My Torturers Tried to Silence Me, But Art Gave Me Back My Voice

More than thirty years ago, I suffered terribly at the hands of the Iranian government. I was imprisoned for eight years, and they tried to silence me with torture. All I’d done was take to the streets to demand my freedom and liberty from an oppressive and authoritarian regime.

The torturers tried to take my voice away. And therapy, writing and art played a vital role in helping me to express myself again. When I first came to the UK, after leaving my friends and family behind, I felt lost. But I was given support by organisations like Freedom from Torture that had a transformative impact on my life. I joined Write to Life, a creative writing group for survivors of torture. Through writing I regained my voice.

For many years writing was a means of escape for me. But art opened my eyes and I realised that it could be a way of fighting back, as well as a means of change. It can provide a counterpoint to what those in power and their media are showing to people. Art can change people’s minds. That’s why art is seen as a threat to power. Look how many artists are imprisoned in Iran from rappers, like Toomaj Salehi, to film makers and other artists.

Sharing my story through writing, and now through my art, is such a powerful way to tell difficult stories. It can give such an important insight into the very painful realities faced by those of us who’ve experienced torture. Today, I’m a member of Survivors Speak OUT (the UK’s torture survivor-led activist network) and I can raise awareness of the horrors happening in Iran. Being able to do this has helped give my life meaning since I had to leave my home.

I’ve listened and watched in terror at the violence that has swept across my country, since the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini at the hands of the abusive “morality police” in September 2022. Although media interest is disappearing, the wave of protests sparked by Amini’s death haven’t died away, they’ve just changed. Instead of thousands taking to the streets, young people gather to dance, and women risk their lives and liberty just to sing.

Now, things like street dancing, singing, paintings and music are such an important way for people in Iran to protest. Many forms of art – like songs, digital art, videos, graffiti – have been created during the Woman, Life, Freedom revolution. Each of them emphasises protest actions, resistance, and different forms of activities against the regime’s repressive system. My own work explores personal and political journeys based on both my life and collective experiences that I have witnessed and heard about.

At first, I only wanted to show what had happened in prison, but now I have so many other ideas, I don’t have enough time to paint them all. My work explores the vulnerabilities of humans, of issues like refugee and women’s rights. I try and capture this in my work, regardless of the media I use, through drawing, painting, sculpture or print making.

When I first got to the UK, my head was full of the scenes of prison. All I could think about were the faces of my friends who’d been executed, the noise of the firing squad and the crying of hungry children in the prison, the torture that we experienced, and the face of my father when I told him I’d been sentenced to death. Therapy helped me to slowly clear these images from my head, and over time, I was able to feel safe and strong again.

Still so many people in Iran have been imprisoned, they’ve been tortured and are languishing in prisons. I was lucky, I was able to get out. I’ve had the chance to recover and rebuild my life here in the UK. But my heart aches for the women who are still being subjected to the same kind of torture that I was. It’s horrific and depressing that this is still happening.

 

Iran is one of the top countries of origin of Freedom from Torture’s clients. There are many people like me who have fled their homes and reached the UK hoping just to live in safety. The therapists, lawyers and welfare advisors offer a lifeline to people who crucially need compassion, support and rehabilitation to recover.

Those in power in Iran now will do anything to try and suppress any opposition. Ex-prisoners, families of those still imprisoned, or anyone remotely politically active are being threatened and intimidated by security forces. It’s just more abuse carried out by an authoritarian regime that will stop at nothing to eradicate any form of defiance.

We need to continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the women and young people demanding the basic rights that we, in other parts of the world, take for granted and enjoy every single day. I’m calling on the international community and media to keep shining a spotlight on my country to demand that the regime stop using torture immediately.

Nasrin Parvaz became a civil rights activist when the Islamic regime took power in 1979. She was arrested in 1982, tortured and imprisoned for eight years. Parvaz is the author of One Woman’s Struggle in Iran: A Prison Memoir and The Secret Letters from X to A.

Article originally appeared on Huckmag.

It’s time for Britain to show it really cares about Iranians

I feel more hope for Iran than at any time in the past 40 years — and more fear too. The regime assumed that brute force would crush the protests that have multiplied since the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September, but instead of backing down, people from all walks of life have joined Iranian women in the streets.

As the regime’s hold on the country slips, its barbarism has increased. Tens of thousands have been detained. Hundreds have been killed, including at least 60 children. After the gruesome public hanging of Majidreza Rahnavard this month, scores more demonstrators could face imminent execution.

The families of those who have disappeared into Iran’s prisons fear the worst. Many know first-hand how the regime treats its prisoners. When I was arrested for protesting against Iran’s gender apartheid in 1982, I was tortured so badly I was left paralysed for three weeks. Eventually, I escaped Iran and found sanctuary in the UK. Thousands of those I was imprisoned with were not so lucky.

In the face of such brutality, the solidarity shown by Iranians is humbling. In the city of Javanrud, bakeries are distributing free bread to protesters. Across western Iran, an underground network has developed, smuggling blood and medical supplies to wounded protesters. In the diaspora, hundreds of thousands have flooded the streets in cities from London to Los Angeles, showing their support.

Last month, the British government told the UN that “the UK stands with the people of Iran”. But those who have been forced to flee for their lives are yet to witness this solidarity in action. Newly released government statistics show Iranians to be among the top three nationalities seeking asylum in Britain. Like me, many have experienced torture; Iranians are also among the nationalities most frequently referred for treatment to Freedom from Torture, the charity that helped me when I arrived in this country. But rather than being welcomed with kindness, they are threatened with instant deportation for daring to ask for asylum.

At the same time, the Iranian embassy in London remains open and regime acolytes continue to operate in the UK. Last month, The Times revealed that over £100,000 was paid by the UK to Ayatollah Khamenei’s personal representative through the taxpayer-funded coronavirus furlough scheme.

If the government is serious about supporting Iran’s uprising, it should crack down on the regime’s activities in Britain and send Iranian diplomats home. But most importantly it should treat Iranians fleeing for their lives with compassion and support them to rebuild their lives in this country.

Nasrin Parvaz is an Iranian women’s rights activist and torture survivor

 

Source: The Times

I was tortured for 8 years in an Iran prison

It’s the smell of blood I remember most vividly.

When I heard about the recent fire at Iran’s Evin Prison, I was taken back to the time I was imprisoned there for eight years during the 1980s for opposing the Iranian regime’s gender apartheid.

During that time, I was tortured so badly I was temporarily paralysed, and developed a brain tumour that was not removed until 2012.

As protests continue across the country, and the authorities crack down on those fighting for their rights, it seems little has changed for detainees.

But when I look at what’s happening now, I feel a mixture of anger and pride, fear and hope.

Saman Yasin held his head in his hands as the judge read out his death sentence.

The 27-year-old Kurdish rapper, whose popular songs touched on topics of unemployment and oppression, was sentenced last week by an Islamic Revolutionary Court, with no family or lawyers present.

His crime? Moharebeh – enmity against God.

Saman is one of the latest victims of the Iranian regime’s bloodthirsty efforts to crush the protests that have swept the country since the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran’s feared morality police.

Like so many young Iranians, Yasin was abducted from his home in early October, after posting his support for the protesters to his more than 200,000 social media followers. Human rights groups claim he was physically and psychologically tortured in custody.

A photo of Mahsa Amini, a young woman
Protests have swept the country since the death of Mahsa Amini (Picture: Reuters)

The rapper’s politicised lyrics may have placed him in the regime’s firing line, but he is far from the only cultural icon targeted in the recent crackdown. 

Fellow rapper Toomaj Salehi is facing similar charges, blogger Hossein Ronaghi has allegedly had his legs broken in detention, while prominent film directors, writers and journalists have all disappeared into Iran’s prison system.

Even athletes are being targeted, since Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi’s brave decision to compete at the Asian Championships without her hijab last month.

After Iranian beach football star Saeed Piramoon made a gesture of solidarity with protestors after scoring the winning goal in Iran’s thrilling victory over Brazil at the International Beach Soccer Tournament last week, authorities said they would be ‘dealt with’, amid reports they had been detained.

With so many athletes making clear their support for the protests, many Iranians are unimpressed with their national team’s more muted protest during their world cup loss to England, particularly after they were photographed smiling with Iran’s president Raeisi just days before flying out to Qatar.

Iran players line up for the national anthem
Iran players line up for the national anthem (Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The arrest of so many prominent Iranians surely reveals the fear the imperilled regime feels at its failure to quell the protests.

While previous attempted uprisings, like 2019’s fuel price protests, were crushed into submission, each fresh outrage has only swelled the numbers taking to the streets across the country.

As many as 15,000 people have reportedly been arrested, and several hundred killed since the protests began, including at least 40 children.

Iran’s prisons are notorious hotbeds for human rights abuses.

Torture is often routine, as I myself has experienced. Sexual violence is rife. In October, 21-year-old Armita Abbasi was hospitalised after, it has been suspected, she was repeatedly raped by security forces.

Before her family could visit her, she was abducted again by the Revolutionary Guard and she is still being held.

At Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, multiple people were killed in a fire which was believed to have been started deliberately when prisoners were locked in their cells, with those caught up in the blaze reporting that guards attacked them with tear gas and live ammunition.

When I was imprisoned in Evin Prison in 1988, thousands of political prisoners were slaughtered at the whim of Ayatollah Khomeini, in a massacre orchestrated by current president Raeisi.

In the buildup to the killings, our family visits were cancelled.

Cut off from the outside world, we would have political debates in our cells to distract ourselves from the reality that we feared for our lives.

Then, the interrogations began. We were forced to wear our chadoors, then blindfolded and taken from our cells to the feared interrogation building and questioned incessantly.

‘Are you Muslim? Will you repent? Will you condemn moharebeh?

More than 50 prisoners were taken from my wing and I never saw them again. It turns my stomach knowing that today’s activists in Evin are suffering as we suffered.

An artist's painting, four protesting naked women with fire shooting from their breasts
One of Nasrin’s artworks (Picture: Nasrin Parvaz)

Generations of Iranians have been suppressed under the regime’s reign of terror – but in its brutality, the regime has united Iranians from all social classes and every corner of the country.

To quote Toomaj Salehi’s protest anthem The Battlefield: ‘From athlete to artist, peddler to businessman, student and teacher, engineer and labourer, we deafen the dictator’s ear.’

For the first time, the regime appears to be fighting for its survival. Protests have only grown in recent days, and a report claims that officials are preparing to flee the country.

But if the sacrifices of Saman, Toomaj, Mahsa, Saeed and every Iranian who has risked their lives for the dream of freedom are not to be in vain, they need solidarity from the rest of the world.

 

Source: Metro

Iran’s protests are not an angry outburst, but the result of generations of trauma

Women, life, freedom. These words have become the rallying cry for protest that has erupted in the wake of the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s feared morality police. They are shaking the Iranian regime to its core.

Unlike past movements, this uprising cuts across generations and social classes. For young Iranian women, Amini’s death ignited an explosion of pent-up fury at the regime’s suppression of women’s rights. For older activists like me, it has reopened the scars from previous uprisings and breathed new life into the decades-long struggle for freedom.

Demonstrations began in Tehran on 16 September soon after news of Mahsa’s killing broke. Within hours, women appeared in the streets, burning their hijabs and calling for justice. Within days, the protests spread. In towns and cities across Iran, schoolchildren have abandoned their classrooms to join the masses thronging the junctions and blocking streets.

The regime’s violent response has been brutal. Killings of protesters began immediately and hundreds have already lost their lives. Last Friday in the south-east city of Zahedan, as many as 91 people were killed when state forces opened fire, including five children. Doctors certified that they had been shot from behind. Despite the regime shutting down the internet across the country, videos of police violence continue to leak out, further fuelling public rage.

Universities that have acted as staging posts for protests are now under attack from regime forces. Last Sunday, police fired on peaceful protesters at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology and at least 40 students were blindfolded and taken away in vans. Like so many parents in Iran, their families have no idea where they are. After 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami’s battered body was returned to her family by police after she disappeared at a protest, many fear the worst.

Painting by Nasrin Parvaz
‘The regime’s violent response has been brutal.’ Illustration: Nasrin Parvaz

The roots of this uprising that Iranians are already calling a revolution can be found in a collective anger that has been suppressed for half a century. I became politically active soon after the Islamic regime took power and introduced its sexual apartheid laws. In 1982, I was arrested and taken to Joint Committee Interrogation Centre where I was tortured.

After hours of beatings, I was left paralysed for weeks, leaving me unable to shower or use the bathroom alone. The prison was so crowded I slept in a corridor for a month with dozens of other prisoners. We were blindfolded 24 hours a day, even eating and sleeping in darkness. Later, a guard bashed my head against the wall so hard I developed a brain tumour, an injury that troubles me to this day.

While the regime sentenced me to death, my sentence was commuted and I was eventually released in 1990. Soon after, I realised I was no longer safe, and fled to the UK. Since settling here, painting and writing have provided much relief, as has therapy from the organisation Freedom from Torture. But I am not “cured”. I still see the faces of my friends who were executed.

Ten years after I fled Iran, the regime turned the centre where I was interrogated into the Ebrat Museum. The torture chambers were preserved, with the regime claiming that they were used only by the forces of the shah, who was deposed in the 1979 revolution. But as the protests across the country demonstrate, the people have not forgotten. This is not just a burst of anger from a young and idealistic generation, but the accumulated trauma of generations of Iranians struggling for freedom.

Today, the regime is not just fighting to maintain its power but its very survival. Facing such anger from every section of society, it will kill or jail anyone who opposes it. But the people have come too far to turn back. If they give in and go home, there will be another massacre. They are fighting for their lives.

A nationwide day of action has been called for Saturday 8 October. I fear for the safety of my people. But I remain hopeful that they will sweep away the Islamic regime and realise the dreams of generations of Iranians who came before them.

  • Nasrin Parvaz is a women’s rights activist and torture survivor from Iran. Her books include A Prison Memoir: One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, and the novel The Secret Letters from X to A

Source: The Guardian

Seven Paintings, June 2022

Nasrin Parvaz became a civil rights activist when the Islamic regime took power in 1979. She was arrested in 1982, and spent eight years in prison. Her books are One Woman’s Struggle in Iran, A Prison Memoir and The Secret Letters from X to A (Victorina Press 2018).

Nasrin’s poetry and stories have been published in different anthologies. Her paintings were accepted for inclusion in the exhibitions, Calendar and for postcards. Learn more at NasrinParvaz.org.

Source

“Yo no me quiebro”, Nasrin’s Memoir in Spanish

En 1979, Nasrin Parcaz regresó a Irán desde Inglaterra, donde había ido a estudiar, y se hizo militante de un partido socialista que luchaba por un estado no islámico. Tres años más tarde, a la edad de 23, Nasrin fue detenida por la policía secreta del régimen islámico. Durante los ocho años que siguieron, estuvo prisionera recintos del sistema penal iraní.

Yo no me quiebro es un testimonio de lo que tuvo que sufrir durante esos ocho años.

https://www.victorinapress.com/product/yo-no-me-quiebro-memorias-de-una-presa-politica-irani/

Woman in the Red Glasses: Short Story

Out in the streets, hidden in the head to toe cloth, nobody recognized Mina, not even her closest family. Looking at the shop windows she saw her eyes at the top of a moving tent. The black sack disguised everything: her head, her face, her body and, equally, it would be the cover for her plan.  Suddenly, she found freedom in that chador.

Mina created a questionnaire and asked a couple of the male students at her university, if they would help her with an experiment.  Her research, she claimed, was to gain some insight into their relationships: how many women they had slept with, what sort of relationships they were looking for and had they ever found what they were seeking.  But Mina really sought a different kind of access.  All of the young men she approached made it clear they wanted to have sex with her, even before her questions were completed.  She made one condition clear: each one of the men had to introduce her to one of their male friends first for the purposes of her research.  She always met the men in the street.  They would arrive in a car, pick her up then take her to a prearranged destination.  Mina sat in the back of the car, posing as a passenger.  The plan worked well.

And how would these strangers recognise her?  She’d wear Red Glasses. She would laugh at her image in the mirror.  Nothing else showed except the tip of her nose and her distinctive Red Glasses.

All the men were surprised once they realized she didn’t take money.  ‘What, free sex?’ some of them would say.  None of the men could accept the encounter as a one-off.  They saw it as part of their male birthright to dictate the terms of a relationship with a woman. Any attempt to challenge their masculinity would threaten their manhood deflating it, like a balloon popped with a needle.  To get away easily, she always took their numbers, promising to call.  But she never did.  She recorded their names and telephone numbers in her notebook, each on a separate page.  Then, beneath each name, she wrote down what distinguished that man from others. She’d write in the third person, using only their initials in case her parents went through her private things and found the notebook.

A took her to his friend’s room.  He sweated profusely.

H asked her to walk several paces behind him so his neighbours would not see them together.

R talked a lot.

M was witty and managed to make her laugh.

B breathed so heavily and with such difficulty, she thought he might die at any minute.

S made noises like a motorcycle and confided he was a virgin.

D was curious about her.  He asked her lots of questions, as if he were the researcher.

E smelled like cooked cabbage.  He wanted more of her.

F craved nurturing, wanting her to take her time to touch and caress him.

G had bought pizza before picking her up and asked her to eat with him but she refused.  She watched as he wolfed down the entire pizza, smearing it around his mouth in greed.  When he sat closer, traces of cheese and tomatoes and red pepper dropped from his lips.  She asked him to rinse his mouth. He did, like an obedient child.

C fell in love with her.  He begged her not to see other men, only him.  But would he marry her, she asked?  Not that she wanted to marry him or that she particularly liked him even.  She just wanted to find out what kind of man he was and his response would speak the truth.  But he avoided the question.  Yet he did warn her to be careful: everywhere, men were talking about the Woman in the Red Glasses.

As her experiment went on, Mina discovered that each man had his own unique form; how his fingers felt on her body; the way he talked, even his silence revealed so much.  Some didn’t recognise her or even acknowledge her as human. Some of the men just wanted to fuck her, leave and get on with their lives. It intrigued her to see how each man had different ways of trying to impress her.  Some insisted on seeing her again under the pretence of having something important to tell her. But she knew each time that they were only thinking and talking with their under bellies.

Each man’s sweat smelt different.  She wondered how similar their scent would be if they’d all eaten the same food or washed themselves with the same soap or shaved with the same balm or wore the same aftershave? After the first, loveless experience, she bought the aftershave Mehdi had worn.  She told each man to put the scent on before allowing them near her. But it made no difference; none of them had smelled like her Mehdi.  No amount of cologne could mask their repellent smells.  During the act of sex, she observed the noises they made and the way they came. Yet none gave her any of the pleasure Mehdi had. None of them could.  She pressed on, the pages filling up by the day soon she had to buy a second, then a third notebook.

Mina could see the vulnerability in all of them, despite the image of superiority they tried to project.  When naked, they would regress back to their babyhoods, desperately attempting to return to the comforting, female ocean from which they’d burst forth: their mother’s womb.  And at the point of their orgasm, they’d kick her belly with their third leg, like a baby kicks out within the confined safety of his mother’s tummy.

Afterwards, she’d wanted to tell them how little they understood women and how ignorant they were about how to make love to a woman and treat her properly.  And how they truly were missing much greater pleasure than they could imagine.  They were always in a rush; the same rush as when they ate; no savouring of their food or its taste, smell, or beauty (or ugliness, even).  No recognition of the time taken in its loving preparation.  They just shoved it down thoughtlessly with their stagnant, immature urge for instant gratification.  And they consumed women in exactly the same way.  These men joked that just as they didn’t like eating the same food every day, no matter how delicious, they wanted variety in their women, too.  And they viewed her like a side-dish; an alternative on the menu, something they were entitled to.  It didn’t matter if this food was alive and breathing and felt pain under their second mouths.  And through her encounters with these dual-mouthed creatures, she tried to obliterate her loss.

As the days went by, with or without the men, her mind turned to her lover, Mehdi, and their last conversation echoed in her head.

‘Will you marry me?’ He asked.

‘I’d have to escape my parents to be with you.’

He had kissed her, ‘I expect your father wants to marry you off to one of those minister’s sons.’

‘Yes. He’d be happy to marry me off to one of those criminals.’

Before she had met Mehdi, Mina had never liked politics.  Her father was a minister.  She believed all politicians were hypocrites, including her father and all his friends and peers, using their positions and politics to climb a corrupt ladder to wealth and fame.

‘But how can we defend our rights without engaging in politics?’ Mehdi once argued.

During their friendship, Mina learned that it was Mehdi’s politics that made him the man he was; the man she would love forever.  His politics hadn’t brought him wealth or status; he’d simply never sought these things.  His politics had brought his death; all because he’d believed the world was rich and abundant enough to ensure that no human being need ever go hungry or go without.  News about the execution of dissidents had always made her angry.  But when she lost Mehdi, it felt to her as if her own father, the great minister himself, had put the noose around her true love’s neck.

Mina became engulfed in hatred for her father.  In his world, the worst thing a woman could do was sleep with men.  And through her actions, Mina created a double life; a life that she could never have possibly imagined before losing Mehdi.  And the more she slept with these strange men, the more she became a stranger in her father’s house.

She pondered before each new meeting. What would this one look like?  Where will he take me?  Will he be different; the one who will finally see me, really see me and respect me?  With each new encounter, she wondered whether she’d be able to bear it and see the act through to the end.  Or would this be the one where she’d feel so sick that she couldn’t take any more and be overwhelmed and long to flee?  Would she be in danger of being beaten or killed?  She no longer cared.  By their very actions, these men had killed off the memory of Mehdi that she had carried inside her.  Now that her lover had become an unreachable shadow in her mind, she felt so empty that she needed these men to fulfil her life.

One afternoon she stood in the usual place, waiting to do battle again.  She watched out for the agreed signal: the car horn sounding three times, the car pulling up beside her and the rear passenger door opening.  As always, she wordlessly climbed in making no eye contact with the driver.  The car pulled away.  The split second before the man spoke, she felt it: his stifling familiarity and his cologne, dominating smell.  She knew.  Then she heard it: her father’s voice.

‘I heard you are very beautiful.’  His eyes studied her in the car mirror.  ‘Show me your face.’

She realised that this was not their usual family car, but a different vehicle; her father did not recognise his own daughter.  And she knew what her father saw: not another human being, but a mere collection of female body-parts.  She was nothing more: just a variation from the regular menu, there to be consumed at his whim, like any other delicacy.

And when her father realised that the Woman in Red Glasses was not the faceless woman he had picked up in his secret car, what would he do?  Would he put a rope around her neck?  Or would he wash his hands of her and pass her over to the police; let them deal with her, finish her off?  She didn’t know.  But one thing she was certain of: her death was near.

Since Mehdi’s death, in losing one man, she could gather all men. Now her own father had become part of her macabre collection.  Looking back, she could see how all these men scavenged her, and little was left for her father to destroy in order to maintain his reputation.  There was nothing left for her in the world now; nothing left but to die, just as her beloved Mehdi had died before her.

The traffic lights changed and the car came to a standstill.  Here was a chance.  She could jump out and run away and stay anonymous, just as she had entered this car and every other single car before.

Her father spoke to her, his voice riddled with lust.  ‘You seem shy.  I’m going to have a good time with you.’

She raised her head and looked directly into the car mirror, her dead eyes locking with his.  As she pulled at the chador, casting it away, she realised she was hiding from herself as well as others in it. She threw off the Red Glasses. ‘Yes. I’m sure you are, Father.’

 

https://www.unlikelystories.org/content/woman-in-the-red-glasses