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Five-Months’ Imprisonment for Protesting Against Poverty and Rising Prices

December 20, 2019
Aida Ghajar
5 min read
Ali Sotoudeh with famous human rights activist and vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center Narges Mohammadi
Ali Sotoudeh with famous human rights activist and vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center Narges Mohammadi

"I'm proud of my son. He has done a great job for the nation and by speaking out against inflation. This was the smallest thing he could do. He had only distributed leaflets about gas prices and inflation. My son is very brave. He was exempt from military service to take care of me. But he could not find a job — otherwise he would have gone to work."

When Ali Sotoudeh was arrested and sentenced, his mother went to the media, eager to let people know what had happened. 

Not familiar with technology or social media, it took Farideh Karami several days of effort before she was able to contact the media she thought could tell her son’s story. When she did, she repeatedly said, "I am proud of my son.” 

Karami separated from her husband a decade ago and has raised her three children by working in people's homes in the village of Qaleh near Qorveh, Kurdistan. Now her son is in jail and she wants people to know.

According to Ali Sotoudeh’s mother, on November 30, security forces contacted her son and ordered him to report to the intelligence office, warning him that if he failed to do so, they would go to his house and arrest him. His family was initially able to prevent him from going to jail by presenting the title deed to a shop belonging to one of Ali Sotoudeh's friends. However, on December 2, security forces arrived at the house Sotoudeh shares with his mother and sisters and arrested him.

On 15 December, Sotoudeh was sentenced to five months in prison on the charge of distributing leaflets. "I went to court; my son's sentence was issued," Farideh Karami said. "They said that if I did not object to the sentence, they would reduce his sentence. I was told that he should not have distributed leaflets because it is a crime; but I am proud of my son. He grieves when he sees people's living conditions; he grieves about poverty."

People from the National Front opposition organization, which Sotoudeh supports, describe him as "brave" and a “revolutionary." His mother says that if there had been demonstrations where they lived in November 2019, as there were in many parts of the country, her son would have taken part. Although people did not protest in their village, Sotoudeh showed his support for the public outcry by distributing leaflets objecting to the rise in prices, poverty, inflation, and economic conditions in the country.

When the agents went to the house Ali Sotoudeh and his family rent, they confiscated the remaining leaflets and then arrested him and took him away. His mother was told that he would be released after a few hours, but that night, her son called her and said he wasn’t coming home and that the agents had “made a case" against him.

"I saw Ali twice,” Karami said. “He wasn't sad at all. He said they had not mistreated him and that he had answered whatever they asked. He was told he would have to confess if he wanted his prison sentence to be revoked, but Ali refused. He was told to make a pledge, but Ali refused to sign anything and said he would continue to do so. He told me he was honored to be in prison and said that he was neither an addict nor a robber; he was in prison for defending himself and the nation. My son is brave.”


Living in Poverty

Ali Sotoudeh was born in 1993. He has two sisters, aged 17 and 12. Farideh Karami is originally from Qorveh but moved the family to Qala because it was too expensive to rent property in Qorveh. In Qala she pays 200,000 tomans [$16.00] a month for rent, an amount she finds difficult to earn. She says she has trouble finding even 1,000 tomans [$0.08] to travel to the city for work, and so earns a living doing odd jobs at people’s houses in the village.

“Life is hard," says Farida Karami. "I bring up my children by working hard in people's homes. The situation is very bad. I swear to God, my stomach hurts and I haven't been able to go to the doctor for many years. I have severe anemia and so does my daughter. She is sick, suffers from migraines and can't sleep at night. Our financial situation is awful. We don't have insurance.” Karami also said she suffers from gum disease and dental problems, and that several of her teeth have been removed. “There are charities to help with the treatment, but not all doctors and dentists work with them. I cannot pay for the doctor. It’s not an option.”

But Karami says the family is not alone. "Some people have no bread at all. Many are like us, or even worse. During the New Year period there might be work, but not much. Everything I earn is spent on our rent and for schools, which both cost a lot. Sometimes we have nothing to eat.” 

Where, I asked, is the children’s father? Can he help? "My kids' father is homeless and a drug addict,” she told me. “He came to our house several times and my son said we should let him stay because he had no place to live. But he tried to steal from us. We fought, and I had to send him away. I told him he had no right to come here. He is a stranger to me. My son loves him, but he is not worth it.”

Karami has decided to talk about her son and the family’s poverty so that people know what is going on in their area. She says she knows about the state of the country, and that there are political prisoners and many people in jail for protesting. She talks about these prisoners' families and that they find it difficult to get information about them. She says authorities threaten the families, but says it’s important to engage with civil society and to talk to the media about what they are experiencing. Her son, she says, is just one example of many, a young man who works hard when he can get work. He lives in appalling conditions, but still he remains committed to his community. 

Karami says now is the time to speak up, and urges the media and activists to be her voice, to speak up for her son and others who live in poverty and in increasingly dire conditions.

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