Narges Mohammadi, vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center, founded and led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, was arrested on May 5. Soon after, prison authorities transferred her to Evin Prison’s women’s ward. According to her husband, Taghi Rahmani she has yet to be informed of her charges.
Rahmani, who now lives in exile in France, spent more than 14 years in prison. Over the years, their children have repeatedly been witness to security service raids on their home and harassment of their parents.
IranWire talked to Taghi Rahmani about Narges Mohammadi, her serious medical condition, and the price their family has paid for their civil society activism.
Where does the case against Narges Mohammadi stand?
Her arrest was unexpected. If she had been summoned, she would have responded, but the prosecution arrested her without a warrant or any explanation. Even now they have not told Narges why she has been arrested.
In September 2011, after Narges had been fired from her job, Judge Pir Abbasi of the lower court sentenced her to 11 years in prison, which the appeals court reduced to six years. She was sent to prison in April 2012, after which her medical condition — she suffers from muscular paralysis — was aggravated. Zanjan’s Medical Examiner confirmed that Narges could not withstand prison. Eventually she was given medical leave.
Now they say this is the continuation of the same sentence. However, after she met with Catherine Ashton [EU’s former foreign policy chief] as a civil rights activist following her release, and when she emphasized the need for civil institutions in Iran, Judge Salavati opened a new case against her, which repeated the same old charges. Her lawyers were supposed to study the new case the same day that she was arrested.
But the court order is questionable. According to the new Islamic Penal Code [Section 4], Narges has served a third of her sentence and, considering her illness, she qualifies for conditional release. Zanjan’s Medical Examiner has certified that if Narges is kept in a closed space she will become paralyzed. She also suffers from paroxysm, which is more dangerous than the paralysis.
What are the symptoms of muscular paralysis and what dangers does she face?
Doctors say that the cerebellum momentarily stops receiving orders from the brain, and although the patient is quite aware of everything, she has no control and falls to the ground. I have seen Narges go through this and if she hits something, she can injure herself. Her muscular paralysis turns into convulsion and her hands and feet must be held tightly; otherwise it can be very dangerous for her. She also suffered from embolism during childbirth and must take anticoagulants. There is no cure for her ailment and if she is in an inhospitable environment, the paralysis and the convulsions return. Therefore, her prison sentence cannot be enforced.
It was reported on May 19 that Narges Mohammadi warned authorities that if she does not receive her medication, she would go on hunger strike. You wrote on your Facebook page that she has told the family that she has received her medication. Has she definitely stopped considering going on hunger strike?
On May 17, an official met Narges and told her that if there were too much talk about her, Judge Salavati would issue a heavier verdict —an illegal threat beyond the norms of judicial conduct. The same day she said that they had provided her with only two of her five medications, so her physical condition had deteriorated. But since they had given her those medications, she said she would not go on hunger strike. This is the latest news I have.
When asking about her case, which authority or institution do you approach?
The Intelligence Ministry under Mahmoud Alavi is the plaintiff in the cases against Narges Mohammadi, the Defenders of Human Rights Center and many political and civil rights activists. Three years ago, in presenting his agenda to the parliament, Alavi he said that he would review the 2009 cases [resulting from the disputed presidential election]. The plaintiff in those arrests was Ahmadinejad’s Intelligence Ministry. And now Mr. Rouhani’s Intelligence Ministry is the plaintiff. If this ministry takes back its complaints, there will be no plaintiff and many political and civil rights activists will be freed.
The plaintiff filing against Narges is the Intelligence Ministry, but this is contrary to the agendas of both Mr. Alavi and Mr. Rouhani. Rouhani asked people to critique his Citizens’ Rights Charter, so Narges organized a gathering to do so. This is now one of the charges against her. Think about it. Mr. Rouhani announces that people can protest but, for example, the Intelligence Ministry has warned the teacher’s professional association that they cannot even stage a silent protest.
Unfortunately, the authorities do not enforce the laws that they themselves have written. We know that the Iranian judiciary pressures civil activists to make Rouhani’s government look weak and incompetent. But the judiciary must act according to its own laws and, in this case, considering her illness and the time served, Narges should not be in prison today.
So you are addressing the minister of intelligence and the president, and holding them accountable?
We must address both the institution and the officials who are responsible for it. I believe that the Intelligence Ministry’s actions are not under the control of its minister. This ministry follows its own policies and acts from a position of power under the supervision of the extreme right wing. Intelligence Ministry interrogators used to tell me that “presidents come and go and we cannot act according to their wishes.”
But this is against this country’s laws. The Intelligence Ministry is accountable to the parliament. Mr. Rouhani asks the citizens to state their criticisms, but the Intelligence Ministry prevents the teachers from doing so. This shows that the Intelligence Ministry is outside the control of Mr. Rouhani.
We are dealing with the judiciary, extreme hardliners, and the security apparatus. When [Foreign Minister] Zarif says “we don’t have political prisoners,” I can criticize him and say that he is wrong. But my problem is with the judiciary. And I am addressing Mr. Alavi to take back the complaints.
Is the only goal of the security and judiciary establishment to show, through its continued pressures, that the government is helpless?
No. I believe that the arrest of Narges is a project to deactivate a civil rights activist. But this action is intended to send a variety of messages. One message is to Mr. Rouhani and is aimed at sabotaging his government, similar to what happened in 2000 with the arrests of bloggers when [former president] Khatami and the reformists were in charge.
The other point is that, when activists are arrested, society hesitates, a society that is not willing to pay a very high price. The arrests are not going to stop the movement, but they will slow it down. This is a weapon security agencies use to tidy up the issue, not to solve it. The goal of arresting civil rights activists such as Narges and issuing heavy sentences is to intimidate activists. For those who only think of maintaining power, the fate of a child or a prisoner is immaterial.
If the regime wants to move in the direction of people’s interests, it should acknowledge the necessity of civil institutions. But if it wants to close up the environment, it must put civil rights activists under pressure. This project is not limited to Narges, and has various manifestations. People are fired from their jobs, some are summoned to court and the verdicts against others are executed. Part of the project is aimed at the upcoming [parliamentary] elections. They want to exhaust civil rights activists so that they cannot present their demands during the elections.
The success or the failure of the government also depends on civil right activists understanding that they can conduct their activities, but they must take the whole society into account. Then they can get closer to their goals through their activities.
You talked about the “costs”. How do your children look at the conditions of your life and the choices that their parents have made?
Narges is totally against involving the children. But the truth is that children have been present throughout our difficult times and have witnessed the nightly raids by security forces since they were four years old. We were accessible and certainly we would have answered if we had been summoned.
Last year, a teacher told the class that “the police are good” but [our daughter] Kiana protested and said, “Not all the police are good, not those in civilian clothes who raided our home and took away Father with his belongings.” There is no doubt that this atmosphere has affected the children deeply, but we hope when they grow up they will understand our problems.
After I came to France, when the children complained that their father was not there, Narges tried to point out the positive side. For example, she told them that most children do not get to go to France and visit Paris,“but you can travel there because your father lives in Paris.”
No doubt these difficulties will have their consequences. The message to a citizen who wants to live in his own country and be lawfully active is “give up being a citizen.” Narges and civil rights activists are not after positions of power; they just want to be civil activists. But the authorities do not even tolerate this.
Can you afford the price you have paid?
Each one of us acts according to his beliefs and his own choices. We can make mistakes. I believe that we civil rights and political activists have the right to act according to our beliefs. A lot of injustice has been committed over the past decades. We want to change the laws and have acted peacefully. We even tried to compromise and lower our demands. But the other side got scared and constantly tried to close up the environment. The good thing is that, since the 1990s, there has been no long-term historical rupture and people remember the time of reform [under President Khatami]. Asking for an open atmosphere and enjoying minimal citizenship rights for political and civil activities are not extreme demands.
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