Letter written to Iran-Interlink
kind permission of Homa Khodabandeh.
As you know, my father Ebrahim Khodabandeh, has appointed me to act as his sole representative in the United Kingdom and elsewhere while he is in prison in Iran.
It is in this capacity that I write on his and my own behalf to thank you for the help that you have given to us over the past year. My father has expressed his gratitude in particular for your visit to him in prison last month. He is certain this will help facilitate a fair and speedy trial for him and Jamil Bassam.
For my own part, as an English woman, although I knew my father was active with the Mojahedin or MKO, I did not have any real knowledge of or interest in Iran’s politics other than the things I had read in newspapers. So, when I discovered my father had been taken to Evin prison in Iran in June 2003 after having spent two months in a Syrian jail, I was very distressed and frightened. The Mojahedin who visited my house that same day told me my father was being tortured and would soon be executed. They insisted I travel with them immediately to London and set fire to myself in front of parliament or my father had no hope. As you know this suggestion itself horrified me. These actions, my lawyer tells me, are illegal in Britain and I am pursuing this to make sure that these shocking practices by the MKO are stamped out in my country. You can imagine how shocked I was to discover that only a week or two after my own experience, that some MKO members actually did burn themselves and that some died. I have even heard that they drugged some of these victims before they committed these acts.
In this surreal atmosphere, I was grateful to the people at Iran-Interlink who helped me to find the right channels to establish the facts and to get help for my father, and I believe this was the key to ensuring his good treatment.
For this past year I have had conflicting reports and advice. The Mojahedin always insisted that my father was still under torture and would be executed. So, when he telephoned me in September last year I was still confused about what was happening. But as we kept in touch over the following months I realised that he was actually being treated well and was able to visit his parents at home as often as he wished.
I am grateful for the help of Mr Win Griffiths MP who campaigned in the UK on my father’s behalf and made representations to the Iranian embassy for me, and who also visited the Iranian embassy in London with me to talk to the ambassador about my father's situation.
I am also very grateful to Mr Griffiths that at your insistence he accepted the ambassador's invitation to visit my father in Iran and to see for himself the conditions of his capture. This visit accompanied by Sir Teddy Taylor was of great help to my father both in terms of morale and in establishing that he will receive a fair and speedy trial.
I want to thank Iran-Interlink in particular for giving me the courage to go to Iran and see my father in person.
In June this year I travelled with my husband and three children to Tehran. My husband and I were worried about what the situation would be like for us. The Mojahedin had told us so many scare stories that we thought the mullahs would be standing at the street corners oppressing women at every turn. In fact, the situation was very, very different from that we had been led to expect.
My father stayed with us every day at his mother's house where we were staying. This was the longest time I have ever been able to spend with my father since he was with the Mojahedin. He told me that as a member of the Mojahedin he wasn't allowed to meet with any of his family or have contact except when he was ordered to make me come to demonstrations and such like to make up numbers. He remembered with deep personal dismay the time when I was thirteen and he persuaded my mother and I to go to a demonstration in Brussels. My mother had stayed at the hotel and I was with my father in the middle of the city when he was ordered instantly to go to Paris. My father said he was in a dilemma and even thought of taking me to Paris with him, but instead he abandoned me alone in the unknown streets in the middle of Brussels because he had to obey orders. My father even before his arrest kept asking why I still cared about him after treating me like this and after years of abandonment. And really it isn't easy to explain, but I believe that the bond between family is stronger than anything and my own faith in Islam has always been my guide in this, and this is what has allowed me to forgive my father for much of the pain he caused me and my mother.
What became really clear to me during this trip was that my father hadn't really been doing these things by choice. He had been subject to the manipulation of a cult which affected him very badly and so he has been a victim himself. He had been ordered by the Mojahedin to not have any contact with his family. This is why it is both so painful and so laughable that the Mojahedin still insist that my father was arrested while travelling to Syria to visit his family, even when he has himself told the truth about the Mojahedin’s smuggling activities.
My father is quite clear himself where to place blame. Although he feels contrition and is apologetic to me personally, he said on many occasions during our visit that the Mojahedin told him lies and deceived him and his colleagues.
He asked me to pass on this message to those colleagues who can hear him. Above all he said that Elaheh Azimfar, his former wife who is still with the Mojahedin, should not listen to them but should come to Iran to visit him. He said ‘I can vouch for her safety. She doesn't need to stay here, but just come and see her family who she has not seen for over two decades and come and see me and Jamil to see that we are both fine’.
He said to his friends in the Mojahedin that they shouldn't listen to the lies that the leaders are telling them. He said that as he believes in a secular non ideological government, now that he has seen the various factions of Iranian politics at first hand, he believes that for years Rajavi has been out of the political equation of Iran. He has not seen any support or sympathy for the terrorist acts committed by the Mojahedin in Iran nor has he come across any forgiveness for their participation in the Iran–Iraq war working as mercenaries for Saddam Hussein. He said that quite early on in his imprisonment, the guards took him and Jamil into the streets of Tehran and told them to ask at random any member of the public what they thought of the Mojahedin. My father said this was a salutary experience, since those who actually did know of the Mojahedin only hated them for this cooperation with the Iraqis during the war.
This is why we are both pleased that all those who have visited my father, including an independent journalist, could see for themselves what was going on inside Iran. I think we all gained a fresh and more realistic view of life there. For one thing, I saw that Iranian women enjoy much greater personal freedom than any other Middle Eastern country I have visited. On one occasion when we had gone shopping in a middle class area, it amused my father greatly that one shopkeeper showed his surprise at my not being Iranian. He said, 'but she's the only one in this whole street wearing proper hijab!'
In the end, the overall message that my father wanted me to convey to others is his sincere gratitude to all those who have helped and campaigned on his behalf, in particular Iran-Interlink, Baroness Emma Nicholson, Mr Win Griffiths and Sir Teddy Taylor, and his to speak of his great optimism for his own future and the future of others who have been victims of the MKO cult and who may in some way be able to achieve their freedom like him, even if that means going to jail to find it!
My message in this letter is also one of gratitude to you but I must also extend that to the Iranians who, I believe, have treated us all with an unexpected kindness and respect.
Thank you all.