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Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Eight: Ali the Fisherman

July 18, 2020
Sepideh Gholian
5 min read
Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Eight: Ali the Fisherman

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 Moravvej.

 

It has been a long time since I last had an appetite. I don’t get hungry at all; I’ve lost my sense of taste. When I come back from interrogation, I nibble on frozen food so I won’t faint. My interest in food has diminished to eating something in order to stop shaking. I don’t care how my mouth tastes. I feel hot, though; a glass of water changes my life. Last night I dreamed my mother bought had me ewe's yogurt. I eat a spoon of it and, wow, it cools me down.

Thursday’s dinner is beans. Frozen beans, served with plastic spoons. The spoons have been used so many times that they have become rough and sharp. I used to be so sensitive about rough things that I wore gloves at home. Now everything is different; everything has changed. Now I eat with that rough spoon and I don't even care.

On the second bite, I think I hear a sheep's bleat. But this is different to a bleat, louder and longer. The sound is mixed with banging on a door ahead, and the sound of guards kicking. The horrific combination frightens me. A new event is happening, a new sound combination that I have not heard before. What is this?

A head is banged against the door and simultaneously there is a sheep's sound. As if some people are beating him and at the same time, urging him to stay composed. I understand that they are torturing a man. His head is banged on the door, he makes a sheep’s bleat and resists. Each guard is responsible for part of the torture. One of the guards drags him along the ground and he passes my cell, mooing.

"Ali!” the guard admonishes him. “Up until now you were fishing. But this time, we fished you. We are fishermen, as you are. Stop playing around."

And so they take Ali, the fisherman.

I have heard how people sound under torture. I know how they sound when they tortured with hot water, cables and batons. What have they done to him, so that he moos? I kept thinking about the meaning of “I will beat you like a woof from a dog”. Now they have smashed Ali so badly that he sounds like a cow, like a sheep!

Some days later, I am on the way to interrogation room number one. From under the blindfold I see a men's feet exiting another cell. He walks slowly, as though his feet are in chains. I enter the interrogation room and sit on the chair. The interrogator enters, but then leaves again.

I sit there for half an hour alone. I raise the blindfold slightly and look around. Under the chair there is a paper receipt for a Ventolin inhaler. Salbutamol.

I am full of joy. I want to jump up and down. I take it as a sign of Esmail’s presence. I take the paper and a pen and write: Wherever I go, I’ve received your letter. We can’t go back. Signed, Goli. Is that you, Esmail?

And I return the paper to its place under the feet of the chair.

The next day they take me into the same room. When the interrogator leaves, I look for the paper. It lies among the chains beside the chair. I read it:

I am not Esmail. I am Ali Abunaif. God is great, trust in Him.

So, those were Ali’s feet. So there is another Ali in the detention center! He is the one who moos under torture. I hide the paper in my underwear.

One day, in my final days of interrogation, I stay in the toilet for eight hours. It’s as though they have forgotten I’m here. On the same day they try to force me to sit in in front of the camera and give a forced confession.

But they were lying. The whole time I am in the toilet, they put all torture on hold and there isn’t a sound. But that night the sounds of torture are louder and scarier. I am afraid that they will beat me if I knock on the bathroom door.

When after eight hours they open the door, I say: “The sound of torture was horrible. Why didn’t you open the door sooner?”

They answer: ”We forgot you were here. At the same time, you need to understand how hard we are trying to preserve the country’s safety.”

The women’s toilet is in the interrogation room that doesn’t have a camera.  Usually, we are taken there to be tortured heavily. This time they are harming someone there who has changed his religion. They want him to report the names of those who participated in group prayer. But his lips are sealed. The interrogator threatens him: “Ali, I won't allow you to use the inhaler this time. I will beat you until you are dead, or I will electrocute you until you sound like you did last time."

Ali Abounaif and Ali the fisherman are the same person.

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Opinions

Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Seven: Zahra Does Not Know Persian Very Well

July 18, 2020
Sepideh Gholian
2 min read
Sepideh Gholian's Prison Diaries, Chapter Seven: Zahra Does Not Know Persian Very Well