My fellow prisoners and I were gathered in the women’s ward of Evin Prison in Tehran one night when we saw a television report about the death of Mahsa Amini. One year ago Saturday, she died in the custody of Iran’s moral police for allegedly not wearing a proper hijab. Her death sparked an immediate and widespread uprising, led by women, that shook the country.
In the women’s ward, we were filled with grief and anger. We use our short phone calls to gather information. At night we met to exchange the news we had heard. We were trapped inside, but we did what we could to raise our voice against the regime. Anger peaked a few weeks later, when a fire destroyed part of Evin on October 15. We chant “Death to the Islamic Republic” amidst gunfire from security forces, explosions and flames. At least eight people died.
Thousands protest death of Ms. Amini they were arrested in the following months. As the anniversary of his death approached, Iranian leaders worked hard to suppress dissent. I have been imprisoned in Evin three times since 2012 for my work as a human rights defender, but I have never seen so many new admissions to the women’s ward as in the last five months.
Other rooms of women were also filled. Through friends in Qarchak prison, southeast of Tehran, I learned that there were about 1,400 new detainees there. Other women have been sent to high-security wards, including Evin Section 209, run by the Intelligence Ministry. A detainee who was transferred to Evin from Adelabad prison in Shiraz told us of hundreds of new detainees in Adelabad.
What the government may not understand is that the more they lock us up, the stronger we become.
Morale among the new prisoners is high. Some spoke with strange ease about writing their wills before taking to the streets to ask for change. All of them, regardless of how they were arrested, had one demand: to overthrow the regime of the Islamic Republic.
During the last few months, I met many prisoners that had been beaten and bruisedhis broken bones, and that he had been sexually assaulted. I have done the best I could document and share that information.
Still, we continue to raise our voices. We have issued statements and held general meetings and sit-ins following news of mass demonstrations, street killings and executions. Judicial and security institutions have tried to intimidate and silence us by cutting off our phone calls and weekly meetings with family members, or by filing new court cases against us. In the last seven months, they have opened six new criminal cases for my human rights activities in prison and added two years and three months to my sentence, which is now 10 years and nine months.
I started campaigning in Iran 32 years ago, as a student. My goal back then was to fight against religious tyranny, which together with tradition and social customs has led to a profound repression of women in this country. That’s still my goal. Now, seeing the innovative efforts of young women and girls during this revolutionary movement, I feel like my feminist dreams and goals are closer to becoming a reality.
Women emerged as the vanguard of this uprising, demonstrating immense courage and resilience, even in the face of increased animosity and aggression from the religious authoritarian regime.
In the past, before Ms. Amini’s death, I had heard some accounts of sexual assaults against women inside women’s prisons, but I had never personally witnessed so many life-threatening beatings and injuries, nor had I come across stories of sexual assault and harassment. of this magnitude.
The regime appears to be intentionally propagating a culture of violence against women. However, you will not be able to intimidate or stop them. Women will not give up.
We are driven by the will to survive, whether we are inside or outside the prison. The government’s violent and brutal repression may sometimes keep people off the streets, but our fight will continue until the day when light overcomes darkness and the sun of freedom embraces the Iranian people.
Narges Mohammadi is a human rights activist and author of “White Torture.” He is currently serving a sentence of 10 years and nine months in Evin prison in Tehran.