Prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was among dozens of people arrested during the October 29 funeral of Armita Garavand, a 16-year-old girl who was fatally assaulted at a Tehran metro station for not wearing a headscarf.
In a letter written from behind the walls of Qarchak prison on October 30, Sotoudeh described her violent arrest at Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery along with Manzar Zarrabi, a mother advocating for justice over the January 2020 downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other women.
At the prosecutor’s office in Evin prison, the activist says she and Zarrabi “categorically refused to wear headscarves.”
“A few of us, the accused women, had spent hours in the yard, effectively feminizing the Evin prosecutor’s yard, without realizing what we had done. With our hair, we had thrown Evin, with its masculine and security atmosphere, into convulsions…”
It is Monday morning. We arrived at the Evin prosecutor’s office at 10 a.m. We were sitting in the yard. Every other one unveiled, every other one smoking, every other one with her entire earlobe pierced with rings. One with a pierced nose, the other tall as a cypress, with a beautiful short army jacket, velvet green, with black pants that surreptitiously drew the eyes to her ankles. Her head, a riot of gorgeous curly hair glistened in the pale autumn light, hues of brown, shining ever so brightly and beautifully.
There were 23 of us that day, 23 women on one side of the yard, 20 men on the other. We had all been arrested the previous day. Most of us were arrested at the funeral, at the graveside. Two or three were arrested at the mosque. Most of those arrested at the mosque had been released that very night. Two or three had refused to post bail and take an oath. What oath? The oath that they would not participate in such a ceremony.
Among those arrested, next to us in the van, was a woman wrapped in official garb, clad in a heavy veil. She was telling us how sick of herself she had felt for appearing at work every day wearing that uniform. And how, now, in that moment, she felt relief, more at ease.
When we reached Zahra’s Paradise, the cemetery, I went to the mortuary, where the family wash their dead. Armita’s relatives were there. Her mother and sister arrived a little later. People would come forth, introduce themselves and get acquainted. Among those who came forth and exchanged greetings was Manzar Khanom, holding her children’s pictures. She and I exited together, sat in her car, and drove to the graveside. As she was holding the photos of her children, the security guard snatched them from behind. She rushed to get them back. Afterward, she folded the photos and put them back in her bag. After that, we suddenly saw them dragging a young woman who was standing next to me on the ground. I pulled her back, as did others, until she was in our midst, a few rows ahead. They covered her hair with a scarf and did what was necessary to conceal her…
A few moments later, they dragged Manzar, I stepped forward to pull her back, they dragged both of us on the ground and took us. When they forced us into the van, we realized that they had arrested others before us. The van was almost full. I sat next to the door and refused to step in. They used a stun gun, delivering multiple shocks to my legs. I didn’t budge. For a reason. I could see the tears in the eyes of the woman standing in front of the van and was expecting arrest. They had no more room. Later, one of my ward mates told me that her friend had left a message for her family. She had asked them to thank me for sitting in front of the van, saying: “There was no room for them to arrest me, so they freed me.” From Zahra’s Paradise, they took us to the Vozara Detention Center.
A wind, as carefree as young children at play, caressed our hair. Manzar Khanom and I, aged 65 and 60, categorically refused to wear headscarves. After a while, those younger than us would hesitantly don a headscarf in between entering and exiting the prosecutor’s office so that perhaps they might be freed. The men at the prosecutor’s office would abandon their stations, come out one after another and stare at us with wide eyes. We had done the simplest thing in the world. We were just casually sitting there but it was as if the gentlemen in the prosecutor’s office were choking on their breath. They looked at us wondering what had come to pass.
Every hour or so, they handcuffed Manzar and I to one another and told us they would take us back to Vozara Detention Center. Then, after a half hour or so, they told us to step out of the van, wear our headscarves and go back to the prosecutor’s office for cross-examination. We refused and didn’t go in. They repeated it again. On one of these occasions, as they were taking us back into the van, I told one of the officials to tell Mr. Qenaatkar I would complain against him as he did not have the authority to stop me from being prosecuted because I was not wearing a veil. In the throes of our deep sorrow, the grief of losing Armita, I who had refused to step into any court for years found myself insisting that I appear before the Evin prosecutor unveiled. A few of us, the accused women, had spent hours in the yard, effectively feminizing the Evin prosecutor’s yard, without realizing what we had done. With our hair, we had thrown Evin, with its masculine and security atmosphere, into convulsions…