The Evin Memorial Campaign is an initiative supported by Radio Zamaneh to build a monument in words and preserve the memories of those who suffered in and through Evin Prison. The campaign is also in defiance of those who perpetrated those sufferings and are now planning to clear away every trace of it by tearing down the building and replacing it with a recreation centre rather than a national museum celebrating resistance and the struggle for freedom.
Mahnaz Parakand, a law student at Tehran University, was arrested during the protests of June 1981 and transferred to Evin Prison. After long interrogations and being beaten with a cable, she was sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison in 1986 with the intervention of late dissident cleric Ayatollah Montazeri, who at the time was the deputy head of the Islamic Republic. In later years, Parakand took on the defence of political prisoners.
I was arrested on June 19, 1981, and under an alias I joined a group of other detained women arrested on the same day. We were being held in an apartment that before our widespread arrests was used by prison staff and their families. After a few days, they showed me a piece of paper and said this is your release paper. But I also had to sign an oath swearing that I would no longer follow political groups and engage in their anti-Revolutionary (as they described it) pursuits. I refused to sign the oath so I was not released.
We were about 200 people being held in that apartment. Most of the detainees were students and basically under the age of 18. We had no facilities such as warm water to shower, detergent to wash the clothes on our backs. They did not even provide us with sanitary pads, even though most of us, due to the stress of the situation and the beatings, were bleeding and in serious need of those pads, detergent and hygiene products. We would smooth and shorten our nails by abrading them on the walls.
Nutrition was another sore point. For the first three months, we had no warm food. A piece of bread the size of our hands, cheese and cucumber was all we got for each meal. A lack of vitamins and sugar ailed all our bodies. Not even tea so that we might get some energy from the lump of sugar that went with it. There was a single window facing the main Evin street and it was covered with thick canvas curtains. They even took away a slight ray of light that escaped the canvas by painting the windows dark so we were completely deprived of any light or fresh air. Throughout the whole year that I was in that ward, we did not get any fresh air and we had to put up with that situation.
We would, however, protest against the lack of air and hygienic facilities by beating against the walls and screaming out and many times we were punished for those protests. They did not care about our predicament. The lack of hygienic facilities made lice and other parasitic bugs our new cellmates. One day, one of the young girls realized that rows of eggs were resting along the seams of her clothes. She showed them to her older sister, who also did not know what they were. They finally showed them to a biology student, who recognized them as nits.
We decided to meet with the prison warden to present our repeated demands. In addition to release and a determination of our state, we had a list of demands: the provision of hygienic products, clean underwear, warm water for showers, access to newspapers and radio and visitation rights. So we began beating on the walls and demanding to meet with the prison warden.
They refused to pay us any attention. We decided to persist at least with a minimum list of demands and not allow the prison guards any rest until they listened to us. Still, it was all to no avail. On each occasion, they only tried to threaten some of us to give up the names of the leaders of our protests, and since nobody would budge, they punished all of us. For instance, they would take us in groups of five, forcing us to crawl. If one of us was left behind or, as they said, did not do it properly, she would be beaten all over her body with cables and batons. So we would try not to overtake each other in the crawling exercises, or the stronger ones would head out first in line when we were taken out to save the younger cellmates from the blows. Many returned to the cell with broken fingers and toes or some would pass out from the beatings.
We then tried another strategy and tried to make the guards aware of the presence of lice. One day when some of the girls had gone to get our food (which consisted of cucumbers, tomatoes and cheese), they noticed a small bottle of medication on the guard’s table. They managed to take it when the guards were looking away. We planned to empty the bottle and fill it with lice and put it back on their table. Within a few hours we filled the bottle with lice. The next time two girls went to get their food, they left it on the guard’s table.
A few hours later, the guards began screaming. One of them, thinking that it was his medication, had unscrewed the lid and found the dead lice. Suddenly they opened the door to our cell, but the fear of getting infected with lice kept them in the doorway, where they began swearing at and threatening us. We were prepared for anything.
Fortunately, our strategy worked, and a few days later we were given disinfectant and for a long time the ward smelled like a zoo. Then they began taking us in groups of five to take showers. For this we were taken to another building that was actually the soldiers’ sleeping quarters. There was a single shower for all five and we were given 10 minutes in total.
They also gave us several pairs of clean men’s underwear. One day they even brought a nail clipper, and we were given a chance to clip our nails while the guard stood above us watching, and he collected the clipper as soon as the last one of us was done with it.
Then it was time for cutting our hair. Some of the girls had really long and beautiful hair, so that even the female guards would regret that it had to be cut.
After that, each day they would give us a piece of soap and a tablespoon full of detergent to wash our clothes. Gradually, the guards began to lose their fear of lice and once again began to enter the ward from time to time to hurl a few insults.