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.
Early morning on April 9, 2018, Fatima Ghalavand and Sahar Jajrineh were chained up because they held each other's hands. The duty officer chained up their hands and feet!
F.Sh was addicted to cigarettes. The officer who took her to the court gave her one and in exchange, he raped her. The other prisoners reported this incident to the head of the prison. She charged F.Sh with an additional crime: adultery.
On March 21, 2019, Nesa Nejati, used a red pen to color her lip. The shift officer reported this and she was placed in quarantine, banned from having a couples’ visitation with her husband or calling her family until further notice.
Since then, using a red or black pencil has been banned in the women's ward. Before this the prisoners were grating red pencil, mixing it with Vaseline, setting it in plastic and setting it under the sun: that was the formula to make red lipstick in prison. But this has been banned since Nesa Nejati’s punishment.
Any type of in-person visitation, even with a father, husband, or brother, is barred without the approval of the prison head. Getting her approval outside of visitation hours is next to impossible.
Wearing a manteau is banned. When a prisoner is let out of prison, she must not wear shoes but the ward’s uniform with complete hijab and an outfit that covers her to the wrists. On the ward, tight clothes are banned, and a prisoner must be covered to the elbow and wear something long enough to cover her hips. During visitation, chador and socks are obligatory and wearing colorful clothes is banned.
Hadis wore tight pants and they took away her mother's phone card. Hadis cut herself and the blood covered the corridor. Hadis and Maria danced on the bloodied floor with bare feet.
In November 2019, Somayeh Alboghbish was brutally assaulted. The prison head battered her, viciously chained up her feet and transferred her to quarantine. She had been in prison for 13 years; she was so incensed that she used her bedsheet to attempt suicide.
Surprisingly, the officers who caught her 10 seconds into her dance did not see her hanging there for 10 minutes. But eventually, the doctors revived her.
Her purpled face is one of the unforgettable images of Sepidar prison. Her purpled face, the chains on her feet, and the sheets around her neck that were left on the floor, while the prison doctor was yelling “She’s committed suicide”, are emblems of the miserable lives of women in Sepidar prison.
She was the most spirited prisoner in Sepidar. She had spent 13 years there. And yes, now she was yelling, “Stop it! I can’t stand it anymore...”
She was transferred to Ahvaz mental hospital after two days. She was begging them to forgive her. She promised, “I will never dance again. I won’t laugh or try to kill myself. I beg you don’t send me there." It was useless. And later, she decayed in the queue to receive pills. A good quantity of tranquilizers turned her into what Mirza and Pirayesh had wanted.