A young Iranian dissident, Paria Kohandel, 18, daughter of a political prisoner, offered her firsthand experience of life in Iranian prisons in a gathering of Iranian communities in Paris on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, October 10. She had just fled Iran and had the following to tell the participants of the event:
My greetings to my dear sister Maryam, and all of you present here today
Greetings to the freedom fighters in Liberty and to all my compatriots who can hear me.
My name is Paria Kohandel. I left Iran a few months ago.
My father, Saleh Kohandel, is a political prisoner in the Gohardasht prison, truly hell on earth.
On April 8, 2011 my uncle Akbar and my dear aunt Mahdieh, who had joined with the PMOI in Ashraf, were slain in an attack carried out by Iraqi forces on Camp Ashraf.
Dear sister Maryam, I have brought with me for you the greetings and well wishes of many people.
The greetings of thousands of political prisoners languishing in different jails in Iran; that of mothers melting away in their tears in the waiting halls of prisons to see their loved ones; that of child laborers, who with their unchildlike, rough and cracked hands, wait to breathe the fresh air of freedom and the emancipation which you inspire; that of humiliated young girls, degraded by a society plagued by the infection of the mullahs’ religious backwardness; the greetings of those who hanged with their heads held high in Gohardasht, Evin and Kahrizak prisons.
These greetings have travelled through the barbed wires of Gohardasht, over the stifling walls of Evin and the out of the warehouses of Ghareh-chack prisons. The same prisons that I found to be my playground since my childhood, running in the dusty halls while waiting for a visit.
I am that weekly visitor of Gohardasht and Evin prisons. As my father Saleh used to say, Daddy’s sweet sounding angel, who lived only 20 minutes every week.
Twenty minutes from behind the dusty visitors glass, where my only hope was to see the sparkle in the eyes of my father. When he talked about freedom, you could not keep him on the ground. I could not understand what inspired him to be so strong.
I will go back to the night of 3rd of March 2007. I was a little and impatient eight year-old girl. I was wallowing in my thoughts and crying slowly. My father cuddled me and comforted me until I fell asleep. The following morning agents of the Ministry of Intelligence attacked our house, broke the glasses and put a gun to my head. They took my father away.
My father had already spent one and half year in jail. This time he was sentenced to ten years in the hell-like prison of Gohardasht for refusing to denounce the PMOI.
It was these ten years that set me on my path to here today.
A few months ago, precisely twenty days before I was to take my national college entrance exam, I left Iran.
I said to myself, Paria, you can now have everything which was banned for you in Iran. All your rainbow dreams could be realized. Motorbike riding was my biggest dream. I also very much liked ParCourse and gymnastics and to study physics which was my favorite subject.
But I had left something in Iran and I could not let go. It was a moment of truth for me as I stood at a fork on the road of my life. Should I pursue my own individual dreams or the dreams of all children who are so enchained in Iran? The dreams of my dear friend and girls like her? Which one should I choose?
When I was trying to make my choice, I recalled my last meeting with my father.
On the way to visit him in prison, a 9 year old boy also joined me walking to the jail. We walked the one kilometer long dreadful tunnel of Gohardasht prison. He was holding a drawing. By looking at it I was close to tears. He had drawn his father holding his hand.
It was a reminder of my own childhood. I was like him. I was so upset. I said to my father, I walked my childhood to reach you today. The child who accompanied me had a message for me. It seemed as if he was telling me: look Paria, you are not the only visitor of these tunnels, before you hundreds of children have walked these tunnels and so long as this regime is ruling in Iran hundreds more are doomed to pass through his tunnel.
Once again, it was the moment of truth for me. I had to decide.
I remembered Ali, I mean Ali Saremi who I called uncle. He was the best uncle in the world. I recall his last look. He had laid his head on the wall of the visitors’ cabin. He looked at me and smiled. A beautiful smile and full of energy as if he was conveying a message to me. A few weeks later I heard he was executed.
My best uncle had gone, as if I had to get used to losing my loved ones like Uncle Abdolreza Rajabi who was killed under torture a few years earlier.
Painful moments which were repeated when I lost my uncle Mohsen Dogmechi. I could not stand it. He was very strong. But due to lack of medical care in jail, he had lost so much weight and looked feeble and frail, but I could feel his kindness with all the cells in my body and his determination shook the guards.
All of them in the last moment of their lives gave me a message. It was then that I understood my responsibility and felt my biggest dream is to be their voice, to be a testimony to their rightness, and to be a reflection of their hope.
I realized, I could not just think of my own individual dreams. My rainbow dreams were only a fraction of my life. I owe it to all those families, to political prisoners, to my slain uncles and finally I owe it to my father and his steadfastness. I owe it to them all, because I am free.
When Iranian girls have so many unrealized dreams, looking for my own personal dreams is nothing but selfishness. So, I decided to forgo my own personal dreams, I decided to forgo those small desires and interests like thousands of Ashrafis.
My great dream, is the dream that no child would ever again go through that Tunnel of Gohardasht prison.
It is the dreams of those little street vendor girls and boys in my district.
Dear sister Maryam
To be like my aunt Mahdieh (who was slain in Ashraf on April 8, 2011) is a heavy responsibility. I feared of taking such responsibility. But in your eyes, in your trust and kindness, I saw the belief and the strength that we can and we must.
I shall carry Mahdieh’s flag. I make a pledge today, before all of you, that I shall follow the path of my slain aunt and uncle for freedom. I will do all in my power to give to others without any expectation for myself.
And I say to Brother Masoud,I have decided to be a Mojahed and remain a Mojahed forever. I am ready for this life's mission: Ready, Ready, Ready.
I am convinced that we shall overcome and be victorious. Because Mojahedin have been bound together with their hearts and this makes them invincible.
Now that I am among you, among people who are struggling for freedom, I hear my father’s voice when he told me he has been inspired by something that I was not familiar with then.
From here I say to all the prisoners that I used to see behind the glasses of the visitors cabins: I learnt from all of you that resistance and steadfastness is a choice,a choice that no one can take away from us.