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.
I am familiar with the voice of a hand. Since I was a child I have been told that one hand can't make a sound.
Opposite and to the right of cell number 24, there is another cell. A woman in there is being interrogated with me. Now she is banging on the small door. She asks the guard to call "Asra" and "Sana."
I surmise that she has big, strong hands. Once I tried to hit the small door, but it didn't sound anything like as loud as that. Although I have small hands, I have kneaded baklawa dough many times, so they are strong. It seems that Zahra has big hands, hands that make bread a lot. I live with her voice and her despair. We are interrogated together, eat with each other and live with each other, together we...
Although I have been badly assaulted here, I think Zahra has been injured more. In the early days when they tortured and beat me with cables, and I wasn't sure whether Esmail was alive or not, I decided to turn away my food. I threw my food back, raised my voice and said: “I will eat when I know what has happened to my brother.” They responded: "Go to hell! Starve to death." Zahra and others heard my voice and also refused food. Five people on hunger strike is more effective.
The next day Zahra declined food again and said, “You must let me call my daughters.” The guard left and when he returned, he yelled at her: ”Your interrogator sends you a message. He says we know you are a member of ISIS and you don’t eat what the Shias offer you. You keep saying you are not part of ISIS, and now it is clear you are lying! Thank God!”
Since then Zahra has accepted food again. Sometimes, she even asks for more.
Once, when we were both being interrogated, I heard a loud voice. The interrogator had slapped her so hard I thought she had lost her eardrum. After some time we became cellmates and reviewed our common memories together.
After 21 days in the same cell, I ask her about that day. “The interrogator gave me a piece of paper,” she said. “I asked him, “Single writing about Sadeq... what does that mean?” The interrogator slapped me and said: “Single writing is correct.”
Zahra does not know Persian very well.
Single writing (تک نویسی ) is a practice in which a detainee writes down details about another specific person on the order of their interrogators. It is one of the ways these torturers gather “information” on a given person that they can use against them in the future.