Political prisoners in Iran are being held in inhumane conditions after speaking out against the government—but the movement to #FreeThemAll is growing stronger.
June 13 is going to be a make-or-break day for my mother, Nahid Taghavi, and other Iranian political prisoners.
These prisoners—who never should have been arrested in the first place—will be brought before an Iranian court and likely face harsh sentencing for the “crime” of speaking out for basic rights and against injustice.
What happens to them will speak volumes about the fate of Iran’s hundreds of other political prisoners: whether Iran will continue its draconian crackdown against its “best and brightest,” or whether these prisoners will at long last be freed—and whether or not the global community will continue to tolerate Iran’s bloodstained abuse of its people.
Today is the 200th day of #freenahid arrest. She spent most of the time in solitary confinement – and still is. This is a small glimpse into the torture of my 66 years old mother #NahidTaghavi.— Mariam Claren #FreeNahid (@mariam_claren) May 4, 2021
How can you sleep at night, even though you know about all this @HeikoMaas? pic.twitter.com/RYHCcY1qMR
My mother, Nahid Taghavi, is a 66-year-old Iranian-German citizen, retired architect and women’s rights activist who suffers from diabetes and hypertension.
None of that mattered to the authorities of Iran’s Islamic Republic. She was arrested in Tehran on October 16, 2020, by the Intelligence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps without being shown a warrant and taken to a notorious isolation section in Evin Prison—a dark place known for mass executions and torture.
She spent 194 days in solitary confinement and was interrogated 80 times for a total of 1,000 hours, all without legal counsel. Cameras monitored her 24/7, even when she used the bathroom. She was blindfolded every time she left her tiny cell and was forced to sleep on the hard floor without pillows.
She didn’t see the inside of a courtroom until her hearing on April 28, 2021, over five months later. Here she met her lawyer for the first time, who had only been allowed to glance through the court papers four days earlier.
My mother thinks she’s been imprisoned for her beliefs. Amnesty International has called for her immediate and unconditional released as “a prisoner of conscience.”
Release this mother, #NahidTaghavi who is held hostage by Islamic Republic. She has not committed any crime. Keeping her imprisoned in #Iran is a crime against humanity. #FreeNahid pic.twitter.com/gayC7xq0me— Nick Sotoudeh (@NickSotoudeh) April 28, 2021
I was devastated when I first heard that my mom had been detained. But I also knew that I had to go public. She taught me everything I know and made me who I am. So I vowed to move heaven and earth to free her.
I started the campaign #FreeNahid and raised her plight with human rights groups, the media, activists and government officials, especially in Germany. I try to talk to Nahid whenever I can by phone and let her know how much support she has. Before her first court appearance, I told her, “You should imagine thousands of people in the courtroom, standing next to you and demanding: #FreeNahid.”
A Wave of Brutal Repression and Mass Arrests in Iran
My mother’s case burst my bubble and woke me up: Her case was not an exception, but a fate shared by hundreds if not thousands.
The Islamic Republic has always been brutal and repressive, but a mass uprising in November 2019 shook Iran and was met by regime forces firing on unarmed demonstrators, killing hundreds, many of them poor working people.
Beginning in October 2020, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising, the Islamic Republic launched a brutal campaign of arrests and executions. Activists for women’s, labor and human rights were swept up, along with intellectuals and artists, demonstrators and revolutionaries, and religious and oppressed minorities. Now the lives of hundreds of political prisoners are in grave, imminent danger.
Gestern Abend fand unsere 83.Mahnwache der Solidarität statt. Wir haben heute auf die anstehende Prozesse gegen die Kölner Sozialarbeiterin Gönül Örs (15.6) und gegen die iranische Menschenrechtsaktivistin Nahid Taghavi (13.6) aufmerksam gemacht. #FreeThemAll #FreeNahid pic.twitter.com/lX0JqmJvJc— Adil Demirci (@AdilDemirci_) June 3, 2021
Verdict First, Evidence Later—If At All
Iran’s judicial “process” is no more about justice than medieval inquisitions were.
Systematic human rights violations are commonplace. Lawyers, journalists, religious minorities and any dissenters are arbitrarily arrested.
“Propaganda against the state.” That’s one of the most frequent charges in politically motivated imprisonments in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Translated, it means: “Thinking is forbidden and talking about your thoughts is a crime.”
The prisoner is presumed guilty before the trial. In custody, the only thing that counts is extorting evidence and confessions which come from hours of interrogation, torture and solitary confinement. These tortures include electric shocks, floggings, mock executions, waterboarding, sexual violence and deprivation of medical care.
Women prisoners are subject to verbal and different degrees of physical sexual abuse, and recently have often been transferred to more remote prisons, limiting access to their family and lawyers.
Political prisoners are rarely allowed to receive legal counseling or visitors and are thus exposed to the interrogation and torture methods without protection. Once the so-called investigative phase is over, the prisoner still rarely has access to a self-selected lawyer, and is usually assigned a lawyer approved by the system who is not independent. Iran doesn’t hold trials in any meaningful or recognizable sense of the word. The proceedings are unfair and secret, with the verdict and sentence pre-determined by prosecutors and interrogators working for the security services. Sentences are arbitrary and punishments such as whippings are commonplace. Iran executed over 200 people last year.
Heroism In Face of Brutality, Global Support for Iran’s Political Prisoners
This repression has been met with inspiring heroism. Many prisoners have found ways to resist even from prison, including going on hunger strikes.
Their families, supporters and various Iranian organizations have been speaking out and demanding freedom for their loved ones and for ALL Iran’s political prisoners—at great risk to their own safety.
Defenders of Human Rights Center member Narges Mohammadi was recently released after spending nearly six years in prison—only to now again be sentenced to two and a half years in prison, two fines, and 80 lashes for campaigning against the death penalty and protest the killing of anti-government protesters while she was previously in prison. On Instagram, Mohammadi declared she will not “accept any of these sentences.”
The Iranian Writers Association has denounced the treatment of prisoners even as several of its members are imprisoned. Many human rights groups including Amnesty International and the Center for Human Rights in Iran, writers and artists groups including PEN and Ms., have actively spoken out against the abuse of Iran’s political prisoners. The “Burn the Cage, Free the Birds” movement in Europe has held protests to free them. And relatives and supporters of prisoners, like me and many others, have launched active online campaigns to free their loved ones.
I have also joined with over 1,500 other relatives, former prisoners, prominent voices of conscience such as Gloria Steinem, Ariel Dorfman, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, women’s reproductive rights advocate and campaign co-initiator Carol Downer, and others in signing an emergency appeal which supports all these efforts and is demanding freedom for all of Iran’s political prisoners, as well as rejecting U.S. aggression toward Iran.
I urge you to raise your voice, protest this travesty, and endorse this emergency appeal. Iran’s rulers seem poised to elect Ebrahim Raisi, who was responsible for the massacre of some 4,000 to 5,000 political prisoners in 1988. Iran’s rulers need to know the world will no longer tolerate their inhuman treatment of those whose only crime is wanting and working for a more just world. Their freedom would crack open a door for Iran’s 80-plus million people to fight for freedom and a better world.