Roozonline – Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist and the head of the Iranian Alumni Association (Advar Tahkim Vahdat), was among those arrested on June 13, 2009, the very day after last year’s presidential elections. He has remained in detention ever since. Zeidabadi was sentenced to a six year prison term, five years of exile in Gonabad, and lifetime disbarment from engaging in political and social activities. His sentence was subsequently upheld by an appeals court. In late January or early February this year, he was transferred to Rajaee Shahr prison in Karaj. Since then Zeidabadi has not been granted any leave, and even though his family posted bail, they have not succeeded to have him at home for a visit. With Ghadir Khom celebrations approaching and the impending pardon of several prisoners, rumors circulated that Zeidabadi would be granted leave as well. But these rumors have yet to materialize.
Rooz recently had a conversation with Mahdieh Mohammadi, Ahmad Zeidabadi’s wife, on this agonizing situation. Here are the excerpts:
Rooz: Mrs. Mohammadi, after the announcement of the pardoning of some prisoners, rumors began to circulate about Dr. Zeidabadi’s leave. Has there been any development in this regard?
Mahdieh Mohammadi (Mohammadi): Unfortunately not. Even we began to expect to see Zeidabadi at home after all these rumors, talks, and promises, but unfortunately this has not happened yet.
Rooz: What happened? Were you promised anything?
Mohammadi: The subject of Ahmad’s leave started last year. During the preliminary court proceedings we were told that we should post a bail for 250 million Tomans (about 250,000 USD) for his leave. We came up with a property title as collateral for this and submitted it for appraisal. But then we were told to hold off. I do not understand what this rule to hold off means or where it came from. After about a week we were informed that our property deed was a counterfeit and that we had to report to the Registry and Records Office. But even then nothing happened. About a week later they finally informed us that the bail had been increased to 350 million Tomans (about 350,000 USD). As we were busy looking for a new property title, we were told that the bail had gone up still further to 500 million Tomans (about half a million USD). Again we secured a new property title and submitted it for appraisal, and even paid a million Tomans (about 100,000 USD) for these appraisals. Again we heard no news of Ahmad’s leave. The more we asked, the less any one felt obliged to respond to our request. Finally, about three months ago, we received a message from the intelligence ministry informing us that they were in favor of granting leave to Ahmad on the condition that he would not engage in any political activity. Upon hearing this Ahmad himself said that part of his sentence disbarred him from engaging in political or social activities for life. Even though Ahmad does not accept this sentence, he feels committed to abide by its terms out of his respect for law. In other words, he won’t be able to pursue any political activity. A few weeks after these events, I was summoned to the intelligence ministry to be told of yet another condition for Ahmad’s release: When outside, Ahmad was not to meet with four specific individuals, namely, Mr. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mrs. Zahra Rahnavard, Mr. Mehdi Karoubi, and Mr. Nategh Nouri. I responded that I would respect this condition for the sake of Ahmad’s release, even though the condition had no legal basis. After contacting these four gentlemen, they unanimously stated that meeting with Ahmad for a few minutes would not be worth his return to prison. Mr. Nouri even offered to stay out of Tehran during Ahmad’s leave period.
A few weeks later the prosecutor’s office informed us that the intelligence ministry had sent its approval letter. We decided to go there within two days to follow-up the issue. But once there, they told us that no such letter existed. Again we were contacted a few days later about the letter. Finally, I asked the prosecutor: “Didn’t they promise me to expedite the proceedings if the intelligence ministry agrees with Ahmad’s leave?”
Getting to see the prosecutor in itself is not an easy task. A few days after these events, Ahmad was taken to Evin prison, where the security deputy at the prosecutor’s office met with him and repeated the same conditions. He told Ahmad that they could grant him leave provided that he would not engage in any political activity or meet with any political personality. But despite all of this, still nothing happened.
Rooz: You mean nothing at all?
Mohammadi: Since then we have not heard anything about Ahmad’s leave and no one feels responsible or provide any meaningful response to us. We asked to meet with the prosecutor and they gave us an appointment for seven weeks later. I want to know why they make families suffer so much. (With a broken voice) My son, Parham, who is in the third grade, had told all his friends and teachers, “My father is going to be home”. Who is responsible for his hurt feelings? Why are we being tortured like this?
Even if we assume that Ahmad is guilty, why should his family and his feelings be messed with? Ahmad will serve his prison term and we will get used to the situation. But our feelings as well as those of the prisoner will be hurt. (Crying) Believe me, when they announced Ahmad’s leave, we got ourselves prepared because we were sure he would be coming. We were ceaselessly expecting the moment we would see him or hear the news. But nothing happened. (With a broken voice) It is now more than a year that Ahmad has been in prison. I don’t know why they make us suffer like this? This only amounts to the prisoner’s persecution as well as his family’s.
Rooz: Why do you think your efforts to secure Mr. Zeidabadi’s leave were not successful?
Mohammadi: Sometimes when I called to follow up they were nasty to me. They said, “Why do you call back so much?” I was all the more upset for I’d met with Mr. Jafari and had found him a very respectable man. I always assumed that if Ahmad’s request for leave was brought before him, Ahmad would certainly be granted leave. However, I no longer know what is happening and whether some other office is withholding his release. Unfortunately, no one is providing an explanation. Some say the intelligence ministry’s approval letter has been received, others say otherwise. Some ask us to bring a property deed as bail, others question this and say who told us so?
Rooz: Have you addressed Mr. Zeidabadi’s case with other offices or officials? Any particular follow-ups in this regard?
Mohammadi: We did what other families of political prisoners have done in the similar circumstances. We went to visit Mr. Hashemi, sent out letters, and some friends met with members of parliament. In addition, I wrote a letter to Mr. Moslehi, the intelligence minister.
Rooz: Did they respond to you?
Mohammadi: Unfortunately, no. I was asked by the intelligence ministry whether I had sent a letter to Mr. Moslehi, which I confirmed, but there was no further discussion about this.
Rooz: What is Ahmad’s opinion on his situation?
Mohammadi: Ahmad is always optimistic and gracious. He says this is all about bureaucratic proceedings. But does it take three months to review a prisoner’s request for leave? How could this take so long? Nevertheless, Ahmad has remained optimistic. He does not even talk much about what he went through in prison.
Rooz: You spoke of prison. In Mr. Aminzadeh’s prison memoir, there were hints to Mr. Zeidabadi receiving lashes. It could be a new development in his case. Did you know about that?
Mohammadi: I’ve spoken elsewhere of some of the things that Ahmad was subjected to in prison. And once when I disclosed some of them, the National Radio and Television network (Seda va Sima) announced on my behalf that Ahmad had never been subjected to torture. Since then, I’ve decided to neither corroborate nor deny such stories. Suffice it to say that whenever Ahmad speaks of prison and of what he has gone through his eyes become tearful but he always reiterates that he forgives everybody and leaves the judgment to God.
Video of Ahmad’s son Parham singing a song for his imprisoned father