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Narges Mohammadi continues to fight for human rights in Iran

Shabnam von Hein
June 4, 2021

Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi is not giving up, despite a new criminal conviction. She spoke to DW by phone from Tehran.

Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi
Iranian human rights activist Narges MohammadiImage: Magali Girardin/Keystone/picture-alliance/AP

DW: Last October you were released from prison after serving a five and a half year-term. Now you have been sentenced again to 30 months in prison and 80 lashes for "propaganda against the political system, slander and rebellion against the prison administration."

Narges Mohammadi: I was convicted because I reported prison director Gholamresa Siaei to the authorities. In January 2020 – while I was still imprisoned in the women's section of Tehran's Evin Prison – he personally took me out of my cell and brutally beat me. He was angry with me because I had organized a prisoners' strike to protest the brutal crackdown on the anti-government demonstrations of November 2019.

Afterwards, I was transferred against my will to another prison, 350 kilometers west of my home in Tehran. When I arrived at the new prison, I immediately requested a forensic medical examination. As a result, a doctor examined me and made a written report documenting the evidence of injuries on my body.

The report was submitted to the relevant prosecutor's office. My family members who visited me in prison saw the injuries and bruises on my body. I am the plaintiff in this case, but the judiciary is trying to turn the story around to put me behind bars again. There is no way I will voluntarily comply with the sentence. I will also not report to the authorities for the execution of the lashes.

One of the walls of the notorious 'Evin' prison in Iran
The Evin prison in Iran is known for its bad treatment of female activistsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

What do you think will happen next?

I assume they will come for me soon. Then I'll be in prison again for 30 months. I've been a human rights activist for 23 years, since my student days. I've been sentenced to prison four times so far. Most recently in 2015, after a meeting with then EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton in Tehran.

At that time, you were sentenced to ten years in prison for advocating against the death penalty in Iran. The charge was "propaganda against the political system." Now you have been convicted again on the same grounds.

My commitment to the abolition of the death penalty is a thorn in the authorities’ side. The death penalty is their most important instrument for suppressing and intimidating civil society. They see anyone who campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty as an enemy.

TheEU described the judiciary's action against you as "alarming" and is calling for a review of the case based on "respect for international humanitarian law." Why is the judiciary acting so harshly towards you?

Mainly because I am a woman who does not give in. Since the founding of the Islamic Republic in Iran in 1979, women in Iran have been systematically oppressed. Those who don’t conform are punished. Women who resist, like me and other human rights activists, defy this system. Those in power try everything they can to break us and silence us.

Profiles of three Iranian human rights activists (left to right): Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi, Nazanin Zaghari
The situation of human rights activists in Iran is dire: Nasrin Sotoudeh, Narges Mohammadi and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are three of the most popular imprisoned advocates.

For example, I haven’t seen my children for five years. During my imprisonment, my children went to live with their father, who is in exile in France. Now the authorities won’t allow me to leave the country to see my children. They told me, "Find a way, cross the border illegally." If I leave the country illegally, I won't be able to legally enter again. They want me to disappear. But I want to stay and I will continue to work peacefully for human rights and democracy in Iran.

What do you expect from the EU?

That it supports our peaceful efforts for human rights and democracy in Iran. For example, that it uses every occasion and every conversation to ask the Iranian authorities why we are being denied the rights guaranteed us by the constitution. According to the constitution, citizens are allowed to be socially engaged, to establish NGOs and organize peaceful gatherings. But for us that’s all forbidden. Strengthening Iranian civil society should be part of European security policy. Iran is the most populous country in the Persian Gulf and has great influence in the region. A strong civil society in Iran could positively change the country from within.