A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls
November 24, 2020
Mitra Samani, former political prisoner in Iran; survivor-turned activist in support of women and human rights.
Thank you, Antonia! I am honored to be among these distinguished speakers. I would like to thank Women’s Freedom Forum for this opportunity and its continuous efforts in educating and calling to attention the violence affecting women around the world, and for offering solutions and hope to us all!
When religious extremists took control in Iran, the oppression of women and girls was one of their first goals. On September 7, 1981, when I was a teenager in high school, I was arrested in Tehran for distributing flyers on women’s rights activities. I was arrested and spent four hellish years in prison.
I was scared and shocked by what I witnessed. Tortures began immediately. The harrowing sounds of screams, floggings, electrocutions, and firing squads were non-stop. Mothers with newborn infants, 70-year-old grandmothers, pregnant women and teenagers were all around me in prison. Cruelty and tortures such as flogging, pulling fingernails, hanging by the wrists while water was poured on the head, had no limits. In order to break brave women, guards would rape girls repeatedly. Many, especially the young teenagers, could not take it, mentally as well as physically, and lost their mind or committed suicide.
I am forever grateful to the brave mothers and women who helped me and other newcomers, who literally and figuratively carried us, to keep our sanity. Their guidance, their maternal instincts, their sisterhood saved me.
Medieval misogyny continues in prisons and in public to this day with the same perpetrators still in power, like Raisi, Poor- Mohammadi and Rouhani.
In the November 2019 uprising, many young women and girls were arrested, and to date remain in prisons across the country, at risk of contracting the corona virus. The United Nations passed a resolution on Nov 18, 2020, which expresses serious concern about executions of minors, forced confessions, and lack of notification to families.
So have Amnesty International’s multiple reports on torture of female prisoners. Imagine that now, with the pandemic. These brave sisters of ours not only do not receive minimum necessities for survival, but are purposefully exposed to COVID-19, and treatment and hospitalization are denied to those exposed and ill. When they ask for hygienic supplies, they get attacked at 4am and boiling water poured over them — all to break them, to punish them for rising up. In Qarchak prison alone, 200 female prisoners are now infected with the virus.
Nikita, a 14-year-old girl, was shot and killed last November. Her anguished parents spent four days looking for their daughter. Finally, they were told that she had been killed, her body was at Iran’s Revolutionary morgue, and would be released on one condition: take her to the outskirts at night to be buried, with no other family members, no mourners, not a wake, nothing. This is Nikita (showing her picture).
I am the mother of a young girl. Can anyone imagine this happening to your child?
Now that I look back to my past, I realize what a heavy responsibility I have, to call on all international bodies, to speak and act in solidarity with political prisoners in Iran and not allow their voices to be silenced by the extremist clerics.
Last week, on November 16, a teenage Kurdish girl, Aynaz Zare, was sentenced to 5 years in prison. She was arrested with her mother, Shahnaz, last month. Shahnaz was sentenced to 15 years and is suffering from coronavirus.
Political prisoner Saba Kord Afshari is serving a 24-year sentence for protesting the mandatory scarf and cover.
One thing is certain: After so many decades of oppression, Iranian women don’t see themselves as just victims. They are capable, not to give up, not to give in and are at the forefront of the fight against extremism and have become a role model for that region. They will continue to stand up for as long as it takes to bring freedom and equality to all.