t is forbidden to take photos inside or around Evin, Iran’s most notorious prison. Those who break these rules can pay the ultimate price. In the summer of 2003 an Iranian-Canadian freelance photographer, Zahra Kazemi, died inside Evin after taking pictures of the families of missing students, demonstrating outside the prison gates. The Iranian authorities claimed that Kazemi’s death was accidental, but a medical examiner concluded that she had been tortured and killed.
Evin Prison, which was founded in 1972 under the Shah’s monarchy but really came to the fore of statecraft after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, has been a home to all manner of political prisoners through the decades, from academics to philosophers to missionaries to activists. The nature of the people it has held, the size of the place, and the treatment of many who have been detained within its walls, is such that its reputation precedes it.
In Iran, it is prohibited to take pictures in areas deemed to be “sensitive”. But when it comes to Evin, where we don’t have photographs, we do have art: the experiences of prisoners recreated with evocative beauty.
Nasrin Parvaz was part of a wave of idealistic youth who fought for change after the Islamic Revolution, when the Western-backed Shah and a 2,500-year monarchy was overthrown and an Islamic Republic installed. Three years later, aged 23, Parvaz was arrested for her dissent, detained in Evin and sentenced to death. Over the next eight years, she was tortured, starved and made to live in abject conditions.
Parvaz now lives in exile in London. But, for her and other former prisoners, memories of Evin don’t leave. “It isn’t only when you’re in prison,” she says, “it’s also about what you’re bringing with you when you’re out of prison.” Her artistic exploration of her time in Evin began with the idea that there were no pictures or vivid paintings depicting her experience of being a political prisoner.
Her paintings memorialise a place where she suffered greatly but where she also found beauty, friendship and solidarity. What follows is a collection of her work, memorialising the sights and sounds of her imprisonment.
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During the 2017 uprising in Iran a participant named Asghar Haron Alrashidi was killed by a bullet fired by a government guard.
His family complained against the government militias. Soon after a number of his friends were arrested. They were forced to falsely confess to the use of arms in what was a peaceful demonstration under torture by the hands of Islamic Guards. The regime used these confessions against them to condemn them to execution.
These five men are sentenced to ten executions for the crime of protesting against the regime – yes, each of them is sentenced to two executions each. Their death sentence has been issued by the Supreme Court.
One thing that the Iranian regime does not like is international publicity that shows them for what they are. Please sign this petition to stop the regime from carrying out these executions.
Hadi Kiani was born in 1990 and is married.
Abass Mohammadi was born in 1991 and has two children.
Mohammad Bastami was born in 1992 and is married.
Majid Nazari Kondori was born in 1994.
Mehdi Salehi Ghaleh Shahrokhi was born in 1983 and has a seven year old daughter.
During the last three years there have been bursts of peaceful demonstrations in Iran. What people want is their basic rights: freedom of expression, jobs and unemployment benefits, and the end of execution. The regime shot demonstrators and arrested thousands of them before killing them in prison. Please sign this petition to stop the execution of these young men.
Just to say a couple of sentences about myself: I was arrested three years after the Islamic regime took power in the early 80s for the same reasons that these young men revolting against the regime. I was tortured and sentenced to execution, but after a year and half my late father was able to change my fate. I was released from prison after eight years. Now I’m a refugee living in the UK.
Inside Stories: stories of resilience during the pandemic is a series of conversations with people who have been displaced by war, conflict or persecution about their lives, thoughts and hopes for others.
As a young woman in post revolutionary Iran, Nasrin Parvaz was arrested for her political activism and spent the next eight years in Iran’s prisons. The brutality of the prison regime, her friendship with her fellow women prisoners and their children, and the unexpected glimmers of joy and humour are captured in her book, One Woman’s Struggle in Iran: a prison memoir. Nasrin was granted protection in the UK in 1993 and is an author and artist. She continues to campaign for justice and is an active members of Survivors Speak Out at Freedom from Torture.
A few weeks into the lockdown, we asked Nasrin what has happening in her life, what was on her mind and what message she might have for others.
“My life hasn’t changed much. Due to epilepsy, which I developed as a result of having my head bashed against walls in prison, my social life had become limited the last few years even before the pandemic; that means I couldn’t do the activities I would have liked. So my life was mostly dedicated to writing and recently to art. Now with the lockdown, that little social life that I had is gone and I’ve missed it, but I’m in touch with friends by phone. I’m very grateful that my editor has finished editing my most recent novel during the lockdown and with that aside, I now have other unfinished books to work on, and I continue my art classes on Zoom to improve my painting.
However I’m aware that this situation is very hard for people who have lost their loved ones, or for those who lost their jobs and don’t have a secure future. At the same time there is money available, it’s just not given to those who need it, and this hurts me. Especially when everyone had to stay at home and look after themselves and the construction workers still had to work. A friend of mine who had done many different jobs and who is a construction worker, worked until he dropped to the floor with the coronavirus and was under ventilation for 12 days. When he came out of the ICU the nurses clapped for him, saying he fought for his life. He had no energy to tell them that they had saved his life.
Once more this situation has reminded me that my struggle for justice was right and that I have to continue. Last year there were multiple floods in Iran that made so many people homeless. Flooding also happened in numerous other countries and it only makes the poor poorer, whilst the rich, whose companies heat up the earth producing useless goods, get richer.
The situation reminds me of prison, but not solitary confinement where I was deprived of being able to see anyone for days and nights for months. It reminds me of times that we prisoners were together or in different rooms, but had no right to talk to each other. We would be tortured if we did. Yet the guards could not read our eyes and a glance at my cellmate meant I had written a letter for her. We had secret places where we used to hide our letters. When another friend of mine hung her blue shirt on the washing line, I knew she was telling me that she had hidden a letter for me. An ordinary book would be a cover for our little letters to read under the guard’s nose. Just as we found new ways to communicate in prison, we are now using social media to be in touch with each other.
I hope this situation opens our eyes and people try to change the world for a better future. I’m worried that big pharma may attempt to capitalise on the importance of the virus and extort people by profiting on the price of the vaccine.
Nasrin Parvaz, June 2020
One thing that kept me going in prison was the belief that the situation will pass. I believed nothing was permanent and it’s the same with this situation we’re living in now. One day this virus will disappear. But I hope this situation opens our eyes and people try to change the world for a better future. It makes me sad that all the production is for profit rather than for people’s benefit – and everywhere people become poorer and a select few get all the wealth with the help of the system and army that they have made to protect themselves. I’m worried that big pharma may attempt to capitalise on the importance of the virus and extort people by profiting on the price of the vaccine if it is successfully developed.
I also hope all those polluting cars won’t come back to the streets, and that there is a solution. If transport is public and free, not for profit, then people would not bring their cars to the street and the air wouldn’t get polluted: the earth would breathe rather than burn as it does now.
#CommunityAcrossDifferences #RefugeeAllies #InThisTogether #InsideStories
© Milan Svanderlik for www.LondonersAtHome.org
...And later in the notebooks, Xavar depicts the unbearable moment when Mahvash, who was like a mother to her in prison, was called by the guards for execution: “She kissed me and wished that I would ‘stay alive’ as she went. ‘Stay alive’ are the last words uttered by those who go to be executed to us who are still living. They are the same words, spoken in different accents and with varying degrees of fear, hesitation, anxiety, confusion, or even happiness that I have heard so many times here.” - Nasrin Parvaz
In 1979, Nasrin Parvaz returned from England, where she had been studying, and became a member of a socialist party in Iran fighting for a non-Islamic state in which women had the same rights as men. Three years later, at the age of 23, she was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the regime’s secret police.
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“For those of you who weren’t able to see it, it was an exhibition of paintings by foreign national prisoners and ex-prisoners, taken from a variety of sources. The exhibition was on display from the 1st to the 7th of May, and was opened by our MP, Rosie Duffield.”
“Nasrin gives a frank account of her time in Iran’s prison system which has opened my eyes to the extremes that can be endured and overcome. It is a testament to her resilience and that of others who remained resolute and refused to recant their beliefs. Nasrin survived and I celebrate her ability to share these experiences from which we can all learn. I recommend this memoir to you.”
In Tehran there is a historic circular building once known as the Joint Committee Interrogation Centre. Its designers were German, so the balcony railings were decorated with Nazi symbols. Reza Shah ordered it in 1932 and it was ready in 1937. Political prisoners were tortured there.
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In 1979, Nasrin Parvaz returned from England, where she had been studying, and became a member of a socialist party in Ira fighting for a non-Islamic state in which woman had the same rights as men. Three years later, at the age of 23, she was betrayed by a comrade and arrested by the regime’s secret police.
Nasrin spent the next eight years in Iran’s prison system. She as systematically tortured, threatened with execution, starved and forced to live in appalling, horribly overcrowded conditions. One Woman’s Struggle is both an account of what happened to her during those eight years and evidence that her spirit was never broken. Nasrin’s memoir is a story of friendship and mutual support, of how women drew strength from one another and found endless small ways to show kindness and even find tiny specks of joy.
This book, however, is not simply about the prison system in Iran. It is about oppression – and especially the oppression of woman – wherever it takes place. It deserves to stand with Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man as an indictment of cruelty, brutality and the dehumanizing of fellow human beings.
– Catriona Troth, author of Gift of the Raven and Ghost Town.
By: Mary Griffin