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Imprisoned Activist Speaks Out for All Women Prisoners

September 23, 2019
8 min read
Imprisoned Activist Speaks Out for All Women Prisoners

IranWire has received an audio file of civil rights activist Sepideh Gholian describing her time in Gharchak Prison, where she says she and other inmates are tortured, and where interrogators have tried to force her to remain silent.

Gholian was arrested twice after she took part in protest rallies by Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory workers. She was first arrested on November 18, 2018 and re-arrested on January 20, 2019. She was forced to make confessions that were then broadcast on Iranian state TV. She has been tortured in prison, her family has been harassed, security agents have physically attacked her parents and broke her brother’s teeth after they raided their home without a warrant.

On September 9, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh of Tehran Revolutionary Court Branch 28 sentenced Gholian to 19 years and six months in prison for “gathering and conspiracy to act against national security,” “membership to Gam Group,” a pro-labor rights publication, “propaganda against the regime” and “disseminating lies.” Judge Moghiseh sentenced Gholian and six other labor activists to a total of 110 years in prison.

Gholian is currently being held at Gharchak Prison for women in Varamin, south of Tehran, awaiting the outcome of her appeal. After her conviction, she managed to send out an audio clip from inside the prison, describing the pressures on her and the injustices she and other imprisoned women have faced.

The full text of Gholian’s audio clip follows.


You hear my voice from Iran. You hear my voice from among 1,500 innocent women prisoners of Gharchak prison. You hear my voice from among a throng of unknown women who are in prison on baseless charges. You hear my voice as a representative of women who live under injustice, whips and brutality. Gender discrimination has broken their backs and they have no way to freedom.

Listen to my voice and listen good! This message is addressed — after the people — to international institutions like Amnesty International and the United Nations. I am Sepideh Gholian, a resident of the city of Dezful, Khuzestan province, who was arrested on November 18, 2018, when I was among my Haft-Tapeh brothers and sisters. I am bringing a complaint, as a woman, against Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting [IRIB], its affiliated news agencies and media and the judiciary. Listen to my voice because I can no longer bear it.

On December 16, 2018, after days of back-to-back interrogations, they took me to the interrogation room. I was told that I must pledge that I would not talk about torture and things that had happened. What kind of a pledge, I asked? “Cooperate,” they said. Cooperate, I asked myself? How can you conceal the refusal to give workers their rights and so much discrimination? They insisted and insisted but I refused. They left me alone in the interrogation room for 16 hours, where I could hear the sounds of them torturing a human being whom they called “Esmail” from the next room. The interrogator was beating him non-stop and told him, “Esmail! Confess!”

Just imagine what I went through because his name was the same as my codefendant. I had no idea that Esmail Bakhshi had been released earlier. I started screaming and clawing at my face. Then somebody came in and shouted violently: “What is it? Didn’t you say that he was your brother?”

Then everything went black. Totally black.

After 16 hours the interrogator returned. “Okay, so you don’t want to cooperate?” he said. “If you so much as open your mouth, we will broadcast all your [forced] confessions on [the TV news program] ’20:30.’ Now you are inviting other women to the protests? Now you want women to lead the chants? You climb the wall of the governor’s office?”

I did not cooperate and I was released. Then I told the truth and what the interrogator had promised came true. They aired their “documentary” [the forced confessions of Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian]. All those beatings and harassments were because I was a woman. It was because I climbed the governor’s office to film the anti-riot police, whose presence was denied by reporters associated with the regime. It was because Esmail Bakhshi supported the rights of the women in a city where this time, unusually, women stood side by side with men to fight.

Listen to me good! Security agencies have planted a nightmare in my head. In this nightmare, I cannot stop hearing the sounds of torture and at every moment I am waiting for the IRIB and its affiliated news agencies to accuse me of another conspiracy.

What did I do?

What did I do that they arrested my brother Mehdi and brought him to the detention center where I was held? Only because I am a woman and my brother is a traditional man. To scare me, they repeatedly threatened that they would bring him to the interrogation room so that they would force me to confess.

On February 20, the interrogator again came to the interrogation room. “I have a suggestion,” he told me. “With your own unique and different makeup and hair color, in any dress that you like — even without a headscarf — in any way that you want, sit in front of the camera and say that you have been deceived. Help us to make a documentary about this deceit. And we will help you to return to your family. Otherwise, we are sorry but we shall never again give you a chance to be free.” I rejected the offer and now I have been in prison for months. Are they going to be true to their word and I will never see my family again outside the prison?

You hear my voice from a country where you hear that women are arrested and sent to Gharchak Prison for eating ice cream on the charge of “spreading corruption and prostitution through eating ice cream on the street!”

You hear my voice from Iran, where gender discrimination is running so amuck that at night they arrest women on the street and charge them with “prostitution through walking or standing in walkways at unusual times!”

At a time when, following the judiciary chief’s instructions, they are arresting bundles of people because of their hair color or how they are dressed, the interrogator wanted me to go in front of the camera with blue hair and without a hijab and dance to his song. Listen to my voice. I have witnessed the pain of women at Sepidar Prison of Ahvaz and at Varamin’s Gharchak Prison. From what court I can seek justice?

Which verdict does Mr. Raeesi [the judiciary chief] want to appeal? It is because of these absurd charges that the women imprisoned at Sepidar and Gharchak beat themselves, commit suicide and take fistfuls of pills that send them from prison to Amin Abad [mental hospital]. Whose verdict does he want to appeal? Does he want appeal the gender discrimination that is suffocating us? Does he want to appeal the beatings that we have received and will continue to receive? Every night I have nightmares about the publication of fake and illegal news by IRIB. Tell me where to complain? How can I bring my complaint against the ’20:30’ program and Fars News Agency? Tell me: how can I complain against the judiciary?

Listen to my voice! I am speaking to you from among prisoners who have suffered violence for years and years and who have nobody to come to their rescue. And when they defend themselves they are charged with murder and have to suffer retribution.

Listen to my voice. It is the voice of [civil rights activist] Atena Daemi, who was sentenced to three more years in prison for protesting against these death penalties. My voice is the voice of women of Evin who, unlike the inmates at the men’s ward, have lost the right to call [their families] every day, only because they are women.

Tell me to where I can complain? This voice is the voice of Sepidar and Gharchak prisoners. It is the voice of inmates in a prison called a “place of exile” by my country’s judiciary, which has been trying to present its inmates as scary criminals so to hide from view the pain that it inflicts on these prisoners.

But they are lying. My sisters have turned this poison of incarceration into a sweet nectar for me. This voice is the voice of somebody who has been sentenced to 19 years and six months [in prison] and who now is not after freedom and equality just for herself. This is the voice of somebody who is not demanding to be transferred to Evin Prison. She demands an end to the dark days and nights for these innocent women; somebody who wants you to listen to the voices of her cellmates and tell her to whom she can bring her complaint so that she can get results.


Related Coverage:

Influential French Union in Solidarity with Iranian Workers, September 20, 2019

Fractured Heads and Bloodied Bodies: Police Attack Protesting Workers, September 19, 2019

110 Years in Prison for 7 Labor Activists, September 8, 2019

Haft-Tappeh Workers Appeal to International Labor Organization, June 10, 2019

Imprisoned Labor Activists Threatened with Heavier Sentences if They Talk to the Media, May 21, 2019

Workers Beaten and Arrested at May Day Parade, May 1, 2019

Labor Activists Face Intense Pressure for Another TV Confession, February 22, 2019

Authorities Threaten Labor Activists, Families and Lawyers Following Media Interviews, February 13, 2019

Torture of Arrested Labor Activists and Their Families Continues, February 1, 2019

Agents Target Jailed Activist's Family in Brutal Attack, January 23, 2019

Iranian TV Airs Forced Confessions of Labor Activists, January 23, 2019



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