I have to be honest: this time it took me a while to accept this news from Iran. Although I have been addicted to hangings, public executions, death sentences, restrictions and so on for years, the sentence against Nasrin Sotoudeh really left me speechless. The most famous Iranian human rights lawyer was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes. Her husband Reza Khandan broke the news on Facebook after receiving a phone call from his wife from prison.
Several times over the years I have followed the story of Nasrin and several times I have also interacted with her husband, who tells me that he cannot make statements. He too had been arrested last September, then released on bail and previously beaten outside Evin Prison for trying to ask about his wife. I find the Iranian sentence against Nasrin a real insult to mankind, especially to women. There is talk of 148 lashes, which would lead to the certain death of the condemned person and that just to name them make any human being with a healthy conscience shiver.
Instead, the conscience that Nasrin has shown she has by never leaving her country or her family, but by remaining close to the people she thought she could help with her work as a lawyer. Nasrin had always taken to heart the cry of freedom – which has not been heard for 40 years – of Iranian women, still subjected to a piece of cloth held on their heads, the veil, which they did not choose to wear. arrested several times: the last last July, precisely for defending the women who took off their veils between December 2017 and January 2018, also called “The girls of Enghelab Street”. Simple women who had peacefully protested against the law of the Islamic Republic which obliges women to wear the veil (hijab) in public. Unfortunately, the news coming from Iran and those revolving around causes of this kind are never clear and often even the information is not transparent.
We have not yet read the proceedings, but someone talks about an unfair trial, a custom in Iran. The Iranian newspapers on this news, which by now has been around the world and for which an international mobilization is being created, are cautious and try to write about a sentence other than that mentioned by her husband, decreasing the number of years of detention . But the problem does not change, here a woman is accused of “collusion against national security”, “propaganda against the state”, “incitement to corruption and prostitution” and “appearing in public without a hijab”: the usual trite accusations and used by Iran when it wants to condemn someone without a valid reason.
In Iran, any gesture of rebellion against the regime is considered an “attack on national security”. Nasrin had been in prison in the past, where she held two hunger strikes in protest on the terms of Evin, the infamous Tehran prison, and was forbidden to see her children. Sotoudeh was released in September 2013 shortly before the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who had declared in the election campaign to improve the civil rights of the population. A campaign that many have supported and believed in, but whose results are slow to arrive.
It is not easy to be a woman in Iran and despite the emancipation of recent years, women are still not able to decide on their life, on their clothing. And this is exactly what young Iranian women are doing: claiming their right to “choice”, a word little known in Iran. It is known that in the Islamic Republic of Iran a woman does not “choose”, but it is men – dictated by the Islamic religion or who knows, perhaps by an archaic and misogynistic mentality, who still decide what is right or wrong for a woman.
Men in Iran have decided that for a woman to sing is wrong, to leave the country without the consent of an adult man is wrong, to participate in sporting events in the presence of men is wrong. Instead, the courage of the Iranians who challenge this system even at the cost of arrest is welcome. The precious observations of the writer Dacia Maraini in the preface of my book I tell you about Iran appear more appropriate than ever. My years in the land of Persia – published by Armando Editore – hopes for Iranian women the cancellation of all those discriminatory notions against them in force since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As long as we accept that there are countries in the world where women’s freedom is still denied, we can still say that we have failed.
Text by: Tiziana Ciavardini, Journalist and anthropologist