The mother of Soheil Arabi, a photojournalist, blogger and former political prisoner of conscience, has been sent to Evin Prison to begin serving an 18-month custodial sentence.
Farangis Mazlum, 55, was summoned to Evin Prison’s Judgement Enforcement Unit on Tuesday. Last October a deputy prosecutor declined to imprison her due to her age and asked for a doctor’s note to excuse her from prison on medical grounds.
Mazlum’s son Soheil Arabi was released from Rajai Shahr Prison last November after seven and a half years. When he was initially sentenced to death in 2014, Mazlum suffered a heart attack and has also more recently had a stroke. Despite this and her doctor having determined that she is unfit for imprisonment, this time she was jailed.
Mazlum was first arrested at her sister’s home in July 2019 and transferred to Ward 209 of Evin Prison. She and family members had spoken to the media about Arabi’s case, including his poor conditions and hunger strikes behind bars, and Mazlum had personally gone to the Iranian parliament to petition the Supreme Leader to enact his pardon. On October 8, 2019, she was released on bail of 250 million tomans until the end of legal proceedings.
For speaking out about her son’s arbitrary detention Mazlum was charged with “conspiracy to commit crime”, and “propaganda against the regime”, and accused by prosecutors of having links with the opposition group People's Mojahedin Organization (MEK).
A Freethinker, Not a Conspirator
“Justice has become so feeble that my own mother has been thrown in jail,” Soheil Arabi wrote Soheil Arabi on his Telegram channel this week.
Arabi was arrested in November 2013 by the IRGC after sharing social media posts that criticized the Islamic Republic. Convicted of “insulting the prophet”, he initially faced the death penalty, but in 2015 the sentence was commuted to seven and a half years, two years of Islamic theological study to prove his “repentance”, and a two-year travel ban.
“The verdict against my mother,” he told IranWire, “mainly related to her activities after 2017. She repeatedly spoke to the media about my case and, as time passed, she grew angrier.
“She was no longer content to be a defender of just her own son. After I was imprisoned, she came to know [other] civil and political activists, and her years-long anger exploded into rage against fanatics, the patriarchy, and injustice. She went from being a mother to a fighter.”
The “propaganda against the regime” charge, Arabi said, had been brought because his mother had “told the truth” about conditions in Iranian prisons. He dismissed the charge of cooperation with the MEK as “baseless and absurd”.
“My mother was furious enough that she’d give an interview to any platform,” he said, “regardless of its political leaning or affiliation. She just wanted the situation of prisoners to improve. She spoke to a few outlets that the Ministry of Intelligence claims are linked to the MEK, including HRANA [Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian-led press association that has repeatedly rejected any such notion]. Of course, the security establishment of the Islamic Republic likes to say that any and all opposition group is affiliated with either the Pahlavis [i.e. the monarchist camp] or Rajavi [Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the MEK]”.
Mazlum, was born in 1967 in Abadan and grew up in Tehran. She married in 1983 and Arabi was her first child, born in 1985. “My mother is fond of literature, especially novels,” Arabi told IranWire. “As she herself puts it, she’s a bookworm, and spends most of her time reading.”
The women in their family, Arabi said, have long regarded his mother as a “freethinker” and for years excluded her. She reportedly has “no political leanings” but is partial to the American writer and activist Emma Goldman, the Italian revolutionary Errico Malatesta and the Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. “She’s also fond of Chekhov and Dostoevsky,” Arabi added, “but she’s not dogmatic about anything. My mother is consumed with curiosity, and as such, she doesn’t imprison herself in any ideological cage.”
Four Summonses in Twelve Months
At the time of her heart attack, Mazlum was just 48 years old. Her physical condition badly deteriorated in the aftermath and she also needed a double knee surgery. “Moving became difficult for her,” Arabi said. “This in turn made her heart condition worse. Even the official medical examiner wrote that she should be kept under the supervision of a cardiologist.”
On August 2, quoting an informed source, HRANA reported: “Despite various illnesses... Ms. Mazlum has not been able to complete her treatment. Last month, as a result of the stress caused by successive summonses, and by going back and forth to the medical examiner and Evin Prison, she had a stroke and was admitted to Mehr Parand Hospital.
“Early this year, a medical examiner confirmed that Ms. Mazlum could not endure prison. The magistrate’s court announced she would be fined instead. But, after the Ministry of Justice filed a complaint in response, she was again summoned to serve her sentence.”
Both of Arabi’s parents – his father was born in 1962 – have a history of strokes. Mazlum suffered her first not long after the heart attack on learning her son’s death sentence had been upheld on appeal. The family have also suffered financially; all Arabi’s savings were used up after his first year in jail and the family have since moved from the city to a rented home on the outskirts of Tehran.
“Since last year she has been summoned to prison four times,” Arabi said. “Each time she went on her own two feet, and each time they gave her the runaround. Prison officials say that they can’t keep her in prison – because of heart problems, the need for surgery, and vision problems – but the Intelligence Ministry insists they must, whatever the cost.”
Mazlum’s interrogator, her son said, had informed her the Ministry wanted her jailed because her son was still committing the same “offenses” as before: namely, exercising his right to freedom of expression online. “I was arrested and sentenced to death because I created a Facebook page called ‘A Generation that Does Not Want to Remain a Wasted Generation’. But in the last few years, I discovered that many generations have been wasted and, if we can find each other, and put our minds and our abilities together, we can make fundamental changes, make things better.
“Farangis Mazlum is not merely the person who gave birth to me, and who brought me up despite all the obstacles, and in the face of poverty. She is my comrade-in-arms in the battle. People like her are on the vanguard of the fight against reactionaries, inequality, patriarchy, and every kind of injustice. When a person is thrown in jail, first the family is harmed, then the whole of society.”