“Woman, life, freedom”: the slogan shouted over the last 12 months by thousands of women around the world, from Tehran to Oslo. Just over a year after the death of Masha Amini, who has become a worldwide symbol of oppression in Iran, and a few days after the case of Armita Geravand, in a coma after being beaten by the morality police, the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize goes to a woman who has made her life a fight against the oppression of women in Iran and for the promotion of human rights: the activist Narges Mohammadi. Born in 1972 in Zanjan, vice president of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights and imprisoned by the Iranian authorities since May 2016, Mohammadi is still in prison. “The Nobel victory highlights the courage of Iranian women” is the UN comment on the awarding of the prize. For the activist’s family it is a historic moment for the fight for freedom in Iran. “The situation there is very dangerous, the activists can lose their lives”, his brother Hamidreza Mohammad said speaking to the Norwegian broadcaster Nrk, hoping that a recognition such as the Nobel Peace Prize could make the lives of activists in Iran safer.
Arrested 13 times, jailed for “spreading propaganda”
A former journalist, who has been on the front lines inside and outside Iranian prisons for decades, Mohammadi, 51, is serving a 31-year prison sentence in Iran and has been subjected to 154 lashes. Thirteen times she was arrested, five times she was convicted. The activist, now 51 years old, is currently in prison for “spreading propaganda”. Her husband, a political activist, lives in exile with their two children. In 2009, Mohammadi became vice president of the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, founded by Ebadi, the first Iranian woman Nobel Peace Prize winner. You have defended political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in judicial proceedings and fought against the death penalty in Iran. She was arrested again in 2010 together with other activists, in 2011 she was sentenced to 11 years in prison for “conspiring against national security”. The following year, after muscle paralysis, she was released due to health problems: she suffers from a neurological disorder that can cause seizures, temporary partial paralysis and a pulmonary embolism.
The battle against the “white torture” of prisoners
In May 2015 she was imprisoned again in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran (known for frequent reports of human rights violations and for imprisoning political opponents) where she remained until December 2019, when she was transferred to Zanjan prison, approximately 300 kilometers from the capital, after organizing protests against prison conditions and the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in the so-called “Bloody November” of 2019. Photos of her almost immobile in bed, savagely beaten by the director, went around the world of Evin prison for the protests organized a few months earlier. After a five-year imprisonment, she was then released in October 2020. So far, arrests, convictions, nor the torture she suffered or her poor health conditions have managed to stop her. Three years ago, shortly after heart surgery, you shot a documentary and wrote two books on the white torture that damages the psychological sphere of the prisoner. In 2021, she along with 85 other activists started the “White Torture” campaign against the use of solitary confinement in Iranian prisons. She also had the courage to denounce the intelligence agents who subjected her to torture and other mistreatment, brutally tearing out her hair, a misogynistic obsession of the Islamic Republic of Iran so much so that cutting the hair of women in the street has become the symbol of the protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Her husband and twins exiled to France
Mohammadi is with journalist Taghi Rahmani, a dissident politician who was jailed for 14 years before being forced to go into exile in France, where he lives with their twins whom the activist has not seen for years. On 12 April 2022, Mohammadi had to return to prison to serve yet another eight-year prison sentence for alleged crimes against Iran’s national security, where, Amnesty International reports, prison authorities are holding her in cruel and inhuman conditions. In October 2022, a month after Masha Amini’s death, she was sentenced to 15 months in prison on charges of “propaganda against the system” for expressing her support for the people’s right to demonstrate.
The article in the NYT: “The more they imprison us, the stronger we become”
Detained with 300 other women in Evin, she does not stop writing letters and appeals for the arrests made after the revolt that broke out following the murder of Mahsa Amini.
In her cell she is forbidden to receive calls or visits, but on the first anniversary of Mahsa’s death she managed to smuggle out an article published by the New York Times entitled “The More They Lock Us Up, the Stronger We Become” imprison, the stronger we become”). In the piece, the activist talks about the evening in which she, together with her cellmates in the women’s ward of Evin prison in Tehran, saw a television report on the death of Mahsa Amini. Mohammadi writes that each of them used the little time available for short phone calls to gather information from outside and exchange the information available. “We were locked in there, but we did what we could to raise our voices against the regime.” “I have been incarcerated in Evin three times since 2012 for my work as a human rights defender, but I have never seen so many new entries into the women’s ward as in the last five months,” she complained. A voice, his, which he never intended to lower despite the torture he suffered: “What the government may not understand is that the more of us they lock up, the stronger we become”, he writes in the NYT, explaining that the morale among the new prisoners was high. “All of them, no matter how they were arrested, had only one demand: to overthrow the regime of the Islamic Republic.”
The Iranian #MeToo: the battle against violence in prison
“In my life I have been sentenced to a total of 25 years, but it is the first time they have chosen flogging, it will be a new experience”, Mohammadi said in a rare moment of freedom in June 2021, interviewed by AGI among the walls of his house, shortly before returning behind bars in Evin. On violence against women, especially sexual violence, in Iranian prisons, the activist had launched a battle on the Clubhouse social network in the wake of an Iranian #MeToo: in a room that lasted more than six hours, with over 1,500 participants, 15 women had told the their experience of sexual violence behind bars. “This is an unprecedented fact”, explained the activist: “since the 1980s numerous women have been raped or molested by their captors, but most of them only talk about it once they leave Iran. The first step However, it is precisely sharing one’s experiences and making them a topic in public opinion, then one must denounce and finally create civic institutions capable of putting pressure on the government to change the laws”.
The international prize that the regime will not like
A battle that continues, with or without freedom. Mohammad continues to talk about what women and opponents are forced to suffer in prison. Even last December, in fact, he wrote from prison to provide the BBC with harrowing details on how women detained during demonstrations were subjected to sexual and physical abuse, and said that attacks became more common during the mass protests triggered by Amini’s death . Last year Narges Mohammad was included in the BBC 100 Women, a list of one hundred of the most influential women on Earth. A power that, thanks to the recognition received today, inevitably grows, amplifying its voice, but having received the most prestigious peace prize in the world gives it a level of international recognition that will not be welcomed favorably by the regime, which it has harshly criticized for years. . In 2021 he had predicted new protests in the Iran of the then newly elected president Ebrahim Raisi: “Raisi won the Iranian presidential elections, in a vote piloted and derailed from its natural course, as an activist who has lost everything in recent years for my ideas , I do not accept his government, because he is one of the most serious violators of human rights in Iran.” Meanwhile, the ayatollah’s regime is trying in every way to hide the truth about the case of 16-year-old Armita Geravand, who has been in a coma since Sunday after being beaten by Tehran subway surveillance because she was not wearing a veil. And the regime fears a new Mahsa Amini.