On the 100th day after the start of nationwide protests in response to the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police, journalist and human rights activist Nargess Mohammadi sent a letter from inside Evin Prison, asking the world to pay attention to sexual assaults on women who have been detained during these protests.
Mohammadi was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2010 and the sentence was later increased to 16 years after she gave a speech, while on bail, criticizing the treatment of inmates at Evin.
Earlier this month the BBC included Mohammadi on its list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2022.
The following is the complete text of Mohammadi’s letter from prison.
We were playing volleyball in the prison yard on Tuesday when someone said the BBC had chosen Niloufar Bayani, Sepideh Gholian and me as brave women [of the year]. That night our ward of 64 inmates was overflowing with joy and celebrations. We felt empowered and doubly motivated that these three imprisoned women have been put on the list of the world’s inspiring and influential women, especially at a time when women are at the forefront of the recent protest movement in Iran.
That night I was thinking that courage, as a human virtue, deserves respect and praise and makes a person grow. But the fact is that when activities and endeavors are observed and reported, it intensifies their influence on people’s lives, strengthens a person’s daring and courage, and, of course, in countries ruled by oppressive governments, ensures one’s safety to a degree.
What I want to say is that, were it not for the media, many of the events, movements, activists and those who fight would not have had such an effect on the world around them: they would have influenced a limited number of minds and the lives of more activists and fighters would be lost, despite their courage, bravery, perseverance and idealism.
For months now my country has been witnessing widespread street protests and a great uprising of the people who want a peaceful transition from the Islamic Republic and to achieve democracy and human rights and end tyranny. Women have played a significant role in this protest movement, and, in trying to suppress it, this tyrannical and misogynistic government has intensified violence against women.
Sexual assault used extensively against detainees
Sexually assaulting women as a tool to pressure and suppress them is nothing new, but in recent events it has been used extensively during arrests and in detention centers. This has impelled me to protest against sexual assaults and to try to reveal and stop them. I appeal to you to help us inform the world so that we can stop this inhumane practice for suppressing women.
In the past few weeks a number of those who were arrested during recent events have been moved from solitary confinement in Evin’s security wards and from unknown detention centers and Qarchak Prison in Varamin to the communal women’s ward of Evin Prison, and they tell shocking stories of sexual assaults.
A month ago one of the detainees who was actually abducted in the street was transferred to the quarantine of our ward in Evin. She was a young woman and a well-known activist, who despite a painful experience of sexual assault arrived with very high morale, firm and determined. The moment she arrived in quarantine, she complained to the prison in writing about the officer who had assaulted her and demanded action.
I saw bruises and scars on her wrists and stomach. She was arrested not from among the street protesters, but while she was going from her home to somewhere else. Nevertheless, she was treated violently when she was arrested. She was handcuffed and her hands and legs were tied to a hook above her head in the vehicle taking her to prison. While she was hanging like this the officers molested her with their hands. Not only was her complaint was ignored, but she was transferred to the remote Qarchak Prison after four days, despite our protests and sit-ins in the ward.
A few days ago a number of well-known civil rights activitists were transferred from Qarchak Prison in Varamin to the women’s ward in Evin. They told numerous stories of the abuse and molestation of woman detainees and protesters. Government employees who visited Qarchak Prison had been told these stories and had heard protests against physical and verbal sexual assaults multiple times.
Officials ignore complaints
For example, on December 9, Kazem Gharibabadi, the judiciary’s deputy in charge of human rights, and previously Hayat ol Gheyb and a number of members of parliament, including Zohreh Elahian, who had gone to Qarchak Prison to inspect the conditions of the detainees had heard these stories and complaints and promised to follow up on them. Unfortunately, not only was there no investigation, but the government’s radio and television, in its 20:30 program, denied the whole thing, and the moment that civil rights activists, including Vida Rabbani and Mozhgan Inanlou, protested and pursued the matter they were transferred from Qarchak to Evin so that the voice of the detainees would not be heard.
One woman who was arrested in the street was taken on a motorbike by two security officers — one in front to drive and other in the back as a guard. On the way this woman was repeatedly abused and sexually assaulted.
Another woman who was arrested at a demonstration was physically assaulted by the interrogator in the area of her breast in the interrogation cell at Qarchak Prison and the interrogator left the cell when the woman started shouting in protest.
Horrific abuses at Shapur Criminal Investigation Center
Often women are verbally assaulted with sexual profanities and references to genitals in the street when they are arrested and later in temporary detention centers. One of the situations that makes physical and verbal sexual assault on women possible is when they are sent from Qarchak Prison to Shapur Criminal Investigation Center. Shapur is one of the most notorious and horrifying detention centers in Tehran, where the so-called “technical interrogations” take place in which they usually beat the detainees, dangle them from the ceiling and physically torture them to force them to confess. A significant number of detainees have died during interrogations there.
Detainees charged with serious crimes such as robbery, murder and other felonies are often taken to the Shapur Center for “technical interrogations”. This begs a serious question: why are 17-year-old and 18-year-old girls taken to Shapur?
The truth is that describing these shameless assaults can terrorize the families, but, on the other hand, not revealing these crimes would contribute to the continuation of the application of these repressive methods against women. Therefore we think that assaults on women activists, fighters and protesters in Iran should be widely and powerfully reported at the global level so that we can stop it and change the issue of molesting women from a tool for terrorizing women and forcing them to retreat into a tool for weakening the felonious government and forcing it to retreat.
Global community must highlight regime’s crimes
This is where I emphasize that bravery, courage, perseverance and fighting would be effective and will achieve things if they are accompanied by the attention of the media and institutions that support human rights, especially in the present situation when, because of the extensive repressions by the government, independent civil institutions are under pressure and civil rights activists in various fields are being detained and imprisoned. In the absence of powerful and independent civil organizations, the attention and support of the media, international human rights organizations and global public opinion is essential.
As a civil rights activist and as a woman who is striving for a peaceful transfer from a religious, tyrannical and misogynistic government and for human rights and freedom, and as a woman who herself endured a sexual assault at Evin Prison on December 24, 2019, I believe that we, the brave, resilient, lively and hopeful women of Iran will come to the streets and will continue to fight despite the government’s repressive and violent measures and despite the danger of assault and even rape. We shall not back down until the moment of victory, meaning the establishment of democracy, peace, human rights and an end to tyranny.