The Islamic Republic says it has granted prison leaves during the Nowrouz holiday period, but thousands of Iranian political and ideological prisoners remained behind bars and celebrated the Persian New Year away from their families.
Inmates inside the women's ward of Tehran’s Evin prison spoke to IranWire about their preparations for Nowruz and how they celebrate the holiday, which this year fell on March 21.
Alieh Matlabzadeh, a photographer, journalist and women's rights activist, tells IranWire that inmates celebrate Nowruz with “even more passionately than those outside of prison.”
Traditionally, Iranians arrange for Nowruz a haft-sin in their homes, a collection of items whose Persian name begins with the letter “S,” including green sprouts and samanu, a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.
Matlabzadeh said the inmates submitted a list of goods to the prison store ahead of Nowruz, including “nuts, ingredients to make sweets [and] prepare the haft-sin table, and even cleaning supplies for cells.”
Starting in early March, the inmates buy seeds from the store and grow wheat and lentils for the haft-sin table.
Another prisoner said that the prisoners joined their forces to arrange a common haft-sin table in the prison hall.
The younger prisoners cleaned and decorated the facility, including the sports club and yard, to welcome spring.
However, everyone is responsible for cleaning their personal spaces and belongings, taking turns when using the washing machine.
The inmates prepare vegetables and fish for lunch on New Year's Day, just like other Iranians.
"This year, as in previous years, we ordered fish and special vegetables from the prison store. Usually, prisoners who have more financial means try to pay a bigger share…so that everyone can enjoy Nowruz together," one prisoners said.
Ahead of Nowruz, inmates visit each other, starting with the elders’ cell, and exchange homemade treats or fruits purchased from the store, Matlabzadeh says.
For months, the inmates use their skills to prepare gifts in the workshops, she says.
On the final day of the New Year holiday period, the inmates gather in the prison yard.
They spend the day eating, playing volleyball or badminton and enjoying each other's company.
"Imprisonment is difficult to endure. We focus our efforts on not giving up and on not inflicting pain to our bodies. We were sentenced to imprisonment because we strived to achieve a normal and happy life. We continue our struggle by trying to restore as much normalcy and happiness as possible, even within these walls," a prisoner says.