In the Tehran prison of Evin, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi is locked up, most of the political prisoners have often sung together, revolutionary songs since the beginning of the “Woman Lives Freedom” movement, says the former “state hostage” Fariba Adelkhah.
The protest born in September 2022 from the death of Mahsa Amini, a young 22-year-old Kurd three days after his arrest for non-compliance with the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic, “has changed Iranian society, but also its prisons,” believes the Franco-Iranian researcher, interviewed by AFP.
Large-scale demonstrations, bloodily repressed, were held for months against Iranian political and religious leaders. Hundreds of protesters were killed and thousands more arrested, according to NGOs.
In the women’s neighborhood of Evin, human rights activists, environmentalists, trade unionists, political opponents, representatives of religious minorities… often with divergent positions, are locked up. But “we became united by this cause,” says Fariba Adelkhah, 64, an anthropologist specializing in Iran.
She herself was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport, where she was waiting for her companion Roland Marchal, who had come to meet her. Prettily dressed agents, “in their Sunday best,” then “very respectfully” invite her to follow them, she says. A few hours later his first interrogation begins, his head “facing a wall”.
Many others will follow, during which no blow will ever be dealt to him, she assures. “Having interrogators hit you to get answers happens very often among men, but I never heard it said about women during my detention.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, for her part, spoke out about sexual violence against women in prison.
“The absence of physical violence does not, however, prevent constant psychological humiliation,” Fariba Adelkhah hastens to add.
She was finally sentenced to six years in prison, five for “collusion with foreigners” and one for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”.
Ms. Adelkhah will be pardoned last February after more than three and a half years of confinement or house arrest with an electronic bracelet. Eight months after this decision, Tehran will return his passport, allowing his return to France.
Roland Marchal, a researcher specializing in Africa, arrested the same day as her, was released in March 2020 as part of an exchange of detainees between Tehran and Paris.
“I still cannot understand what I was accused of,” sighs the Franco-Iranian with a warm smile that years “spent behind a wall” have not managed to erode, despite a 50-day hunger strike. from which she emerged bloodless.
Paris has several times used the term “state hostages” to designate its case and that of other French people detained by Tehran.
In her work in Iran, the researcher says she was obliged to respect “three red lines”: “the revolution”, “Islam” and “the status of the supreme leader”, three extremely sensitive questions, which could have earned her accusations of appeasement towards Tehran, which she refutes.
But “the regime criminalizes actions that are not criminal,” observes the sixty-year-old. In the end, we all become opponents in his eyes.”
“How beautiful you are”
“Woman lives freedom”, which put Tehran in great difficulty, has transcended her fellow prisoners, she says. In Evin, prisoners are bareheaded when among themselves, but are required to cover themselves if a man enters their quarters, or if they have to go to the hospital. After the movement started, almost “no one wore the veil anymore” during a male outbreak, she remembers.
On Wednesday evening, the family of 2023 Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi assured that she was deprived of urgent care, despite heart and lung problems, due to her refusal to cover her head.
In a message published on the official Nobel website on Tuesday, Ms. Mohammadi notably described the compulsory hijab as “the main source of control and repression in society, aimed at maintaining and perpetuating an authoritarian religious government”.
Arrested 13 times, sentenced five times to a total of 31 years in prison and 154 lashes, and incarcerated again since 2021, Narges Mohammadi has made prison “a space of combat, of protest par excellence”, in which she is “more heard than when she is outside,” observes Fariba Adelkhah.
The researcher was still in Iran at the beginning of October when her ex-fellow prisoner was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She remembers “smiles” in the street, a certain “lightness” on faces.
“Now, when women who do not wear the veil meet in the street, which was unthinkable before, they say to themselves: ‘But how beautiful you are!’” she rejoices.
On a daily basis, massive “Woman Life Freedom” demonstrations have become very rare, but “the Islamic Republic is forced to give in on many things,” she says. In the streets of Iran, as in its prisons.