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'We're All Political Prisoners'

A scene from one of the mass trials in a revolutionary court in August

A scene from one of the mass trials in a revolutionary court in August

A blogger at Madyar (his blog name is Ghomar Asheghaneh, or Amorous Gamble) reacts to the recent release of Iran's former vice president, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who was arrested in the postelection crackdown. He says Iran is a big prison in which all citizens are prisoners of a state that wants to rob them of all their rights:

Mohammad Ali Abtahi was released after spending 160 days in jail.

The joy of his release was snatched by the news of the arrest of my journalist friend and blogger, Sassan Aghaei. Yet the continued detention of our other friends is still quite painful too.

The conditions under which Mohammad Ali Abtahi and others have been freed from jail recently are no better than what they experienced during their detention period.

Abtahi was released on an astronomical bail of 700 million tomans and after being sentenced to a six-year prison term. Usually, a bail of between 8 and 10 million tomans is set for every year of sentence. Any sentence of less than one year is on [a defendant's] own recognizance.

How Mohammad Ali Abtahi's bail added up to 700 million for a six-year period is among the miracles of our judiciary. This 700 million in bail money cannot be justified by any standards other than through plans contemplated by the coup plotters.

[Iran's Nobel Peace Prize winner] Shirin Ebadi once made a very interesting point while defining a political prisoner. She said she considers a political prisoner anyone who is in prison, or is released on bail or is faced with a suspended sentence, on account of political accusations. This definition is simply applicable to any political prisoner.

Those who are put in prison as a political prisoner are the ones whose actions and intentions scare the government, and imprisoning them only means imprisoning their thinking.

Having said that, aside from those who are political prisoners or are serving suspended sentences, are sentenced by the court, or are free on bail, those who are threatened in any way or are wanted and may be arrested at any time are also political prisoners.

The chances Sasaan Aghaei's arrest rose in the past two months; he was threatened several times and also summoned by Ministry of Intelligence. Leading such a life breaks one and robs him of his peace of mind.

All those who have left the country out of fear of imprisonment or arrest and all the troubles that they could face due to the government of the Islamic Republic; all those who are forced to see a man of whom they do not approve as their supreme leader; all those who are forced to accept Mahmud Ahmadinejad as their president; the journalist who is not able to get his report published without censorship; the writer whose book is confiscated or is awaiting a permit for its publication at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; the film director whose film is handed over to him after being censored while the original copy is retained by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance; the student who is forced to appear in Basij clothing in front of the former U.S. Embassy and shout slogans about which he knows nothing; the women who is forced to cover her head with a scarf against her will; the woman who has no right to claim custody of her child; the women who don't have equal rights with men; those who are stopped and strip-searched at night checkpoints by a 26-year-old Basij member; the Kurd who cannot get his education in his mother language; the Turk whose ethnic rights are not honored; the athlete who is not allowed to dress the way he wants; and...

These are all prisoners; we are all prisoners. Prisoners of a system that has deprived us of freedom in the most basic matters....

Mohammad Ali Abtahi was forced through torture and pressure such as consumption of drugs to confess in the courtroom and to the state media. A puppet show to legitimize the government and to prove that there was no rigging in the election that led the government coup.

The screenplay was written by security institutions. Even those arrested before the elections were also brought into the play, without having to do anything with it, and were in the end sentenced to death. They didn't spare even Hamed Rouhinejad, suffering from the critical condition of multiple sclerosis. Given this, they would never allow full freedom of activity after releasing someone in whom they have invested so much.

No doubt, keeping Abtahi any longer was something neither in their favor nor in their capacity. But what better than a six-year sentence and a 700 million bail money to control him?

All those who were arrested after the June vote are released with such sentences, or bails, or both; sentences and bails that keep a prisoner in their control even after his release. If Abtahi denies his confessions, he may either have to spend six long years in prison or have to forgo a sum of 700 million tomans, which cannot happen logically speaking.

The fact that Abtahi and his likes are not behind bars anymore is good to see.

But the truth remains that neither he nor any of us are free under these conditions.

We are all prisoners of a state that wants to rob us of everything.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.