Translation By Iran Press Watch
When the revolution happened, I was 26 years old. The principal of a school in the south of the capital gave me an order one day. I was “disqualified” from working. On the same day, I was “disqualified” from continuing my studies at the university. My husband used to come home every fifteen days. He had been working in an aluminum container on the banks of the Karaj River in Shahyar in the cold and heat for several years. He was working on the construction of a sand factory, but his factory was confiscated a week before it was set up. He too was “disqualified”. My father, my brother, all my relatives and friends and my co-religionists gradually became unemployed and stayed at home, and all of our lives were exposed to severe adversities. Hundreds of people were arrested and imprisoned throughout the country, and every day we heard the news of the execution of some acquaintances and friends on the radio. One hundred percent of our community’s assets and the properties of many of my fellow religionists were confiscated, and nearly 250 Baha’is were executed for the crime of being Baha’is.
The Baha’i elected institutions which were in charge of managing the internal affairs of our community were declared closed and we were all collectively “disqualified”! Suddenly, the homeland of our fathers and ancestors was taken away from us and we became “the others”. Facing baseless accusations and the back-breaking heavy slanders and breath-taking horrible blows, we struggled to have citizenship rights, to have a job, for higher education, for honest service, for defending our beliefs, which were generally attacked and distorted and spread hatred, we were “disqualified” even for normal human relations with our fellow countrymen. When I was arrested in 2008 and spent two and a half years under pressure and interrogation in cramped and dark high-security cells, and when we, the seven members of the group known as “Yaran” of Iran were taken to court with a death penalty indictment and even convicted to 20 years imprisonment for the noblest act of voluntary service in the administration of our community, I kept telling myself that one day I would write everything and expose the baselessness of the accusation of espionage. I will tell people that we have never betrayed our country. We love Iran and wish honor and glory of our country. Finally, with the application of a legal provision, our twenty-year sentence was reduced to 10 years. After ten years, all seven of us were gradually released. But on the other side of the prison walls, I had been “disqualified”!
No one greeted me on the day of my release. My family was waiting for my release the next day. I wasn’t allowed a phone call. So I left Evin prison without my family’s knowledge, without money and even without an address for my house. A strange anxiety gripped my heart, why did the prison do this? They took my happiness away from me. Someone kindly stretched a phone towards me to inform my family but I reluctantly withdrew my hand. I was afraid of the mobile phone, which was forbidden in the prison. Plus, I didn’t even know how to turn on a phone. I waited on the stairs for an hour and a half until my husband finally arrived and we went home together. It had taken me years to change my habits and get used to life in the closed and cruel world of the prison under CCTV cameras, and now I had to change my physical and mental habits and psychological adaptations again, which was not easy at all. I was afraid to cross the street. I would be anxious in big stores. The speed and congestion of the streets would give me a headache and nausea. The speed of change confused me and made me weak. Sometimes I would close my eyes so as not to see the crowd. I had developed agoraphobia. Everything had changed. The world as I knew and the image, I had carried with me of life outside the prison for years was no longer in place. The children had grown up and the dust of old age had settled even on the young. Many had left Iran. Sometimes I would ask about someone who had died. Sometimes I saw friends whose names I didn’t remember and I might have confused people with each other! The technology was shocking. The first time I stared into the eyes of my daughter, who had called from Australia, on the mobile screen, I cried in astonishment. Internet taxis, Wiz guide, computer and internet facilities surprised me and my inability in these areas bothered me. I didn’t recognize the currency and I couldn’t believe the inflation and price growth. I preferred to be satisfied with minimal and limited purchases like during prison. My speed was greatly reduced and I was surprised and tired of the crowded groups and the type of conversations that were going on. The fever and excitement of freedom and visiting friends finally subsided in the following year, and I went on a few domestic and foreign trips on the advice and invitations of my friends and the insistence of my family. But wherever I was, I was a stranger with half of my being left behind in prison next to my cellmates. The sufferings of the women in Mashhad, Gohardasht, Qarchak and Evin prisons with whom I had lived never truly left me.
I had become a split person. Two and a half years of society’s dealing with covid and lockdowns intensified my unwanted isolation. The only thing I could do during these years was to write and organize my memories and prepare part of my prison poems for publication, an important part of which I probably lost in a raid on my house! Although I wanted to visit my only grandson and I was trying to get a visa, but “fate” was against me. My “fate” was in the form of men who were waiting for me to leave home after two and a half years for a short trip to Ramsar, only to have a group raid our home for the umpteenth time and destroy our lives in our absence. And I will never know what they did and what they took while another group attacked my sister’s house in Ramsar and arrested me while I was suffering from covid and transferred me to Evin’s Prison Ward 209 after explaining the charges. I couldn’t guess on what charge I was arrested until I saw in the proxy warrant for my arrest in the Ramsar Revolutionary Court that it was written: membership in the deviant Baha’i sect. I spent 42 days in solitary confinement under the most difficult and exhausting interrogations that were accompanied by violent insults, threats and slander. The complications of covid were severe and I was visited at least three times in the infirmary due to severe coughs, breathing problems, and knee pain and swelling. From the same prison ward 209, I was taken to the prosecutor’s office next to Evin to see the new charge of “running a group under the name of a deviant and misguided sect with the aim of disrupting national security”. I wrote a letter to the Tehran prosecutor that they were fabricating a case against me. I do not accept this charge and it is impossible that there could even be a single document or evidence to prove this charge. And I asked him to personally take care of the case. I told the same thing to the representative of the prosecutor whom I met in the same day, and he took notes. But I was “disqualified” and received no response! I told and wrote to the investigator of the branch that this accusation is baseless and lacks any documents and evidence, and to prove the accusation, if they can find even 3 people in this county who I managed them in any way and for any purpose let alone a population, I would accept the charge. The investigating judge led me out of his room without even a glance or a word. Until the day of the trial and even now, I have not been authorized to know the contents of my case. I had no meeting with my lawyer before the court and I did not know if they read my case or not. However, how could there be a defense without meeting or contacting the accused? The judge made his decision after seeing us in the short court session and “disqualified” us!
After five months, on a cold winter’s day, I was transferred to Evin Women’s Prison, wearing the clothes I was wearing when I was arrested, which were cotton summer clothes. My body was worn out and my knees were painful and swollen from hitting the wall in the interrogation room. I returned to the Evin women’s prison, where less than five years ago, after enduring ten years of imprisonment, I kissed its ground in front of my cellmates (political prisoners and prisoners of conscience) and left the place. My only friend and companion, Fariba Kamalabadi, who has also been “disqualified” for all her life, came to welcome me and informed me that we have both been sentenced to ten years in prison again. At the same time as receiving notification of this verdict, after years of struggles and working hard, my husband had to hand over the key to the house that was the result of his whole life’s work and efforts to the men who confiscated our house, and left the house that he loved and even knew every leaf of its trees in his garden forever. I just found out that we Baha’is have been continuously “disqualified” for living a normal life in our ancestral country for forty-five years. I remember years ago when I told the interrogator that we will finally get out of this prison, he said yes, but we will decide whether it is horizontal or vertical. Now I no longer see a horizon in front of me and I have given up any hope of justice from the government regarding me and so, I address the people of Iran and say that if the government of our country has “disqualified” us for life, don’t you “disqualify” us. We have the right to live a decent life, just like other people of this beautiful country. To enjoy the civil rights. To have a suitable job and occupation according to one’s abilities and to be able to go to university. To have relationships based on mutual respect with our fellow countrymen. Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs and live according to them. Everyone has the right to enjoy comfort and security and to be safe from any harassment and abuse by any person or any group, and to spend all their energy on the development of the country instead of defending themselves. Compatriots, our story is one. Please don’t “disqualify” us and hear our stories from our own mouths.
Mahvash Shahriari Sabet, Evin Prison, November 2023