Women: incarcerated in Shah’s prisons and jailed to “Islamic” identity
The magnitude of the savagery and repression which came to dominate the Iranian scene in the in the years 1979- 1988 while the religious counter-revolution was digging its roots goes beyond common understanding, and ordinary language. The use of common words, including common usage of such words as prison and prisoner, in naming the hitherto unexperienced events of this era, inevitably serves historic relativism and amnesia, particularly on the backdrop of the unexpected defeat of the whole Iranian opposition. Rather than use such comparisons between the present regime and its predecessor as a tool of analysis, it has more often than not, been misused to justify all kinds of repressors and enemies of freedom and to condemn those fighting against both regimes.
Bearing the above in mind, my talk today1 will cover:
1. Memories of the prisons in Shah’s era relying my own personal experience and observations.
2. Women as a political offender and her punishment in 20th century Iran
3. A comparative glance at political prisons in the Islamic Republic relying on the experience and observations of political prisoners in this regime, in order to try to specifically define prison and prisoner in the Islamic Republic.
Window to a regime
I begin from the premise that a prison is the laboratory of repression of the ruling system transposed to the individual model, and a manifestation of the system of repression of society as a whole in its pure form. I also aim to open an understanding of religious fascism, the greatest enemy of mankind today.
My concentrating on women is not merely because of gender identity or my particular personal experience. Even more importantly, it is based on the understanding that a conscious study of women’s experience is an inseparable component of a comprehensive attempt at understanding reality. Women are neither the other half, nor a group among groups. Women represent humanity in its entirety, as men do - a point that to this date has remained the monopoly of men. For this reason I consciously use ideas, depending on their meaning, sometimes in its general form, and at others by emphasising its feminine particularity.
In order to make clear the difference in the political offence of women in the two regimes of Shah and Islamic Republic I will use two images of women in prison in classical Iranian fables: Fatemeh Arreh2 and Chehel Gisu 3. In the first the woman is the subject - that is the actual offender while in the second the woman is the object of the accusation and hence the inherent offender.
Revolution and released prisoners
The Iranian people achieved a major victory in October 1978. The release of political prisoners was central to the demands of the general strikers and demonstrators. Inside we heard of preparations to attack the Ghasr prison, and rumour or reality, it warmed us as much as it made our jailers fearful.
The regime ultimately backed down and leaked news of the release of over 1,000 political prisoners in official newspapers under the guise of a pardon on the Shah’s birthday on October 26. To prevent a gathering outside the prison gates the guards read out names that very night and ordered that they leave the prison immediately.
The women in Ghasr refused and spent another night in voluntary imprisonment.
The prisoners were released next day in small groups into a crowd of several thousand who were impatiently shaking the prison’s giant iron door off its foundation. We were swallowed up by so may outstretched arms, flashlights. A handful of emaciated women in prison clothes submerged in a flood of people. The absence of male prisoners did not take away from this day of victory. No one remembered to mention it, nor was it reported anywhere. For women, though this was an unforgettable day, an exceptional instant of equality.
There was Fatemeh J, who had withstood Hosseini’s 4 lashing. Yet not only was her heroism ignored, but her family had been so ashamed of her arrest that in order to hide this dishonour they had sent her in their lies to Europe, and left her even lonelier in her prison.
The second Fatemeh A was even more alone. Throughout her whole sentence she did not see her mother, who was kept away by the dishonour. Even when, years later, her father died of cancer, Fatemeh’s guilty role in bringing this about was so obvious to all that even she began to believe herself responsible for her mother’s widowhood.
Fatemeh S: She had been tortured for months. Her new-born daughter was immediately handed over to the family. For a long time no one knew her fate, nor she of anyone. After months of total isolation her first news of the outside world, brought in by newly arrested comrades, and relayed to her by her interrogator, was of the re-marriage of the father of her child, her husband and comrade.
The three Fatemehs S, A and J were among the handful of women prisoners whose husbands were free and could go from one prison to the next in search of their wives, visit them, send in fruit and cookies, tell them about the children and how they have missed them; what wives of male prisoners did, and do, as a matter of course. The husbands of S, A and J did not. Instead they took a second wife. The family of a male prisoner understood the needs of the man. In the case of the woman she was there through her own fault. If women opposed the Shah’s regime they not only deserved punishment in the eyes of the law, but their act was also an excuse for much injustice to women in the eyes of the larger society and the smaller family community.
For centuries a rebellious or disobedient woman had been compared to the mythical Fatemeh Arreh. The disobedient wife of that Baghdad cobbler had been condemned by the paternalistic Arab society. Fatemeh’s husband who had neither access to sheriff nor dungeon threw her into a well. For centuries Fatemeh Arreh’s story travelled from one land to the next. One moment she was an Arab, then she turned Iranian and in Shiraz she changed her name. But her offence, and her eternal punishment, was common to all ages, and to all cultures.
Yet despite this and other stories women became more disobedient. From mid 19th century they stepped outside forbidden boundaries and became insolent towards the government, and poked their nose in its business. Now what was needed was a sheriff and a dungeon. Reza Shah Pahlavi took this on and sent a number of the militant women of his time into exile or prison. 5 Iran’s first political prison for women came into being at a time when women had absolutely no political rights. In other words women became the subject of offences in the political arena without having become and subject for rights.
The reforms of the 60’s and 70’s gave a degree of equal political rights to women without giving them an equivalent social or personal rights. A woman could become a minister yet had to obtain her husband’s permission to travel abroad. Thus women’s political activity was only possible under the control of two authorities: the despotic state and the paternalistic family.
Women fought to redress the balance in this unbalanced state. Now the disobedience and oppositional activities of women was reflected in all spheres. New, hitherto forbidden, boundaries were being trampled. Women kicked away the traditional model and took on both authorities. Some even left the family and took up arms.
Once again crime and punishment took precedence over rights. The complete equality in punishment for men and women became the object of the law. The execution of women was, however, not only outside Iranian criminal law, but outside social custom. The modern judicial system, a fruit of the 1905-6 Constitutional Revolution, had codified punishments for women. While denying women the least political or social rights, the private and public realms were separated. Women were defined in law, as wife or daughter, and as part of the private domain of men.
Men were given the moral-social duty of controlling of women. This move, however, cut away the power of the religious jurist and was an improvement in the condition of women. Though women without rights were unjustly the subject of criminal law, the victory of secular custom over the sharia’ (religious law) had spared them the death penalty. The execution of Gharr’at al-Ein in 1860 for heresy had remained a unique historic example.
Now the supreme dictator Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1941-1979) found social custom an obstacle to his desire to change the law at his whim, and overnight, to allow the execution of women. Public opinion had to be prepared. The opportunity came in the mid 70’s with Iran Sharifi. She was accused of kidnap, sexual abuse and murder of her husband’s two small children. It was argued that imprisonment is too light a punishment for such a crime. This was the emotional argument which successfully removed the obstacle of social custom. At the legal level the argument was gender equality, which did not even exist on paper. It was clear to all alert minds that Iran Sharifi was a victim of the new policy towards women in the realm of politics. Iran Sharifi, who had been punished instead of the real murderers, knew this better than others and had warned the political prisoners with whom she shared a cell.
The execution of Sharifi and following her a number of women political prisoners in the years 1976-7 opened a new chapter in the legal history of Iran: a complete equality of sexes, but only in punishment. I was arrested at this time and was witness to this unequal equality in the Combined Komitee of the Police and SAVAK. 6
In 1969 a young female student had been arrested along with the Palestine Group, one of the first guerrilla groups captured. She was accused of taking part in military exercises in preparation of the overthrow of the regime. Her guardian was called in, asked to vouch for her, and she was released into his care. When I was arrested six years later (1975) this era had long since passed. Women had become stubborn despite the laws.
There was now no sex discrimination in the use of cables woven together for beating, electrical shock treatment, the dreaded headpiece known as “Apollo”, weighted handcuffs, broken bottles or any other form of torture. The days of exile were over. Women prisoners with similar accusations as men, endured alongside the men the most terrible and unimaginable period of the Komitee.
From the middle of 1974 SAVAK had implemented a plan for the total suppression of opposition in the country. All evidence of dissent must be crushed by 1976. In the year of my arrest the Komitee was blood, cries and the banging of chains. This was where equality was being practised. Yet despite this apparent egalitarian treatment, the story of the pain and torture of the men was not the same as the pain and torture of women. I will use some examples to draw a picture of the unequal equality:
1. Fatemeh was two months pregnant. She aborted in a solitary cell in the Komitee. Yet she did not tell a soul. She did not want this news leaked to her family. Her imprisonment had already occasioned enough taunts from the family. She hid her miscarriage as if she had committed a murder and swallowed her grief.
2. Another Fatemeh had stopped seeing her periods and had become like a corpse in fear of being pregnant. SAVAK had pressured her to admit to a illicit relationship and so break the resistance of her husband. She was not pregnant but her grief and fear was greater than someone who carried a bastard child which she could not hide. Fatemeh carried the signs of this grief and fear through the whole of her several years in prison.
3. Fatemeh S had no children, yet she stopped menstruating forever and remained sterile for the rest of her life.
4. Fatemeh was 18. She was pressured to appear in a television show against opponents of the regime and act the role of a loose women in a illicit relationship. Another young girl, who had been accused of this, had died in an armed clash with the police and the authorities needed a substitute for their show. Fatemeh’s resistance resulted in more torture and a life sentence.
5. Fatemeh was 15 and the daughter of a religious family. She was raped to get her brother to talk.
6. Fatemeh was arrested on suspicion only. She was 18 and had spent the whole night on the torture table. The interrogator had taken advantage of the situation and raped her without an excuse. To justify the rape she was given a six month prison sentence for no reason.
7. Fatemeh was 8 months pregnant when arrested. They stripped her, whipped her and with a broken bottle tore her rectum. Each time they would dump her half-dead body in front of her 4-year old child. She gave birth to her second child, unaided and without a midwife, surrounded by laughing torturers, and was taken back to her cell. Her only nurse was her 4-year old child. She would crawl to the toilet, wash the bloody rags and use them wet. They continued her interrogation, while her child would ask “mum, when will we be freed”.
It was thus that the anti-women social customs in the world outside showed their influence in the political interrogation centres. Unlike other methods of torture which were employed at the service of one aim - information gathering - sexual violence was being used to satisfy the anti-women prejudices of the torturers. If we look beyond the absolute rule which justified the obtaining of information at any price, this phase did not obey any rule.
Even if in the total isolation of this phase it felt as if, like hell, it would go on for ever, sooner or later it would end. Moving to the general prison had the exhilarating feel of liberty. The sentence by the military court - pre-determined - put an end to this feeling. To return to prison was to be separated from life. Your rights now was the natural right to live at its most restricted meaning. SAVAK had named political prisoners “saboteurs” as an excuse for the injustice hanging over Iran’s political prisons. Yet the time in prison was also a time of struggle for the minimum facilities to sustain human existence. “Rights are not given but are for taking” was our motto.
Conditions for women were worse than for men. The especially constructed prison for women, all grey cement, concrete and metal, did not even let a blade of grass through.
The time inside was also when many women faced the criticism and blame of their family, anxieties about the care of their children, fear of being judged and condemned and its consequences, fear of being forgotten, fear of losing, and of the time lost.
Fatemeh despite resisting torture, was not made a hero, her children were without a charge and her husband had taken a second wife. Yet on that day of freedom this same Fatemeh was a symbol of victory without gender. She became a hero. Her picture was printed in newspapers. That day was for Fatemeh, and me, a rare moment of equality, and hope.
In Autumn of 1980 two years after my release from Ghasr I was again a prisoner of the Komitee - the Komitee of the Islamic Revolution. Its spacious cells were put up in the parliament building, almost 100 meters square and the only prison clothes was a headscarf for women prisoners.
When the official offered me the pea-coloured scarf I declined. When he insisted I countered: you know I am a non-believer, what is the point of this scarf! “This is the prison uniform” he replied. Not long afterwards the Evin 7 prosecutors office released me. On leaving Evin, I immediately removed the scarf, stuffed it into my bag and kept it as a momento in a suitcase.
Seven month later my cell mate Tahereh was executed. She was 8 months pregnant, and after her thousands of other women. The Islamic Republic had no fear of custom and tradition. Thousands of women, even children, were thrown into prison.
Now depriving the prisoner of his or her social and individual rights, incarcerating them, was no longer enough. It was not even enough to cease disobeying the state. He or she should repent for their very being. It was not enough to admit to being nothing. He or she had to become nothing.
This was so when Ma’sumeh Shadmani jumped out of her interrogation cell. Her attempted suicide became another “crime” on top of her others. She was executed. In the Shah’s regime Ma’sumeh had been interrogated for 11 month. Her leg had been permanently damaged. She had a wooden rod inserted inside her vagina. Her son was whipped in front of her. She was given a life sentence. Yet she never lost hope. They had wanted to extract information from her. She had resisted and was imprisoned for her thoughts and for her political activities. The total submission of Ma’sumeh Shadmani was not the business of prison in that regime.
A new Fatemeh
When I saw Fatemeh after four years in 1983 crumpled in her Islamic hejab (dress code) I hardly recognised her. In those earlier days the uninhibited movement of her body gave the impression of freedom even in the tight space of our cell. Now she was bent, shrouded in hejab, reminding one of a runaway slave in some Eastern market in one of those American films, who huddles so that her presence catches no one’s eye, even that of a friend.
Some years ago when Azzodi had appeared outside her cell she had refused to budge. Azzodi had barked do you know who I am?” “No!” Fatemeh had replied. “I am the head of SAVAK in the Komitee” he had screamed. Fatemeh had replied defiantly “Be whatever you want to be” and did not budge. She later boasted of her communist beliefs to the army prosecutors and received a life sentence.
On that day we met again she was not in a Komitee cell and was free to walk any of Teheran’s streets. Yet she had so much to fear. She had to be afraid of a few strands of her grey hair which might slip out of her scarf onto her forehead, fear the family photograph album which her 70-year old mother had refused to burn alongside her books and notes, fear for the bottle of wine in the kitchen cupboard, and fear for being a communist.
“Do you remember the good times we had in Evin and Ghasr?” I agreed and immediately felt ashamed of our decline. I felt ashamed of my feet which still recalled the whipping. I felt ashamed of the groans of the prisoner in cell 13, First Block in the Police-SAVAK Komitee after her daily ration of lashing, which went on for two months. Yet I agreed that those were “good times”. I had been so scared all the way to this meeting. Truly those were good times when the prison was not seen as a place for “good times”.
Then political prisoners were guilty, and their guilt was their political thought or act. What was being assaulted by the prison authorities was not the self in its totality but the political self. Political opposition was banned in society. The political prisoner was in enemy captivity as a dissenting being. Any manifestation of this political individualism or a dissenting or critical mind in the individual came under the total jurisdiction of the repressive apparatus. Political individualism was condemned. Inside the prison the individual as a legal being, was the subject of an unequal struggle where the defeat or victory of the prisoner could not go beyond certain limits.
In the setting of prison and despite its harsh rules, however, the moral individual was still officially recognised. Attempts to isolate the prisoner was limited by certain boundaries.
Thus when the prison guards in Shah’s prison realised that imposing Islamic hejab on women prisoners might limit the flow of information being passed between prisoners on the way to and from the cells and the infirmary, they faced the unanimous opposition of women prisoners. Two Fatemehs, both with excruciating toothache, one highly religious who would have never allowed a strand of her hair to be seen by a stranger, and the other a Marxist refused to wear the chador 8 and were denied the visit to the infirmary.
On that Shah’s birthday, the television was, as usual, turned off by the prisoners. A guard, bored, turned on the machine. Fatemeh shot up like an arrow and shut up the anthem glorifying the Shah. Fatemeh was sent to solitary confinement but the television remained off that day, and every October 26 thereafter. Prisoners who had been separated from their selves under torture regained their self-respect in the general prison. Those times had now become fond memories.
Today, under the Islamic Republic, rights began with repentance. Repentance was the beginning of existence and the subjugation of the person in their totality had become the political programme of the government of the day.
We are all Fatemeh
Yet remorse and repentance was not just for prisoners, and not just for the Fatemehs. It was for all the nameless women in the country it has become mandatory for existence, for the right to exist. Women had lost their individual name. Women were, like Chehel Gisu 9 in the old tale, intrinsically enticing. In that old legend Chehel Gisu had been held captive by the evil giant so that she could melt the heart of heroes. She had be kept out of the gaze of men in the giant’s beautiful garden. But the real nameless Iranian woman, was not just beauty and enticement. She was guilty. More than that she was a sinner. She had killed the giant and was no longer captive. She had escaped and was out of control. She had taken the road of heathen women, the same women who had caused the defeat of the Muslims at the hands of Christians in Spain, and worse who had sullied Moses’s troops at the orders of Balaam Baur. The modern Chehel Gisu had sold out to the Yankee, was an accomplice of the communist or the Jew. She had blown religion and country to the wind. The hero, the man, had become dishonoured. He had lost his pride. Sheriffs in their thousands were needed. And prisons to the number of women. And the law of divine rights.
Lies and false accusations
Woman now became the object for legislating new offences. She had to be freed from being a “commodity” and a instrument in the service of disseminating the consumer culture and exploitation”. Woman must become “human”. She had to find again the “vital and noble role of motherhood” and become the “vanguard for rearing religious humans”.10 Thus the offence of women was even written into the Constitution (Basic Laws). The Islamic Republic was built upon its base. In the paramble to the Constitution, women appeared in the black list of the foundations of the monarchical order. Her overthrow was made essential to produce Islamic society and attain the aims of the new regime.
The Constitution turned women into a government institution that had to be totally overhauled. They had to be remade with new objectives. Under the heading of “Woman in the Basic Laws” in the introduction to the Constitution, the future of not just the Fatemehs, but of all Iranian women is made crystal clear: to belong to society they must recant their existing identity.
The individuality of women disappeared into an abstract model of the family. She was isolated. Reduced to a womb. She became a mechanism for a biological function and reappeared as the revered mother, “vanguard for rearing religious humans”. To become a perfect example of the negation of individuality. To implement the government’s harsh programme of producing slaves.
The family was abstracted from its social function so that there would be no need to rely on “dishonoured” fathers and brothers. Women were directly defined as one of the pillars of government in the Basic Laws, sandwiched between “economy is only a means and not an end” and the “religious [maktabi] army”. The negation of women became a new definition for men. Dishonoured men were removed from positions of power - dismissed even from manhood - so that the “Islamic woman” could be recreated.
Woman became a basis of a new definition of the family whose guardian is neither father or husband but the velayate faghih 11 and the Islamic Republic. The job of government is to fashion a model where women are negated in order to become a (second class) human being. Women were potential criminals, the offence itself. Women were the subject of a “becoming” and becoming became a standard for laws - for everyone and everything.
The presence of women or any female manifestation was forbidden. Any manifestation of beauty and life, from hair to love, was forbidden. A mother’s love was forbidden. The mother of Ne’mati was tortured because she had helped her sons flee. When her tortured body was brought back to the cell the Pasdar (revolutionary guard), while pointing to her breast shouted “the milk you gave your children was haram (unclean), these breasts should be torn out”. Parvaneh Alizadeh 12 wrote “it needed courage to even look at the swelling and bruises on her breasts and legs”.
Tarigh al-Eslami’s mother 13 was paraded as a model mother. She had betrayed her son to the authorities and tricked him into turning the final visit before his execution into a television show for the Islamic Republic. Motherhood had to be scorned and maternal love condemned, so that mothers could gladly send their young sons away, for a 20,000 rials monthly wage, to face the guns of war. And shamelessly to march in their thousands in the squares of our towns shouting for their sons’ martyrdom, at the prospect of receiving the 1 million rial blood money. This was the model of an Islamic women - a model for “being human”. Men were compared to her and were eliminated so that they could be reborn through her.
Women who insisted on retaining their own identity and refused to repent and relent had to be punished. First they were expelled from work, then thrown out of classes, finally refused entry into buses, taxis and shops and thugs were unleashed on them. But this was not enough. There was a need for sheriffs and prisons numbered to that of women. Hejab (Islamic attire) became compulsory. Women became anonymous. You could not tell one woman from another, the Muslim from the Christian or Jew, or from the militant non-believer - just as you could not tell prisoner from warden when both were women.
When I was in hiding in 1983 I was caught walking by the Caspian sea with my husband. For some time I had taken out the pea-coloured headscarf of the prison and put it on so as not to attract attention. For them not to discover that I too am a Fatemeh. I was happy that I was not alone in this degradation. I was happy that I had not had to pay for the prison clothes.
When the Pasdar patrol car suddenly turned, and drove on the sandy shore towards where I was walking, I saw death in front of my eyes. I looked vainly behind me. Perhaps I was hoping to see something that would explain the direction of the car. Or maybe an escape route. All I could see was an endless expanse of sea. I was stuck.
I was given till next day to put on the full hejab. He did not arrest me. He did not even take my name. He did not even talk to me. He had informed my man and left. There was no possibility of escape. I was a prisoner walking the seashore. The only way was to hide my womanhood under clothes. My face was too smooth, my husband said. I wished my breasts were smaller.
The next day I went to one of the countless shops where men make money by selling the prison cloths of today’s Iranian women. I brought the hejab from my own money. In the mirror even my looks were that of a stranger. I remembered the gaze of Fatemeh by the sink in the infirmary of the Police-SAVAK Komitee, broken under torture, bruised and so terribly weak. Although her eyes did not shine, and the whites of her eyes were almost obliterated by blood clots, yet I recognised her from her proud look into my eyes, full of defiance.
The stare of that other Fatemeh looking back at me in the changing room of that clothes shop was alien. It was not me. My mother when visiting Ghasr prison for the first time had said: “you have totally frustrated the SAVAK”. The father of my son had once said “you never lose an opportunity to say ‘no’. You say ‘no’ first and then listen to see what the question was about”.
The new prison
Yet my mouth was locked on that beach. I had never been so frightened. My country had become a prison with a thousand layers. If I said “no” they would have taken me and I would have sunk to the depths. I would have changed from an imprisoned citizen to a prisoner of the Islamic Republic and you would read in books by Parvaneh Ali Pour and Sharnush Parsi Pour what became of me.
The chador is now the prisoners clothes. Without this they would not even arrest you. And since I did not have one they would pull a sheet over my head, and cover that with a leather bag which down came as far as my breasts. The Pasdar would hold the corner of the sheet, so as not to touch me, and hand me over to the interrogator. They would whip me and when this was over they would whip me again since despite being bound hand and feet under the sheet I would struggle and the corner of the sheet would part and reveal a bit of me - the crime of the temptress. The same as happened when the buttons of the of the prison top opened on Hosseini’s torture table.
Were I to survive the Evin torture chamber without execution, I would be taken to a more public torture chamber - the Ghezel Hessar prison. Every morning at 6.30 I would be woken and have to sing along with the deafening loudspeakers the chant of “Khomeini O Imam”, attend ideological classes, stay up most of the night on Fridays to say the Komeil prayers, knit scarves and socks for the soldiers in the fronts. If I even once had the guts to say no to the compulsory daily prayer, I would be whipped five times a day, five blows for each prayer. This would be repeated ad nauseam until resistance lost its meaning and to submit to the whip would be even more crushing than to submit to prayer.
Thereafter I would pray five times a day but the whipping would not stop. “Why are you whipping her?” Parvaneh Alizadeh used to ask. “She is a communist!” was the reply. She lies! She does not believe. I would have gone on praying and being whipped until believing and unbelieving could not be distinguished. In total submission both became meaningless. I would have insisted on submission such that one day Haji Davvud 14 would find himself without an adversary. He would burst out laughing and leave me alone.
If I had laughed in my cell, or even not laughed but was accused of this, I had to crawl the length of the long corridor of the prison under the whips and laughter of the Pasdars. As Alizadeh reported I had to submit to the madness of the Haji Prison warden like sheep. I had to helplessly watch the crumbling of my cell mates. And then there were those fellow inmates who had snapped and had become like my guards, had become a nothing and were reborn in the likeness of my guards, were indeed now my guards. 15
No it was a wise decision, that day by the sea, to drop my head like a sheep, and not say “no”. I had not read the books about prison life then by M Raha, Shahrnush Parsi Pour and Parvaneh Alizadeh. But I had read the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and had seen that the garbage that for years were food for jokes were now law, and was being enacted with utmost seriousness.
I had seen the use of the parliament building, the fruit of 50 years of struggle by Iranian freedom lovers as an interrogation centre. I had seen the transformation of a female headscarf into prison clothes, witnessed the transformation of the prison clothes into the national uniform for women and the expansion of the prison right up to the borders of my country.
1 This talk was given at the 8th Conference of the Iranian Women’s Studies Foundation in Paris, France July 18-20 1997. The Farsi version was published in Arash June-July 1997
2 A cobbler’s disobedient and unruly wife who he threw into a well
3 The beautiful female captive of an evil giant (divv) used to lure and ensnare the mythical hero, Amir Arsalan in the popular folk tale.
4 Notorious interrogator and torturer executed after the revolution.
5 On coming to power, Reza Shah (1921-41) alongside supression of the left attacked women’s associatuons and newsxpapers. Batul Fakhr-Afagh director of “Women’s World” was sent into exile and her papaer closed. In the town of Ghazvin alone 24 teachers were imprisoned. See Homa Nategh Zamane No Aban 1362 (in Farsi)
6 The Shah’s secret police.
7 Teheran’s largest prison
9 Literary 40 plaits. In the popular legend Amir Arsalan, Chehel Gisu was kept imprisoned by the evil giant (divv) to woo heroes in the giant’s walled garden.
10 Foreward to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic.
11 Article 5 of the Basic Laws gives absolute power over civil and political society (velayat) to a knowledgeable and just religious jurist (faghih)
12 Alizadeh’s book, Look closely, it is real, described her own experiences inside the prisons of the country. It was published abroad and has been followed by a number of others eg M Raha and Reza Ghaffari [see extract this issue].
13 Mahmud Tarigh al-Eslami was a communist activist in Isfahan who had been imprisoned in the Shah’s regime and had withstood the most horendous tortures. On his release he had been greeted as a hero. He came from a deeply religious family. His mother, fanatically religious and very learned in Islamic studies, colluded with the authorities in having their final meeting before his execution secretly filmed to be used as propaganda. In this meeting, in order to placate his mother Tarigh al-Eslami had feigned regret for his action. He was executed a day or two later but not before he saw his “repentence” broadcast on television. The mother was later paraded on Friday Prayer meetings as an example of the perfect Islamic mother.
14 Head of Ghezel Hessar and one of the chief architects in the massacre of political prisoners in 1988
15 Totally repentent prisoners (known as tavvab) who had now become guards, torurers, interrogators and even executioners are one of the most horrrific experiences of prisoners.
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