Iranian Feminist Narges Mohammadi is in Danger

The situation in Iran was deteriorating even before Trump ordered the assassination of a top military commander, Qasem Soleimani. 

During the latest national unrest and brutal crackdown—in early November 2019, while the Internet was also blocked by the state authorities—at least 304 people were killed in the course of three days, hundreds were injured and 7,000 got arrested. Based on the latest reports, about 1,500 have been killed. Ironically, most responsible for this bloody crackdown was the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—one of the top commanders of which was Soleimani.

More recently, one of Iran’s most respected and prominent human/women’s rights activists, Narges Mohammadi, was a target of the state.

On December 25, in order to punish her for activism inside prison, she was taken away by force from her ward in the Evin prison and exiled to a prison in the provincial city of Zanjan. 
Narges and seven other feminist activists had waged a sit-in within Evin prison to express solidarity with the mourning families of the killed protestors from November; previously, she had issued an open statement condemning the authorities for so many killings and the new wave of arrests and maltreatment of new prisoners arriving in the prison in the aftermath of the November brutal crackdown. 

Mohammadi—the recipient of the 2018 Andrei Sakharov Prize from the American Physical Society and the deputy director of the Center for Human Rights Defenders in Iran, which was funded by several prominent human rights lawyers and led by Nobel Laureate for Peace Dr. Shirin Ebadi—has been serving a 16-year sentence since 2015 for engaging in peaceful human rights activism of which she is not eligible for release until after serving 10 years.  

Dr. Ebadi and Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani, both now live in exile. Rahmani is a former political prisoner who, since 2016, lives in France and takes care of his twin children. Ebadi was President of the Center for Human Rights Defenders until she became an exile in 2009.

According to both, Mohammadi’s life is in danger. 

The new director of Evin Prison, Gholamreza Ziaie, is infamous for being cruel and violent. He threatened Mohammadi a couple months ago, saying that if she did not stop her activism inside Evin, he would “transfer you to Zanjan prison so you get isolated, rotten and ruined in that corner.” That’s now where Mohammadi is exiled. 

Mohammadi’s mother, Ozra Bazargan, was able to visit her in Zanjan prison a few days ago and has published a voice report appealing to international media and human rights organizations for help. 

Mohammadi herself has also leaked out a letter: 

After four and a half months of deprivation from talking to my children on the phone, I yet encounter and am in shock from the brutality and violence of the judiciary and security agents. After announcing our strike, we witnessed presence of a large number of security forces and intelligence agents alongside the prison authorities. The prison governor promised that our action would not go without punishment, and our visiting hours and phone calls were canceled as a consequence.

On December 24, I was shown a letter that my lawyer was in the prison to meet me. As it turned out, it was a lie and there was no lawyer there. They took me to the prison governor’s room, where he, in presence of the agents from the Ministry of Intelligence, started shouting obscenities. I left the room and heard them running after me. He took my arms and wrenched them violently in order to stop me, and then they dragged me in the corridor. While I was resisting, they bashed my hand to the door, and the smashed glass panel of the door cut my hands. My hands bleeding and wrenched, they threw me into an ambulance and started driving. But they stopped in front of ward 209. The prison governor said that he would not let me return to my ward and that he was sending me to the prison in Zanjan. I began chanting a song about Iran and they attacked, beat me and pushed me into a car to take me away. My hands were still bleeding, as the medicine I take for my medical condition does not let the blood clot, and the intelligence agents pressed the handcuffs hard on my wounds. The blood dripped on my clothes until we reached Zanjan. 

December 24 was the hideous day of the blatant brutality of the prison authorities and the security forces who have taken away all the means of life from me. What keeps me on my feet in this prison, while my body bruised and wounded, is my love for the honorable, but tormented, people of this country, and my ideals of justice and freedom. To honor the innocent people’s blood shed atrociously, I pledge to speak the truth, defy tyranny and defend the oppressed until my last breath.

Unfortunately, after the latest assassination in Iran called for by President Trump, we do not know if the pressure on human/women’s rights advocates and feminist prisoners such as Narges Mohammadi, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Atena Daemi, Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, Saba Kurd-Afshari, Mojgan Keshavarz, Soheila Hejab, Samaneh Nowruz-Moradi and many others will further increase or not. But we can be certain that any military escalation would overshadow women’s and human rights activism, especially political prisoners and peaceful popular protests in Iran and consequently in the region.

There is little time then to wait and find out. We must spread the word—and shout for justice on their behalf. 


Nayereh Tohidi, Ph.D., is a professor of gender and women's studies and director of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at California State University, Northridge.