My fellow inmates and I found ourselves in the women’s ward of Evin prison in Tehran one evening when we witnessed a television report about the tragic death of Mahsa Amini. It has been exactly one year since she lost her life while under the custody of Iran’s morality police, allegedly due to her failure to comply with the hijab regulations. This incident sparked a massive uprising, primarily led by women, that shook the entire country.
Deep sorrow and anger filled our hearts in the women’s ward. We used our limited phone calls to gather information, and at night, we held meetings to share the news we had heard. Although we were confined within the confines of the prison, we did whatever we could to raise our voices against the oppressive regime. Our fury reached its peak a few weeks later when a devastating fire engulfed a part of Evin prison on October 15. Amidst the gunshots, explosions, and flames, we chanted “Death to the Islamic Republic.” Tragically, at least eight lives were lost during the violent clashes.
The months following Ms. Amini’s death witnessed the arrest of thousands of people who protested against the injustices. As the anniversary of her passing drew closer, Iran’s leaders made extensive efforts to suppress dissent. Throughout my time in Evin prison, where I have been incarcerated three times since 2012 for advocating human rights, I have never seen such a significant influx of new prisoners in the women’s ward as I have in the past five months.
The situation is no different in other women’s wards. Through friends at Qarchak prison southeast of Tehran, I became aware of approximately 1,400 new detainees being held there. Other women have been transferred to high-security wards, such as Evin’s Section 209, which is operated by the Ministry of Intelligence. A fellow detainee who transitioned from Adelabad prison in Shiraz informed us about hundreds of new female detainees at Adelabad.
What the government fails to comprehend is that the more they imprison us, the stronger we become.
The newly arrived prisoners display remarkable morale. Some of them spoke with an eerie calmness about preparing their wills before taking to the streets to demand change. Regardless of their varying circumstances of arrest, they all share one demand: the overthrow of the Islamic Republic regime.
During recent months, I have encountered numerous female prisoners who bear the scars of beatings and injuries. Some have had their bones shattered, while others have suffered sexual assault. I have made every effort to document and share this information.
However, we continue to raise our voices. We issue statements, hold general meetings, and organize sit-ins in response to news of mass demonstrations, street killings, and executions. The security and judicial institutions have attempted to intimidate and silence us by cutting off our phone calls and restricting our weekly meetings with family. They have even launched six new criminal cases against me in the past seven months, extending my sentence to ten years and nine months for my human rights activism within prison.
Thirty-two years ago, as a student, I began my campaign in Iran to combat religious tyranny and the deep oppression of women rooted in tradition and social customs. That continues to be my objective. Now, witnessing the groundbreaking efforts of young women and girls during this revolutionary movement, I feel closer to realizing my feminist dreams and goals.
Women have emerged as the vanguard of this uprising, displaying immense courage and resistance despite the heightened animosity and aggression from the religious authoritarian regime.
Prior to Ms. Amini’s death, I had heard accounts of sexual assaults against women within women’s prisons, but I had never personally witnessed such life-threatening beatings and injuries. Nor had I encountered tales of sexual assault and harassment of this magnitude.
The regime seems to be intentionally fostering a culture of violence against women. However, their efforts will not intimidate or suppress us. Women will never surrender.
We are fueled by an unwavering determination to survive, whether we find ourselves within the prison walls or beyond. The government’s violent and brutal repression may temporarily keep people off the streets, but our struggle will persist until the light triumphs over darkness and freedom prevails for the Iranian people.
Narges Mohammadi is a human rights activist and the author of “White Torture.” She is currently serving a sentence of 10 years and nine months in Evin prison in Tehran.
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