Maryam Shafipour is an Iranian human-rights activist who lives in Toronto. She was held in solitary confinement for 67 days during her imprisonment at Tehran’s Evin Prison from 2013 to 2015.
I was only 21 years old when I was summoned for questioning by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran.
I was terrified. Some of my fellow student activists had already been imprisoned, tortured and held in solitary confinement for peacefully protesting state tyranny.
Every day, we held a sit-in at Imam Khomeini International University, also known as the International University of Qazvin, calling for our friends’ release. Every day, intelligence agents called, threatened and insulted some of us. One by one, we were summoned to court or suspended from university or both.
It was my turn. I was not prepared. I had no idea what to say. I had no idea how to defend myself.
A classmate had introduced me to Narges Mohammadi, a graduate from our university and vice-president of the Defenders of Human Rights Centre. I called her. She calmed me down over the phone and gave me the number of a lawyer. This was the beginning of our friendship.
I was the only young woman among dozens of male activists summoned to the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Qazvin. “Do you want to be like Narges Mohammadi?” the court clerk asked sarcastically. My lips curled into a warm smile, and my eyes twinkled.
I was charged with “spreading propaganda against the system” and sentenced to a year in prison in 2009. I was sentenced again for similar charges in 2013 and spent a total of two years in prison.
But I did not want to tell you so much about that as my vivid memory of Narges in Evin Prison. One day there was a commotion in the corridor. The door to the women’s ward opened, and I saw her familiar face.
Narges had been arrested at her house and brought to the prison. To this day I think of it as a kidnapping.
I looked into her eyes and realized she was terribly anxious. She was worried about her twins. They didn’t have keys and might be left outside the door after school! Still, I couldn’t hide my delight at seeing her. Dear Narges, you were here!
Narges Mohammadi is an Iranian journalist, renowned human-rights activist and women’s rights defender. She has been arrested six times over three decades of peaceful activism and sentenced to four long prison terms by the Islamic Revolutionary Court.
Right now, she is yet again in Evin Prison, in solitary confinement since her arrest last month after she attended an event marking the second anniversary of the 2019 Bloody November massacre in Iran. She is subject to interrogation for new charges related to her campaign against solitary confinement and other activism and will later start serving a previous sentence of 30 months and 80 lashes for peaceful human-rights activities.
She was targeted for her criticism of laws against women. Her struggle against the Islamic regime’s systematic oppression of women and ethnic and religious minorities. Her peaceful efforts to abolish the death penalty. Her peaceful efforts to raise awareness and change patriarchal culture and customs in Iran. Her efforts to abolish torture and solitary confinement. Advocating justice for those killed and injured in peaceful protests. Plus dozens of other initiatives.
To me, Narges represents humanity’s glory in a beautiful soul. She is a ray of sunshine for a brighter future. Her power to keep up the fight has always astounded me. She is a sort of superwoman. Someone who has been tortured and oppressed for years. No one can recall anything bad about her. I wonder how many people in the world are so brave, patient and loving. She adores people. All of humankind.
While Narges was imprisoned in 2015, her young children fled to France. They haven’t hugged or even seen their mother in more than six years. Even after Narges was released from prison last year, the authorities barred her from leaving the country, even to see her children.
Narges stood up. She fought. She dedicated her love for her children to all people while carrying in her chest the great pain of being separated from her twins. She wrote about the torture, long-term solitary confinement, cruel sentences, forced confessions and executions of innocent people.
She suffered neurological and muscular paralysis in 2009 in solitary confinement because of the torture and horrific, stressful situation she endured. She remains sentenced to 80 lashes.
She will try not to break. She is a human-rights fighter. What about the rest of us? How can we assist Narges in her struggle against oppression and darkness? In 2016, I launched a #FreeNarges campaign, supported by several human-rights organizations, which helped secure her release in 2020. I need others to join me as I campaign to free Narges once more.
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