On Accepting the Jan Karski Moral Courage Award
I have been unjustly accused, and held in captivity for speaking the truth about the Islamic Republic of Iran. Over the years, I have learned a great deal about my captors, about those who run my country. If there was ever a regime that was built on deception, this regime of ours is it. Their claim on God and Islam is nothing but a facade to justify their tyranny. They appropriate our faith to pervert, diminish, and transform it into the instrument of their whims.
Having spent nearly twenty-four years in prison, what still stuns me is the courage of the students who, with nothing but faith in a democratic dream, endanger their lives and keep the hope of freedom alive.
When you just arrive in prison, you feel rage, and you can do nothing but think of your own innocence. When a few years pass, self-pity overcomes you. When a decade goes by, you wonder if you are as forgotten as the dead. But when a second decade comes along and you are still in prison, when you find yourself in a cell with a young man who was hardly a boy when you were arrested, someone who knows your name from the history books, both despair and self-pity fall away. Conviction takes over. And you know that God wants you there to bear witness to history, to atrocities, to the loss, and to the unparalleled heroism.
Ladies and gentlemen, in July of 1988 alone, I was witness to the execution of hundreds of political prisoners. Within the span of a week, great many whose terms had nearly ended, were put before the firing squads in the largest prison massacre in our modern history.
In the August of 1997, when the Evin prison warden, Mr. Lajavardi, was assassinated and President Khatami called him a “martyr and a great human being,” I saw it as my duty to express my dismay in the president, and call the slain, in a radio interview, by his true name: the butcher of Evin. A man under whose watch great crimes had occurred. And though that single statement ended my “house-arrest,” my conscience would not have let me rest and be silent otherwise.
Some may say that telling the truth is not enough. That military muscle and violence are necessary to overcome this degree of brutality. But let us not underestimate the power of courage to speak out the truth to their power. The Islamic Republic punishes those who tell the truth, because simply telling the truth can produce political changes of unpredictable consequences and weaken their grip on their ubiquitous might.
It is with a deep gratitude that I accept this prize. My greatest hope is that you become messengers and tell the world about our struggle for democracy and human rights in Iran. Help us end the inhumane treatment of Iranian citizens. Support us in abolishing the death penalty. Help us free all political prisoners and end the discrimination against women and religious minorities. Help us build the secular order that promotes peace and stability in the region.
If you let the world know, then the quarter of a century I have spent in the dungeons of the regime will not have been in vain. You have bestowed me an honor. I thank you for that. And I, in turn, bestow you the duty of remembering, of never forgetting and of speaking of my nation’s plight for democracy.
Abbas Amir Entezam
November 25, 2003