Labor rights activist Sepideh Gholian has been rearrested after more than 30 plainclothes security agents descended on her sister’s home in Ahvaz.
The young prisoner of conscience was taken away after the raid on Monday night. Her brother Mehdi wrote on Instagram that Sepideh had been “abducted” and the family had no idea where she was now. He added: “The whole family’s cellphones were also confiscated by the agents.”
Sepideh was on medical leave from a five-year prison sentence for reporting on workers’ protests at the Haft-Tappeh Sugar Factory, Khuzestan in 2018. While away from prison in late September, she had tweeted about the poor conditions and abuse of female inmates at Bushehr Prison and was hit with fresh charges as a consequence.
Previously Sepideh had been held at Evin and Sepidar Women’s Prisons before being transferred to Bushehr in March. In her revelations last month, she called Bushehr a “forgotten hell” and alleged women were being sexually abused by prison guards.
Branch Two of the Bushehr Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office then wrote to her on September 20 notifying her of the additional charges of “spreading lies in cyberspace" and "propaganda against the regime".
Last year Sepideh also shared her memories of torture at Ahvaz Intelligence Detention Center, and of the female inmates of Sepidar Women’s Prison, in a series of drawings and diary entries published by IranWire. She has also tried to sue Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, a correspondent for the IRIB, who took her forced confession for state TV in 2018.
‘Where Did They Take Her?’: A Mother’s Anguish
Sepideh’s mother told IranWire that she was out of her mind with worry for her 26-year-old daughter, who despite her incarceration has never stopped speaking out about injustice in Iran. The rest of the family were in Dezful on the day of the raid, while Sepideh was staying with her sister Sedigheh in Ahvaz.
The plainclothes officers, she said, had keys to the apartment and had stormed the building without prior notice when only the two Gholian sisters were at home. Before taking Sepideh away, they also confiscated their personal computers, phones and even the key to Sedigheh’s husband’s car.
"When the agents entered,” their mother said, “everyone was sitting at home in comfortable clothes. The agents didn’t even allow Sepideh to change, and took her away without so much as a hijab on. When my daughter protested, the officers didn’t respond; they just rushed Sepideh out of the house."
Sepideh was handcuffed during the extraction, even though she had voluntarily gone to courthouses in Ahvaz and Tehran two weeks ago on being summoned back to prison. At the time, she was told to wait, as officials had yet to decide where she was to be sent next. “We kept on following up to see when she should report back,” her mother side. “But every time, she was told it wasn’t time yet."
Now, she said, “I don’t know whether she’ll be killed by the morning. Where did they take her? We don’t even know if she was taken by intelligence officers or by another security agency. We don’t know where they came from or why. If they had a warrant, they should have called first, and if Sepideh didn’t report to them, then they could have arrested her. Even Sepideh’s lawyer doesn’t have access to her. We don’t know where she was taken, whether she’s in Ahvaz or has been transferred to Tehran.”
A close friend of Sepideh’s, who asked not to be named, said they suspected she had been taken back to Sepidar Women’s Prison in Ahvaz. “The large number of arresting agents was strange,” they said. “Why did they need so many officers to arrest one girl?"