Review: Prison fire. Brave climber. And the tide of change in Iran

Editor’s note: Ana Diamond He is a human rights advocate, political commentator and researcher at the University of Oxford. From 2014-2018 he was kidnapped in Iran under the pretext of national security charges and spent more than 200 days in solitary confinement. In the end he was acquitted. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


This week, two moments in Iran’s turbulent and violent month-long insurgency have drawn international media attention with new urgency: a fire inside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and the whereabouts of an Iranian mountaineer after a competition in South Korea.

The sound of sirens and gunshots barely faded from the prison compound as the first Iranian woman to win a medal at the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) World Championships half a world away in Seoul was reported missing by friends after competing. without hijab

For many like me among the Iranian diaspora who are glued to our screens watching the events unfold, Elnaz Rekabi used her international sporting platform to challenge the apparently mandatory dress code at the expense of her career and safety.

Within 24 hours of telling her friends, a story went up To Rekabi’s Instagram account, stating that her lack of veiling was not intentional, it came off “unintentionally”.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, along with human rights groups, question the authenticity of the statement.

When Rekabi returned to Iran on Wednesday at Khomeini Imam International Airport, he was greeted by a large crowd of Iranians, many of whom had gathered in the early hours to call him a “hero” for his brave act of civil disobedience. global stage

A photo from a Twitter video shows Elnaz Rekabi returning to Tehran after competing without a hijab.

Some analysts believe it could be Rekabi kidnapped and forcibly returned to Iran. Iran’s embassy in Seoul, meanwhile, said Rekabi left on Tuesday “with other members of the group” and “vehemently denied all false, fake news and disinformation.”

As I reflect on my experiences in Iran, I think that Rekabi really wanted to come home. The tide has turned and Iranians – especially women – will no longer be content with exile or subjugation.

While Iranian authorities are quick to blame the recent protests on foreign powers fomenting chaos and disorder within the country, those of us who have lived in Iran know that this women-led uprising was long overdue.

Women – including, I suspect, Rekabi – no longer fear the possibility of imprisonment. This is often the case in totalitarian states, when life outside prison still feels like imprisonment, and there is very little left to lose.

I should know – I am a former inmate of Evin prison.

When I was 19 and still an undergraduate student in London, I traveled to Iran to visit relatives. Shortly thereafter, in 2016, I was arrested on charges of spying against MI6 and “infiltrating” the Iranian political system.

The political situation was very different then: the world was hopeful that the Iran nuclear deal (known as the JCPOA) might bear fruit, and Iranians were hopeful for better days ahead.

So, while former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was on his way from Tehran to Vienna to pretend diplomacy, I was accused of “persuading my subordinates” to spy on British diplomatic representatives.

While in custody, I endured months of solitary confinement, long hours of interrogation and mock execution.

In the process, my identity, my foreignness and my femininity were armed against me. They forced me to take a virginity test to prove my innocence, and it still wasn’t good enough.

When my interrogators finally agreed to let me out of solitary confinement and into the public women’s room, I was stripped naked on my period. By the time I got to the public hall, I was so shocked and overwhelmed that I burst into tears.

The female political prisoners, many of them well-known public figures in Iran, knew what I had endured; They had seen many girls like me walk through Evin’s doors before.

In the days that followed, I quickly learned that for Evin’s political prisoners, imprisonment at the hands of the Islamic Republic was a badge of honor. They weren’t particularly worried about being behind bars; for them, Evin was their individual liberties to death, but their ideas lived on.

Every Thursday evening, some prisoners in Evin met to recite a Muslim prayer. At the end of the recital, they also prayed for the prison fallen martyrs

Narges Mohammadi, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year, will say that the tall trees inside the prison did not grow from fertile soil or crystal water, but from the warm blood of young lives poured into its grounds.

For many Iranians, Evin is more than just a detention center. Located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in northern Tehran, Evin occupies a very public space in the daily lives of many Iranians, reminding them of the presence of a penal institution that is an active agent of the machinery of repression.

Before the Islamic Republic, Evin is a historical symbol during the decades of authoritarian rule the nation has endured for generations. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the capital, too the physical realization of censorship of those who dare to speak against the government.

My friends in the West, many of whom are well-educated and aware of Western – especially US – intervention in the Middle East, are often hesitant to show support for protests, for fear of inadvertently coming across as Orientalist or interventionist.

But while the U.S. has an unfortunate history of undermining democracy in the Middle East, it would be unforgivable to ignore the Iranians’ cries for help at their hour of need.

Iranian demonstrators take to the streets of the capital Tehran in a protest in support of Mahsa Amini, days after her death in police custody, on September 21.

Iran’s patriarchal system not only benefits the state; as we have seen with the spate of femicides and ‘honour killings’ in the country, it encourages many men to subjugate women and girls directly, if not verbally. But what could be the solution?

A lot of them against the current system believes the West should punish Iran’s leadership by rejecting any plan to restore the Iran nuclear deal. They see Western attempts at reconciliation as appeasing, and any engagement with Iran as enforcing the ideology of the Islamic Republic and validating its system of rule, including gender apartheid.

For the most part, this is true: The more tolerant the West has shown toward the Islamic Republic, the more intolerant Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have become. The West and the Iranian public. During the peak years of Iran’s nuclear negotiations, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested a significant number of dual nationals and foreign nationals in exchange for what was later described as a revival of “hostage diplomacy” tactics.

While there are no perfect policy options for Iran’s current situation, there are better and worse ones. A complete withdrawal from any diplomatic engagement would reduce Western influence in the country, appease its geopolitical rivals, namely China and Russia, and further erode women’s basic rights.

Instead, we need to amplify the voices of women on the ground and help them sustain the momentum of the protest movement.

Four decades ago, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini announced that a woman’s chador was a flag of revolution. Now it seems that with the strength, hope and idealism of a new generation, a woman’s veil will be the flag of another turning point in Iranian history.

This time, lifted up and waving in the air to the amazement of the whole world.