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.
There is a pottery cup on the tablecloth. It’s much more eye-catching than the other five glasses that we buy from the prison shop, which are either green or red. Where did this come from?
“What a beautiful cup,” I say. The young woman laughs and I see that her fangs have grown longer than others’. She has a familiar laugh. She narrows her eyes and says, “I’ve seen you a lot on the BBC. I thought you were free."
“Yep. I was released, but they arrested me again for no reason. You never know, maybe they’ll execute me for no reason.”
“How will they execute you?”
“They’ll hang me with a cord.”
“Then you should thank God.” And she left.
At lunchtime, I see her with the same pottery cup in her hands. She is laughing so hard that you can see her teeth. I call her the Smiley Girl.
The noise the next morning wakes me up. I am not in a good mood and I don’t want to leave the bed. “Hey, you!” I call. “The girl with the beautiful cup. Can you please check if the social workers have opened their office today?”
She smiles as always. “Not yet. I’m waiting too. That cup is a gift I got because I memorized the Qur’an, otherwise I would have given it to you. I’m doing this to try to change my sentence.”
I am not in the mood to ask her about her sentence. I crawl back under the blanket. It seems like asking about charges and sentences is pointless. We are all laughing, all of us wish for an extra portion of Kebab, we yearn for dancing, we are all women that have been denied, and there isn’t any difference between being Sepideh and being the Smiley Girl.
Aren’t we all the victims of the misguided policies of oppressors? It doesn't matter anymore. I have heard a lot of stories, and they have told me a lot.
For instance, they call for the Smiley Girl because she has her hands raised up toward the sky. When she returns, she says, “They told me that I can't have a call for three days.” She is laughing and crying: "What would I do now? How should I talk with my daughter?”
She has been punished and banned from calling home for three days because she held the glass – which she won in the Qur’anic competition – up in the air.
The social workers’ office has opened at 1pm and is going to be closed at 1.30pm. We must hurry. We all go to the door, but the bars hold us back. The Smiley Girl takes my hand and drags me in. “Tell this to the BBC,” she says, and laughs.
We go in, and I ask, “When will I be sent away?”
The social worker looks at the Smiley Girl and says, ”Ebtesam Delavari. You will not change. You danced with the glass; a glass that you got because of the Quran, and yet you disrespect it. These are minor things, of course. Being stoned to death is your sentence and I advise you to accept it. If you are pardoned your family will be destroyed. Why do you try? To be free so that your parents kill you? You want your parents to be murderers? You’ve made them suffer enough."