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Monday, January 27, 2014

Survivors of the Revolution: Shabnam's Story

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it,
 would put my life in danger..."

"I was just 13 when Khomeini came into power....."

This is how Shabnam Assadollahi begins her story as a young teenager living in Tehran, when suddenly her whole world was turned upside down.
 February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran, flying in from Paris on a jumbo 747, greeted by millions of protesters who had successfully caused the Shah to go into exile. A new era, a new age had begun in Iran. A new Islamic state had just been birthed.
For millions of Iranians, their lives would never be the same again. Khomeini's revolutionary guards and morality police would now be in full control of their lives.
Shabnam writes:

  "Overnight all women, including elementary school girls, were forced to cover their bodies from head to toe and were ordered to only wear dark colors. We were no longer allowed to attend school with the opposite sex. Our once praised school curriculum was now replaced by Arabic, Islamic studies and the Quran...."

Freedom of speech became a "thing of the past." If you disagreed with the new regime, you risked being arrested and never seeing your parents again. Yet Shabnam could not keep her views to herself. She experienced an "awakening" and felt compelled to speak her mind about the so called new rules and values being imposed on her and all of her classmates.
Eventually, the new regime arrived on her doorstep in order to silence her and at the age of 16, just three years into Khomeini's reign, The Revolutionary Guard arrested Shabnam  and took her away to the notorious hell hole known as Evin Prison.

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it, would put my life in danger..."

Shabnam's teenage years had been rudely interrupted and transformed into a nightmare! She was now a prisoner of Khomeini in Evin Prison where the new regime was executing young teenagers on a daily basis in front of a firing squad.
Yet, ironically, Shabnam's interrogator took pity on her and spared her from the torture chamber. Instead she was left outside every day, blindfolded, cold and hungry.
 Even though she had been physically spared from the grueling torture, Shabnam recalls the agony of listening to the desperate cries of prisoners, begging and screaming for their deaths, rather than suffering for another minute!

"At Night I would count around 60-70 bullets which meant 60-70 souls had been executed and I was hearing the last shot they would give the victim in the head..."

Finally after spending 18 horrifying months in Evin Prison, Shabnam was released. She was determined to find out why she had been imprisoned and why so many of her friends had been senselessly murdered. She discovered that this new regime demanded absolute compliance or else death. If teenagers were caught with books or leaflets in their possession that disagreed with the new government, they would be arrested and executed. Democracy and freedom of speech under the Shah had been replaced by
an intolerant regime that ushered in a dictatorship. Women were now second class citizens with a new dress code. The wearing of hijabs was the new law that had once been banned under the Pahlavi dynasty. The sexes were segregated and young girls, some at the tender, innocent age of 9 years old were now forced into marriages.

Even before the new regime, Shabnam had hated God. In her mind there was no God, he didn't exist. Shabnam recalls that shortly before the revolution, while in Turkey, her and her family were visited by Christian missionaries. Although she was resistant to their message of God's love, she remembers watching a film they brought about  the life of Jesus. During the movie, Shabnam watched Jesus dying on the cross and deep down inside was touched by his act of his sacrificial love. Yet she continued to resist.
Then she begin having dreams about a man on a white horse. She mentioned this to her friend and her friend replied that God was reaching out to her and calling her.
Her friend began to diligently pray and fast for her and after many other dreams, questions and searching, Shabnam finally surrendered her heart to Christ.
The young rebellious, outspoken teenage girl had found her ultimate purpose in life! Now she knew why her life

had been spared from torture and rape in Evin Prison. God had a calling and purpose on Shabnam's life!
Today Shabnam is married and lives in Canada with her husband. She has went from a rebellious teenager to a powerful advocate for human rights. For many years she produced children's programs with Transworld Radio Canada and today helps newcomers and refugees, particularly women, resettle in Canada.
Shabnam has been recognized by the Canadian parliament as a courageous and outstanding promoter of human rights. She has not forgotten her horrifying experience in Evin Prison. She continues to speak out and be a voice for Iranians today who are suffering under an oppressive government. Not much has changed in Iran but Shabnam has changed! She has dedicated her life to speaking out against the gross and unjust violation of human rights in Iran.
She is a true survivor of the Revolution and 35 years later is still fighting passionately for human rights.
Shabnam writes:

"The truth about the Islamic Republic needs to reach the ears and hearts of the world, for knowledge is the vessel of constructive change..."