Guests of the Shah

“You’re limping, Houshang.” Hamid smiles up from the chessboard. “Stubbed your toe again, I suppose?”

“A blister from my long walk around the city yesterday.”

I chuckle. We both know why I limp.

I am a lifelong communist. My boiled cynicism often serves as much to poison as shield me. Hamid is a Muslim cleric imprisoned for criticizing the Shah’s fawning toadyism toward the Great Satan, America.

We are both guests of the Shah, here in the infamous Moshtarek prison which lies beneath the heart of the world’s most beautiful city. Our friendship almost makes me believe in God. Almost.

I hand Hamid my cigarette ration. I’ve never smoked, but he is almost as passionate about tobacco as he is about finer doctrinal shadings in the Koran. He pours coffee over the sugar cubes crushed  in the bottom of our cups.

I do not know how to tell him I am being released tomorrow.

What Pegman Saw


Houshang Asadi was a Communist journalist thrown into the cold confines of Moshtarek prison in Iran in 1974 by the secret police of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. There, he found an unlikely friend in the tall, slender Muslim cleric who greeted him with a smile. The two friends found common ground in their passion for literature, shared jokes, spoke of where they came from, their families, and falling in love.

On days when Mr. Asadi felt broken, the cleric would invite him to take a walk in their cell to brighten his spirits.  

Mr. Asadi would never have believed the cleric would one day become president of the Islamic Republic and the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Mr. Asadi fully supported the 1979 revolution. When he was arrested again in 1982 and accused of being a spy for the Russians and the British, he was convinced that it was a mistake. The regime sentenced him to death.

In a plea for help, his wife wrote to Mr. Khamenei, who had risen to power as president after the Islamic revolution. 

Mr. Asadi’s death sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison, during which time he was brutally tortured.

Mr. Asadi said he would now ask his one-time friend a single question: “Do you remember what you said? You told me no more tears, but now you are torturing people, you are raping our women, you are killing our people.”