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Iran Feature: The Story of Abdolreza Ghanbari --- Father, Teacher, and Sitting on Death Row (Alijenad)

Saahel GhanbariThe English text of an article by our colleague Masih Alinejad in Rah-e-Sabz:

Abdolreza Ghanbari is yet another of the detainees from 27 December 2009, the day that protesters marked the religious day of Ashura with demonstrations against the regime. He is accused of “Moharebeh” (war against God) through connections with multiple opposition groups, evidence of which were found in his suspicious emails and contact with foreign television channels. He was sentenced to death by Judge Salavati, presiding over Branch 15 of the revolutionary court.

Every Monday –-- the visiting day –-- the hills overlooking Evin Prison are the location for a small luncheon picnic for Ghanbari's family. The four corners of the table are occupied by Mother, Saahel, and Ehsaan, and Father --- in the family’s imagination. The other three have sit down on these hills across from Evin’s closed doors because none has the heart to leave, after the visiting hour is over. They remain beneath the walls and barbed wire to have their lunch, in a semblance of proximity to their father.

On many other days, the teacher’s wife --- a teacher herself --- travels a long distance from Pakdasht of Varaamin province, taking three taxis before reaching Tehran’s southside terminal and from there to Evin. “I find solace in just sitting here for a while, before I go back home…” she says.

Who is Ablolreza Ghanbari? Up to now, his wife had only described him as an “unknown teacher, unaffiliated with any political party or group, with no pictures of him seen in the public media". His family have spoken only once or maybe twicewith the media, worried that their interviews could only jeopardize any chances of his release.

This man, sitting on death row, has for 17 years taught literature in the schools of some of the poorest areas of the country. “He is someone who has cried for the deprivation of his young students,” said a number of his students. One of those students described Ghanbari as a “poetic teacher....Accusations of membership in political groups simply don’t fit his character, as he has passed through all the extremely difficult entry exams and obtained clearance in background checks from this very same educational system and has many years of teaching experience in the city of Garmsaar and more recently in Pakdasht.”

According to observers, Abdoreza Ghanbari recites poetry during visits with his wife and children...each time a new poem. His 10-year old daughter Saahel in turn recites poetry for her father, in their meetings through windows. Ghanbari’s wife says: “My daughter doesn’t yet comprehend the meaning of Execution, but in one of these window meetings, her father tried to explain the process of death sentence to both our children; in the hopes of alleviating some of their shock, if the sentence is carried out.”

All sympathizing teachers were also arrested....

On the holy day of Ashura in 1388 (2009), Abdolreza Ghanbari, along with his daughter Saahel, was walking on the streets. Someone from outside the country had tried calling Ghanbari that day, but according to his family he had hung up and disconnected the phone to prevent the caller from trying again. It was this incident that became the grounds for his arrest at his place of work.

In his absence in prison, no other teacher has been willing to fill his empty chair. Finally the school brought in an immigrant substitute teacher, but on his first day, all the school kids break tree branches and in an imaginary game tried to beat up the new teacher.

His colleagues have not been silent. One teacher announced a hunger strike attempt. But he was not safe either and ended up under arrest for sympathising with his colleague. Another instructor called for a mass protest on “Teachers Day”, if Ghanbari’s death sentence was not nullified. No success: even the Director of the Teachers Union has been arrested.

Today, Those teachers who have cooperated with this man or sympathized with his family are in the Evin Prison. Ghanbari’s children are suffering an emotional trauma. His wife is left with only her husband’s love poems, and a long lonely road that she treks --- occasionally along with her children --- just to find a moment of solace behind Evin’s closed doors, a bit ‘closer’ to her loved one inside that prison.

The dreams of a young girl whose father is sentenced to death

Abdolreza Ghanbari’s daughter Saahel is unable to visit her father as frequently as usual due to her school and homework. Her adolescent brother, Ehsaan, accompanies his mother on the days she canot go.

Saahel writes a handwritten letter:


Dear Papa,


I hope you are well. Today is one of those days that I don’t have you near me. Every time I miss you, I write to you or glance at my blue watch that you bought for my birthday, just to see how fast the time flies since you haven’t been near me and I’m growing more and more and get taller every day.

Today is Fathers Day and we celebrated it… Bought presents –-- but we’ve been missing you for six months now, and instead of you, I speak with your framed picture on the table. I hope that the loving angels bring you my good wishes for Father's Day. Papa joon, our celebration today was only dampened by Mom’s bitter tears.

There were lots of Happy shows on TV today, for the occasion of Father's Day –-- but I couldn’t watch them, as they kept showing children who were wishing Happy Father's Day and giving flowers to their dads, and they were happy… The TV was not at all concerned about us kids who don’t have our dads with us. So, I got really upset and turned the TV off

Daddy, I only have one dream; and that is for you to come home and stay near me, forever.

I am waiting for your return, any day now.


The visiting days are truly sad days for the families of political prisoners. They were all saddened by seeing Saahel in her beautiful dress, having come after a long time, to visit her father and struggling to lift her legs high just to show her new shoes to her Papa, followed by reciting a poem for him.

On a previous occasion too, the visitation room had suddenly filled with an air of sorrow, when Jafar Kazemi’s family were stunned by the news that he had already been hanged. According to many eyewitnesses, Emaduddin Baghi wasn’t able to finish his words behind the window and hung up the phone, and began sobbing along with the other families --– on his side of the window.

The trend of executions in Iran, continue on, and every worried family is constantly wondering: “Who is next, destined for the gallows...?”

Original in Farsi by Masih Alinejad

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