The Capitol acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. We respectfully acknowledge their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. We also acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

The Seventh Way

We Find Ourselves in the Escape*

They had blocked the way to breathe. The mass confiscation of publications, murder, imprisonment, and torture of Iranian writers and intellectuals by the regime of the Islamic Republic took on a new form each time but continued vigorously. Newspapers were confiscated one after another, and journalists were arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned. In this “holy” Islamic system, free-thinking and talking about freedom has always had a heavy penalty because Khomeini, the founder of this system in the first year after the revolution, had ordered: Break the pens!

Like hundreds of other Iranian journalists, I did not want my voice to be silenced in prison and home or my dismembered body found in the desert around Tehran, following repeated arrests and interrogations. We, Iranian journalists, chose the seventh way and fled Iran.

Iran is a strange land. On the one hand, it is the first human civilisation whose great king, Cyrus, recognised human rights three thousand years ago and left a memory for us in his famous cylinder, and on the other hand, today has the highest rate of repression of freedom and human rights.

Today, one who thinks and writes freely about freedom and human rights or, like Mohammad Mokhtari, Mohammad Pooyandeh and Dr. Ahmad Tafazli in the so-called Chain Murder by Regime, by the secret gang of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, brutally murdered; Or, like Siamak Zandi, is imprisoned in his apartment to commit suicide due to insanity; Or, like Ibrahim Nabavi and Massoud Behnoud, is forced to make televised confessions against himself as a result of torture and threats. Or, like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mohammad Nourizad, their voice is muffled in the corner of the prison; Or, like Zahra Kazemi, Saeedi Sirjani, Sattar Beheshti and Sasan Niknafs, are tortured and killed in prison; Or, like Jafar Panahi, work-prohibited and exit-prohibited. The seventh way is escape.

All my former colleagues today in the United States, Britain, Germany and Czechoslovakia are working as journalists and exposing the facts against this regime in the foreign Iranian media of the anti-regime.

“The hand of fate brought me to Australia in a broken boat along with 74 other asylum seekers.”

The hand of fate brought me to Australia in a broken boat along with 74 other asylum seekers. When I arrived at Christmas Island alive after five days in a stormy sea, I vowed to dedicate the rest of my life to freedom of expression and to exposing the nature of the authoritarian Islamic system. Since I was accepted as an Australian citizen by the Australian Immigration Service in mid-2011, I have always followed this path and I have not broken this promise to myself.

Australia’s freedoms have allowed me to overcome my fears and write about all the suffering that the Islamic regime has inflicted on us Iranians over the last 40 years in my novel: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree.

It’s been ten years since I came to Australia and I consider beautiful Australia as my second home. Australia is beautiful, not only because of its mountains, seas, kind people, kangaroos or koalas but also because of its freedom of expression and cultural diversity. Australia is beautiful because it has managed to achieve a cultural and moral balance despite its short and violent history.

However, I’m not feeling well even in the heart of this peaceful and beautiful country. Because I always remember the poem of Saadi Shiraz, the great Iranian poet of 12 century who says:

Human beings are members of a whole/ In creation of one essence and soul

If one member is afflicted with pain/ Other members uneasy will remain

If you’ve no sympathy for human pain/The name of human you cannot retain

I may never see democratic Iran in my life, but I can write in the hope of that day as I believe that Iran is not just a small and insignificant country. Iran is a great culture and civilisation to which human history owes. (To understand this, one must study the history of Iranian civilisation). Even today, the establishment of democracy in Iran is a great step towards establishing democracy in the region.

So, thanks to Australia’s democracy and people, I continue to write in the hope of freedom and freedom of expression in Iran and the region.

* Years ago in Iran, I interviewed an Afghan refugee writer in Tehran named Asif Sultanzadeh. He published a collection of stories in Tehran, titled “We get lost in the escape”. In that interview, he spoke of his experience of suffering and asylum. Years later, when I became an asylum seeker myself, I remembered what he had said and tried not to get lost in the escape. Rather, find myself again and keep going in my way.

Shokoofeh Azar appeared in On Migration and Detention at The Capitol on 23 June during Refugee Week.