WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “Journey to Freedom”
It had been a long, agonizing wait for Antonella Mega, but on Thursday, October 10th, her husband, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall was finally on his way home to Canada.
Hamid was on an Alitalia flight bound for Toronto, set to arrive at 2:40PM. Antonella spent the morning getting her hair done and tracking his flight on her phone. “Last night I was tracking the airplane from Tehran and it was really exciting to see it move along the map and I was just there with him I felt like I was sitting next to him,” she said.
For the past five years, Antonella has stood by her husband as he went through hell in his native Iran. A former shoe salesman at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, Ghassemi-Shall was arrested in May 2008 on a trip home to visit his ailing mother. He was accused of espionage – the only shred of evidence, a fabricated email with a forged and misspelled signature. He spent five years in Evin Prison where he says he was beaten, interrogated, and isolated for a year and a half in solitary confinement. In March 2009, he was sentenced to die.
WATCH BELOW: An extended interview with Hamid Ghassemi-Shall after he returned to Canada
Antonella campaigned tirelessly for her husband’s release. She has drawn support from Amnesty International and maintained a website, http://www.freehamid.org. She wrote letters to government officials in Canada and Iran, and even traveled to New York City in hopes of hand delivering a letter to then-Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was attending a UN meeting. In an interview in 2011, she told 16×9, “My job is to protect Hamid and to help him come home safely. And I will continue to do that by speaking to the media, by speaking to political figures who are willing to help, by speaking to human rights organizations, to activists who believe that human rights are rights of everyone. And I will continue to be Hamid’s voice.”
Last week, Hamid Ghassemi-Shall finally got to use his own voice. He was home and free in Canada after being suddenly, and unexpectedly released from prison on September 23. Antonella sat next to her husband on their back deck, listening, holding his hand, while he told “16×9” what it was like to be on death row for five years in Iran’s most notorious prison, a place where prisoners are sent to be “broken”.
But he survived, to talk about what it’s like to finally be home, and sit next to the woman who fought for his freedom, never giving up hope that this day would come. At times, the words are a struggle.
“Feels great. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just…it feels completely different than where I was before,” said Ghassemi-Shall. “The Air, the people….to be with her,” he said hugging his wife. “It’s been a long trip. Been a long journey for all of us.”
Don’t miss 16×9 this Saturday at 7pm.