you in black mourning shirt from our home.

In the past years that you were imprisoned I wrote you repeatedly about my grievances about the world and my heavy-heartedness. In those days our fatigue and pain was less understood and it was not like these days when prison has become more encompassing. We had learned to keep our loneliness inside. I tried to not let mother, sister and others know the great sadness that had formed home inside my heart, taking its toll. I thought Mohammad should not be bothered so his pen could be free. They thought the same as well. Even Mina who was younger than everyone and was in elementary school had learned to cover well. Paper and pen was my friend and companion. But during the days Mohammad was not with us I abandoned covering up in front of you more than anyone else. And you as always kindly asked me to remain hopeful and calm. But in the days you were not with us I again pour my heart out with pen and pencil more than anything else.

On the fortieth day, sixtieth day, seventieth day, eightieth day….. I have kept them all. Although I am tired of writing, tired of penning letters that all can read; whether they are letters that because of thousand reasons are archived in my memory or unanswered letters to the case judge as well as the ultimate judge or poems registered in my heart because of separation. But the blood in my veins, keeping faith in your compassionate thoughts, cries for resistance. I have written to God as well and know he is the only one who hears me and I calm down only when I remember his verses. “I know what you know not.” (The Baghare: 30); “It is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you.” (The Baghare: 216). And following you who read the patience verse – “Seek ((Allah)'s help with patient perseverance and prayer” (The Baghare: 45) – we patiently wait and fatigue is not an obstacle to perseverance since you were always for me and us a beacon of perseverance. What strange days Fridays have become. Anticipation is grafted with anticipation. “Moments of Descent.” It is the day of anxiety at sunset. The end of two months of incarceration, the day that we expected the end of this stage of imprisonment for the crime of expression of ideas was a Friday. The fortieth day that the prison bars had surrounded you was also a Friday; the fortieth of the martyr of freedom in the Karbala of resistance and perseverance and fortieth day of being away from you. Father, what convergences have these days. When they took away Mohammad in front my eyes at midnight on 30th of Khordad it was a Friday. And when God released him it was a Friday morning, the eight day of the eight month of year 1388, on the birthday of the eighth Imam. The last day of 1388 was again a Friday and this time with the promise they had given us about your release we were full of hope. I don't know when will be our last Friday of anticipation leading to anticipation.

This is the fate of our many years: anxiety, inspection, court, interrogation, and imprisonment. Before, you had experienced 1500 days of prison. This means you were absent during Mina's childhood, adolescence of Monireh and my youth and even at my marriage. Then years ago Mohammad, who was sent to prison after you, was released after a short while. We had not yet exchanged vows and you were sentenced to several years of prison. With the promise that you could attend our wedding we were set to exchange vows. The ceremony began while we were still waiting for you. They had said you had to come with prison clothes with tied hands and guards. You sent a telephone message through a cellmate: Tell my wife Fatemeh that I will celebrate the wedding of my daughter Maryam here. I know they don't want me to be present in their happiness this way." I cried inside throughout the ceremony and when in the last moments, through the efforts of the then Majles Speaker and others, they brought you the cries inside of me turned into wailing.

During the Ninth government you again tasted prison which was more difficult than before and this year – this cursed year – it was first Mohammad who was sent to prison and then again you. The tall wall of the narrow cells of Ward 240 again became your host and now they are the only image in front of your eyes for days. I wish I could become a guest in your small cell, cover your sturdy shoulders with kisses and tell you happy New Year father and that as always I am proud of you and know that your great spirit is not limited by this small cell; a spirit full of honesty, sincerity, and candour. Although they had not allowed you even a Quran for 50 days, I know that you recited the verses and God’s light shines over you in the cell in which you are closer to Him. There is nothing in that cell but spirituality. Your sin is that you demand tolerance and patience, peace and friendship, respect for human generosity, the right to life and not imprisoning even opponents. You insist that the standard and criteria for good and bad is conduct; the same God considers a measure and tests and distinguishes humans on that basis. "Save those who believe and do righteous good deeds (Tin: 6 – Inshighagh: 25)

These days perhaps away from our eyes watching, it is perhaps easier for you to mourn your teacher's departure (Grand Ayatollah Montazeri). You are not here to witness things that always pained you. I can guess if you were here the angst you would feel for each execution order. Whenever noose was someone’s fate, even if he was guilty, you would make every effort to replace it with another punishment. If the decision was based on retribution you would try until the last minute before execution to gain the acceptance of the victim's family and if execution was awaiting a guilty person you would do everything from writing letters to authorities to writing articles. Your book The Right to Life was written in two volumes but ended like many of your other books which never received publication permit or were banned, never reaching readers in Iran although they reached readers in Lebanon and Egypt. How wonderful it would be if they could be read in Iran. How much you wanted the culture of peace and toleration to be institutionalized in Iran. But what happened?! Why is the path to freedom, serenity and peace so rocky, dark and narrow? Don’t be saddened father. This shall pass too… Now in this cell perhaps you witness the sorrow of others less. I know that other people’s sorrow made you even more hurt. These days you were not here to comfort us for the banning of newspapers. The number of banned newspapers is so high that we have lost count and this lack of employment apparently is supposed to longer than other times.

Father, if in the past the sound of only few seekers of freedom and rights was heard, now the voices have increased. With the imprisonment of one voice, thousands voices of freedom rise from everywhere. One of your ward mates was recently freed. He was separated from you by a couple of cells and said that he could hear your voice occasionally. A guard told you not to raise your voice and you said: "We are imprisoned; our voices are not." Your voice from inside the high cement walls of Evin Prison traverses all of Tehran’s streets and now many other voices accompany yours. Your voice is the beacon of freedom and Justice. Then why do they consider you an enemy?! Now the number of people considered enemy is increasing day by day. Many members of martyrs (shahid) families, people who still have sorrow in their hearts, are unbelievably accused of opposing the ideals of the revolution when in fact they are trying to preserve them. The families of Shahid Behehsti, Shahid Rajai, even shahid Motahhari, Shahid Qadusi, Shahid Bakeri, Shahid Hemmat, the family of Imam, and many revolutionaries are judged this way. I do not know what they imagine that at times they accuse you and them of cooperating with outsiders in order to harm a revolution that you yourselves created or they call you a hypocrite. What do they mean? I haven’t seen any discord between pen and heart, inside and outside, between thoughts and expression, words and your behavior. I do not know why expressions are becoming fearless, accusation sharp and baseless, and for threatening and limiting critics. Is it not that the reformists only want reform and are loyal to the revolutionary ideals that are the result of hundred years of struggle to get rid of monarch and dictatorship? Wasn’t freedom along with republicanism and Islam the main slogans of the Iranian Revolution? Didn't you shout the slogans of independence, freedom, and Islamic Republic in the despot-ridden streets?

When many of your friends were in prison and Mohammad was there too you could not sit still. It was as though if you could not find a solution you had to be in fetters too. Of course even when you were free it was as though you were in prison. Neither was there the possibility of work nor the possibility of any activities. More than twenty times they had stopped your work and prevented publications of books and newspapers as well as your teaching and research. Even in the past year locks were placed on the doors of the Association for Defending the Rights of Prisoners even though you had stepped aside from its leadership so that your presence would not lead to the prevention of the work of that association. You were left in the corner of the house with an old computer and a pen from which blood was dripping.

They could not even tolerate this. You were a critic and not an enemy but they harassed you out of enmity every once in a while. But you still taught us, who are stunned and in awe, the slogan of long live my opponent and gave us hope for peace and serenity. Is it not that God swears to olive, that expression of peace and friendship, and to the hometown of the honest one, Mecca. But father your ideal city has become a dream in this country. And that friend of yours Qeysar, who is not longer with us, is no longer with us to write long poems in these bitter times. He said it right that “poets created an ideal city that they did not even dream in their dreams.” I have only read about the ideal city in poems and stories but this does not mean that your words should be in sheath because we have been created to seek the truth, express reality, try to rid the world of oppression and cruelty, and push society towards happiness. If this is not the case, then what is the difference between us and four-legged animals.

In the past 118 days I have seen you three times, for a short period. Minutes became important and I wish those twenty minutes could be tied to your freedom. Father I have not become used to hearing your dignified voice on the phone. I have not become used to meeting in rooms that in previous years I had also walked in them and each time prayed to be the last time. I have not become used to your embrace that had to be divided in a short period of time among my sisters, my mother and I; to Mina's hands that at the time of saying goodbye would resist loosening their embrace around your neck; to Monireh’s eyes which would follow you until the last second before the door closed. I have not gotten used to any of them. Everyone says that our experience with your imprisonments has made everything normal for us but it has never become normal; only our previous injury has become deeper and our wound has become older and now we are more afflicted than ever.

How can I become used to my mother's face, full of tolerance and patience, giving us an artificial smile. No Father, I have not become used to the anxiety and heartsickness of my sisters hidden behind the mask of being carefree. I have not even become used to seeing the people who everyday run in the streets like machines in search of a livelihood to fill the empty stomach of their children; children who are being raised with slogans of justice and getting rid of poverty and discrimination and whose parents say nothing because they are afraid of the consequences for themselves and the same children.

Perhaps this is your legacy that has remained everlasting in me since your big sin is that you do not become used to seeing the sorrow of others and abnormal behavior, I also do not become used to the imprisonment of you and others like you. Every second I do not forget that behind the tall walls of a prison in the most northwest part of the city and in other prisons there are people whose only sin is criticism for the sake of reform; the same approach taught to us by prophets and Imams. I say to you dear Father, who with tied wings but a heart full of faith and steadfast thoughts is sitting in the cage of those who cannot accept criticism, that you are the one truly free of fetters.

Although I wish freedom for you and others, I know that wherever you are Emad's God is with you. Whenever that great faqih, who for interviewing him you are now in prison, would see you he would recite from the Joshan Kabir prayer "Emad, who does not have support." Yes it is only He who is support for someone who has nothing to rely upon and I leave you whose name is a combination of divine names to the support for existence; to that Emad Baghi.

Still every bell that rings, our heart drops, thinking that it might be you. I hope that the curse in the past year stays there and this spring becomes the spring of your freedom from prison. We await you.

In the past when you were in prison one of your friends wrote a poem for you. It was Mojtaba Kashani and these days I recite it to myself:

Whoever has Messiah on his essence
His place is in the midst of a cage
Wherever there is good-natured chick
It is afflicted, enslaved and imprisoned
The fish's charming dance
Makes the tank its own
Whoever has goodness in his destiny
There are days he will hurt
With black voice and crow's face
Will fly free to the garden's middle
Every canary that crows
Will take self out of the cage
As soon as black cloth is worn
Safe haven is given in the garden
Either crow and freedom
Or canary and being cage-ridden
Still being in the constriction of the cage
Is better than being bad and ugly in essence
Being in prison with angel's luster
Is better than being a raven in a feast

 

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2004 Honoree
   press release
   Baghi remarks
   Madhuku remarks
   keynote remarks from Hodding Carter III
   Maryam Baghi's letter to her father [also in Persian, PDF]

 

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