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Atena Daemi: "I Will Not Stand Silent"

October 10, 2016
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour, as told to Narges Bajoghli
8 min read
Atena Daemi
Atena Daemi
Atena Daemi on her way to prison
Atena Daemi on her way to prison

On September 29, civil society activist Atena Daemi reported that the Revolutionary Court of Appeals had upheld her seven-year prison sentence. She is now waiting for a summons to return to prison.

Daemi, 27, was first arrested on October 21, 2014. The Revolutionary Guards held her for several months in “temporary detention” at Evin Prison in Tehran.

On March 7, 2016, Daemi stood trial on charges of “conspiracy against national security,” “propaganda against the regime,” “insulting the Supreme Leader and the sacred,” and “concealing evidence of a crime.”

According to a source quoted by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, all charges against Daemi were based on her Facebook posts, information stored on her phone, and her participation in gatherings to oppose the death penalty and to support the children of Kobane in Syria.

In the lower court, Judge Mohammad Moghiseh – a man the European Union has accused of violating defendants’ human rights – sentenced Daemi to 14 years in prison. The sentence was consolidated into seven years based on the Penal Code of the Islamic republic. (Under Article 134 of the Penal Code, some sentences can be served in parallel).

IranWire spoke to Daemi about her experiences in prison and the charges against her.


I understand your hijab came up during interrogations, based on one of your Facebook posts. Can you tell me how they pressured you over your headscarf?

I had once posted on my Facebook page about a quarrel I had had with a member of the Basij [an Islamist paramilitary organization that enforces “moral standards,” including women’s dress, in Iran]. At an intersection, a Basiji riding a motorcycle with his wife and a small girl of perhaps four or five in a chador cut me off. My headscarf had fallen down. We started to quarrel over it. The cars that had stopped for the red light started to blow their horns in support of me. A flower vendor gave me his last bouquet of flowers. I told the Basiji, “You have no right to decide for me.”

On the second day of interrogations, they used this as evidence that I was against the Basij. I said that I had no problem with the hijab and that my mother wore the hijab, but that I hated the enforced hijab. 


What was the evidence for the charge of “insulting the sacred”?

Supporting Shahin Najafi [an Iranian musician living in Germany whose songs Iranian authorities have called “blasphemous”] and opposing explicit edicts of the Quran by opposing the death penalty and the hijab.

When I was in prison, the warden summoned me and said that the security officials had told him that I was very “bad-hijab,” and that if I didn’t take care of my hijab, I would not be allowed to meet my family. “When you threaten me, I will not budge,” I said. “I have been arrested on this charge, I have been interrogated over it and it was one of the reasons for my 14-year sentence. I stand by my position and I don’t want any meeting.”

A short while after my release, I posted a picture of myself when my headscarf had fallen down. They sent me a message through a friend who had also been arrested. It said, “So, you have removed your hijab? Then expect the consequences. We are watching you.”

How did they treat you in prison?

Well, I must say that they have a weird love for screwing with your nerves. There was a suspicion that I had breast cancer, so they let me out of Evin to go to a hospital and see a specialist. In the prison’s inspection office, they handcuffed me for five hours.

At the hospital, when my mother came towards me, the female guard hit he in the breast and told her to stay back. My mother lost her balance and almost fell. I started shouting and told her that she had no right to hit my mother. In the examination room, I said, “I will not undress as long as this lady is standing here.” This same thing happened before to [human rights activist] Narges Mohammadi, and led to her being transferred back from the examination room to the prison ward. They come and stand next to you and gaze at your body.

The doctor wanted to check my thyroid. My mouth had gone dry and the doctor ordered water. My father brought me an unopened bottle of mineral water. But the lady guard did not let me drink it and said, “the accused cannot have anything when dispatched [outside prison].” I said I wanted neither examination nor treatment and asked to be returned to prison. The same day, that guard opened a new case against me saying that my mother had insulted the regime and that I had insulted the Supreme Leader and government officials. Then the officials interrogated me for three hours. In the end, the soldier who had accompanied us testified that the female guard’s story was made up.

What was the story about them sending you to the Gharchak prison in the desert east of Tehran?

When my interrogations were over and I went to Evin’s prosecution office, they gave me my case file, which was around 250 pages long. It concluded that since I had flagrantly and brazenly insulted the sacred system of the Islamic Republic, and I was not retreating from my position, “we ask for the maximum sentence and her exile to Gharchak Prison.” At that time, they had sent [the artist] Atena Farghadani to Gharchak and I suspected that they wanted to do the same to me.

Were you given a chance to defend yourself?

They only gave me five minutes to write down my view. I wrote that the whole report, written by the Revolutionary Guards, was biased and that my only demand was for a fair trial. A month later, when my interrogations were over and I was in Ward 2A [a solitary confinement block run by the Revolutionary Guards], they sent me to Judge Moghiseh. On January 14, 2015, they had told my family to come and meet me there, and that if I proved to be a good girl they would release me on bail.

Twice before, they had told my family to post bail but each time they had ended up rejecting the bail. Judge Moghiseh did not allow me to utter a word. He just started insulting me. “You are brazen and shameless,” he said. “You are standing against God. You have insulted the sacred and you listen to songs by Shahin Najafi. The death penalty is none of your business.” He gave me no chance to say anything. “I am sending you to Gharchak this very day,” he said. “This is both the interrogators’ wish and my own.”

When I left Judge Moghiseh’s office, I met my distressed family. The same day, they brought my clothes [for moving out of Ward 2A]. A few times, I asked where they were taking me. They said Gharchak, but they took me to Evin’s women’s ward and kept me there for a month. Each time the bell rang, I thought that they were coming to take me to Gharchak. I subjected to an intense psychological game.

Did you expect the 14-year prison term?

No. I had prepared myself for 10 years. It was an awful trial. It lasted only 10 minutes, and they did not allow either me or my lawyer to present a defense. The same day, in the middle of my trial, they brought in nine Sunni Kurds and informed them of their death sentences.

Are you talking about the same Kurds who were executed this August?

Yes, the same. I started crying. I cannot forget the face of one of them. He was called Farzad Honarjou. The Kurds said, “We received the verdicts a month ago. Why have you summoned us again today?”

Was your original sentence seven or fourteen years? The reports are not clear.

In May 2015, I was informed verbally that I had been sentenced to 14 years in prison. But based on Article 134 [of the Islamic Penal Code] I was to serve seven years. I was shocked. Seven years for conspiracy and collusion, three years for insulting the Supreme leader and four years for hiding evidence. They add up to a total of 14 years. In the typed verdict that they gave my lawyer, it said 14 years.

Are you afraid that you will be put under further pressure when you return to prison?

I am worried about my family but I am staying the course that I have chosen. This choice was not easy for me to make, but I have made my decision. When I posted the story about my hijab, I received several messages saying “What are you doing Atena? You are going too far. It will lead to trouble for you.”

I believe that I am not safe as long as I am in Iran. Any time an election is close or on any other occasion, they might arrest me and send me to prison. Even if I was to leave Iran, my family would become the target of threats. So it is better if I talk about these things while I am outside prison. I am not afraid and I know that staying silent will not guarantee my safety. There were many who stayed silent because they were told that they would be shown leniency if they did not talk to the media, but in the end, it made no difference. I believe that the best I can do is to be satisfied with what I doing myself.



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