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. One story will be published on our website every day, translated by Zahra H. Moravjev.
It is Thursday's midnight. I can't sleep; my back is killing me. There is a power outage and I don’t hear a sound. Apparently, nobody is being tortured tonight. I’m about to get to sleep when I hear them shouting.
“You won’t leave this place alive!”
“We’ll kill you, you fuck!
They start the beating. They are beating Esmail. This is the newest information I have gleaned from cell number 24 of the Ahvaz detention center. Under torture, we all suffer, cry, and scream in the same way. They beat him with cables and batons, and curse him endlessly.
"Youuuuuma," he cries out. Youma is Arabic for mother.
He was calling his mother in Arabic. I get a second piece of information: he is an Arab. They ask him the name of his “operation" and he shouts in Arabic that he doesn't know. The torture increases and the torturers shout, "Speak Persian, you fuck!"
The sound of the torture is so loud that I feel the pain. I cry out in the corner of my cell. The guard opens the door. Fear mutes me.
“What is it?”
“The sound of torture scares me.”
“You’ll get yours too!”
The door is closed again. The torture has intensified and the voices are mixed. Suddenly all is quiet, but Esmail groans. They order him to speak Persian. His last sentence is: “I believe in Ibrahim's God."
Then he growls again... Is he dead? I don't know. I try to pray for his life. I whisper: "Ibrahim's God! Save this young Arab." Was he groaning in the throes of death? I don't know. I just keep repeating: "Ibrahim's God! Save this young Arab."
I fall asleep again, but the torture goes on and is endless. He bawls so horribly that I guess they have poured boiling water on him. My left eye twitches when I hear this traumatic scream.
“I’m burned. I’m burned. I’m burned.”
"Ah. I’m burned too," the torturer mocks.
“Just tell me what you want, what operation you’re talking about. I’ll sing anything you write. But the only thing I believe in is God.”
The torturer laughs out loud and mimics his accent. "Take him to the interrogation room."
I hear them drag him along the ground. I hear his groans, and the Persian-speaking torturers scorning him. This is a history that plays in my mind.
Makieh Nisi hugs me. "Do you think they torture Arif like this?"
I don't know what to say. I am mute.
The male guard takes us to the toilet. First I, then Makieh. The women's toilet is inside one of the interrogation rooms. It seems that Esamil's interrogation will never end. They keep mocking and beating him.
I remember a piece by Awat Pouri that I read before being rearrested. I come back to the cell and Makieh lays her head on my feet. I try to remember what I read, and repeat it to her. "In the same place they called me fucking impure, they made me say Ibrahim in my accent."
Then we both cry, and I promise to write down these events and never forget them.
Ibrāhīm is the Arabic name for the prophet Abraham.
Awat Pouri is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist.