For four and a half years imprisoned in a prison cell in Tehran, one thing remained constant Anoosheh Ashoori walks: the idea that one day he would run the London marathon.
The British-Iranian retired civil engineer had been on a short trip to the country in 2017, visiting his mother, when he was arrested on espionage charges.
It was a completely trumped-up charge, his imprisonment being part of a political campaign aimed at forcing Britain to pay the Iranian regime money owed after an arms deal was canceled way back when the Shah was deposed. Not that the ridiculousness of the accusation stopped Anoosheh from suffering horrific treatment in her early days, housed in the country’s most notorious interrogation center.
“When I told them there’s not a single piece of evidence that I’ve been active in any way, they said to me: that shows you how clever you are,” he explains, sitting in a London pub in these days. enjoy his freedom.
“There’s no way around it. It’s more Kafka than Kafka.”
Although he was not physically tortured, he was deprived of sleep, subjected to constant barrages of noise and bright light.
“The threat was that if I didn’t cooperate, they would harm my family. I thought to myself that if I didn’t exist, the threat would go away. I got to a point where I made three suicide attempts. The last one I starved myself. I hunger strike for 17 days and lost 17 kg.”
It was then that the Iranian authorities, fearing they might lose a political bargaining chip, transferred him to a regular prison. After months in isolation, he was able to mix with others here. And one of the things he started doing – as much to fill the time as anything else – was jogging around the gym.
“I wasn’t a runner,” he explains. “Before my hunger strike I was overweight, I had a beer belly. I couldn’t even run for ten minutes. But my running got better. Every day I ran for 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, then an hour.
One day, when I was running for two hours, this other inmate who had a 19-year sentence waved this book at me: ‘What I Think About When I Run’ by Haruki Murakami. I read it and I thought: yes, I want to do the London marathon.
It was a concept that came out of the blue: running had never been a part of his life before.
“I lived in Charlton, the marathon used to start near me. But I didn’t even go and watch it.”
In prison, however, even as he ran he imagined himself pounding the route, his mind filled with images of home. And when, along with Nazanin Zaghari Radcliffe, he was finally released back in March, the first thing he did when he returned to London was to try to secure a place in the marathon for himself and his son Aryan. Which came as a bit of a surprise to his son.