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    Posted June 15, 2012 by
    Tehran, Iran

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    "Women Behind Bars" - Moving Documentary Film by Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh (Iranian political prisoner)


    “Women Behind Bars”
    Documentary Film by Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh


    • Film Trailer opening scene: A jubilant crowd on streets of Tehran at midnight on June 10, 2009


    Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh:
    It was absolutely surreal… There was so much excitement in the air. An excitement that began with pockets around mid-city, quickly spread uptown first and then found its way to the streets of downtown.


    It truly resembled a carnival. It was in fact, a carnival. The only thing you could feel was this tidal wave of Nationalism made out of “Freedom” flooding through the city.


    All voting booths closed at 10pm sharp. People were glued to their televisions at home. No one knew what was happening on the streets.


    Aida So’aadat: (2011 in exile) - “A number of us decided to go for a ride around the city to see what was going on. Well we were in for a shock. From Jamalzadeh Street where our journey began, we could see that the roads from Vali-Asr Square towards Fatemi Street were all closed off. We took the side streets, headed towards the State Ministry. From there we could see mayhem and chaos everywhere and heard sporadic gunshots in the distance. There were riot police and there were people in those attires that we all remember well, distributing cookies while shouting profanities. Every young person wearing anything Green or carrying a banner or placard was getting beaten up by police forces armed with an array of knives, batons and guns. The city was practically closed.


    Mahboubeh: It was around midnight. I called Jila Bani-Yaghoub. We were in constant touch during those days. “Let’s go into town to see what’s going on,” I said. “Mahboubeh, I’m really worried,” Jila said. There are terrible news coming out of campaign centers. Something bad is happening. Come quickly”. I hurried to her house.


    Police Blow Horns:
    “Move, move forward Mr. Hurry up and Move.”


    Jila Bani-Yaghoub’s voice - somewhere around Fatemi Square, evening hours, June 12, 2009:
    There’s no stopping this. Of course, all their security forces have flooded the streets. I’m on the streets, heading for the campaign headquarter. It is really dangerous here, but everyone has come out of their homes. “No, no, no, that’s what they’re trying to announce, but everyone knows better, even Mousavi himself. It’s all over. Buy for now.” I said.


    “People are either in their yards or inside their homes. Few others are asleep. All their armed forces are unleashed on the streets, yelling at the crowd: “Hey you punk, go home … you punks should be ashamed of yourselves … go home.” I don’t know what is going on…” Jila continued.


    Mahboubeh: And that was the last time I saw Jila and Bahman Ahmadi Amouie.


    Aida: It all became very clear that same night. I will never forget. Shiva (Nazar Ahari) turned around and said: “You know, I’m going to be taken away, tomorrow or the next day!” We drove all the way to Tajrish Square, then took Sadr highway towards Resaalat and stopped at Shiva’s house. She got off the car. And that was the last time I saw Shiva.”


    The Cries:
    “Come this way … go, go, go. Stop beating him, you “hired gun”. Stop beating him.”


    Aida: From that same night, many of our lives changed forever. Our jobs changed. Those of us who up until then were pursuing the news about detainees and pressures exerted against women and similar issues and we were activists of sorts. We were suddenly faced with an enormous wave of people none of whom had an idea about what was taking place. Waves of street protesters, waves of arrests, countless people disappearing and taken to undisclosed locations. Their families having no idea whether they were dead or alive or in prison, and where to begin looking for them. We kept hearing news of underground secret prisons.”


    That night when they raided the student dorms … you know, that night, suddenly we all leaped into a new era of our lives … like a sudden and major shift in our realities. Too many of our friends were suddenly arrested and taken away … all this was a terrible shock for every one of us.


    Mahboubeh: Is the shock over for you now?


    Aida: I don’t want to get into the rest of this … yes, let’s move on…




    This is a story of Pain; un-remediable pain; mothers’ pain: mourning mothers, lost mothers, mothers having left a piece of themselves behind, mothers behind cold bars, locked up in a prison the size of their country, anxiously awaiting a 10-minute meeting through glass windows. Mothers… mothers waiting in distrust…


    Shiva Nazar Ahari’s mother:
    I had no news or information from my daughter for 25 or 26 days after her arrest. I contacted every source I could think of, from the prosecutor on… There were so many families in those days, left with no news of their incarcerated children. I wasn’t the only one.


    Nazanin Khosravani’s mother:
    I went to the Courthouse yesterday, after not having received any news about my daughter’s whereabouts. “I’m here to see the Prosecutor, I told them.” He’s not in today, they responded. “Go talk to the sources who have incarcerated her.” “Go to Evin prison”. These were the answers I was given. I said “don’t you see, I’ve done all of that already to no avail…


    Nasrin Sotoudeh’s husband:
    We had to bring this woman in her 80’s in a wheel chair in this terrible cold weather. She is sick, she has dementia. She can’t talk or remember much. He asks her in the car: “Did you see Nasrin? What did she tell you?” Nasrin’s mother mumbles, ”I couldn’t talk”. “She is afraid to talk!” “Where you alone together?” He asks. She mumbles…


    Voice of Khadijeh Moghaddam (Women’s Movement Activist in a Mourning Mothers’ meeting):
    These women have not forgotten the bitter memories of the horrors that took place in the 80’s and in 1988. Today we are trying our utmost to help the mourning mothers in whatever way possible. The mothers of prisoners take turns to make daily visits to the courthouses to demand answers from the prosecutor who never responds to them and even prevents them from speaking. Only his deputy does all the talking. The deputy and the prosecutor both know that this is a game. And the mothers know that as well, however, they continue their daily visits and they return home empty handed. On other days, their task is to go the prison and demand a visit with their children. Prison officials never allow them the visit and never even accept any form of responsibility.


    Narrator: Among imprisoned women, there are prominent names of activists from Women’s Rights to Political, Social, Religious Minorities, Bloggers, Journalists and Human Rights activists.


    Voice of unidentified woman:
    There are many unknown prisoners held in undisclosed prisons. There are about 42 women currently held at Evin prison, in a room approximately 40-50 square meters (430—538 square feet) in size. More than 12 of them have no beds.


    Hengameh Shahidi’s mother said that in a recent cabin visit, Hengameh has told her: “There is nothing you can do for me. There is nothing anybody can do for me. I have to stay here in prison, until the day I die.”


    Narrator: As the whole country prepares to celebrate the arrival of spring, the families of Rajaie-Shahr prisoners write open letters about the dire circumstances in a forgotten place called “Rajaie-Shahr Prison”. They write of imminent dangers of raping and murdering of female prisoners. Categorization and classification of crimes of female prisoners has no place in Rajaie-Shahr, just as all other prisons in Iran.


    Leila Milani: (Human Rights Activist)
    Allow me to speak briefly about Mahvash and Fariba (Bahaii prisoners). They are members of “Yaraan-e Iran”, a group consisting of 7 members: five men and 2 women. For a long time they had no access to an attorney or to their own files, or family contact. I hasten to add that this is not uncommon in Iran. They apply this to many prisoners and this Bahaii family is no exception. There have been occasions where over one hundred prisoners were kept in one place with only one bathroom and only cold water to shower with.


    About Fariba I recall a story, when her mother was finally allowed to visit her one day; she walks right past Fariba, as she simply does not recognize her own daughter. Many have gone from bad to worse…


    Unidentified woman:


    One woman had traveled all the way from Tabriz to Karaj to visit her daughter after three months of battling illness. Once at Rajaie-Shahr, she’s prevented from seeing her daughter. “Why not”, she inquires. “She is not here.” She’s boldly turned away, only to receive a 2-minute phone call days later from her daughter who says: “all I can say is that I don’t feel well…”


    Narrator: And thus was the beginning of the story of female prisoners in Kahrizak “the sequel”.


    Varaamin Prison, holding over 200 female prisoners with only two bathrooms and two showers which are used for bathing, washing dishes and clothes; is one notorious place where prisoners are denied even the most basic facilities to upkeep their hygiene. They are also denied three daily meals. They are fed based on prison guards’ whim, due to an insufficient budget for food and water.


    “We decided to go on a hunger strike. For as long as prison conditions continue as they are, we have no fears of giving up our lives.”


    The difference between these women (activists) and ordinary female prisoners is that even in prison, they continue their activism in fighting discrimination, informing the masses and civil disobedience. They find and identify the unknown female prisoners and reveal their information from inside prison.


    The role my friends played in prison was in fact, to identify those female prisoners who were marginalized by the society and had committed crimes as a result. They would hire attorneys for these women, would help their families, would even raise funds and pay some of their debts. I can tell you with confidence that every single one of these women continued working on other female prisoners’ case, even after their own release from prison. They never stop their activism.


    Look at Bahareh Hedaayat who is still in prison. She is running the prison library.


    Fariba Davoudi Mohajer: (Women’s Movement Activist)

    One great thing about Bahareh was that she was able to create a great connection between the Students’ Movement and Women’s Movement.


    Mahboubeh: Women’s Movement has always operated under a great deal of pressure and with hands tied behind its back. Women were able to move that same Movement inside the prison, still operating under the same pressures.


    Fariba Mohajer: When you see Nasrin (Sotoudeh) throwing her arms around her husband and hugging him, it looks as if she’s committed a forbidden act. She has expressed her love for “a man” in front of others.


    What do you think of the Group Letter written by the female prisoners, which was published in Kalemeh?


    Fariba Mohajer: The fact that it was written as a group was intended to eliminate the margins of judgments that often surround individually written letters or complaints. When I was routinely taken through those narrow corridors of prison, and forced for 2-3 hours at a time, to confess that I was in love with a particular man who is also a political activist, I kept denying it. Even recounting the story today is difficult for me. In prison you constantly feel the threat of psychological, emotional or physical torture; just because you are a woman.


    Narrator: It is reported that out of over three hundred female political activists incarcerated during the past two years, approximately 80 still remain in prison for their political or religious beliefs. At least fifty women of various political or religious beliefs were arrested in 2010 alone, majority of whom among Human Rights and Women’s Rights activists.


    Zahra Bahrami and Shirin Alam Hovi were two female political activists that amidst a public disbelief and their cases devoid of conclusive proof of crime were sent to the gallows.


    So many of these women are either serving 10-12 year sentences or released from prison, but not really free. Every one of them has complaints, but where and to which element of government can you turn to? Do you want to hire Nasrin Sotoudeh to defend you? Well, she is in prison herself. Other human rights lawyers? Same thing. All doors are closed … there is no possible way to defend yourself.


    Shadowed woman:


    I just cannot believe. So many torn bodies, so much madness. People I knew for so long, people I worked with … all gone. So many languishing in prison, many not even aware of their charges!


    Do you know why the news of Haleh’s (Sahabi) death triggered such a massive sense of sorrow in everyone? There was a deep sense of innocence about her. The details are immaterial. What IS important however, is that a woman, a prisoner comes out of prison for a day, to attend her father’s funeral and she gets killed by security forces. What IS important to note is that there is so much violence in this regime … THERE IS SO MUCH VIOLENCE IN THIS REGIME … that it can’t help itself but to attack and murder a woman who is simply burying her father, while holding his picture…


    Followed by a poem by Mansoureh Shojaie


    * * *


    “Women Behind Bars”
    Documentary Film
    A joint-production by: "Iranian Women Research Foundation" and "Zanaan TV"

    ** First screening at the Foundation’s 2011 meeting in Holand, honoring imprisoned Iranian women



    Producer/Director: Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh
    Research & Script: Aida So’aadat
    Arrangement: Afshin Nariman
    Narrators: Roya Maleki, Shideh Rezaie, Sara Valinejad
    Film Archives:
    Mahboobeh Abbasgholi Zadeh videos
    "The Other Gender" blog
    "Feminist School" Website
    Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani videos
    “Sogand” by unknown artist
    “Iran” poem by Malek ol Shoaraye Bahar
    Song by Alireza Ghorbani


    Special Thanks to:
    Samar Tehrani
    Fariba Davoudi Mohajer
    Leila Milani

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