On Wednesday, I got the news that Omidreza Mirsayafi, Iranian blogger and new friend of mine, had passed away in prison in Iran. He was arrested last April, tried last November, and detained in February following an interrogation. On December 21, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled "Blogging in Iran: A Dangerous Prospect." Two days later, Omidreza e-mailed me, beginning an all too brief friendship through e-mail. His e-mail was short and sweet. He thanked me for caring: "When I see your post on the mentiond [sic] website, I became so happy that a journalist in other corner of world writes about the situations of Iranians journalist & bloggers and is concerned about us." He invited me to "have a dialogue" with him.
Omidreza Mirsayafi was you. He was me. He would send me articles on things like Iran's Environmental Arts Festival, or the rituals of the Kurds in Iran. We only chatted a few times, mostly about his sadness. He wanted me to help him with media coverage. I tried, and I didn't really succeed; for one, few Western outlets were interested, and for another, after consulting with friends more experienced in such matters, they felt that too much coverage might do damage to his case. In the end, he was called in for interrogation anyway and imprisoned without explanation. On February 6, the day before he was taken in, he tried chatting me up; I was away from my desk, or busy, I didn't respond. That will forever haunt me, as will the thought that I didn't do all I could. In fear of looking like I was playing hero, I instead laid low, hoping that silence was the key to not aggravating the powers that be. In the end, I was probably wrong.
But this isn't about me, and as I've been reminded so much over the past few days, I was not the only one who remained silent. But first they come for the Iranian bloggers...
It wasn't the first time he'd been imprisoned; In 2000 he spent twenty days in the infamous Evin Prison, a twenty days which he said felt like twenty years. Three years ago, he wrote in his own blog (translated from the original Persian):
Instead of bending and unbending in prayers for a God dwelling cozily in the seventh heaven I learned to be an insignificant meek person who for the entire world would not take a whit worth of dirty money. I learned that I am the creator and the created. I learned that the salvation is not achieved by wandering through the primrose path of sticking to the dogmas and the preordained codes. But it is in having faith in the dignity, nobility and liberty of the human beings. I learned that humans are not a bunch of weak slaves or debilitated beings, but they are commanding and free agents who can create whatever they wish. I learned that I have to learn in order to set myself free. I learned to unlearn whatever I had learned earlier in my life and found my thoughts on a firm and correct base from the scratch. I learned I had been moving on the wrong track for 20 years. I learned I could be born again in any way I'd want to.
Omidreza was you. He was me. He was each one of us who dares speak our minds. He simply was born in the wrong country, at the wrong time, and chose the wrong day to write about something he believed in.
The world has lost one genuine soul, one true believer. We must stand together to prevent this from ever happening again.