Paris (AFP) – The protest movement that broke out in Iran last year has transformed the country both outside and inside prisons, a Franco-Iranian academic, who returned to Paris last month after having been detained in the country since 2019.
Fariba Adelkhah was finally allowed to leave Iran in October after a four-and-a-half-year ordeal that began with her sudden arrest in 2019 and saw her spend years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
But there, she was also able to see the courage of her fellow prisoners, including Narges Mohammadi, winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, in the middle of “Woman. Life. Freedom”. protests.
Female political prisoners often sing together in a show of defiance, Adelkhah, who was released from prison in February but was unable to leave Iran for months, told AFP in an interview in Paris.
This movement “changed Iranian society and also its prisons,” Adelkhah said.
The movement, calling for an end to Iran’s imposition of headscarves on all women and religious rule, was sparked by the death in Iranian custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September 2022.
She died after being arrested for allegedly violating Iranian dress rules for women.
Iranian security forces have cracked down on protests in the country, killing hundreds of people, according to rights groups, and executed seven men in cases related to the protests.
Adelkhah said that in Evin, the resistance movement brought together people from all walks of life, including human rights activists, environmentalists, political opponents and representatives of religious minorities.
“We united around this cause,” said the 64-year-old researcher in Iranian Shiite religion and politics.
She herself was arrested on June 5, 2019 at Tehran airport, where she was waiting for her companion Roland Marchal. Well-dressed security guards “very respectfully” asked her to follow them, she said.
A few hours later, she was interrogated for the first time, with her head “turned towards the wall”.
She will be subjected to many more interrogations in the future, but she was never beaten, Adelkhah said.
“It happens to men very often, but I never heard women talk about it when I was detained,” she said.
“But the absence of physical violence does not prevent constant psychological humiliation,” she quickly added.
Others, including human rights activist Mohammadi, spoke of sexual abuse of detainees in prisons.
The researcher was ultimately sentenced to six years in prison. A five-year sentence was handed down for “collusion with foreigners” and one for “propaganda against the Islamic Republic”, she said.
Marchal, a French sociologist specializing in sub-Saharan Africa, was arrested at the same time as Adelkhah. He was released in March 2020 as part of a prisoner exchange between Tehran and Paris.
“I still don’t understand what I’m being accused of,” sighs Adelkhah, smiling.
While incarcerated, Adelkhah and another prisoner, Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert, began a hunger strike that lasted 50 days.
They were among around 20 Western passport holders detained in Iran in what activists and some governments have called a deliberate hostage-taking strategy.
Some have now been released, including all the American detainees, but around ten Europeans are still detained, including four French nationals.
Wife. The life. Freedom “. A protest movement saw prisoners defy prison authorities in Evin.
In the prison, located in the hills of northern Tehran, prisoners are bareheaded when among themselves, but are required to cover themselves if a man enters or if they have to go to the hospital.
After the protests began, “almost no one was wearing the veil” when a man entered, Adelkhah said.
Iranian prison authorities on Wednesday blocked the transfer of imprisoned human rights activist Mohammadi to hospital for urgent treatment over her refusal to wear the mandatory hijab, according to her family.
Adelkhah praised the 51-year-old journalist and activist, considered one of the women at the forefront of the uprising, who was imprisoned several times and has been imprisoned again since 2021.
She said Mohammadi had made prison “a space of combat, of protest par excellence”, adding that she was “heard more” in prison than when she was outside.
The researcher was still in Iran when Mohammadi received the Nobel Peace Prize in early October. She said she saw “smiles” in the streets.
As the government suppressed the daily protests with its repression, the slogan “Woman. Life. Liberty”. is now part of Iranian culture, she argued.
“The Islamic Republic is forced to give ground on many issues,” Adelkhah said.
Today, like-minded Iranian women greet each other when they go out without headscarves. Before, it was “unthinkable”, believes the researcher.
Now they’re like, “You’re so beautiful!” » »
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