Saba Kord Afshari is just 22 years old. In August 2019, the Revolutionary Court of Tehran sentenced her to 24 years in prison for opposing the compulsory hijab.
About two months ago the civil activist was abruptly transferred from Evin Prison to Qarchak Prison, and in recent days there have been reports that she was later beaten and transferred to the notorious facility’s Wing Six, where ordinary rather than political inmates are housed. A number of Twitter users protested against the additional threat of violence against Kord Afshari on January 29, using the hashtag #SabaIsInDanger.
What Happened in Gharchak Prison?
According to reports, guards at Shahr-e Rey Prison, better known as Qarchak, instructed Kord Afshari to go to Wing Six on January 27 this year.
Wing Eight of Qarchak, where the activist was previously being held, is for political prisoners, while Wing Six is for ordinary criminals. The officers reportedly dragged Kord Afshari to the ground after slapping and twisting her hand before taking her there.
According to Kord Afshari's family, the 22-year-old is emphatic that she is a political prisoner – in the language of the judiciary of Iran, a "security prisoner" – and therefore should not be sent to a regular wing.
Officers with batons and stun guns reportedly slammed their batons against walls and smashed prisoners' belongings to intimidate them as they raided Wing Eight of Gharchak Prison. At the time Wing Eight was in a dire state, and human rights activists say Kord Afshari's transfer from it to a public wing indicates further possible pressures on her.
Masih Alinejad, a journalist and civil activist who has staunchly opposed the compulsory hijab, has previously reported on the poor conditions of Wing Eight, as well as the harassment of inmates held there by the prison governor, Soghra Khodadadi.
What is Saba Kord Afshari’s Crime?
Saba Kord Afshari, born in July 1998, was arrested once during the protests in January 2018 near the City Theater of Tehran and was imprisoned for some time.
She was arrested again in 2019 after a video of her and her mother walking in the streets of Tehran without headscarves was published online. In August that year, Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court, presided over by Judge Iman Afshari, sentenced the civil activist to 24 years in prison: including 15 years for "encouraging corruption and prostitution", seven and a half years for "conspiracy against the security of the country”, and a year and a half on charges of "propaganda against the regime".
Kord Afshari was initially held in Evin Prison, but about two months ago, on December 9, 2020, she was transferred to Qarchak Prison without prior notice. Such a measure – and the placing of prisoners on ordinary wards at Qarchak – has been enacted before as a form of punishment.
What Happened to Saba’s Mother?
The video published by Saba Kord Afshari showed her "without hijab" and announcing her support for Masih Alinejad’s "White Wednesdays" campaign, in which women wear white as symbols of protest. Her mother, Raheleh Ahmadi, accompanied her.
Shortly after Kord Afshari's imprisonment her also mother was arrested. Some human rights groups reported that security agents did this with a view to putting more pressure on Saba, and to encourage her to give a forced confession in front of a camera. After her release on bail, Raheleh Ahmadi said that she, too, believed this was the case.
Ahmadi was eventually sentenced to 31 months in prison and sent to Evin. Despite being held in the same facility, mother and daughter were not allowed to see each other or even speak on the phone.
In recent weeks there have been reports of Raheleh Ahmadi’s health being in a critical condition. Her wellbeing is said to have worsened since her daughter’s transfer to Qarchak – to the point that she cannot walk.
Uproar on Social Media
Following the reports of Kord Afshari being beaten in prison, Twitter users tried to organize a campaign against the move on Friday evening. The hashtagging campaign was supposed to take place the day before, but was changed because of the need to also protest against the death sentence of Javid Dehghan Khold, a prisoner who was ultimately executed on Saturday morning.
Kord Afshari’s sister Soghand tweeted: "What is 24 years in prison for? Embezzlement? Theft? Murder? How many years do you count for each thread of hair?"
Another Twitter user wrote that when a young woman gets a prison sentence that is longer than her age, simply for saying no to mandatory veiling, “Our enemy is right here."
Many others pointed out the unjust sentence of 24 years in prison for Kord Afshari compared to the comparatively tiny sentences meted out for such crimes as embezzlement and corruption. One user noted that Mehdi Jahangiri, the brother of the first vice president, was sentenced to just two years in prison last week for currency smuggling.
Some users have also compared Kord Afshari’s sentence to that of the father of Romina Ashrafi, who beheaded his 13-year-old daughter in a so-called “honor killing” last year. “Removing the scarf: 24 years’ imprisonment; removing the head: nine years’ imprisonment," one user bitterly wrote. Another observed: “If you put the years of imprisonment of Mohammad Ali Najafi [a former mayor of Tehran released after being convicted for murdering his wife], Mehdi Jahangiri, Hossein Fereydoun [the brother of President Hassan Rouhani, sentenced to five years in prison for corruption] and Saeed Mortazavi [the former prosecutor responsible for prisoner deaths, released after a short stint behind bars] all together, it still amounts to less than that of Saba Kord Afshari! They killed people, embezzled, abused the rights of the people, and committed real crimes; Saba only protested."
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