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Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Four: Is Esmail Alive?

July 18, 2020
Sepideh Gholian
5 min read
Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Four: Is Esmail Alive?

Sepideh Gholian is a 25-year-old civil rights activist and journalist who was arrested during the labor protests of Haft Tappeh workers and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Her book, Tilapia Sucks the Blood of Hur al-Azim, tells the story of her detention at the Dezful Intelligence Detention Center and Sepidar Women's Prison in Ahvaz.

In these 19 stories, Gholian paints a meticulous picture of her horrific experience. On one hand, we directly encounter the face of oppression. On the other, we engage with the fates of others whose names, lives and imprisonment might otherwise be doomed to be forgotten and denied.

IranWire has previously published Gholian’s book in its original Persian and is now serialising the collection in English, while its author has been returned to Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. The stories are translated by Zahra H. Moravjev.


Later I understand that it is November 29. It has been ten days since I was arrested, and I have still not had any contact with my family. I am told that my family went to the courthouse carrying guns and knives. I know my family, so I believe what I hear. I am a collection of calamities and concerns. Sepideh is the embodiment of “alas” and mourning.

I am sure that there is no way out of here. I am not aware of Esmail’s situation. Whenever I hear them torturing someone, I get up and mourn in Lori. Now I understood that our dialects may differ. I am so afraid that Esmail is being tortured. But is he even alive?

I sing again: “To be dir, mo be dir, koh vos e myomyo... (We are apart from each other and there is a mountain between us)”.. I promise to keep the faith. As if my child has been taken from me. One night I pray to hear his voice being tortured, so that I know he is alive. When they separated us, he was unconscious because of the intense torture.

The cell door opens. “Go to the yard.”

I ask the guard, ”Tell me that my child is alive.”

He is quiet.

I go to the yard, hoping to find a sign of Esmail. I leave the cell bent over. There are 500 ceramic tiles from the cell to the yard. Somewhere between them, I walk for 200 meters on cement.

There is another woman out in the yard: Makieh. I have seen her before, the first night I was brought to this fucking place. The second time was when we were fingerprinted at Sepidar prison. That same night I also met Zahra.  In the yard, there is a painting. It depicts a gazelle and three fawns.

Makieh begins to cry. She indicates the picture and looks at me with her bright hazel eyes. ”This is Hala, the middle one is Fatemeh, and the eldest is Ghasa.” The names are those of her children. Then she asks me, ”Did you get any information on whether Esmail is alive?”

“No. I’m asking, but they don’t answer me. I guess they have killed him.”

I feel the sun’s rays in my eyes. “I will greet the sun again,” I intone. “I will greet the streams that flow in my poems.”

I stand up to measure the yard. I feel that one day this type of information will come in handy. I don’t know.

The number of ceramic tiles: 650.

Length: 26 tiles.

Width: 25 tiles.

I ask myself if the wounded feet of my brother, my child, my dear one, have touched these 650 ceramic tiles. I must leave a sign for Esmail. I must use this opportunity. I sneak my hands under my scarf and pull out a few strands of my dyed hair. I tie them with a string that I have drawn out from the blanket and place them on a pipe in the corner of the yard. I hope Esmail will find the sign and understand that I am alive.

When they return me to the cell I scream, mourn, and scratch my neck. What is the use of my throat when I cannot call Esmail? I scratch at my eyes. What is the use of my eyes if I cannot see Esmail?

They take me to the interrogation room. The person who seems to be in charge asks me, "Are you from Dezful?”

“I was born there, but I am originally Lor.”

“Ok. Let’s talk in your accent.”

I burst into tears. His accent is like Esmail’s. I tell them, ”They have branded me with loads of sexual accusations. But please, just tell me my brother is alive.”

He sees how miserable I am. After a few hours, he comes back. “Come on. You drove us crazy. Let’s go and you can see for yourself that your brother is alive. Maybe then you’ll stop saying he’s been killed.”

"You want to beat me again and say you have to take me to the medical examiner?" I asked.

“No. Get up. Haji has ordered me to take you to him.”

I count my footsteps. It is 10 steps from the place I was sitting to Esmail’s interrogation room. Now I have a clear picture of the rooms. 

“Hello?! Do you hear me?”

A rattle, and a heavy voice answers me. "Hello!"

I burst into tears again. But I am fine now.

There are two interrogators there.  “I thought they’d killed you,” I say.

“Don’t worry. Just tell me whatever you know about me."

“You are my brother. The only thing I know is that Nahal is waiting for you.”

The interrogator tugs on the cane and tells me, “Let’s go. It’s time to call your family.”

I hear Esmail’s voice. “Sepideh, don’t talk back in here.”

I laugh and go to call my family. I won’t say “They have killed Esmail” anymore.



Lori is a dialect of Persian spoken in some areas of central, southern and southwest Iran.

“I will greet the sun again”: The poem Sepideh is citing here was penned by Forough Farokhzad, a pioneer of contemporary Persian poetry.

Nahal is Esmail Bakhshi’s daughter.



Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Three: Hasan, the Sound of Beating, Perfume’s Odor

July 18, 2020
Sepideh Gholian
4 min read
Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Three: Hasan, the Sound of Beating, Perfume’s Odor