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Efat story: I will forgive the people who tortured me if they would say sorry

GMT 10:42 Thursday ,12 September 2013

 Migrant Voice - Efat story: I will forgive the people who tortured me if they would say sorry

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Efat Mahbaz was born in 1958 in the city of Langerood in Iran. Langerood, near the Caspian Sea, is famous for two staple items of a Persian's diet - rice and tea, and alongside other northern cities in Iran, it has more equality between men and women. Efat spent a predominant part of her childhood in this city which has a beautiful river flowing through it. Her love for being near water comes from this time in her life. As a child, she says "I was treated as an equal to my brothers", she comes from an open minded and culturally open family who in her own words were "more similar to Europeans". Efat's roots are modest, her father was a men's tailor and her mother worked in agriculture. The family went on to own a rice farm and become financially well off. Efat confesses that "as a child, I was wild, I loved nature and flowers and my hobbies were going to the river where I went fishing", laughing she recalls that she often caught frogs but never any fish. Now, far away from that time and that river, Efat spends much time reading and writing. She does however go back to nature and finds tranquillity in planting flowers, herbs and vegetables in her garden, especially of the wild variety. At 14 years of age, Efat was arrested along with her father. She was interrogated for two days because of what she had been found to be reading and writing. "This experience influenced me" she says, "this was during the Shah's regime where we had enjoyed some freedom, but as for speech, reading and writing as a young woman I did not know what rights we had". At 14 being arrested for things she had written, she was warned through threats that she would be imprisoned like her brother who was tortured in imprisonment for 2 years. This experience as a young girl shaped and moulded the way in which she sees society to this day; "We did not have a model of good practice for democratic institutions to learn from". Shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution Efat met her husband Shapoor at a meeting of political activists; it was love at first sight; "I was first to tell him that I loved him, after 8 months of knowing each other". The changing political climate forced Efat and Shapoor into hiding after fearing for their lives. It felt like living in the Middle Ages for the couple who were under threat of persecution not because they had committed a violent act, but because of their ideas. They were both members of the ‘Fadaian Majority’, which was launched around 1970 originally modelled itself on Che Guevara’s paramilitaries, but later renounced its earlier aim in favour of social democracy and initiating change through education and peaceful means explains Efat. However, Efat and Shapoor were spotted and arrested a day after the Iranian New Year’(Nowrooz)  on March 21st 1983. They were separated, interrogated and tortured. Efat was to spend the next 7 years in the notorious Evin prison and for Shapour to be executed after 5 years imprisonment. While in prison, Efat vowed that is she were to survive her ordeal, she would write about what happened to her and others and tell the world about the atrocities committed by the regime in Iran against political prisoners. And so she did. ‘Forget-me-not’ is Efat’ memoir of the detailed, painful account from the day she and her husband are arrested to her escape to Germany. The book is written in Persian, but Efat’s plan is to translate it into other English and languages. In ‘Forget-me-not’ Efat describes her experiences and the incidents she witnessed during her time in Evin, one of which was to count the prisoners who were going for interrogations in the mornings, to see how they return with horrific injuries as a result of torture. She weeps for those who never returned. She witnessed a mother and her playful and happy son of 2-3 years old going towards the interrogation room in the morning returning in the evening – the mother limping, barely able to walk, and the child completely demoralized screaming and crying. The boy had lost his childhood that day. After being in prison for 18 months, Efat is taken to court to stand trial where she is charged with supporting a counter revolutionary organisation plotting to overthrow the regime. The trial constituted of a brief question and answer period of 5 to 8 minutes without a lawyer. She was sentenced to a five year prison term not counting the 18 months she had already spent in prison. Her appeal was never accepted. Efat also recalls in her book other prisoners who suffered and survived incredible brutality. She refers to a prisoner called Sara who lost her mind under torture and attacked other prisoners. The guards took her and chained her to the central heating pipes in the corridor where she would cry, laugh, weep and urinate; another prisoner named Elham, had three children with her in prison one of whom was six years old; Fariba, a young woman whose prison term had come to an end a few months earlier without being released and slashed her artery. During the first five years in prison, Efat saw her husband a few times only. It is where she says her final goodbye to Shapour behind a small pane of glass, through a phone connecting the two, shortly before he is executed in 1988. “I did not want the meeting to end” said Efat who told her husband how much she loved him and he reciprocated her feelings. “We touched our hands together against the glass, and then someone took me away. I had to put my blindfold back on. Later a guard gave me two pictures passed on from my husband, I knew it meant goodbye. I cried behind my blindfold. Three days later I received a letter from my husband (prisoners were only allowed to write five lines). He spoke about our love and our last meeting and told me how brave I was. He told me in the letter that he appreciated seeing me for the last time and asked me to say goodbye to everyone we knew.” Efat spends another two years at Evin enduring solitary confinement and ruthless torture, whipped five times daily for refusing to pray while on a dry hunger strike until she succumbs to her torturers and sign an agreement in which she promises to pray. She was left with little choice but to leave Iran after she was released from Prison "I was not allowed to go back to university - after 2 and a half years I travelled to Germany". To Efat's mind, Germany is the best model for democracy in the west that she has experienced. "People are kind and I have learnt a lot from German people", she respects and admires the freedom of speech, the makings of democracy and the feminist rhetoric of writers such as Alice Schwizer. Since leaving Iran 18 years ago, she has not returned and only managed to see her family again in Turkey 2 years ago. "My feelings for them were the same as they were 18 years ago as well as their feelings for me". Meeting her family again for the first time in many years was very emotional not least because they had lost her father before she managed to see them again; her mother had passed away when she was 18 years old. Efat is one of five sisters and has three brothers, one of whom was killed. Her siblings travelled to see her. After graduating University in Germany Efat came to the UK to learn English, "I settled in the UK because London is reflective of a more multi-cultural society". Since migrating to the UK Efat has continued to be politically and socially active. She set up Mourning Mothers in 2009 further to the demonstrations in Iran following the movement "where is my vote". At this time many people were killed by the regime similar to the story of "Neda Sohrab". After the death of so many young people, their mothers set up Mourning Mothers in Iran; this is when Efat decided to set up a branch in the UK in solidarity with those in Iran. When reflecting on what the world she would like to see would look like she says "I wish my country would change one day and have some democracy - during my life time - my people deserve this. I wish for the women in Iran to become stronger and equal as they all deserve this. When looking back over the past 34 years of social development in Iran, Efat believes that all the effort to improve the lives of women have not been successful; "I wish I could live in Iran one day" laughing she then says "but maybe I can't because the culture is very different now". Looking to the future Efat's dream is to become a full-time writer on the topic of the lives of women in Iran, "I wish that my book, Forget Me Not, could be translated into English so that the whole world can know why I am where. Efat has now set up Sharzad, a project aimed at supporting Persian speaking Iranian and other migrant deaf men and women and enabling them to know their rights and to have a voice. She supports them to learn English, gain access to services and information to assist with their integration into British society. Efat has become like an ambassador for the human rights of Iranian women and political prisoners. She travels and speaks at Universities and other events in many cities across the world, including Canada, the USA, at the United Nations in Geneva, Sweden, France, Holland and Brussels. Efat's strength of character and perseverance of spirit has supported her through many atrocious acts carried out against her, "I will forgive the people who tortured me if they would say sorry to me" for her it would mean that the perpetrators would demonstrate that they can change and this for her is the change that brings about a better world. Her passion for nature and in particular flowers is evident by the sparkle ignited in her when she talks about them. Her courage and perseverance to support others comes from her understanding that there are many people who have suffered in this world and still fight for what they believe in, Nelson Mandela being a case in point for her as a role model in life. Article by: Nazek Ramadan

 

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