I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, am twenty six years old. With a hanging rope in front of my eyes, that I am not afraid of, I write to tell the tale that I lived; leaving nothing unspoken. I want to tell you everything that I said in court which they did not understand. And everything that I cried out under torture which was not heard. Everything that I screamed out whilst I was brutally kicked by four forceful interrogators, who regarded themselves as almighty. Perhaps someone in this world would hear my cries and feel my pain. I want people to know and judge as they wish. I want them to hear me and then if they still wish; tighten the rope around my neck even tighter. I want them to know what happened to me at the age of nineteen that has made me no longer fear death. I want to tell them so that they know how my voice was silenced in my throat. How the unfortunate events which lead to me being known as a killer were wrapped up with conspiracy and deceit; to obtain a judgement that I consider unjust.
I, Reyhaneh, am a twenty six year-old girl, currently living in a grave-like prison in Shahre-Ray, waiting for my life to end. Once upon a time, on a spring day in 2007 I was living free from pain and suffering, in a home built with love and compassion that continues to fill the house to this day.
I, Reyhaneh, the eldest daughter of the family, was a nineteen-year-old university student in my third semester, studying computer software. I was also working part-time as a designer for a firm for about one year. I got the job through a family friend who had recommended me. My monthly salary was 150,000,000 Rials. I worked at the firm every day from morning to evening, except the days that I had to go to university or had exams. My father and mother continued to provide for me and still gave me pocket money. I never had any financial difficulties.
On a spring day, I was sat in an ice-cream shop. I was talking to a client over the phone about a booth that I had designed for them at an international exhibition. After my phone call ended, a middle-aged man who had been sitting with his friend approached me. He looked like any ordinary man that you see on the street; sit next to in a taxi; stand beside in a queue; or meet in parks and restaurants. You could imagine seeking refuge with someone like him if a guy harassed or disrespected you in public.
He began; “I overheard your telephone conversation unintentionally and realised that you are an interior designer.” I said; “Yes”. He said; “I have a place that I wish to convert into a doctor’s surgery.” “I am a plastic surgeon.” he added. I burst inside with excitement.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was nineteen years old at the time with a head full of excitement and a heart yearning for success. I grew up in a talented and creative family. Although I was a computer software student, I was not alien to the tasks of a designer. I was able to design using computer software programs that were available at the time.
I gave him my business card which had the details of the firm as well as my name and telephone number. I, Reyhaneh, was acquainted with Dr Sarbandi and his friend; Mr Sheikhi, that day. I left the ice-cream shop and waited for a cab by the side of the road. A car stopped in front of me to offer me a ride. It was Dr Sarbandi and his friend. I thanked them but they insisted and said we could talk about our business on the way. I obliged.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, a nineteen year old girl, had no idea, that meeting these two men would change my fate and bring me closer to death.
We agreed to arrange another meeting later to discuss our business. A few minutes later, I got off at Nobonyad Street. As usual, when I arrived home, I began telling my mother about everything that happened in the day. I was happy that I had managed to find real work on my own. I told my mother; “When the practice surgery is ready, they will need to advertise and print posters and leaflets.”
I had always dreamed about opening my own printing shop. I wanted to employ as many girls as possible to work in my shop. In order to gain experience and learn the craft I had asked my boss to put me in charge of liaisons with the printing company that processed our orders. I never felt tired. I wasn’t afraid of working. I was full of eagerness to learn. I didn’t believe in luck and thought that everyone created their own future. Alas, now, at the age of twenty six, I know that sometimes a flick – no matter how small it may seem, can turn your life upside down and bury you under the ruins of your dreams.
A few weeks passed without any news. I had to prepare for my exams. One day my mobile phone rang – an odd phone number which was made up of the number eight only. The caller had somehow withheld their real number. I answered it. It was Dr Sarbandi. He asked to arrange a meeting to visit the place that he wanted to convert into an office. I said that I was on leave from work as I was busy preparing for my exams. He said; “We shall leave it for later then”. A few weeks later, I was at home when I received a call from the same odd number. Dr Sarbandi asked me to meet him outside the post office on Sadr Bridge. I got ready to go but my mother stopped me. She complained that I did not even know his phone number. My mother asked me not to go, but I begged. She agreed on one condition; that she would come with me.
Like many other nineteen-year-olds, I did not want my mother to accompany me. I said that I was old enough to go on my own. I had uttered the same words on the day of registration for university. The night before the registration day, I had told myself that tomorrow all the students will come without their parents and I would be the only one with my parents. The next day, the court yard in front of the university was filled with parents who had come to accompany and support their children. And I was the only lonely one. Despite this, I wanted to stand on my own feet. I begged her to let me go alone, but she did not let me. We left together. I waited outside the post office and my mother waited on the opposite side of the road. We waited for about half an hour. With my mother’s signal, we gave up and went back home. On the way home, she complained as usual. She said; “Don’t answer anymore calls from this number. Even if he comes, do not work for him and pass the task to others in your firm.” I knew that I would not do that. I wanted to start and finish this job all on my own, and be proud of my achievement at such a young age. I did not even want the contract to be drawn up between Dr Sarbandi and the firm. In my mind, I was already drafting a contract between Dr Sarbandi and myself. I used to think I could control everything on my own. I had gained some business skills. I had observed my father negotiating with other firms and writing up contracts on several occasions.
Only a few days later, I received another call from the same odd number. It was Dr Sarbandi again. A meeting was arranged in the evening at the top of Aghdasieh Street. I went. Mr Sheikhi was with him. I sat on the passenger seat in the back of the car. There was a microwave on the back seat. Dr Sarbandi said that he had bought it to give it to his wife on mother’s day. His mobile phone kept ringing. Mr Sheikhi said it was one of his relatives’ wedding; wittingly, and that he must leave. Dr Sarbandi spoke of his business: importing medicine, medical supplies and equipment. I had previously worked at a firm that imported medicine and I knew that if he negotiated with me, I would receive unlimited printing jobs. Every day a new leaflet would have to be printed. Every day, a new printing assignment. Every day a new catalogue. I suggested that I could take on the printing tasks and he accepted. He said he must first see how I work and design his practice surgery, and if it was of a satisfactory standard he would commission me for the printing jobs. He said he was negotiating with someone else too but I insisted that he give all the work to me. Despite my boldness in asking for work, I was too shy to ask for his telephone number. Perhaps this was my biggest mistake.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was nineteen years old at the time and did not know what awaited me. I did not know that with every meeting I took a long step towards death. I got out of the car and went home. We arranged to meet at 6pm on Saturday 7th July 2007. It did not cross my mind at the time that the next two days would be the last days that I would spend at home. Then I would be thrown into a mire of suffering, crying, pain and silence. I did not know and I spent those two days with joy and happiness. Two happy days: I attended my friend’s and my cousin’s weddings.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, looked forward to the evening from the first hour that I started work on Saturday. At around noon, my phone rang as I was on my way back to the office from a visit at Rayan Teb Company. He said he would pick me up from my office as he was in the area. I plucked up the courage and said; “I do not have your phone number. If something comes up and delays me, I would not be able to inform you.” He gave me a phone number. This gave me some confidence in him. I called my mother and told her that I had an appointment with Dr Sarbandi and Mr Sheikhi so I would be home later. She said; “No, don’t be too late. We are supposed to go out at 7pm.” She wanted me to drive. I said “I will try my best”. Almost immediately, I received a text message from Dr Sarbandi about the date. The text message said “۷/۷/۲۰۰۷”.
It is rumoured that where the day matches the month and the year, a certain force and energy is released. I had heard that seven was a holy number. God created the heavens and the earth in seven days. A week is equal to seven days. There are seven layers of heaven and sky. I thought to myself that Dr Sarbandi believes in astrology and that he might even know a few things about Chinese horoscopes and the signs of the Zodiac and personality types. I sent him a text message back, only a question mark. Later I sent him another text message; “Shall I wait for you doctor?”
I lied to my colleagues and said that my father’s friend was picking me up as my father wanted to buy me a new car. I received another text message from Dr Sarbandi; “I am outside, what is the building number?” These few text messages were all that I exchanged with Dr Sarbandi. Prior to this, I never had his phone number and I never sent him any text messages.
It was 6pm and I was waiting outside my office. My colleagues were watching us out of the window as Dr Sarbandi arrived alone. Where is Mr Sheikhi? I wondered. In my mind these two men were always together. I sat in the front passenger seat and we drove off…..towards the trap… towards webs’ of spiders…..towards pain and blood and screams.
A modern tune was playing. I, Reyhaneh, nineteen years old, loved modernism. I was proud of living in a century where technology was advanced and continued to develop to higher levels. I liked modern music and did not fully appreciate traditional genres. We talked about that tune and our taste in music. Several streets ahead he stopped. Mr Sheikhi got in the car. He sat at the back but I insisted that we swap places. He refused, stating that he had to get off in a short distance. And he did. Both men spoke outside the car for a few minutes. I could not hear them. Mr Sheikhi left and Dr Sarbandi got back in the car.
Now we were on Shahid Beheshti Street and he stopped again. Dr Sarbandi said he had an elderly aunt and had to buy her a few things from the shop. He returned a few minutes later. He was carrying a packet of nappies and an orange plastic bag. Now we were on Mirdamad Street. He parked outside the governor’s building and asked the security guard to look after his car. A sudden rush of intense fear came over me. Who is this man that can park outside the governor’s building? What status does he have that the security guard takes orders from him? I comforted myself and thought that even if he does have an authoritative position in the government; my impression of him is not of someone threatening. And I did not know that men can be like chameleons. They can change into any colour, at any moment.
We entered a building and went up in the lift. Perhaps if we had taken the stairs; I would have seen a pair of shoes outside a door or noticed a sign that it was a residential building and I would have heard the alarm bells ringing. Alas, the lift had swallowed all the signs. Fifth floor. Next to the lift there was a door. Dr Sarbandi opened it with his key. And I was shocked. It was not an office. This was a rundown residential flat filled with dirt and dust. Filled with chaos. There were no signs of life. No scent of domestic cooking or brightness of a home. It was a deserted place. I left the door open. There was a table near the door with a few chairs. I sat on one of the chairs nearest to the door. He probed me to make myself comfortable. But I was not comfortable. He probed me to take my headscarf off but I was afraid. The table was messy with various objects on it. Paper, key, mobile phone, glass, knife stand, flower pot and the general bric-a-brac. He went behind the table and into the kitchen. My eyes explored the room and drew everything in; near and far, anything and everything from the entrance door to the television; the sofa; the fan; the console; the mirror; the prayer-carpet and even the small tables. He returned with two glasses of fruit juice and immediately drank one. He complained of the heat and invited me to drink. I was staring at the ice cubes in the glass. They were dancing.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, a nineteen year old girl, did not know at the time that this ball would end with the ballet of death. A dance following on from crying, bruising, deceit, hypocrisy, conspiracy and beating and beating and beating, and pain and pain and pain.
Yet again I ignored my gut instincts. I tried not to think negative thoughts. I told myself this [his] face is not that of a dangerous man. But my throat felt blocked and I could not drink. I said “Let’s get on with the work first”. I got up quickly and inspected the rooms. I looked out of one of the windows. How high it was from the ground! I wondered what would happen if someone fell out of that window. What a useless thought!
I drew everything on a piece of paper and took notes. I returned. He immediately turned away from the prayer-carpet and walked towards me. The sofa was now covered with a bed sheet. My mind went blank. My mouth dried up and my throat still felt blocked. My eye caught the door. It was closed. I sat on the chair and shuffled my papers. He had come closer. He took out a small packet and showed it to me. “Do you know what this is?” he asked. I knew. Fear seized my soul. I stood up. I seemed smaller and weaker sitting down. He came forward.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, on that day, was soaked in my sweat. Just as I am now at the age of twenty six and casting my mind back to what I endured. Even now, as I am dissecting this festering tumour, I am soaking with sweat. From that moment on, I knew that all of my dreams were burning. In a fever that I did not know how to control. I saw the flight of death in that house; the darkness and decay, the smoke, the pain. And now I want to end my old nightmare.
I tried to write many times but I abandoned it unfinished each time. Because putting a knife to this old wound is more agonising. But at this hour of an endless night, in ward two of Shahre-Rey prison, under the moonlight and in the silence of the prison, without any whispers, I spew my pain. I cannot do anything except to tell my story; to the Patience Stone* that I know from the legends that I heard in my childhood. If I don’t tell, I die. So I will confess my sufferings to the stone until it cannot bear it anymore and bursts. Perhaps then my pain would end. Perhaps then my voice would sing again.
I died when I picked up the knife. And since then I pretended to live. I only waited for day to turn to night and for the night to turn to day. My soul died. My delicate soul died at the age of nineteen. I spent many nights with my nightmares. Dreaming of the death of animals that I had rescued. The pain of any living being always hurt me. And all these years [the past seven years] were filled with sorrow and pain. The sorrows of girls who have a sad story each. Like me. Like Fakhteh [a fellow prisoner], who I witnessed being hanged. I have learnt from these years that death is not a means to end pain. Perhaps it is a new beginning. I Reyhane Jabbari, twenty six years old, am not scared of death. But Reyhaneh, the nineteen-year-old, was.
“You have no way of escaping”. The sentence that turned my world black. As black as my hair. The hair that a few months later began turning white…