Nicholas G. Hahn III

On June 4, 1989, Tiananmen Square was red with blood. A destroyed paper-maiche monument to democracy lay in ruins. Over ten years later, students at Tehran University picked up the fallen Goddess of Democracy from Beijing and brought its spirit to Tehran. Spawned by the ever repressive Mullahs and the closure of the reformist newspaper Salam, students took to the streets and demanded an open society. The Basijs and police forces chased the students back to their dormitories. Students were taken, blindfolded, shot, and thrown off their dormitory balconies.

Amir Abbas Fakhravar founded the Confederation of Iranian Students and worked for regime change within the Islamic Republic. After exposing these atrocities at Tehran University in newspapers now banned in the Islamic Republic, Fakhravar spent over five years in jail and suffered brutal physical and emotional torture at the notorious Evin prison. His treatments have been described as the first known example of “white torture” by Amnesty International. He was placed in a completely soundless and colorless room. His clothes were white, his food, served on white plates, was also white. “After a while,” he told me, “you start to forget things, like what your mother’s face looked like.”

Fakhravar left prison to take a university exam, and never returned. Here he remembers watching President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in 2002: “The day President Bush announced on television that Iran, North Korea, and Iraq were the ‘Axis of Evil,’ I hugged my father in front of the television. And we both cried. I told him this was the beginning of the end for the Islamic Republic. It gave us hope for the future.”

This story bears a striking resemblance to that of Natan Sharansky’s experience after reading President Ronald Reagan’s famous condemnation of the Soviet Union: “My Soviet jailers gave me the privilege of reading the latest copy of Pravda. Splashed across the front page was a condemnation of President Ronald Reagan for having the temerity to call the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire.’ Tapping on walls and talking through toilets, word of Reagan’s ‘provocation’ quickly spread throughout the prison. We dissidents were ecstatic. Finally, the leader of the free world had spoken the truth––a truth that burned inside the heart of each and every one of us.”