We met on the Internet. He had been in prison while I was the Persian editor at the International Center for Journalists. In that capacity, I had been in touch with many Iranian journalists. Soheil Assefi was one of them.
This was two years ago, and Soheil and I have been in touch ever since. I tried very hard to get him out of Iran. Fortunately, he managed to make it to Europe without my help. He is talented, passionate, and dedicated to his work as a journalist.
Of his days in Evin prison, my friend Soheil said: "I was in Evin in solitary confinement for 60 days and was interrogated by the Ministry of Intelligence. When I saw the black robe of the cleric who was interrogating me, Iran's anguished history came to my mind. My only crime was that I had written about the injustices of the society I was living in."
In America, I had the freedom to write whatever I wanted. Soheil did not have the same liberties. But we came from the same country and shared the same vision. We were both secular yet respectful of the religion and beliefs of our society.
Soheil lost 11 pounds while in confinement. "I was depressed; I was physically ill," he recalled. "My mental state had deteriorated. I asked one of my interrogators, while blindfolded, 'What is happening outside?' He said, 'The city is in total calm and peace.' I did not know that in the streets of Tehran, only two years later, there would be a popular uprising, and that blood would be spilled."
What is happening today in Iran is the culmination of a long struggle against dictatorship - a struggle that began more than three decades ago, first against an imposed monarch, then against an autocratic theocracy.
People have demonstrated in the streets of the capital for Mir Hossein Mousavi, but not necessarily because they believe in him. Before he left the political scene for nearly 20 years, Mousavi rose within the system, and he served as prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war. Nonetheless, since the disputed presidential election, he has shown immense courage and stood his ground uncompromisingly.
In Iran, where democracy has been experienced in bits and pieces, the right to vote was the public's last ammunition for bringing about peaceful change. But Iran's supreme leader, Seyed Ali Khamenei, who has unconditionally supported the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has brought forth more violence. In response to initially peaceful demonstrations, the Basij - regime thugs reminiscent of the brownshirts of the Nazi regime - unleashed an unprecedented attack on civilians.
People were taken from their homes and workplaces. Yet they have resisted in the most courageous way, astonishing the world. A young pregnant mother, a 7-year-old child, a student, an elderly woman - the faces of the martyrs keep showing up on Facebook and YouTube.
The mostly young population of Iran is more than ready for change. They are not looking to use violence to achieve their goals. But if Iran's rulers keep crushing their peaceful rallies, violence may be the only answer.
At night, people are crying "Allahu akbar!" - "God is great!" - from their rooftops, the same phrase that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power three decades ago. The regime is demanding that the shouting stop. Yet the cries continue: "Seyed Pinochet," they say, combining the names of the supreme leader and the South American dictator, "Iran is not Chile!" The world is listening and watching as the terror and sacrifice unfold.