Nargess Mohammadi, the prominent Iranian human rights defender and deputy director of the Human Rights Defenders Centre who has been in prison for over two months, has written a letter from Evin Prison revisiting eight years of motherhood in the light of her activism.
The letter, published on the Defenders of Human Rights Centre website, reveals that Nargess Mohammadi’s twins have now left Iran and are living with their father.
Mohammadi, who is now serving a six-year sentence in Evin Prison, writes in her letter: “In December of 2008, they shut down the offices of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre and the ministry of intelligence blatantly called for my resignation from the centre and the National Peace Council. They threatened that otherwise I would have to face persecution. After the June 5, 2009 mass demonstrations, my interrogator called and said: ‘You have to leave Tehran. Do not think that because you have small children, you will not be arrested. I will put you in jail with your children.’” Mohammadi reveals that she has tried all this time not be separated from her children.
Around a year and half later, when her children were three and a half, ministry of intelligence officials arrived at her home at 10:30 PM to arrest her.
Mohammadi writes that her daughter Kiana had been in hospital to undergo surgery. “It was eight-thirty at night and we returned home after the stitches in two parts of her stomach were removed. Kiana was still in fever. At ten-thirty, ministry of intelligence officials entered the house to arrest me. Ali was crying. I put him on my lap and hummed a lullaby to put him to sleep. I put him on his bed. Kiana was restless. I embraced her; she was feverish. I gave her her medication and kissed her. And said: ‘Sweet Kiana, why don’t you sleep?’ She said: ‘I don’t feel sleepy. I want to stay on your lap.’ I held her tight to calm her. She had completely felt the insecurity of the moment. At about half past one in the morning, the officials, without regard for my restless child or the distraught mother in me, ordered me to get a move on. I tried to separate Kiana from myself. She had locked her small hands around my neck. I had to try hard to pry open her little hands and leave her in Taghi’s arms.”
While in prison, Nargess Mohammadi suffered severe nerve and muscle complications. She was then transferred to Zanjan Prison, where her health problems were exacerbated. In June of 2012, she was transferred to hospital, where physicians deemed her “unfit to endure her sentence” and she was thus released. In the same year, Taghi Rahman, her husband left the country and is currently residing in France.
Nargess Mohammadi’s children have witnessed the aggression of security officers against their parents and their home on several occasions. In recent years, after their father left the country, they had been living only with their mother. Now that their mother has been sent to prison once again, the children have left the country to go and live with their father while she serves out her term.
Mohammadi writes: “I speak to my dear Kiana and Ali in my head. I say: ‘Dearest Ali and Kiana, you have the right not to live in a country where its leaders do not recognize the world of your childhood and persist in hurting your pure and unaffected spirit. How many times did they perturb your little innocent hearts and make you shed tears of separation from your parents? Perhaps in another land, where they understand a mother’s love for her children, you may find greater peace and security even in my absence. And I will endure like many other mothers, not by choice but rather for the fate that is being forced upon us.”
Mohammadi refers to other female inmates who have been prevented from seeing their children for months and even years.
Mohammadi describes her last visit with her children: “Kiana said: ‘Mum, while you are not here, we will go and stay with Taghi until you return. When you come back, we will too.’ And I immediately said: ‘Sure, my dear.’ Ali said: ‘Mum. You’re not upset are you?’ and looked hard at me to see my reaction. I tried my best to show an inscrutable happiness so as not to worry him. How I will miss their Sunday visits!”
Nargess Mohammadi has been a human rights activist, journalist, political prisoner, spokesperson and deputy head of the banned NGO the Defenders of Human Rights Centre and a member of the Step by Step Campaign to Stop the Death Penalty (LEGAM) and the Citizens’ Association, as well as the chair of the Peace Council of Iran. She was last arrested on May 5 after numerous threats and summons. She was arrested at her home and taken to Evin Prison to serve her six-year sentence.
She was arrested in June of 2010, one year after the controversial presidential election of 2009, and in September of 2011 she was sentenced to 11 years in jail for charges of “assembly and collusion against national security, membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Centre and propaganda against the regime.” The sentence was reduced to six years by the appeals court.
Mohammadi’s arrest has been decried by numerous organizations and activists such as: Gohar Eshghi, the mother of slain blogger Sattar Beheshri; Mohammad Nourizad, the journalist and former political prisoner; Mohammad Maleki, the former head of Tehran University, and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Peace laureate.
Mohammadi wrote a letter on July 6 addressing the Tehran prosecutor and criticizing the situation of prisoners and their visitation rights. She urged the prosecutor to provide female prisoners in Evin with the opportunity to call their families from prison. She wrote that there are 22 women in her ward of whom 14 are mothers, and five of them have children under 10 years of age.
Mohammadi wrote in her letter to Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi: “It is true that we have been sentenced to ensure imprisonment. I will not debate whether these sentences are fair or not. However, each of us is a human being, a woman and a mother. Do you really think that having a phone conversation of a few minutes with our children or parents two or three times a week will contravene our sentence or the laws and regulations of our judicial system?” She then goes on to ask if this is another instance of “further punishing women who have dared to step into the arena of criticism”.
Mohammadi maintains that the order to prevent all calls to and from the women’s ward has been reportedly issued by the prosecutor and urges him to reconsider this decision in light of “the dignity of human beings, women and mothers” and to put an end to the “additional pressure on women prisoners and their children”.