Sitting with his hands clasped tightly in his lap, Behzad*, 48, from Tehran, Iran, leaned forward in his chair and slowly, quietly began retelling the story of his imprisonment and the four years of torture he says he endured back in his home country.
Behzad, a karate teacher by profession, wrote poetry in his spare time. His poems, though never published, would have been illegal according to Iran’s Islamic government. “My poems were mainly anti-Islamic Republic and also anti-Islam,” explained Behzad, who was raised in the Zoroastrian faith — one of the world’s oldest religions, pre-dating Islam in Iran — but quietly converted to Islam for fear of government persecution. Knowing how dangerous his poems were, Behzad shared them with only one person: his childhood best friend.
In 2010, just days after sharing his poetry with this friend, whom he now suspects was working with the secret police, Behzad says he was accosted on the street by people he had never seen before. They threw a bag over his head, shoved him into a car and drove to an unknown location. When they removed the bag from his face, he was in a jail cell. That day was the last time he would see the sun for many years.
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