Woman Ex-prisoner Speaks Out About Evin Prison
On July 22 Neda Mostaghimi was finally released from Evin Prison after the end of her 3-year prison sentence because of an amnesty granted by Iran’s leader on the occasion of Eid Ghadeer ceremony (the day Shia Muslims believe Islamic prophet Mohammad appointed Ali, cousin and son-in-law as his successor). But her release from prison does not give her all her social rights. She has been denied her basic civil rights for two years. Neda was a supporter of a group called the Mourning Mothers (or Laleh Park Mothers) comprising of women whose spouses or children were killed in the massive public protests against the rigged 2009 presidential elections that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency. The group has been demanding government accountability for the deaths of their loved ones, among other political demands. Neda was arrested, along with Hakime Shokri and Mehdi Ramezani, while they were visiting Amir Arshad Tajmir’s grave on his birthday who had been killed during the 2009 protests.
In speaking with Rooz, Neda said that even though her prison sentence did not provide for any restrictions on her other than the prison sentence, the judge who had to issue her release imposed two years of social deprivation for her.
Neda was employed when she was arrested but was expelled from her job soon after her release. She explained: “At my workplace they asked me to show them proof that I had no criminal/prison record. I went to the Revolutionary Court who told me that my dossier had been sent to the prosecutor’s office in the town of Rey, close to Tehran. After waiting for a long time there eventually they issued a note for me to go to the Revolutionary Court where the judge asked me whether I was literate. When I confirmed it, he opened a book and pointed to a paragraph and said you have been deprived of your social rights for 2 years. When I asked him why and explained that I had simply come to get whatever documentation was necessary to return to my job because I had been pardoned by the leader, he said he could not issue such a note because I had no social rights for two years. I then explained that I had a 9-year old child to take care of and asked what I could do without a job, to which he simply replied that these issues did not concern him and that I had to find my own way to make a living.”
She told Rooz that her issue was that since she had been released through an amnesty, a pardon, what was the two-year deprivation about, adding that the norm was that when the supreme leader issued an amnesty, those who were granted freedom through it returned to their workplace. “When I told this to the judge, he said neither he nor I would be able to do anything about this because it was the law,” Neda said, adding that she had been fired from her job the previous day because she could not produce the proof that her employer requested about her criminal record.
Neda’s relatives told Rooz that she had been arrested and sentenced merely for sympathizing with mothers who had lost their children in the 2009 protests. Neda herself described parts of the deliberations during her trial in these words: “Judge Moghiseh ask me what business was it of mine to sympathize with the mothers and I explained that I was a mother and that one day my daughter would be one too and that I did it because of the conditions that women in the country faced. He did not like it even though sympathizing with something is not a crime.”
Neda also explained that when she was arrested, they initially accused her of being a spy without producing any evidence for their claim. “All we did was to go to the grave of a fellow citizen to sympathize with his mother and father. Nowhere in the world is such an act considered a crime. During the interrogations they said that there was no problem if we had gone to the grave individually but going as a group to take photos etc. was a different story. They charged me with propaganda against the state and membership in what they call the Monafeghin group. These sounded laughable charges. They fabricated statements that I had received money from outside the country and that I had obtained a camera to take photographs, that I had organized a group and participated in protests, coordinated so that others came along, etc. without producing any evidence for these claims. I rejected all of these charges and repeated that I had gone to sympathize with others.
We asked her whether she had ever suspected that one day she may have been arrested, imprisoned and deprived of her civil rights for sympathizing with other mothers, she said in view of the conditions of the country she had thought about it, but that this did not mean that she accepted such actions because this was not a crime. “Going to someone’s grave is not a crime; these men think it is. I am shocked how they can impose such a harsh punishment for sympathizing with another person’s pains. I cannot accept this 2-year civil deprivation. Why? For what? What did the judge mean when he told me to go and find a way to feed my child? That is when I told him shame on you and your law and then left the judge’s office. My mother and I have gone to various officials, who shrug off the case and say it is not their issue. I do not know what else to do as I continue to remain shocked. Mr. Ali Akbar Ansari from the prosecutor’s office blatantly told me to do whatever it takes to feed my child!”
She continued, “When they came to arrest me my daughter Ghazaleh was only 4 years old. She did not understand what is going on but when they were taking she clung to my feet, trying to stop me from leaving. I will never forget that scene, nor will my daughter, as she pulled me in one direction and the agents pulled me in another. My father was alive in those and was suffering from cancer. He just said in his chair and cried. The agents who had come to take me told my daughter to leave me because I needed to go buy her a doll. Ghazaleh then stepped aside and watched me. She was devastated morally. When I was outside the prison, she would tell me not go to the door whenever the doorbell rang.”
Neda explained that when she was deprived from seeing her daughter for a month, she would go under her bed and cry, while other prisoners prayed that the guards would allow me to see my daughter. She described the importance of telephone calls from prison but added that this was not granted to many. “There was a woman Ms. Shahriari whose son had had surgery on his foot and so could not come to visit his mother but they refused to let them speak through the telephone. This is the worst thing one can do to a mother. The daughter of another woman, Behnaz Zakeri, had just given birth to a child but would not let them speak on the phone. Another mother who suffered there was Narges Rahmani whose eyes were always filled with tears. I cried with her every night and we looked to God for patience. All we had was the 20 minute visitation per week; no telephone calls even for those who had children outside the country. The women’s ward in Evin has become the forgotten ward.”
She told us of one particular disturbing event in these words. “It was the fasting month of Ramadhan. We had some food and asked them that they allow us to take it to our children when we were going to see them during the visitations. But they refused. They would not allow us to take even water with us to them. Children expect their parents, mother to give them something when they see them. My daughter would regularly ask me, ‘mother do you not have anything for me?’ I felt the whole world on my shoulders when I had to say ‘no.’ Later that day when we learned that other children during the visit had said and felt the same, we all cried. One day, the warden told me that I should have stayed with taking care of my child rather than engaging in political activity, I told him these two were not related and reminded him that it was they who came and took me away from my child. “My being a mother is one thing, my beliefs and actions are another.”