Refugee – K. R.

K.R. handwrote his story in Farsi, This has a significance that becomes apparent as one reads his story. His words were translated by several other Iranian members of the Cowley Club community.

I’m Iranian, a poet and I am, it’s fair to say, well past the first flush of youth. I studied Philosophy at University during the time of the Shah’s reign. Then, as now, it was obligatory to study Islamic Philosophy. My views of Islam were not the same us those of my Professors and consequently, after only two years of study, I was asked to leave.

I have been writing poetry since I was fourteen. At first, like most young people, I wrote about love but, as I grew older, my views changed and so did my poetry. Love was replaced as my preferred subject by society and community issues. My poems were published in the Teheran newspapers and other non-government literary outlets.

My family had been very influential during the Shah’s regime. After the revolution, my brother, who had been in the employ of the Shah, was killed and so was my mother and many of my other close relatives.The coming of the Khomeini regime marked not just a revolution in the country, but also a revolution in me. My life took on a new purpose and so did my poetry. It became a weapon with which to fight the religious dictator. My poetry became the enemy of Khomeini. If I were the sort of man tbat would take up arms then things would have been different but, for me, the only weapon was words. I fought the regime with the only weapon I had.

My poems could not be published inside Iran under the new regime, Publishing them had to become an underground operation. I made copies and distributed my work by hand to trusted friends and acquaintances. I had worked for over twenty-four years for one of the Ministries in Iran and in 1980 I was still in an important job and responsible for a large number of people. I was at work one morning when, at about eleven o’clock, three people whom I had never seen before came to my office.

‘Would you please come with us?’ they said’, ‘ …for just a few questions.’

These men were, of course, members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, not army, but the Komite, the secret police – staffed mainly by ill-educated types who all carried guns. They were extremely polite, they didn’t wave their guns around in my office, but still it was obvious they were armed and I had no choice but to go with them. Refusal, it was made clear, was not an option.

I was taken to their car and as soon as I was in it, the Komite operatives blindfolded me. After a drive of about half an hour, we reached our destination.I was handed over to some new guards and was left waiting on a chair with my blindfold still on. Several hours passed and it must have been mid-afternoon when someone said to me, ‘If you haven’t had lunch, if you are hungry, sit on the floor.’

I decided to eat and got on to the floor and pushed my blindfold up. Immediately a guard kicked me hard in the back. I screamed.

‘Thisis a blindfold, not a headband,’ the guard shouted, as it was pulled back over my eyes. Now I couldn’t think about eating. I was extremely hungry, but I was in far too much pain.

Some hours later, I was led to another room and made to sit on another chair. This time, the blindfold was removed and I found myself facing a wall.

‘Look straight ahead,’ a voice said. ‘and don’t move .. .’

I was too close to the wall to see who or what else was in the room. A man started to ask me questions. At first he was very polite. He asked me my name, my surname, my job, my date of birth, my father’s name – hundreds of questions.

I was very frightened and still in tremendous pain from the kick to my back. I answered all of the questions. And then something prompted me to speak out.

‘My name is KR.,’ I said, ‘my job is … I can’t believe you’ve brought me here. What have I done? I have not committed any crime.’

The questioner, gain very politely, said, ‘Please wait a moment. Everything will be explained.’ and then left. I think I was alone in the room then, I couldn’t hear anything; I couldn’t move and I didn’t want to, so I waited, staring at the wall.

It was an hour or more before my interrogator returned and the questions continued.
‘When did you start writing poetry? And what was it about, that first poem?’

I told him. It was teenage love poetry.

‘And when did you start to write anti-Khomeini poetry?’ he asked.

‘Never,’ I said. ‘ I’ve never written that sort of poem.’

He showed me a piece of paper.

‘Look at this handwriting. It’s yours, isn’t it?’

The handwriting was mine. It was a poem I’d only given to my friends. I couldn’t understand how they had managed to get hold of it. I tried to think quickly.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It is mine, it’s true. It is my handwriting, but. .. it’s not my poem.’

‘I hope it isn’t,’ he said, ‘but we can check that, one way or another.’

There was a pause as more people were brought into the room. I couldn’t see anything, so I have no idea if they were blindfolded like me or whether they were sitting or not. I listened as the interrogator turned his attention to them.

‘So, how do you know each other?’

After more than of an hour of questioning, each one of them admitted knowing the others and said they had being meeting up every night and, crucially, said they had all heard me read my poem to them.

I thought I recognised some of the voices but I said, ‘This is a lie. They’ve come here to lie . ..I have never recited poetry to these people.’

‘Perhaps you ‘re right,’ the interrogator replied and then, after a silence, added, ‘Please listen to this.’

I heard the rattle of a cassette being put into a machine, followed by the sound of my own voice reading a poem – an anti-Khomeini poem… my poem.

I felt as if the ground had fallen away from under my feet. There was a Judas amongst my friends. I felt sick. Here I was, alone and without support, without a lawyer or a solicitor and in the hands of people who seemed to know everything about me. They

knew so much: they were discussing details of my life that I’d forgotten myself. It was at this point I started to lose track of time. Things became a blur, as if my mind had
begun to close down.
They took my personal effects: my wallet, my belt, my watch; everything I had on me. Then a man said, ‘If you have anything to say, if you have anything to add, please do so. I will be ready to listen to you tomorrow.’

I was taken to a cell. It was tiny, no more than two or three metres square, and lit by a single weak bulb. In the cell were a bed, a toilet and nothing else. Before they left me, they gave me some food. I hadn’t eaten for more than twenty-four hours and I was desperately hungry. I have no idea what they gave me, but it was like nothing I’d ever eaten before or since. It tasted wonderful, but it may well have been drugged because,
as soon as I had finished eating, I fell asleep.

The following morning I was blindfolded again and taken with one other prisoner to what I was sure was a prison. By the time we arrived, I was shaking with cold. I was put in a single cell, a cell I lived in for the next four months. Every morning I was woken by the terrible sound of someone shouting  ‘Wake up! Wake up! Wake up for morning prayers.’  All this time I had no news from the outside or from my family. I was questioned two or
three times a week : they were always the same questions, and I always gave the same answers. The highlight of my days was when I was allowed to have a shower or when, blindfolded of course, I was taken out for some air. These were the only times I left my cell.

I didn’t think they would torture me. From the first day I had told them everything. I’d  hidden nothing. They knew ‘KR did this. This is his handwriting.’ I had no reason to keep anything from them. I had nothing else to hide but, throughout the four months that I waited for a decision on my case, I was tortured, both mentally and physically. There
was no pattern to it; I never knew when they would come next.

Then one day they moved me to a communal cell. It was about eight metres square and housed eight prisoners. The prisoners didn’t wear blindfolds in this cell. None of them knew each other and no one trusted anyone. When we talked, we talked very carefully; we all knew that anything we said was probably overheard . No one asked questions of
each other or talked about his own situation or why they were in prison. We didn’t say who we were and we all used nicknames – mine was Hamed. This meant that if anyone was released, he couldn’t be asked to take news to our families.

Despite these restrictions, life in the communal cell was far better than life in a single one. Being on your own, waiting for death to come, is indescribable. Here I was less stressed; when you are with others, the life force is much stronger. Humans are sociable animals and we need company. Company helped stopped me dwelling on what could happen and, from time to time, when someone said something light or made a
joke, things seemed a little better for a brief while.

Every now and again, guards would arrive without notice and take one of LIS out for a beating. When that happened, we let the poor person have our extra clothes to make more layers and deaden the blows.

Two days into my stay in the bigger cell, two of the prisoners, Chasem and Bahram, were taken away. The court had found them guilty and had passed the death sentence – Ihey were taken out to be shot. When they went, all of us in the cell were terribly shaken. We were trembling and crying as well, but our crying was silent, we had to keep our feelings
hidden, we didn’t want the guards to know how much we were affected by it. From that moment on, whenever we were questioned, as we all were repeatedly, we could all see in our imaginations our own deaths being played oul.

Three months later, they came for me. I was shaking as, quietly, I tried to kiss my fellow prisoners. I knew death was no more than a few steps away. All the strength drained out of my body; my legs were loo weak to carry me. I was blindfolded and taken from the cell to a room where, again, I was made to sit facing a wall.

This time it was a new voice that spoke to me, and I could tell from the way he talked that he was a Mullah,

‘The court’s decision in your case: he said, ‘was the death penalty, but I have asked for a pardon on your behalf and the appeal has been granted . During your time here you have done your religious duties correctly. You are not a noisy person and you have not drawn attention to yourself. You have been calm and done no damage in prison. For these reasons, I have spoken to the authorities and said to them – forget about killing this man. Your property has been confiscated and, as my appeal was unofficial, there is nothing I can do to change that.’

The Mullah asked me to sign some papers. I was so surprised and relieved at my reprieve that I signed without question. I was still blindfolded and my hand had to be guided to the paper.

After I had signed, my personal belongings were returned to me … my watch, my belt, my wallet, and so forth. But, apart from those few things, I had lost everything 1had ever owned.

The Mullah accompanied me when I left prison. He told me that, from now on, I should go by the name of Haj Agha. He said he had saved my life because he thought that I was a good man. He said that, if I could leave Iran, I should go now. If I was arrested a second time, he warned, I would be killed for certain.

It was clear I had to go, but I had a problem; when they arrested me, all that time ago, they’d taken my passport. Some time later a friend, someone that I really could trust, arranged for me to leave Iran via Turkey, head for the safety of other countries and find a place to start a new life.

From Turkey, I went on to travel throughout the world. I visited much of Eastern Europe and Russia, but they didn’t hold my interest. I had come from Hell and was trying to find Paradise. I travelled to Latin America, still searching, then on to Syria, Jordan, Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway. The more I travelled, the more I came to realise that there are no paradises.

Then the wife of a friend suggested that I should come to the UK. I accepted her invitation and for a while I lived in Essex, as a guest in the country. It was here in England I learnt that I could claim asylum.

It took a long time, but finally the Home Office granted me asylum status and they gave me a British Passport. After my arrest, a year after the revolution, I was officially retired and I have lived on my Iranian retirement benefits, pension, and British Government benefits since then.

I didn’t find life in Essex very stimulating. I went to visit a friend in Brighton and was struck by the place. This was a place I enjoyed, especially the sea and the cliffs, and I found the countryside beautiful as it changed through the seasons. In Brighton I found a place where I could relax and find peace; a peace that allowed me, in my mind, to travel anywhere I pleased.

Once settled in Brighton, I considered sending my non-political poems to be published in Iranian newspapers, but there was always the thought that this might make trouble for me again. My dearest wish is to be published but, every time I think about it, there is always the shadow of the past hovering behind me and I tell myself to forget it. I have written one long poem since I’ve been here and its title is ‘Problem Shadow,’ I have only one dream – that my life emerges from the darkness and is returned to the light again, but that, I think, may be impossible.

(‘KR’s story was written in his own handwriting, in Farsi. He asked for the handwritten copy back straight away, saying, ‘My handwriting has got me into terrible trouble before. .’ KR’s period of incarceration took place in Evin Prison, Iran’s most notorious jail. VG)