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A Reflection on the Representation of Balouch Justice-seeking Mothers: The Binary of the Bereaved Mother and the Justice-seeking Mother

Last year was swift and inspiring. The aftermath of the Jina Uprising altered the discourses and the political sphere [of Iran]. There was loss after loss, grief after grief. The deceased turned into numbers, becoming numerous; and the death of those whose unknown lives were deemed unworthy echoed in a familiar manner, evoking a common understanding: oppressed, poor, and voiceless. Not acknowledging the politics of grief as advocacy, the marginalizing system of representation regards advocates as merely the bereaved. If Senobar’s[1] image went viral, it was solely due to her representation as a bereaved mother, who mourns the loss of her son, and not because of her politics of grief. The marginalizing representation system was deeply immersed in its own understanding that despite weeks of resistance and solidarity building of Balouch, it only sat watching their grief and mourning, in a way that conformed to its own understanding as if mourning and justice-seeking are separate paths and the bereaved cannot be advocates.

We aim to address the binary of mourning and justice-seeking and the need to understand them as a whole.

Is Senobar Balouchestan?
[Does Senobar embody Balouchestan?]

Jina Uprising put Balouch in the forefront of the movement. The collective memory brought forward what had been excluded from the written history of Balouchestan. Memory was restored to the Balouch and granted a new meaning to their lives as a sociopolitical matter. The Balouch reclaimed years of suffering, and young adolescents took up the cause as well despite their age. In addition to the public presence of these advocates, it is the presence of the mothers of those killed in Balouchestan, who, like other justice-seeking mothers, have come forward throughout Iran. However, it seems that the understanding of this presence is distant and hierarchical, one which determines how such presence needs to occur.

Almost seven months after the Jina Uprising, justice-seeking in Balouchestan is still stereotypically represented. Here in Dasgoharan, we have always praised advocacy as one of the achievements of Jina and Mahoo Uprising and noted the centralist and marginalizing approach of the rigid system of representation, wherein pain and suffering are normalized, and misrepresentation remains unchanged.

Senobar is not represented as a justice-seeking mother, she is merely misrepresented as a mourner. She is not on Twitter or Instagram, does not know how to speak Farsi, and has no access to media. How she is represented perpetuates the stereotype of Balouch women: a mother who mourns and grieves. What circulates on the media and goes viral are the donations to her, along with her withdrawal as she grieves the death of her son.  What is absent from the media is her resistance along other mothers. The logic of social media dictates a specific approach when it comes to advocacy and justice-seeking and Senobar does not fit in this logic. This logic leads to a certain way of representation within which all Balouch justice-seekers including Senobar, fall prey to the pre-assumed structures, given that the severity of oppression and marginality are not acknowledged. In such an encounter, Senobar is not considered a citizen either. She is a mother whose son was chained to a bar; she is a bereaved mother.

We do not know anything about her life, and we would not know, for we cannot comprehend her advocacy. We did not know about Khodanour either, except for the [online footage showing him] dancing and the ghastly and frightening image of him chained to a bar. No one knows why Senobar lives in one of the many marginalized, unsafe, and squalid neighborhoods. Apparently, it suffices to know that she lives far away, off the beaten track where it is scary and strange. If Senobar is referred to, it is only to remember Balouch as utterly miserable. She is remembered with the key phrase, “Senobar is Balouchestan” and she and other justice-seeking mothers’ advocacy and resistance are reduced to a representation of despair, misery, and victimhood.

But what does this system of representation signify? Can we not find, behind all the statements of this system, a desire for a “pure understanding” of the situation of Balouch, while simultaneously controlling their practices and actions as they mediate these meanings? This mode of representation is primarily engaged in the construction of a binary narrative of “victimhood” versus “resistance” and constantly seeks to classify the efforts and struggles of the marginalized in the former category. Why is the manifested Balouchestan in her limited to silence and victimhood? Does mere reference to “being Balouchestan” speak of any pure qualities of speech that converge in Senobar and can be understood by referring to her as having understood Balouchestan? Senobar becomes synonymous with Balouchestan and a perfect symbol of victimhood. However, if Senobar is Balouchestan, then why do we not approach it like a narrator and advocate for the bloody oppressions?

The Advocate/Mourner Binary

The dominant representation system understands Senobar who was more than anything a mother of a rebellious child, through her mourning. But which justice-seeking mother has not shed tears? Do not advocacy and grief cross paths? Is it not true that it is this suffering and loss that brings the mourner to the battlefield against forgetfulness? Why does the dominant representation system insist on creating a division between grieving and advocacy? Why is a Balouch woman only referred to as a mourner and not an advocate?

The coercive representation system, with its naturalizing and invisible role, edits and subtitles its favorable pieces of Senobar. What else does it know about her? Nothing. It spreads Senobar’s sobbing in an orientalist and touristic manner. Everyone is eagerly looking for any piece of news from Senobar to cover her story as a victim. Senobar serves as a homogenous entity representing the Balouch or Balouch women, despite her class, caste, and lived experience. Her justice-oriented words are silenced amidst the political and historical sentences. In this representation economy that is prevalent on social media, concepts are redefined and altered to favor the dominant and centralist discourse. The concept of grief stands against advocacy and those with different languages are categorized as mere mourners given their different approaches to advocacy. It is as if seeking justice for a Balouch mother has prerequisites that she has yet to achieve. This dualistic and binary order, with such interpretations, abdicates the responsibility to hear [Balouch’s] advocacy.

However, the sphere of advocacy is the sphere of reclaiming memories, a battlefield for life that rebels against necropolitics and oblivion. As Senobar presses the picture of Khodanour against her chest and speaks of longing for him at the table while sharing Khodanour’s smile and his zest for life, she advocates for his life and soul. Like a symbol, she fights the lexicon and the dominant discourse and creates her own vocabulary regarding advocacy. Even though this language is specific to her, it is not disconnected from other advocates in different geographies. While the language continues to speak of the burning and the refusal of normal life, it has simultaneously come to the fore to desire life and seek justice for the lost lives. Can the justice-seeking movement be understood in the absence of this language? Are not grief and advocacy – not the politics of “either this or that” – a cohesive whole that interconnects with each other?

While mourning the tragic death of her son, Senobar, along with other mothers repeats a fundamental and poignant statement everyday: I burn from the absence of Khodanour. What could be more precise than this sentence, and what more important sign than the pictures [of their sons] in the hands of these mothers could display the bond of grieving and advocacy? While mourning, they bear witness to history: Look at these photos, our children were our souls and until the day of justice, we are their mourners and their advocates.  


[1] Senobar is Khodanour Lojei’s mother. Khodanour was killed in October 2022 during the protests in Zahedan. His image with his hands tied to a pole went viral. The image shows him in torment as there is a water bottle out of his reach.

Senobar holding the photo of her son, Khodanour, close to her heart
Sepideh Rashnu
Sarvenaz Ahmadi

This call is from Evin Prison

A letter from Sarvenaz Ahmadi to Sepideh Rashnu- November 2023, Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison.

Tanide⸻ Dear Sepideh! Your letters and poems are finally here. Today is November 23, and I am here to get fresh air. I am writing this to you believing that my letters will eventually reach you. I just wanted to touch base and share how I feel. What confines this approximately ten-by-twenty room, and the act of getting fresh air into a prison, is repetition. An inmate esteems anything that bears the essence of the “new.” When you send me a letter, it feels like you have sent “new words” to me. It appears as though those tall poplar trees behind the area where we go to get fresh air are now adorned with new coats. At times, one might be petrified of becoming a mundane object, fading into obscurity and being forgotten; particularly, in those innocent eyes…

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

When sending a letter to a prisoner, the essence of the collective “we” materializes within that letter. Sometimes, when someone asks if I need anything, I’d like to request letters, fragments of Arabic poets’ imaginations, and a collection of eloquent pens. Dear Sepideh! It has been seven months now since I have been here, and I must spend five more of these seven months; when I recall Shams Langrodi’s poem, Ghasideye Labkhand-e Chak Chak, especially when he writes that “now I have forgotten life, and I barely remember how children look like” the yearning squeezes my heart. Always, there is a child in your proximity who is enduring suffering and, at the same time, displaying resilience. When I was free outside of the prison, there were Afghan children, children laborers, and those grappling with mental health and cancer. Here, I witness the children of female inmates, as well as those originating from war zones, whose images are broadcast on the prison’s television. It was Vahid outside, and here is Ronika with me. I should convey this information to their mothers, emphasizing the importance of being honest with their children. When a child inquiries about their mother’s return, an educator should speak plainly to them. For instance, the mother should say she will return home in five more birthdays. There are many cement walls between my hands and the war-wounded hands of the seventy-five-year-old children of the Middle East. Imprisonment is indeed an experience of loss, but it is also a rigorous exercise in holding onto what remains in your fist. These days, I am reading a book regarding the social work of children in war. It serves as a valuable resource to teach children in war—those whose noses are filled with odours of burned bodies and gun power— not to collapse or what should they do when they find themselves petrified by a profound sense of fear, dreading to be buried under the ruins once again. Being buried might seem intolerable for any shoulders; let alone those children who even do not know how to write a border; no children are born with their boundaries. I wrote that imprisonment is an experience of loss. Every passage through the prison door is an experience of loss. Being sent to jail results in the loss of your loved ones, and it’s during that period that you come to truly appreciate the depth of your love for them. At this moment, you come to realize that spending time with your friends, standing on Bam-e Amir Abad, eating your sandwich in the middle of winter, and gazing at the highway may seem trivial, yet it was both enjoyable and hilarious. At this juncture, you realize that this act of standing has transformed into your distant, sweet dreams. Those who have been released from prison and have returned share the same sentiment, signifying that upon release…

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

…you will once again experience the loss, recognizing how your fellow inmates in the cell were near and dear to you. Otherwise, when you are free outside of the prison and you want to bum a smoke, there are no fellow inmates to tell you, “Wait for me to join you!” On the very first morning upon your release, when there are not forty people around to respond to your “Good morning,” you may feel forlorn. You have lived with these forty people throughout the day, battling the most exhausting issues with the most unbearable individuals. When you are free, you will not spend as much time with people, as you have to go to work and cannot see them throughout the day. A distinct sense of loss arises when you find yourself still confined in prison while other inmates are released, eliciting a range of conflicting emotions. Sometimes, a prisoner is exiled, and you experience a feeling that I call “the shortening of the heavy prison ceiling.” At times, you find yourself within the confines of the prison while someone outside passes away. Even more demanding is discovering that those comrades have crossed borders not native to them, choosing to leave the country.

Losing things that you cannot cope with is noticeably challenging. Even within the confines of prison, one can attain accomplishments. Some of my most profound friendships have been formed behind bars. I am convinced that sharing challenging experiences solidifies profound friendships. Perhaps it’s because most people here haven’t been indifferent toward others, and I believe it’s precisely for this reason that they are present here in the first place. They are like a book, and I wish I could send each of them to you to read. They are like chants. I wish I could send them to you to sing. Getting fresh air in the evening is similar to strolling in a cypress grove. Cedars stand side by side, walking shoulder to shoulder. Here is the image: one cedar is engrossed in a book, while the other is either knitting, crafting leather, or delicately smoothing a piece of wood with sandpaper. Another cedar, adorned with curly leaves and a presence spanning almost six years, shows genuine concern for our modest garden. She harbours no expectations other than nurturing the growth of daffodils. There is another cedar, seventy years old, with the strongest roots and juniper-like leaves. At roughly specific hours, she always appears. While carrying her lush branches in her pockets and smoking, even though she has been here for almost four years and still has another four to go, she seamlessly declares herself a communist whenever faced with new arrivals. Perhaps, she has another starry sky in her eyes apart from this ten-by-twenty of the sky we have above while getting fresh air. In brief, she bears a striking resemblance to the cover of your book.

The birds frequently arriving at this prison often experience foot problems. It might be caused by the barbed wires surrounding the prison. Their chicks sometimes tumble into the prison’s yard, perishing well before two days… 

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

These cedars, however, have steadfastly embraced their social commitments for years on end. In moments of fear, they have consistently pressed forward with unwavering determination. They have extracted life out of each hideous brick of the prison’s walls. Birds boast about their freedom to soar through the skies, while cedars, on the contrary, take pride in their roots and resilience. Another cedar sleeps on the upper bed above mine every night, having not eaten anything for a few days. Each time, instead of saying ‘Goodnight,’ I tell it, ‘my comrade neighbour! Goodbye until tomorrow night,’ and we laugh together, shedding a few tears. Prison is loaded with paradoxical emotions.

Dear Sepideh, you who kindle the red flames of our morning breathe! How even in some hours we transformed into readers of each other’s letters. Deep down, I know that I found the holiness of words in you, well before I knew you were a poet. To be honest, discovering that you’ve endured Tehran’s crowded seven in the morning subway commute to reach work by eight o’clock deepened my feelings for you. Working claims many hours of our time outside the confines of the prison. I did not work many days in my life. Yet, I cannot possess my days here until the evening unfolds its four hours. The discipline of school and university years, followed by the routine of work, has accustomed me to alienate myself from morning until evening, yet I am changing it. I have attempted to paint a picture of life beyond these walls for myself. I finished translating a book and it needs a revision now. I have learned to make leather bags, and I could sell some of them. I teach English, and eventually, I am supposed to learn Arabic. I still do not dare to read those books on the art of fiction writing. I mostly read poems. When the smoking room is empty, I go there and immerse myself in reading poems. When I read out loud, my voice reverberates. Echoing my voice fills me with an overwhelming delight and this is what I do in my me-time. When I was free outside here, I used to go to the cinema, often alone or occasionally with one or two others in the afternoon Showtime. I would either go to the theatre alone or treat myself to the French Confectionery, trying to gradually discover myself. However, once I found the entirety of myself all of a sudden. It was a revolutionary time, and I sensed that I was no longer an alien to myself. In those few moments, I found myself in an ocean of people where I was unable to see the end. These people came to chant their lives. It was only in those few moments that I thought for a while it was over… 

[A female voice message from Evin Prison: This call is from Evin Prison]

I said to myself that I had lived what I desired. It was the last Monday of the month. You are a drop of that ocean, Sepideh! I have written your piece of poem here on this board:

When branches in the weaves of wind

Had lost birds and nest

Tree said to itself

It is only one feather; I wish there was just one feather left…

You are that left feather from any soar, You Sepideh Rashnu! The blaze of the sincere morning.


November 2023, Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison

| One Month; Thirty Milestones One to Seven. Women in Prison of the Body |

Persian Reference: Bidarzani

Author: Mahsa Gholamalizadeh

Translated from Persian into English: Sarvenaz Ahmadi

For publishing in Tanide

|One: What and why|

Violence against Women is one of the most important and common human rights violations in the world; It is something that does not depend on specific time and space coordinates and is happening continuously in different geographies. In 1960, three women’s rights activists were assassinated by order of the dictatorial leader of the Dominican Republic. In later years, women’s rights activists saw that day as the day of raising awareness about violence against women, and finally, in 1999, the United Nations formally declared November 25th the day for the elimination of violence against women. On the occasion of this day, this month is usually known as Orange November; A month in which different countries take different measures to raise awareness about the types of violence against women and ways to end it.

On this occasion, in this month, in thirty notes, we talk about thirty legal milestones that are lying in wait for the violation of women’s rights. Obviously, women’s issues are not limited to these cases, and the causes and factors mentioned in these writings are only narrators of a part of the existing truth. These notes examine the Iranian legal system with a critical approach. In these writings, the main emphasis is on legal gaps and shortcomings. In other words, legal violence in its general sense is criticized; How successful the legislature, as the main custodian of fair and just legislation, has been in fulfilling this mission, and finally how the outcome of this process leads to discrimination and violence against women, is the focal point of these writings.

With this introduction, in the first note, we talk about what violence against women is. The important component in defining violence is the use of force or coercion. It is also important that the impact of the violence is hurtful. In simple terms, any behaviour that is done to someone without their consent and hurts the person in any way is considered violence. Force does not necessarily mean the use of physical force, and it includes both soft and hard types. On the other hand, the damage has different intensities. In short, if an individual or a group or a system completely ignores our consent or imposes something on us, whether directly or indirectly, on a matter related to us, it has committed violence against us.

In the case of women, the violence in question is gender-based; This means that women, just because they are women, are targeted to behaviours that basically ignore them as human beings, and ultimately lead to all kinds of violence, including physical, psychological, emotional, economic, legal, etc. A noteworthy point in this regard is the pervasiveness or non-specificity of violence; In fact, although women are the main victims of gender-based violence, other groups in society, such as men, children, and LGBT people, have not been spared. That is why, in addition to the importance of women’s rights as an independent issue, the impact of this phenomenon on other social issues also encourages us to endeavour to end violence against women.

In a month there is enough time to rethink our beliefs and behaviors. The purpose of writing these notes is to become aware of the truth of the habits and customs that sometimes as a discriminatory law have prevented us from thinking about what they are and why. These short essays are supposed to stimulate the readers’ questioning spirit rather than provide them with detailed and analytical answers.

It is not bad to doubt a little about what we once thought to be the absolute truth!

|Two: Let Me Be a Child!|

My grandmother has always told me that she had not had her period when she got married. She gave birth to her first child on a farm. Her big belly was covered with a scarf and she was harvesting rice and bent down to her waist when she felt it was time. Embarrassed by her body and femininity, she reached a lake without informing others. With a little effort, she pulled the baby out, cleaned the baby’s head and face, crumpled her scarf, and put it in her underwear so that the sinister blood did not dishonour her. She breastfed the baby a little and tied the baby behind her back and returned to work quickly. This baby died after less than a month. My grandmother has been pregnant thirteen times and has nine children. She has always told me with a bitter smile that her stomach has been empty for less than two months every year.

If this narrative had a historical description and belonged to distant periods, it might have been interesting and unputdownable. Understanding where we came from and what strange and seemingly impossible traditions previous generations had could be the story’s fantasy and help us understand history. But this story is a reality in many children’s lives today. News recently reported that in the first six months of this year, child mothers gave birth to nearly 800 children. You may ask, are all these children who have now become mothers dissatisfied with their lives, their spouses, or their children? Or you may simply say with a grin that I swear to God that our grandmothers were happier and luckier than us. This actually warns us and shows us that important issues aren’t taken seriously enough and the depth of the catastrophe is hidden from the eyes of the citizens of a country.

Child marriage means the marriage of people under the age of 18, which is a glaring violation of human rights. The most important reason for opposing this phenomenon is the deprivation of childhood as the most basic stage of people’s lives for individual and social growth and development. The insistence of our legal system to not explicitly determine the age of childhood has led to irreparable consequences in various fields. The fact that a child can marry at a certain age but is not qualified to vote, or that his or her consent to sexual intercourse at a certain age is considered valid but at the same age does not have the right to file a complaint, indicates legal confusion and a lack of a single standard for defining childhood. In fact, we are faced with a system that doesn’t take care of the best interests of the children and raises and lowers the age of childhood whenever it pleases and benefits others.

Although child marriage is not specific to girls, the effects of this phenomenon on girls are much greater and deeper. Early pregnancy can endanger their physical health and even cause their death. On the other hand, immature bodies and a lack of health standards impose displeasing experiences on them, such as miscarriage. Also, girls who become so-called brides lose their child-friendly groups as well as their opportunity to go to school; In other words, they are excluded from the society in which they grow and learn. The isolation of girls, on the one hand, and the lack of an adequate legal mechanism, on the other, lead to an increase in domestic violence, a kind of violence that usually goes unnoticed, and family or the legal system does not support reporting it. In fact, these girls have witnessed all kinds of violence including physical, sexual, psychological, and economic violence since their early childhood, each of which alone can lead an adult to paths such as suicide, addiction, or running away, let alone children who are more sensitive and in special conditions and therefore less resilient to such consequences.

Poverty is also one of the factors influencing this phenomenon. Due to difficult economic and living conditions, families decide to arrange a marriage for one of the children as soon as possible, who is usually the daughter of the family and is not as economically productive as she should be. On the other hand, middle-aged men, have economic welfare goals and are strongly motivated by them. In fact, in addition to their sexual goals, they are concerned about their aging so they prefer a young and mature woman who can take care of them for free and permanently. In this regard, the most important reason for the increase in the marriage rate of girls under 13 years, according to many, has been the increase in the rate of marriage accommodations; A decision that, like many others, was made without paying attention to children and women and structural problems and legal shortcomings.

Recognition of childhood and the protection of children by fundamental international documents such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women are unquestionable duties of a political system. Childhood is not a time of transition. Children are not miniature adults. Childhood itself is important and an indisputable right of human beings.

Let our girls and boys be children!

|Three: Motherhood is a choice! |

One of our relatives used to say that when her pregnancy test was positive for the first time, she cried for hours because of this unwanted event. While living a happy life with her husband and they were both trying to achieve their personal goals and feeling successful and happy, she was shocked and saddened by this sudden incident. They both knew how much they did not want this child and they had talked about it many times. They believed that being unwanted is really painful in this world, and on the other hand, they did not see themselves as ready to accept the extremely difficult role of parenting. She had a huge lump in her throat as she told me that the situation became more difficult for her when the gynecologist told them that their situation was ideal and allowed herself, not only to persuade them to keep the child but also to make them understand that they had no choice but to bear the child. The woman knew that she did not want the child and was not ready to become a mother at all, but she seemed to be blamed by the whole world. You are afraid to share this pain with anyone. She was not sure if she could find a safe and healthy way to have an abortion. Simply put, she could not decide for her body. As the undisputed owner of her body, she could not decide about her own personal life without worrying, remorse, and fear of punishment. Apparently, she has to answer to everyone, from her parents to the law and its executors, and everyone would call her selfish and guilty forever.

The criminalization of abortion in the Islamic Penal Code, on the one hand, and the widespread ideological propaganda for the sanctity of motherhood and population growth, on the other hand, show the exploitation of women and the female body by the legal system. In fact, it seems that this system perceives no other function for the female body than carrying the next generation. Absolute prohibition of abortion is considered a type of human rights violation in human rights documents. This issue is directly related to the right to the body, or in other words, the autonomy of individuals. In the sense that the sole decision-maker for a body is the owner of that body, not those around it, laws, or familial-social customs. On the other hand, this issue is also related to the right to privacy. The decision to become a parent is a matter of consensus and privacy between couples, and external interference by power institutions in this matter is considered a violation of individuals’ privacy.

Ignoring the importance of this issue has irreparable social consequences. Trying to achieve social goals such as increasing the population and preventing its aging by making mandatory and grammatical statements at first is a violation of the inalienable individual rights of citizens at the expense of ideologies approved by the political system and then it makes the citizens to choose illegal ways of abortion and ultimately leads to the criminalization of a large part of society. This issue is directly related to the health and lives of people. Lack of access to safe and healthy ways to end unwanted pregnancies is ignoring the citizens’ right to health, the right that the government is responsible for providing and protecting. In fact, eliminating legal ways does not necessarily lead to the elimination of the phenomenon, but rather leads to the emergence of illegal ways that usually do not have a happy ending for individuals who choose them.

On the other hand, the lack of an appropriate environment for childbearing in society and the lack of efforts by government institutions to improve economic, social, and cultural conditions, play an important role in the reluctance of women and families to become pregnant. Coercion and criminalization of the opposition, regardless of the prevailing conditions and ignoring the inalienable rights of individuals, are nothing but acts of egregious violence against women!

|Four: Compulsory hijab; Purification of society or humiliation of women?|

Court guards have sharp eyes; like a super professional device, they see everything in a fraction of a second. There is not a total of three steps between pulling back the curtain of the first door and reaching the second. In the bustling courts, one wonders who is watching me. Here the voice of the guards answers the question. Either they say pull your scarf forward, or fasten the buttons of your manteau, or why don’t you cover your ankles and other reactions like these! The trial may start at any time. You have not slept the night because of the anxiety of this day and now you have to answer such meaningless questions! Most of the time they leave you alone if you just say ok, sir. But we have seen times when they do not allow you to pass the door until you cover your body in a way they desire.

These few lines are just a small part of the daily humiliation of women in one of the official offices of this country, no matter it is early in the morning, or it is evening time, their honorable occupation is full-time, no matter you are in Vanak Square or Enghelab Street, or University Education Office or a language class, no matter you are a lawyer or a student, old or young, married or single, walking alone or with family members, no matter you have the most tired and colorless face possible or too much makeup on your face!

They always find a reason to ruin your moments and do not need any criteria to disturb your body and mind.

The issue of hijab has two dimensions, or I better say two levels. At the first level, it is said that the compulsory hijab is basically one of the manifestations of human rights violations. In the modern world after many years of attempts of legal systems to reach a point where individual freedoms and human rights are obvious and agreed upon by the international community, the choice between wearing or not wearing and in the next stage choosing the type of wearing is one of the basic and fundamental rights of individuals. Thus, the basis of such a law is discriminatory, contrary to human rights, and invalid and illegitimate from the perspective of women’s rights activists.

But simplistically, at the next level, if we do not consider the basis of this unjust law and consider “not wearing hijab” as a simple crime in the Iranian legal system, the situation will not be better. According to the legal community and many officials, what is going on in society and what women face is utterly contrary to existing laws. Note to Article 638 of the Islamic Penal Code criminalizes presence in public places without a canonical hijab. The punishment for this crime is ten days to two months in prison or being flogged up to 74 times.

First, the hijab is not skeptical or spectral in jurisprudential texts; In simpler terms, it is either a hijab or not. What is considered a crime in the article is the presence of a hijab. Therefore, according to this article, punishing what they call bad hijab has no legal validity. On the other hand, the punishment for this crime is under the criminal law of the 8th-degree punishment, and under the law of criminal procedure, the investigation of the 7th and 8th-degree crimes is done in the courts. Simply put, the issuance of criminal verdicts by the Ershad (Guidance) Court, known as the Vozara Court on Ghaem Magham Street in Tehran, has no legal validity at all. In fact, if judicial officers arrest a woman for not wearing a headscarf in public, the Ershad Court should immediately send the case to a competent criminal court by issuing an incompetence order, rather than investigating and issuing a criminal order.

Also, how women are arrested by the Guidance Patrols (Gashte Ershad) is basically against the law. For years, the world has concluded that no one can be arrested without a court order and process of law. The harsh, illegal, and inhuman acts of Ershad officers towards women are incompatible with any human rights logic and illegal and contrary to the fundamental rights of individuals, by the laws enacted and enforced by the Iranian legal system. Article 32 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic explicitly confirms this.

In addition to physical abuse and public defamation of women, other reactions are also rejected from the perspective of criminal law. For example, sending text messages about not wearing a hijab in a car, no matter what reason or logic behind it, has no legal justification in the Iranian legal system. In short, we should say that, first of all, inside the car, it is not a public space and it is a kind of private place. Therefore, it is basically impossible that the crime of not wearing a hijab occurs in a car, according to the article we mentioned. Assuming that this crime can occur in a personal vehicle, proving the occurrence of the crime requires evidence. We have recently seen that text messages were sent randomly and not based on the recordings of the cameras, and the plaintiffs had no evidence to prove the occurrence of the crime. On the other hand, the moral security police do not have the authority to cite the accused. According to the explicit text of the law, only the prosecutor or the court can cite the accused. This act is also in clear opposition to the principle of Individual Criminal Responsibility, a principle accepted in all legal systems of the world. This means that a text message is sent to the owner of the car, while in many cases the owners themselves did not commit the so-called crime. In addition, sending a second text message for the confiscation of the car is strange, surprising, and contrary to criminal procedure principles. How is it possible that an institution that has no jurisdiction to inquire into this crime, cite a person other than the accused person without any specific evidence and impose a punishment such as confiscating the car after ten days without holding any trial and not during legal procedures?

Accordingly, we can say that the hijab is more of a security issue than a religious issue, and the desperate efforts of all these years to impose the hijab on women have been for sabre-rattling and showing political and ideological power. In fact, those in charge of deepening the culture of hijab seek to humiliate women in general and continue to oppress them. According to them, the hijab is the first fortress that, if it fails, will inevitably lead to other problems. Therefore most of the time we are confronted with really different acts and the severity of them changes periodically. In fact, the essence of what we are facing is completely violent and against women, and because of the invalidity of the principle of the legality of crime and punishment and the prevalence of extra-legal institutions, incompetent authorities, and unjustified instructions show themselves more than ever.

|Five: I am the only owner of my body! |

This sentence is very common in the world of Iranian law, both among professors and academics and among judges and lawyers;

“A woman’s body is inherently stimulating.”

When I hear this sentence, I always think of the moments when my body is in the unsexiest state possible. I mean, at least in those moments I’m personally determined to experience living in this world regardless of gender or sexual stimulants. For example, the times when I walk in the streets while I’m telling stories in my head and I don’t want to pay attention to anything and anyone in this world except what is going on inside me or, for example, when I feel a desire to ride a bike, I don’t want the world to pay even the slightest attention to my body, and I sincerely want the whole world to ignore me and leave me alone. Or when I start my so-called preaching and talk about everything with my audience and tell them about my wishes, what I have learned, and what I know, I indeed expect my words to be seen and chewed instead of my body. This is when I think to myself, what role does this repetitive sentence play and where does it come from?

The answer is clear; The origin of such a sentence and idea is the ever-burning patriarchy. Patriarchal thoughts want to continue oppressing women by confining women in the prison of sex and erotic experiences.

Look! It uses the term “inherently”. By saying this, it relieves itself and us that the will of a woman does not matter, she does not have control over it, and this body, whether she wants it or not, will stimulate us. What’s the solution? to make her cover her body as we say, make her speak as we say, and behave so that this stimulation reaches the lowest level, and she is safe from our bites and injuries.

Ownership of the body means having the power and will to decide for the body without fear of violence or away from other domination, which is an inalienable right of all human beings. Laws and customs such as genital mutilation, lack of access and the right to use contraceptive methods, virginity testing, not having the right to abortion, and compulsory hijab all directly question the right to the body. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), half of the world’s women do not have the power to decide on their bodies! For example, in 20 countries, women are forced to marry their rapists, and in 43 countries, marital rape is not criminalized.

Our body has countless other functions besides sex, regardless of its structure and sexual orientation. Sex is just one of the capabilities of this body. Every person has complete and absolute ownership of his/her body. The use of the sexual aspect of the body is solely at the disposal of the owner of that body. Reducing and restricting the female body to the world of sex and sexual pleasures, in a way, signifies the female body slavery. In this process, like a free street show, women’s bodies are constantly judged, admired, or blamed by others. It is as if a woman unwittingly carries her body and invites others to this imposed theatre.

In this process, the beauty industry encourages and even obligates the pursuit of fixed patterns of beauty. Therefore, women are caught in a forced competition to become sexier. The dominance of the body as a violation of the autonomy of individuals, like other forms of violence, also affects men and LGBTQI+ people. The dictated criteria of beauty and the concentration of thoughts on the sexual and sexy dimension of the human body involve everyone in an erosive process, and in this process, everyone is a victim.

A woman’s body seems to be criminal and evil no matter what she wants or does. The physical experience of women in the world is strongly denied or blamed. For example, we can mention the shame of puberty and menstruation in women, the bulges of our breasts and the blood that naturally comes out of our bodies every month should always be kept private. Many girls deliberately hunch in puberty so that no one can see the bulges.

Or who can say that the experience of buying menstrual pads was not accompanied by embarrassment and facial flushing for her and that she did not end up carrying them as a forbidden cargo in a black bag on the way home? Or we all have probably heard that the presence of menstruating women in mosques and holy places is rejected and forbidden! Or many women must ask for permission from their husbands to take birth control pills and find it difficult to imagine forcing them to use condoms without seeing a violent response. All of this shows how far human societies, especially traditional and religious systems such as Iran, are from respecting the ownership of the body as a fundamental right of a citizen.

Possessing a woman’s body and focusing on the sexual and sexy dimension of her body is nothing but a violation of her rights and the continuation of slavery and submission of her thoughts. Let’s respect people’s ownership of their bodies and not collaborate with the domination system by submitting to patriarchal and heteronormative beliefs!

|Six: Women Against Femininity|

I dare say that one of the bitterest narratives of violence against women, which recently made headlines in the media, was the horrific story that Sepideh Gholiyan told from the women’s ward of Bushehr Prison. These stories are just one aspect of the tragedy that is happening in women’s prisons. According to Sepideh Gholiyan, a prison is a place near the end of the world for women. Violence in prisons is egregious, and every voice and protest is suffocated with more violence. In my brother’s words, who is a prison soldier, it is as if “there is no God in prison!”

But why? Why do accused, convicted, and imprisoned women experience more violence than men?

Femininity has long been associated with attributes such as innocence, gentleness, softness, and being oppressed. In fact, a good woman is a woman who does not commit a sin or crime, does not do violent and hard tasks, and always is submissive in front of an oppressor. Dividing traits and behavioural patterns based on gender is the same stereotyping process.

Among these, sex, addiction, and crime stereotypes are very important and significant. Simply put, these clichés see the realm of sex, addiction, and crime as masculine realms. In other words, sex and free sex, addiction to drugs and alcohol, or committing all kinds of crimes by men are accepted. Acceptance here does not mean that these acts are unpunished. In fact, such men do not face a value judgment in this society. It means that these behaviours do not question the masculinity of these men. However, as soon as women enter these realms, their feminine dignity and prestige are damaged. Women who seek multiple sexual relationships, women who use drugs, and women who commit crimes are worthless women who are not only deserving of punishment but also deserving of blame and deserving of exclusion from human society.

Feminist criminologists believe that delinquent women suffer twice as much social pressure as delinquent men because women have not only violated social laws by committing a crime but have fundamentally disregarded the rules of nature, rules based on the innocence of women. In fact, guilty women are not just people who have committed a crime and should be punished! In addition to being criminal citizens, these women are corrupt mothers, rebellious wives, and disobedient daughters. Therefore, it is appropriate to exclude them from all human groups, and what Sepideh Gholiyan clearly said about the prisoners’ relationship with their families confirms this.

We women are subjected to all kinds of violence just because we are women! Imagine how much we would be victims of violence if we went a little out of this narrow framework of masculine values and became addicted or committed a crime!

Addiction is not a crime; having multiple sexual relationships is a consequence of the right to own your body, and committing a crime has a heavy price called criminal punishment in law. Therefore, none of these three groups deserves double oppression. These people have human rights and dignity, and the violation of these rights is the same as violence. Addicts and criminals, both men and women, have human rights. The cycle of violence will not stop as long as we are not sensitive to violence against human beings and the violation of their human dignity and recognize them as worthy of violence simply because of their actions!

Let’s read what Sepideh has narrated and imagine only one moment of what is happening to the prisoners. No human being deserves these acts and this amount of violence.

|Seven: Together with LGBTQI+ people |

When Ali Fazeli Monfared’s brothers slaughtered him, I remember how sickly I started reading the comments below the news and was shocked by the amount of violence in the words and beliefs of the people. Many people said that if their brother or child were like Ali, they would use more violence. A 20-year-old boy is brutally murdered by his family, and the audience of this news, instead of expressing hatred for the killers and the reason for the murder, thinks that the victim deserves worse than death.

Ali’s assassination was described as an honour killing in many media outlets, raising concerns among human rights activists as well as the LGBTQI+ community. We may ask ourselves what is the difference between Romina’s murder and Ali’s murder? How did they both become known as honour killings? Was not honour equal to the women of a family and a society?

The answer is that there is no difference between the two murders; Both are rooted in the controlling patriarchal system. Masculinity has a deep connection with the truth of heteronormativity in the world. Such a belief sees the identity, sexual orientation, and relationships of human beings as confined to a fixed model. As usual, it equates this belief with human nature and the only truth of history. As a result, it considers any person who is or goes beyond this natural framework to be curable, otherwise, the person deserves death and non-existence. Since honour is the honour of a patriarchal system, anyone who can dishonour it even a little bit is doomed to decay. Thus, a homosexual man or woman is simply killed as easily as possible just because he or she is different from the dominant system.

At this point, however, what can stand to some extent against such heinous beliefs is the law and the legal system. According to human rights documents, all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have obvious rights, including the right to life and survival. As a consequence of international law, governments must enact and pass laws that not only do not violate human rights but also go beyond and punish those who violate human rights. In Iran, however, their laws not only lead to violence but also are basically one of the strongest roots of attacks on LGBTQI+ people.

Article 237 of the Islamic Penal Code explicitly criminalizes homosexuality and its punishment is flogging. This punishment also applies to behaviors such as touching and kissing. But in the case of sexual intercourse between two men, the person who did the intercourse will be flogged 100 times and the other will be executed, and in the case of sexual intercourse between two women, both will be flogged 100 times.

It is traditional and far-fetched to divide the sexual identity of human beings into men and women. People have different sexual orientations as well as different gender identities. Contrary to popular belief, these issues are not necessarily coerced; This means that some people, for whatever reason, completely freely and independently of hormonal restrictions, decide to choose their gender identity. The intention of this group of people may be fighting against common stereotypes or any other motive. What is important is recognizing the rights of individuals and respecting differences. This is what is expected in the first place from the laws of a civilized country and in the next step from the citizens of that country.

If we open our arms a little to accept different people, we will experience a more beautiful and safer world, both ourselves and others. Until the day when our law welcomes the obvious rights of individuals, we, as libertarians and egalitarians, will overthrow the extensive dictatorships in our homes!

Introduction: This is the narrative of a Trans* person anonymously called Gandom, whose story was first published on the HarassWatch platform during the first months of the Woman, Life, Freedom movement. It is a fierce and personal yet political narrative showing how a Trans* body is always a political body in Iran due to numerous forms of suppression and limitations. Furthermore, it illustrates how such politicization is the engine for protest in a movement that has never finished. Gandom declares, “No matter how long it takes, we will not rest, and we will find various ways to protest. Woman, Life, Freedom.”


I immediately ran out of my house when I noticed people walking toward Freedom Street. As a Trans* person who has undergone surgery, I might have had more motivation than many other Iranian people to participate in the glorious “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement; but no, the concerns of cisgendered people are as important to me as they are to them. In Freedom Square, the barbaric members of the suppressive forces targeted me and other girls who had gathered there, hitting us with rubber bullets and paintballs. Even after we ran, they continued shooting and shooting, and I could feel the pain of the bullets on me, which was even more painful in the cold weather. Stumbling and crying, I approached a car waiting at a red light. I told the four women inside, “I’ve been shot. Can I get in?” They quickly opened the door, and I got in the car. My head was bleeding, so they put a bandage on it, and they gave me water and chocolate.

Like me, these women had left their houses to come to Freedom Square. Through tears, I told them I would not come out to protest again. While this was not the first time I had been shot at with paintballs, I had only been hit by one the previous time, and I just ran away after it struck my neck. This time, it was a continuous shooting that lasted for several minutes. While I was running away, they kept shooting and shooting, but the blows became less intense on my body as I got further away from the shooting area. I had bodily pain, but I experienced mental pain as well when I thought about how it could even be possible for these creatures to be so wild and barbaric. It is also so painful to see humans hitting innocent people in cold blood. The whole world gets dark, and you wonder—can the people around me become such monsters, too?

During the times that I participated in protests and demonstrations, I witnessed brutal and barbaric scenes of violence by the suppressive forces. I could not believe my eyes; I was heartbroken and wanted to ask them, “But how? What is going on in your head? Aren’t these people your countrymen? What do they want that you are hitting them with such brutality?”
I cried for a few minutes and told myself I would not go out again. But immediately after these minutes, I told myself, “I sacrifice myself for my dear Jina, my dear Nika, my dear Sarina, and boys and girls whose faces are inscribed on my memory.” The physical pain continued, but the mental pain was alleviated a bit by thinking that, when there are people who have paid such big prices, getting hit by some paintballs is embarrassing to compare it to. I decided to come again and will do whatever I can.

It has been [more than] 40 years that the people of Iran have lived through darkness under a ruling system with an anti-human ideology. Shervin Hajipour’s song “Baraye” could represent our tongues well when words fall short of describing the pain. We are tired of temporary hopes and of choosing between bad and worse. As a trans person, all of the problems that non-trans people struggle with apply to me as well—on top of the problems that society brings to me as a trans person. From general problems, such as the economic crisis and our dark future, to the morality police, who mistreat you while arresting you and taking you to a van, and the university guards who look at you like a criminal, tighten your scarf, and nag you about your so-called improper hijab. This country differs in every aspect from the rest of the world and wants to impose a certain way of life on you every day.

The system sees women as the main source of sin. It orders them to stay home and puts thousands of barriers in theirpath in case they want to take a route other than giving birth or being in the kitchen. This ruling system is worse than the common dictator, who is a dictator only in the political participation sector and does not poke his nose into every aspect of your life—from the songs you listen to and the party you attend to the dress you wear—to impose a certain way of living.

But these are general problems shared by everyone. The problems of being trans are added on top of these problems. This is a system that agrees only with a strict binary of woman and man, and anyone who does not fully fit into such binary is considered a criminal and the embodiment of evil. Maybe it was my own choice to align with the woman side of this binary, but I know many trans folks who are not like this. While I experienced such pressures while pursuing surgery, they will struggle with the public sphere, the regime, the law, and other social activities their whole lives: from the minute they leave their houses, they will shake at the sight of every policeman, and when they enter a governmental office or go to a university or hospital. Some people say that the Islamic Republic is doing us a favor by allowing us to get a license to undergo surgery. Apparently, the Islamic Republic has limited our perspective. If a democratic state was in place instead of the Islamic republic, surgery would not be the only way for trans people, and it would not be restricted, so a license would no longer be considered a “favor.”

As a trans person, my childhood, teenage, and young adult years were burned by the Islamic Republic. Spending my childhood in boy’s schools without consulting help was strange and hard. I was all alone. During my teenage years, there was no one to help me, and I constantly fought with my family. I went through the maze of obtaining a surgery license in streets, offices, and corridors that would suffocate me. At the age of 30, my fatigue is like that of a 60-year-old. Maybe all of these pains have accumulated and are now transforming into protests.

Of course, this is the path I have walked. I know many who, from the beginning, were constantly struggling with family and had to flee from home; in the absence of consulting and legal help, they became involuntary sex workers, and they were subjected to mental and physical violence. Humans naturally have two types of support around them: family and the law. However, trans* and other LGBTQ individuals are deprived of the first support due to common rules and traditional beliefs. Meanwhile, the second does not exist under the Islamic republic, where the law is the main danger source. Amid such chaos, yes, in the middle of the Middle East, there is a movement taking shape with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”—a civil and very progressive slogan, and a slogan that I am proud of. We are destined to win; there is no other way. No matter how long it takes, we will not rest and will find various ways to protest. Woman, Life, Freedom.

Published by HarassWatch

Translated into English by Tanide


Writing about Painting, Prison, and Lived Experience

Nazanin Mohammadnejad, an independent leftist activist and feminist, answered these questions in a conversation with Tanideh: Where did the idea of your paintings come to your mind, and what is the relationship between paintings, memories, places, and feelings in prison and outside of it?

Tanide’s Introduction⸻ The idea and experience of “being” in places are different from each other. It is possible to imagine a “place” without being present; conversely, one can be in a “place” whose image and objectivity are not identified. A constellation of senses, emotions, experiences, and even previous narratives of a place always create existing and subsequent images. Our subject-bodies are moved from one place to another by images and people’s narrations. Within this circulation and displacement, something of the kind of non-lived experience, but felt experience, is constructed. It is as if our feelings, which are immaterial and not visible, attach to the materiality of a place or transform from what we had mistakenly felt before. Through this combination of immaterial emotions, images, and narratives, one can move to a place like a prison and imagine its atmosphere. An “experienced” place for some people, and an “imagined” place for others. Probably the first images for those who have not experienced it should be something like this: A place surrounded by chains and fences… with iron doors… and high cold walls. A scary and complicated space with a feeling of constant anxiety and fragility. Later, while those images occupy one’s mind, other questions arise. For example, you might ask about the quality of the experience of being confined in a certain space for different people. How do they turn a day into a night? How do they separate work hours and leisure, or time at all? Or whether this separation is all about labour as defined by the neo-liberal marketplaces outside the prison? How does it feel to be trapped and incarcerated in a place for a long time? How do you feel this time is passing? The answer to these questions will be possible only through imagining and then through conversations with those who have experienced it. One has to be either in a place and experience it or have heard the experiences of “others.” 

​Encountering the prisoners’ artwork, recorded memories or narratives can bring the atmosphere and feelings experienced in prison from unconsciousness to language and significance. The works resulting from these conditions knot the body of the imprisoned person to what she has seen and/or felt and then to the imagination of her audience. With this in mind, Tanide interviewed Nazanin Mohammad -Neghad about her paintings, released on her personal Instagram page. These paintings opened the conversation, which are Nazanin’s experience from the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison between January 2021 and February 2022. Nazanin is a women’s rights activist. At the age of 19, she migrated from the south of Iran to Tehran to continue her education, which is when she got to know feminist groups and leftist activists. She studied social sciences at Tehran University. In 2019, Nazanin was detained for two months due to her activities in the field of women’s rights, and she was then imprisoned in the Women’s Ward between January 2021 and February 2022. The paintings are the result of her imprisonment and are unique in terms of their special relationship with the environment, other prisoners, the prison itself, and time. In them, there is a loud silence and a kind of heavy lightness. A contradiction woven into the texture of simple forms but strongly affected by the space draws the audience’s gaze outside the frame of the paintings. Dense emotions go beyond the image and throw one into the experience of Nazanin and others from prison. The entanglement of anxiety, resilience, hope/despair, small and momentary joys, silence and isolation simultaneously create a unique atmosphere yet one that is heavy and dull. Nazanin first published the paintings on her Instagram page. We asked her to tell us about the initial ideas of these paintings, sharing her experiences about time and place in the jail with us.

Following you will read Nazanin’s answer to one of the long interview questions, the full version of which will also be available on Tanide’s website in the future.

​Nazanin Mohammad Neghad⸻ No matter how hard you have striven to gain knowledge about prison or imagine it, you will eventually conclude that most of the things you have seen and understood have been new and unpredictable. You asked me where the idea of prison paintings came from. I would say that female prisoners have been creating artworks and doing sports activities in a form of tradition over the years of their imprisonments in the Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward, to overcome their challenges and for the sake of their sanity. I was sent to Evin Prison’s Women’s Ward at beginning of winter 2021. Upon that entry, I saw many women knitting colourful yarn to make clothes for their loved ones. It simply seemed sheer beauty to me. They were creating something out of their incarceration that might be inherited from other female inmates’ generations. Those generations had understood how to tackle their lives in jail, yet be survived and also be alive. They used to teach each other how to knit different patterns. It also happened that they were knitting while listening to the news outside. There were those fabulous frames of life in prison. Should you look at this frame from afar, you will see how spectacular the scene is. Well! You say “yes” to life, and this is an affirmative way of living.

​Knitting was the first artistic activity I learned in prison. I made relentless efforts to learn it and even turn it into permanent entertainment. And eventually, I gave up on crafts, realizing that I love watching them more than doing them. I was seeking an artistic activity that I could relate to more. Other handicrafts such as mosaic, rug and carpet weaving, and leather embroidery were among the popular activities of the Women’s Ward, which did not attract my attention. Prisoners would make creative artwork with these activities. However, I would like to point out that there was usually a direct relationship between the creativity of the works and the cost of their production. The wealthier prisoners are, the more they were able to produce. After all, prison is part of a bigger society where class issues exist. Among the artistic activities that existed in prison, painting and drawing were not of the prisoner’s interest. But, between two women who were in charge of handicrafts, one had some experience in drawing. Once I learned she knew how to draw, I proposed that she teach us it. She delightfully accepted, and thus, we start drawing with charcoal. Of course, there was already a carpet design class, but few people participated in it. The drawing class with charcoal continued for several sessions and three prisoners, including me, participated until it was stopped when COVID-19 hit the prison again. It didn’t continue since we lost our appetite for it after that.

You are a real person, I painted you in the prison yard. I was at your proximate distance and drew your sketch while you were in a world of your own. I don’t like to reveal your real name. I am now sure that you were each of us when, without any intention, we took refuge in a secluded corner, which was difficult to find. I saw myself in you when you took pills to escape reality and slipped down the ladder and burst out laughing; and now, I see myself in you more than ever. When you had the anxiety of not being liked and being forgotten and you heard completely reasonable answers from us, I saw the cause of my anxiety in your face, and I removed it from my face to know myself in another way; and about that night when under the light of the moon, in a confused and drunken state, you insisted on telling the story of your sleeping from the time before marriage, and we were struggling to make you remain silent because of your serious mental and physical condition. Did your desire to tell that story have anything to do with the time you showed your roommates a family photo and one of us pointed at your husband’s picture and asked, “Is that your father?” And you said with a thin and conciliatory bitterness, no, this is my husband, and later you reminded us of the dull memory of that mistake with indifference. Maybe the difference between you and me was that you didn’t want to dig an inner cave towards other caves from your circumstances and you only desired to talk more about your situation in that spot. My heart becomes heavy, and my pulse beats faster, when I feel that a person whose feelings are moved significantly within a certain place and in the light of the passage of time will never forget the magical memory of that place. It is bizarre, isn’t it? That despite emotional and physical intimacy in prison, the individual anxieties of a person, there, as a volcano erupts, from the depths toward visible edges; and now other faces, like yours, can fit in the width of my empty head.

I didn’t intend to learn technical drawing. I simply did not have any motivation, and to be honest, I did not have enough confidence in doing it. I wouldn’t draw that much so I did not have experience.  I rather desired to work solely. I was also looking for a way to overcome my inevitable introversion in prison. Those dull evenings in addition to my strong desire for writing history, narrating and recording everyday life — which were the underlying reason why I didn’t like other artistic activities — encouraged me to follow drawing in my own style. To borrow my sister’s description, I should say my drawings are primitive and deformed. Yet, each one of them is a combination of my ability level in design, the personal world from which I was looking outside, and the information I had about my subjects in advance. Sometimes, these three features could be found in my paintings. I was not supposed to be a professional painter. But, I just wanted to illustrate the emotions circulated among us. My interest in this style of drawing derived from documenting the personal small world that I was living in. It was a world where narrating and disseminating your real thoughts and moods were already prohibited. It was also a place in which protecting my diary from those monitoring it was obsessive and grueling. These paintings were the result of a subtle personal struggle to show that I can go beyond the limits of my existing abilities even in such a complicated situation. A long time later, when all the pages of my small design notebook were scribbled, I felt that once a person is deprived of their personal phone, even in the global information era, they can record their times and places with the simplest tools as it is a need. These recordings might seem primitive, but still, they could respond to my needs. This need was the personal beginning of the process of my imprisonment, and I conceived it intuitively. Later, I changed those thoughts, effects, and motivations into words.

​There is a door in the middle of a wall which is approximately one meter and a half above the floor. This door belongs to the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison; a door which is never opened. Inmates use the windowsill to dry green paper and vegetables in the summertime as depicted in the painting. The scorching hot summer sun always blazes down on this side. Prisoners often take their chairs, sitting next to this direct sunshine and absorbing its vitamins into their bodies.
Despite this effective background, my paintings were subjectively drawn in such mundane and tedious ambiance. For me, this work was the product of being drawn into silence and introspection, which was created by the environmental and public pressures of the prison and the frequent wear and tear of the mind of a seeker of solitude on the reality of collective life (which was sometimes desirable and attractive). The atmosphere of life in prison is very tight and dense. One of the resistances is to discover its less imposing or non-imposing layers and make a cocoon around yourself and plant the seed of meaning. Maybe later outside the prison, they will carry greater meanings. Maybe even these new meanings will become a part of your life history, keeping your life outside the prison connected to the starting time and place by continuing to do that work. But pulling a cocoon around yourself and engaging in individual work or producing personal meaning in prison, where collectivism prevails, is not an easy task. Individual activities such as drawing and painting are both the product of loneliness and strengthen it. Maybe that’s why my drawings unconsciously absorbed subjects in such situations. They are the selective reflection of prison, and therefore, they are incomplete to describe the prison’s entire ambiance. Yet, these paintings are one aspect of real life in prison.

​Life in prison is more primitive than that of the outside world. Everything seems more precarious and dangerous. Every tool and device that a prisoner has can make her calmer, and losing it causes a lot of anxiety and confusion. Compared to life outside prison, prisoners have a more urgent relationship with things. Therefore, the objects inside the prison reflect the mood and the ambiance of the prison. There is a certain longing in them that belongs to the prisoner, or there is a real power in them with which the prisoner adjusts her daily activities. Among my drawings, those that portray people’s inward feelings and states are simpler than those images depicting people in relation to objects. This is one of the key aspects of daily life in prison. The prisoners’ competition, while being friends with each other, over the acquisition of more things — facilities and services — is an integral part of every prisoner’s life. This competition can be transparently seen in their relations. For example, when meat, as a good source of protein, is being distributed on their plates, you will see how they compete with each other to possess as much as possible. Another example is when they lodge a complaint against each other for getting fresh air, which is a fixed time given to the prisoners with an array of activities to do. These are examples of the relationship between objects and people in prison, which can reflect the life of prisoners in the form of drawings or paintings. My drawings of doors, walls, and bricks reflect an atmosphere of confinement and captivity, which the prisoner is shocked by every now and then.

We can talk about the relationship between paintings/drawings, memories of places, prisons’ particular temporalities, feelings, and prison for a decade or so. I will talk about how I perceive it now. We do not experience prisons every day in the cities. A prison is a specific place. The combination of the feeling of being oppressed, deprived of many rights, and simultaneously, making new friendships, along with the fact that the prisoners personally consider it a temporary experience, make them want to have mementos from this special experience. Once the prisoner is released, the incarceration experience is literally over. However, there is something like a hammer hitting your head and reminding you that this experience was far stronger than other social experiences. The prisoner has long been living her imprisonment, striving to meet her desire and address her issues. This means that she has been constantly relating to her surrounding environment so that she could find a way to survive. The psychological and personal effects of imprisonment do not disappear once the prisoner is released. They linger in the person’s mind, and she knows that she no longer has access to those experiences to readdress those memories etched on her mind. When those experiences are not accessible anymore, the person has to embody them in a way. She has to revive and animate them. We, as prisoners, are aware that our imprisonment would finish, yet its pieces of memory, our relationships with that place, and those affects would not. They will remain in a cycle of oppression and deprivation. We know this matter in prison, so we try to have a memento for the release time. These are precious mementos that we care about, and we want to collect and pass them on to others.

​When we are released and time gradually passes, you can see the trace of time in our cumulative experiences. This is a state that we have a sense of while we are spending our incarceration, yet there is no response to how we cannot accumulate them, avoid transforming them into pieces of memory, or stop pondering about the cycle of oppression and deprivation of those people you have left in prison. It takes time for these experiences to become normal so that, like our other social experiences, they lose their significance over time in relation to newer experiences. I believe that it will not happen soon, as there is no experience with the same weight that “imprisonment” has in our daily lives. That is why the memory of prison will be etched on our minds forever and become something unique, abstract, and even sacred. But the more we tend towards this sacredness and/or abstract state in expressing these experiences, the more we stop recognizing its reality. This is a matter of misrepresentation, especially in social media. It can be seen as such in those media representations of prisoners and what happens inside the prison that emphasizes the reflection of individual or collective models of resistance or friendship, which are romanticized to a large extent and ignore other forms of resistance. I would love to end this interview with this: each prisoner has her own memory and memento from prison and my drawings are a part of those pieces of memory and memento. I hope that I could answer your question.

​A lot of real movies are broadcast in the prison. Prison guards and inmates are accomplished, inexhaustible, and talented actors in these movies. The ending scene of each movie is similar to those scenes where boxers come back from the court. They come back exhausted of each other or collectively from dealing with “Other ones.” They see around in the room, turning on the DVD player every day, week, and month. They sit at a table and watch the same movie year in and year out.  

Nazanin Mohammadnejad
Drawing No. 1: I love you. I know you are still sitting here, In front of the monitor. And me, I am far away from you. I love you I love you You won't be free very soon, so I would like to say give her several balls؛ She likes playing with balls.
Drawing No. 2
Drawing No. 3
Drawing No. 4:Drawing No. 4 Prison's High Wall 
Drawing No. 5 This is Evin’s Women’s Ward’s yar
Drawing No. 7: Thinking of her daughter #ثمین_احسانی #ثمین_احسانی_را_آزاد_کنید.
Drawing No. 8

A Report from Ward 209 of Iran’s Evin Prison

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

The Washroom

​Harraswatch⸻We could take a shower three times a week. During those first days, when we took a shower, the bathroom was a place for non-stop crying without fear of worrying and upsetting our cellmates. We could find solace in it for a few minutes. Those moments gradually became meaningful for us. When one lives in absolute ignorance and outside of temporal life, one must constantly look for “meaning.”  In those moments, time lasts slowly, and sometimes it is frozen and torturous.

​Similarly, the space, the coldness of the floor, and its cruelty constantly whisper in your ears that you will be kept there forever. In this captivity that tries its best to knock you down, you have to find something [a meaning] to grab hold of to help pull your restless legs out of the swamp of despair. That is why you felt alive under the shower. After hours of interrogation and on blankets you didn’t trust to be clean, you were still alive and experiencing the pleasure of taking a shower under cold water. Sadness, despair, and anger had infected you, but you were not rotten. Water and pleasant smells promised you that life was going on and that poor conditions could not turn you into a corpse. You were alive! We did not have towels, a razor, or a mirror while taking showers. We had a small bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, a basin, and a little detergent for washing our clothes. The high water pressure and wearing clothes that smelled fresh were even better.

​We would sweat from sleeping in a poorly ventilated room. Plus, the level of anxiety, once our cellmates were taken for interrogation, could result in too much sweating. The nylon fabric of our clothes made our bodies even more sweaty, adding to being strongly smelled. Those days when we couldn’t shower, we would wash our armpits with a bar of soap. But our noses were filled with the rank smell as if our bodies and that sharp smell meshed, which is why we found our “bath days” so good. While taking a shower, we sang to cheer up our cellmates. Once, one of us desired cleanness so badly that she emptied a basin of water and detergent over her body. It made us mad, and we widely criticized her for that. We thought later we shouldn’t criticize her as she required that fresh smell.

​Outside the cell, it was necessary to wear a blindfold to take a few steps and go to the washroom. It was as if the prison guards knew that our eyes were vital witnesses. The washroom did not have any handles like the doors inside the ward, so we were not able to close the door. It might not be a severe matter for everyone, and they might not suffer the same. However, going to the washroom in a relatively public place with an unlocked door was traumatic for someone whose body tenses up with the slightest external stimulus. It causes tense muscles when there is no privacy, the door is open, and one constantly worries about outside travelers who might deliberately knock on the door to make you uncomfortable. One’s body disobeys and does not function well.

As the number of detainees increased, it became more challenging to go to the washroom. The prison guards could not cope with this primary task. They could not organize prisoners. The rule was that no one should have contact with people in other rooms in the corridor. Sometimes, all prisoners in the five corridor rooms turned on their washroom warning lights. God forbid if someone had an upset stomach and stayed in the washroom longer than usual!! It was a mess, and everyone used to complain. It seems gross to describe, but in those conditions, the prison guards used to ask people how urgent it was for them to “do their business” to prioritize who should go to the washroom first. Sometimes they told us that an older woman was in the next room, and she couldn’t wait and had to go to the washroom. As a result, we stayed behind the closed door with slippers in our hands and blindfolds on our foreheads. It is not simple at all. This would mean a painful and torturous experience for those with lousy bowel and bladder.

​Once, they told us that someone else gave their turn to us and had our backs. We loudly said: “Way to go! It is only us who could have each other’s back!” Our loud applause and sonorous voices passed the cement walls and echoed. It also happened that we asked for a washroom, and nobody responded to us. There was a deathly silence in the corridor to the extent that we supposed the prison guards were on strike. This silence was sometimes so deep that we imagined there were no prison guards, and that the wards’ doors would be opened by revolutionary forces soon.

In such conditions, menstruation deteriorated the detainees’ situations. We must ask for a menstrual pad every time. The guards were not allowed to allocate a whole package to a group of prisoners in a room. Stress and unhealthy washrooms made periods more painful and unbearable, increasing many infections. Within twenty days, some of my friends got two periods, some had heavy bleeding for nearly ten days, and others didn’t get their periods and felt hot flashes and restlessness. It was as if feminine sensitivities had become the prison and the prison guards’ accomplices.

Getting Fresh Air

​The first time we went to get some fresh air was the gloomiest. Three days a week, we had half an hour to walk and get fresh air. Inmates usually went to get air cell by cell and in turn. We would go there while wearing chadors and covered eyes and took off the blindfold in the yard. We were not allowed to take off the chadors, but we disobeyed. We let our bodies get plenty of sunshine without wearing a chador or a scarf, though seeing the sky after a day was sad. The whole sky was a space of about forty square meters, jailed by stony walls. Security cameras monitored us. A black chair was in the corner of the spot, and our ceiling was full of crossed iron bars. Everything seemed extremely cold and soulless. Once one stood and looked at the sky and the surrounding mountains, the strangest feeling ever felt might be flared up inside them, a roller coaster of rage, grief, and perhaps pride.

In the middle of the hills, a flagpole was reaching the sky. The national flag was far and giant. Watching it from afar was like watching a slow-motion movie. The flag was dancing in the wind, and we watched it from behind the rusted iron bars, a flag that did and did not belong to us. We were captives while that tricolor[1] was proudly dancing [outside.] For this free dance, we were in the cage and, at the same time, angry with that piece of fabric. Our hearts should have been proud upon seeing that flag, but our shortness of breath tasted more like anger.

​The second time we went to get fresh air was better. Our eyes were still teary, but we found much solace in our gathering. We would play “Walnut- Crack.[2]” We rolled up our sleeves to get vitamin D from the hazy autumn sun. We stretched our bodies and walked fast. We sang for the most part. Singing was one of those glorious mystical moments. Our voices echoed, flew, and soared. This forbidden voice came out of the banned body and could pass through the forbidden walls. Singing was life itself for us. We witnessed how these illegal bodies and voices tear the fetters of prejudice and entrenchment and live freely. It was such great theatre, power, and joy! As the audience, we applauded ourselves. We posed for the security cameras and laughed loudly while cuddling each other. We were armed by singing and being alive as opposed to them,[3] who were dead and silent.


​It may seem that saying this sentence only wants to gain the reader’s pity, but it is not so: we used to go to bed hungry almost every night. One may ask, how so? Didn’t they feed you? They did, but it was a morsel of bread. Some of our friends would eat less in their regular lives. But even they would go to bed famished. We were not given snacks either. Boiling water for breakfast was distributed at 6:00 am. The vacuum flasks were old and useless, and the water was cold by the time we got up. About five days a week, we had a two-knuckle moldy cheese with a packet of lavash[4] bread cut into palm-sized squares. We might have given a tomato or a cucumber that came with the cheese once a week.

We had no cutlery and had to cut everything with disposal spoons. We cut our tomatoes and cucumber with these spoons, though we bit them for the most part. We were given a bar of hotel-size butter with jam or honey weekly. Lunch was served between 2:00 and 3:00 pm. Our twenty-spoon rice was in single-use plastic containers. We had salad or yogurt twice or third times a week. We were never given any beverages. Instead, we could drink tea bags with sugar cubes after lunch, well before supper, which was served at 9:00 pm. Our dinner always came with bread, a small bowl of lentils, or potato salad.

After dinner, we had nothing but pills for those on medication. One of the prison guards, who was kinder, would sometimes bring us cheese in response to our calling and declaring hunger. This didn’t always work, however, and as a result, we would go to bed starving. I called once when I couldn’t sleep due to hunger and respectfully said: “excuse me, I’m starving!” The female guard replied, “ bear it!” and hung up the phone. Heartbreak and amazement at the level of cruelty were the spice of most of our moments. We hadn’t eaten any fruit for twenty days. Those who are still in prison must not have eaten fruit yet. One day they came and gave us a shopping list. We could have ordered some fruits, dates, and biscuits, which we did, but ten days passed, and nothing arrived. They also took our bank account passwords yet said, “nothing has arrived,” in response to our questions following our orders. Thus, food was served, but we were guilt-tripped for having it as they believed we were not in the Evin prison but in the Evin Hotel.[5]


[1] The author’s meaning is the colour of Iran’s flag which are green, white, and red.

[2] Walnut-Crack is a game where two players stand in front of each other at a distance. The first player takes a step and says walnut, and the second player says I broke. The steps of players follow the path, and finally, the game ends with the success of the nutcracker in breaking the walnut; otherwise, the walnut wins.

[3] Them means those prison guards and authorities.

[4] A traditional Iranian bread

[5] A condition which has excellent service is humorously considered a hotel.

Singing Was Life Itself For Us

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by: Tanide 

Why is the Chabahari girl our symbol?


Writing is in the midst the flames of fury and blood, on a trembling ground. It is still not clear to us where the conflict between the superior forces of the state/religion/tribe and the suppressed lower layers of the society will lead. The outer hard shell does not hesitate to do anything to maintain the status quo and suppress the anger of subordinate women and youth. The coming days are of significance, revealing the consistent but unorganized struggle of the marginalized, especially women, with the outdated structure; A dynamic struggle that is always embodied in the form of daily resistance and was often ignored, but today it has come to the surface, impossible to deny.


Chabahari girl revealed the naked truth about the underlying conflicts of Balouchestan society. All of a sudden, the society ran out of patience and erupted. We remember that when Iran was mourning the tragic death of Mahsa Zhina Amini, the news of Baluchistan broke over social media. A high-ranking police official in Chabahar had raped a teenage girl living in one of the villages of Chabahar. In those days, rumours were flying around, and there were many confirmations and denials circulating in cyberspace. The judiciary and law enforcement did not see the need to respond. The accused was from the same official apparatus of repression in Balouchestan who never felt obliged to respond to his crimes, insults, and abuse, as he felt entitled. Meanwhile, a well-known Balouch activist started to publicly investigate this matter, others tried to shed light on the incident through the network of acquaintances. While the mainstream media was silent, this civil activist revealed the tragic truth. She was later threatened and jailed. 


These activists’ initiative, in a society that is known for its deafening silence on sexual violence, is unprecedented. The common perception has always been that “this is Baluchistan, anyway”, the tribe decides itself, probably by getting rid of the girl. In 2017, forty-four women from Iranshahr were raped, the truth was never uncovered. The society could no longer remain silent. Something had cracked in Baluchistan. Their understanding of discrimination, suffering and recognition of their right to their destiny had been transformed. This growth was evident when seeking justice for the Chabahari girl.


At first, the clergy kept a “meaningful” silence and called for order. Members of the parliament and official parties active in Balouchestan chose utter silence, as the tribe did.  The ruling Shiite central government had a similar approach to this disaster; An encounter which has become a “normal” and frequent topic in the geography of Balouchestan. Perhaps a review of the structural and historical discrimination in Balouchestan will help to understand the central government’s approach to the issue of Chabahari girl. For years, the central Shiite government has deprived Balouchestan from development and justice-oriented programs with disenfranchisement and structural discrimination. For years, it has shattered the hope of a better life and dehumanized them with its centrist and hegemonic meaning-making system. Men have been portrayed in a violent, barbaric light, while women were deemed as passive and oppressed. Colluding with the central power and protecting their interests guarantee climbing up the ladder of success.  


Widespread poverty and high rates of illiteracy, (unemployment, and lack of identification) in Balouchestan are no longer hidden from anyone. The Baloch have been a forgotten nation for years, and the evidence lies in the increase in executions of the Baloch in the last two years without transparency and fair trial, which leaves no hope for justice in other crimes. Despite this painful history and the systematic exclusionary practices, the massacre of the empty-handed justice-seekers on the Bloody Friday of Zahedan, revealed the oppression and discrimination against the Baloch nation more than ever to the other people of Iran. Cutting off the Internet failed to silence the voice of the Baloch. The central government, which has always used polarization and prioritized the interests of non-Baloch natives over the Baloch to advance its scenarios, has not been able to attract popular support. The armed groups that were active near the borders of Balouchestan had been undermined by Pakistan and the Taliban, and the government could no longer support the claim of “armed Baloch people”. On that Bloody Friday, the Baloch had nothing but sticks and stones in their hands against the barrage of machine guns, as evidenced by countless videos that were published after this bloody day.



These events made people of other regions, especially the nations throughout Iran, to sympathize with the Baloch and voice their support for them in their protests. These changes and sympathies promise a new era that warns the government that it should be afraid of the changing society of Balouchestan. The Sunni clergy led by Abdul Hamid Ismail Zahi, who tried to institutionalize the oppression of women for years, maintained their status by colluding with the government and tribes. Discredited by women and activists, this institution did not anticipate disobedience due to the support of the Taliban and Raisi’s presidency.  Other Sunni clerics of Balouchestan had a similar situation. Only one person amongst many Imams of the Friday prayer was willing to listen to the voice of the family of the Chabahari girl before the street protests and voice their concerns from the official platform about the experienced oppression. However, the people of Chabahar spontaneously came to the street and gathered without the call of official authorities and the support of traditional authorities to seek justice. This rally, which continued until late at night, led to the arrest of many people, including several Baloch women, some of whom are still in prison. Three days after this protest, that is, on the Bloody Friday of Zahedan, people did not keep silent and rebelled against Molavi Abdul Hamid’s wishes. The death toll is a testament to the chronic oppression. Many of the dead didn’t even have birth certificates, they had a history of drug abuse and humiliation in provincial prisons, coming from marginal areas like Shirabad; It is not an exaggeration to say that this neighborhood is one of the poorest and most deprived areas in the peripheral regions of Iran. But are thought as rebellious who should be put in their place! The follow-up of the events after the Bloody Friday shows that some clerics tried to quell the public anger caused by their silence by making statements in support of the protesters; An issue that shows how people were able to undermine the leadership of the clerics and at the same time discredit the scenarios of the repression apparatus, without needing the support of an external authority.

Why is the Chabahri girl our symbol?

Authors: @thevoicesofbaluchwomen, Dasgoharan

Translated into English by Tanide 

A Report from Ward 209 of Iran’s Evin Prison

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

Harasswatch⸻ Evin’s entry door slid open. The sky was emerging out of the darkness at the crack of dawn. “Cover your eyes with your scarf, and keep your head on the driver’s seat,” commanded the man. Some names such as Morteza, Asghar, and the cars’ features were exchanged like passwords, and we entered. It was uphill, and the clapped-out car didn’t run well. Haj Khanoum[1] got out of the car, and then it was my turn. The man commanded again to keep my eyes covered with my scarf. He opened the car’s door, and I disembarked. Another Haj Khanum oversaw my delivery. She put a blindfold over my eyes, and we got moving. She was familiar with the journey and its surroundings, constantly pointing out stairs, chairs, and walls on our way. She stopped and told me to face the wall. A few minutes later, a woman came and accompanied me the rest of the way. I do not remember well, but my hunch tells me that we were at an infirmary. Back at home, one of the men had promised me that he would hand over my phone later. I sat on an armchair and filled out a form about my health. “And this right here is your phone,” said the same man while putting the phone on the chair. I put my phone on airplane mode. Then I stopped, and a camera took a picture of me. I went on the scale, and my blood pressure was measured. The doctor asked whether I was on any specific medication or needed a pill. “A sedative or painkiller,” I replied. He proceeded to inquire about my request, to which I obliged and told him that I had trouble sleeping for days and had a headache. He was a young doctor with an unkempt black beard and wore a scruffy crimson shirt over his pants buttoned up to his neck. Donning a sinister smile, he said, “while you were rioting in the streets, you couldn’t sleep, right?” I looked at him and didn’t respond. I took the pill and, with blindfolded eyes, followed the woman.

We entered a corridor and then a room. We later called the woman Lavender. Her lavender perfume filled the corridor, and we, who were deprived of cleanliness and any kind of perfume, smelled the whim of this woman greedily. She had a thin and penetrating voice. Eyes alone visible, she wore an Arabic chador and covered most of her face with a mask. I took off my clothes. She ordered me to sit and stand twice in the nude with my back facing her. She had to ensure that I hid nothing between my legs. I handed over my phone, ID, and bank cards and signed the receipt. She said there were no more Maqnāe[2], so I had to keep my scarf with me. She gave me light gray and dark-blue sets in addition to a floral chador. I put on that gray dress with dark-blue slippers and followed her to another corridor while I was handling my chador with my eyes blindfolded. The woman held three black and brown blankets. She opened the room’s door and left once she handed over the blankets. Four women were sleeping in a six-meter room. One of them, however, sat upright and, with a vexed expression, prepared to comfort me. Two other women also woke up. We got to know each other and talked a bit about our situation on the inside and our lives on the outside. This friendship was the most beautiful achievement of this period…


Zehra Dogan- All rights are deserved by the artist

The Cell

The room was a strange heptagon with cement walls painted white. The wall facing the door had two perforated metal hatches in the right and left corners close to the ground. Through these hatches, one could hear muffled voices from other corridors. There was a toilet in the right corner of the room. My first impression was that we were supposed to be exposed to each other while relieving ourselves. However, first impressions are usually wrong. Next to the toilet was a small, suspended basin with triangular faucets. The room had two doors, but only one of them was the passage. The doors were all walls from the inside. After all, a door without a handle, and when no one can open and close it, is not a door at all. It was rather a metal rectangle with a narrow hatch for air passage at its bottom. For us, however, it was mostly a way of eavesdropping on outside traffic and sounds. The upper part of the door had a perforated access door. The holes were stuffed with some plastic spoons. My cellmates said that they use these spoons for hanging their underwear and towels to dry. There was also a peephole under the hatch. Installed on the wall was a metal rectangle with lights on it next to the entry door. A two-way communication tool, maybe! We had to press the button on this device to go to the bathroom. Once it was pressed, a black hole-like sound echoed throughout the room, and then we heard someone’s disembodied and authoritative voice saying, “Hello!” or sometimes “Yes!” The responses were sometimes angry and other times tired or moaning. In the first few days, we politely told them that we wanted to go to the bathroom. We found no reason for showing this courtesy later. We would call them without care and in a manner so pithy, tell them, “Washroom!” The further we went, and the more crowded the rooms became, the less we could bear to avoid going to the washroom. We became so frank in telling them that we needed to go tinkle. Sometimes, we would drum the door, singing about our overflowing bladders.

This act of disobedience could become a punishment lever at the prison’s disposal to summon us for interrogation. It never became normal for us. [They used to turn a light on and call our names.] Each time the light was turned on, and we heard that woman’s voice calling our cellmates’ names, we were petrified. By calling our names and hearing that hell sentence “Ma’am, get ready,” our bodies froze, and the face of the person summoned went deathly pale. All we had was a couple of minutes to calm them down and ready them for interrogation. God knows how agitated we were until our cellmates come back!!!

Next to that so-called door buzzer[3], a piece of paper was pasted, and the defendant’s rights–including their right to call and meet their families–were written in several paragraphs. Those rights drafted on the white paper were nothing, and we couldn’t simply claim them. There was a hotel refrigerator between two doors. It was like a closet rather than a fridge as nourishment was nowhere to be found. Only a few disposable glasses of water were scattered in it.

We had two metal hatches close to the ceiling for the passage of light and air. We once climbed up the fridge to see what’s going on outside these hatches and where we are in the world. The only thing we could see was a sloping roof covered by tar. Each person had three blankets. We could use them as mattresses, or pillows, or wrap ourselves in them. There was a row of LED lights on the ceiling which never were turned off. We wished for darkness in those few weeks. The room didn’t have any clocks as well. When we asked what time it was, we didn’t receive a response from the prison guards. We could see the wristwatch flashing on their hands, yet they refused to tell us the exact time. We didn’t even know why we asked for the exact time. Nonetheless, the prison guards’ muted responses made us create a sundial. Once we saw the first ray of sunshine on the wall, we called the staff and told them that we had to go to the washroom. When the woman came, we asked the time and wrote eleven on the wall with toothpaste. That was how our sundial worked and we started our day at eleven. The sunset was at five. We just had a sense of time between eleven and five, and the rest didn’t matter. After all, knowing time was nonsense for many of us.

The damn room, washroom, and bathroom didn’t have a mirror either. For nearly 25 days, we had seen only one other. We sometimes asked each other to describe our faces. We shouldn’t forget ourselves. By despising our beliefs and characters, they desperately wanted us to lose our identities and entirely forget our own faces. I was trying to find my eyes on the faucet as I used the toilet. My face’s image was obscure and comically distorted on the faucet. Inside the room, we bent our heads and could hardly see ourselves on the steel body of the toilet[4]. There was enough room to sleep until the cell was heavily populated by eight more prisoners. It was tight and cramped. Upon waking up in the morning, we used to make jokes about the pile of arms, legs, and hips thrown on our bodies. We were utterly staggered once the prison’s guard brought the eighth person to join us in the room, asking how on earth we could accommodate her in such a cramped room. When we complained about the room’s cramped condition, we received an answer that they used to accommodate a lot more than fifteen people in this room in 2009[5]. The room was covered by a thin orange carpet. We should’ve brought our flip-flops inside the room. Qiblah[6]’s direction was also drawn on the wall with an arrow facing the northeast. We didn’t have any books. And when we asked for books, they provided us with the Quran, Nahj al-Balagha, or other religious books through which we could read about marriage and religious ceremonies. Days used to last more than 24 hours in these cells; much more than you could imagine…  


[1] Haj Khanoum is literally used to call a woman who has been to Mecca. In reality, it is somewhat used by some of the female police who cooperate with the Islamic state and police. 

[2] Maqnāe is a kind of headscarf that is officially worn on official occasions. 

[3] The author does not know what she is seeing, and that is why she doesn’t know what to call it. This door buzzer was previously described as a “metal rectangle with lights on it next to the entry door.”  

[4] Iranian toilets have different shapes in comparison with their western counterpart. They are known as squat toilets and refer to the position used knowingly by squatting instead of sitting. These toilets simply consist of a toilet pan at the floor level with a hole in it. The toilets’ material differs from ceramic to steel, and in some cases, are constructed with stone. The author’s meaning about the steel bowl in this text refers to the steel material of the cell’s toilet.

[5] 2009 is referred to as the Green Movement in Iran when a lot of political dissidents were arrested and jailed.

[6] The direction of the Kaaba (the sacred building at Mecca), to which Muslims turn at prayer


Singing Was Life Itself For Us

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by: Tanide 

Yeganeh Khoie

Could you still remember Ferhad Khosravi? It was 20 December 2019 when his frozen body was found at the heights of Kurdistan. Do you remember his funeral ceremony? People were shouting: “Our hearts and souls are burnt. We’ve given a martyr for bread,” and the ceremony was transformed into an anti-state demonstration, where people shouted, “Death to the dictator”. The cities smelled of blood. Many people were killed, and bodies were still found here and there. Koolbars– those who carry heavy goods on their backs over the border to provide for their families – have been constantly in a fight with death, before November 2019, during November and after that. Does it always smell of blood in Hawraman[1]?

​For several weeks now, the smell of blood has been everywhere. Yesterday, in a video from Tabriz, people were shouting “death to the dictator” in the background of one of the most famous calls to prayer (Azān), and I thought of the composition “martyr for bread” and how strange and heartbreaking it was – the intertwining of two material and immaterial concepts. A contradictory composition: one must die to live; reaching bread passes through blood. The composition “martyr for bread” transforms the concept of martyrdom drastically. A martyr is no longer the one who is killed by a foreign enemy during a short period of wartime to defend the border and the homeland but is immortal in another life and “alive with their Lord, receiving provision” (Ali ‘Imran – verse 169). Rather, a martyr is the one who is killed by the domestic enemy who should be the protector and not an enemy, on the way to provide his own “livelihood,”; which is involved in everyday, non-stop, and unwanted war.

Like the word “martyr”, Azān has become a possessed word for many people. An unseen friend on social media told me that she has never been able to enjoy Azān. For me, however, Azān is associated with my childhood. I think what makes Tabriz’s demonstration sublime is perhaps the fact that “death to the dictator” incarnates Azān, opens room for it to come down to the earth, shout among people, and become beautiful and innocent again – A true repulsion of evil on this earth. Hasten to the salvation[2]: here and now. Yesterday people of Tabriz gave a rebellious body to Azān, just as Kurds brought martyrdom down to the earth, reinterpreting it according to time. And if Azān is supposed to invite to the best deeds[3], what is more necessary, more beautiful, and better than fighting against the dictator, recapturing the right to have a free equal life? In fact, how could it be possible to say prayer amid all this oppression? If God were not dead, he should have come to the earth, walking with and among us.


[1]    A mountainous region in the provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshah, which is one of the main routes of Koolbars.

[2]    A line in the text of Azān

[3]    Part of the invitation in the text of Azān

A Narrative of Living in a Detention Center
Written by Alef [1]

Translated from Farsi into English Retrieved from Harrasswatch

Harasswatch⸻ I was there again. Surrounded by those malicious walls, which were neither square, rectangular nor even trapezoidal. It was an eight-meter cell, which became more cramped at the bottom and reached four meters. We returned to where “the rape” had happened and called it the “rape scene.” By returning to the scene this name sprang to my mind. I was alone again. I laid down my blankets; I covered two blankets for my mattress, folding another into a cylinder like a legless doll and putting it as a pillow, and finally, a black one to put over my whole body. The blanket’s color reminded me of “Z,” who scared black cats. I remembered telling her she should never see such a blanket. I was mumbling when rage ignited my whole body. I was afraid of myself and of this anger; from my quick transition between the feeling of wanting good for my friends and evil for them.​

I was furious that I was alone even in seeing these moments, and at the end of the day, I could only be the narrator of these moments for my sisters. “I don’t want to be a narrator. I don’t want you to be proud of me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I just want this to be a shared experience between us. Like all our other shared experiences and hours of talking. But I still have to talk about this cell, this situation, and my words should not be included in your narrative.” I wrote these in the following days when I was no longer alone and went among those drawing the same as me. I wrote on the paper of a disposable cup with the pen that we had pinched. I wrote on that paper for a long time and now I cannot remember what I wrote anymore. I wrote about controlled and uncontrolled anger on the paper of two different disposal cups. One cup became black from my words, full of pain and longing, and the other from suffering and oppression. Each of us would pull our blankets over our heads and write on paper cups. We would write about ourselves, our beloveds, and each other. One day they opened the door and turned all the blankets upside down. In the middle of the pile of dirt that was raised from the blankets; I turned my back to him who pretended to look for a pen, poured the paper into another glass, and emptied the remaining water from the flask on it. I sought to hide from his prying and suspicious eyes. That same day, when those same eyes came with others and took me away, they also took my small papers full of magic words and my friends’ longings with me. “They are also killers of words, and those words will never come back to me.” But at least this time he didn’t find the pen.

​We had a hunger to connect with like-minded people and new ways of communication. Every time we went to get fresh air, if the newly arrested boys were kneeling on the floor behind the infirmary door, facing the wall, Sin would stamp her feet harder on the floor to walk to greet them with this sound. From cell to cell, we tried to find a way to greet each other and to know each other’s names. We used to leave notes for each other in the common spaces of the cells. We would exchange our names while going to the toilet in the cells. As a sign of resistance, we would yell once we found ourselves without a way to communicate. Someone yelled “AyyAh” and it echoed like dominos from one cell to the other. It was a sound that had no meaning for them and was a sign of our madness, but its function moved ahead of its meaning for us. They would bring the radio and put it in the corridor so that the sound of the noise between its waves would ride on our voices, but our ears would become sharper, and our voices would become louder.

​One day, when I was sitting in that black room facing the wall, while they were constantly shouting behind me and interrogating us for what hadn’t been done, my eyes fell on the wall next to me. I saw a familiar name written on the wall with a date. I saw the same name dated differently on the walls of other black rooms, on other days. “She must have written to her lover, who was a little over there at the time, to greet him and say she was there,” and now that name and date would greet me too. El said yes, you are right! We are familiar strangers who have now come into our lives, and we will always remember each other. One was talkative and would always jump between everyone’s words to get more time to talk. One had come from a place that never bore a resemblance to the life we had ever lived. My treatment was also boring sometimes. Each of us, somewhere out there, might not be able to stand it. But now our hearts were with each other moment by moment.

​When each of us went for the interrogation, the remaining of us restlessly waited for her to come. We were so close to each other, so we avoid walking on each others’ nerves; sometimes, when we got mad, we kept silent until it passed, or we talked and laughed. We were all worried about each other and this concern continued until the moment of freedom. That situation had brought us closer together and our strength, patience, and tolerance toward each other were much stronger than their oppression. Every rape scene has a shelter. I knew this many times when I came from that black room and asked the officer to go to the cell a moment later so that my cellmates would not see my tears and break their hearts. That cell, those girls, and what was between us was our refuge. L said, “why are you hiding your tears, let’s talk.” We talked and I realized what had happened to me in that black room. I said I don’t know why one of my fingers was shaking like that and it was killing me. The tighter I gripped it, the more it slipped through my fist from the force of the shaking. My mouth was sore. L said that every time you go to that black room and come back, a wound appeared. I remembered that I inherited this from my mother. I was six years old when I ran in front of the white car of my mother’s relative. My mother was sitting in the car’s front seat and her mouth was full of sores. She wanted to leave so that she would not return to an unsafe home. We were both crying and my mother’s tears, slipping into her mouth, burned those wounds more.

​L said that they are reviving your traumas for you. They had done the same thing with her, and the collective trauma of all of us was being called “prostitutes” and denied our rights. Sometimes a powerful father did this to us, another time we were harassed on the streets, and now were experiencing it by the interrogator’s atrocities and in the detention center. The more I met people in the cell, the better I understood the same mechanism. I understood we were in the same boat regarding the ways we were tortured, either in our families or in society. They were playing with our lives and although we knew it was a trick and a game, that game and the feelings afterwards were real. I told Mim the other day, the owner of that black room moved the chair handle and stood in front of my knees. She said that this is a threat to rape and to show what he has in his pants. They had said to Mim, “Why are you talking with the voice of an 18-year-old girl?” and had laughed. When she was describing this, her heart was still wounded by this humiliation. They want to spit their dirty desire on us even in the form of humiliation. We were trembling and hugged each other and realized that we are together forever. In that shelter, we talked about life more than ever. About the possible parties we would hold later and what we would wear there. Shin’s red shirt, which she had just bought, and the interrogator had not given her time to wear… so much so that we all imagined that she was wearing it instead of those worn gray clothes. We talked about the trips we went on and the colors, including greens, yellows, and oranges, we saw. Once L, H, and I were able to get oranges, and by the morning we peeled them, took their bitterness and chopped them very finely with the handle of a tiny plastic spoon. We made orange and honey sauce for our food. We had neither the sense of rain nor the smell of any weather or seasonal change. In that case, the smell of oranges was in every spoonful of our food.

​Anyone who came from a different cell had a different sense of humor and creativity to amuse others. We had learned so much to have fun in the cell that we wanted to become prison bloggers. We had found out how to do our hair, pluck our eyebrows, and remove our facial hair. We even knew how to write when we didn’t have any pens. We had learned how to weave a bracelet and where we should get the thread. We knew how to make sweets for tea. For each cell and in the prison, dozens of ways to survive came to our minds. Mim was right when she said that prisoners create unique things with each other’s companionship. Mim’s suffering and resistance were long enough that when she talked about these things, the depth of her words penetrated our souls. One night, when we were talking about the passion of resistance on the street, Mim said she had never been there and had always been deprived of the brilliance of shouting for freedom; that she always heard of others’ stories about uprisings on the streets. She asked whether people talk about them in the street, and there was an awkward silence to her response. We just held each other’s hands tighter and now their “absence” is more than ever alive in front of my eyes. Like right now, those who wrote about “what invisible is” are in front of my eyes. We created and are creating our scene amid the scene they created for us.

[1] Alef is the first letter of the author’s first name. Many authors started using abbreviations rather than their complete names for security purposes and to publish their narratives anonymously

We Find Each Other’s Hands through Words and Sounds

The article’s authorship comes from the Harasswatch website

Translated into English by Tanide