Journalism, says U.S. Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, "is a calling of everyday heroes":
"Of brave souls who speak out where silence and fear are the allies of tyrants. Of dedicated citizens who insist that there is more to an issue that others overlook as insignificant. Of dogged advocates who will not rest until the truth is exposed and injustice righted."
One such man being honored this year for exposing the truth through his work is Iranian journalist and writer Houshang Asadi. He has been chosen to receive the International Human Rights Award for his memoir "Letters to my Torturer."
Prior to the Islamic Revolution, Mr. Asadi was the deputy editor of Kayhan, Iran's largest newspaper. He was arrested and imprisoned under the Shah, and shared a cell with a young and gentle cleric: Ali Khamenei, now Iran's Supreme Leader. The two became friends in that cell, and at their parting, Khamenei assured Mr. Asadi that when an Islamic government came to power "not a single tear would be shed by the innocent."
Yet in 1983, after Mr. Asadi declined to work for the Islamic Republic's newspaper because of ideological differences, he was arrested and sent to Moshtarek prison. There, in an effort to get him to falsely confess to spying for the Soviets and the British, Mr. Asadi was subjected to brutal abuse at the hands of a man he calls "Brother Hamid." His torture was intensified because of his resolve not to implicate others in the confession he was eventually forced to make.
Mr. Asadi's memoir recounts the brutalities he endured, the suffering of his fellow prisoners, and the ironically intimate relationship that developed between himself and Brother Hamid.
Mr. Asadi was released from prison after six harrowing years. He left Iran and now lives in Paris, where he writes for Rooz, the Persian news website he cofounded.
Mr. Asadi's visible wounds have healed and the physical abuse he suffered is over. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Iran is known today as the world's largest prison for journalists –- with dozens of reporters behind bars, vulnerable to the same brutal treatment endured by Houshang Asadi. It's decades past time for Ayatollah Khamenei to live up to his youthful promise that under an Islamic government "not a single tear would be shed by the innocent."