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.”




Add Yours
  1. pennygadd51

    You tell that tale very well, Josh, and a grim tale it is, too. I suspect that Ali Kameini quite rapidly became a prisoner of his own regime, in the sense that he had to behave consistently with the story he was peddling.

  2. Woman walking Max

    Thank you for sharing this piece of history, the details about these men are new to me. I always find the brutality of the regime shocking, yet you show the power of the personal friendship within these grim circumstances.

  3. Lynn Love

    This sent chills through me – that a man who once thought of another as his friend, as his support in times of terrible pain could then treat that same man just as badly when power finally falls into his hands. Just dreadful. It’s like a myth of what power does to a man. I remember Khomeini when I was a child, how frightening I found him, even just watching on the news. Seems I was right to be scared.
    So well written Josh

  4. Alicia Jamtaas

    We are both guests of the Shah. HA!
    The gift of the cigarette, the sharing of tea, and the hesitation of announcing his freedom makes the true story of these two men even meaner. You created a real-life scenario.

Don't just stand there.