Mr Prosecutor! Does a Mother’s Telephone Contact With Her Child Undermine National Security?
Nargess Mohammadi, women’s and human rights activist, who has been detained in Evin Prison for two months, has in a letter to the prosecutor protested against an order banning inmates in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison from telephone access.
In the letter, having highlighted her pain and suffering caused by lack of information about her children owing to the ban on telephone access, she writes: “Mr Prosecutor! It is said that inmates in the Women’s Ward have been barred from telephone access upon the orders of the esteemed prosecutor. I have described two instances related to myself and to the state and feelings of inmates at the Women’s Ward in the hope that your excellency might, out of respect for human beings, women and mothers, reconsider your directive. Allowing women to make telephone calls, in accordance with judiciary rules and regulations, would alleviate the tension and anxiety of imprisoned women and [their] distressed children.”
The following is the text of Nargess Mohammadi’s letter, as published by the Women’s Citizenship Centre:
“The Esteemed Prosecutor, Mr Ja’fari-Dolatabadi;
With greetings and respect, I, Nargess Mohammadi, was arrested on 5 May 2015 by individuals who came to my home insisting that Mr Khodabakhshi merely wants to talk to me. And even as I was gathering my medicine they insisted that there was no need for that as I would be returning home after the conversation. However, on the same day, without any conversations with any judicial authorities, I was taken to the women’s general ward to serve the remainder of my (six-year) sentence. This is while my eight-year old twins had gone to school at 7am and would be returning home at 1.30pm. Since my husband is not in Iran and my family members were in Tehran, I was worried that my children would find themselves locked out. So before opening the door to the security forces, I called my brother in Mashhad telling him that there was a strong possibility that they would arrest me. [I told him] that I was worried for my children Ali and Kiana who would be returning from school at 1.30pm. I asked my brother to head for Tehran. The agents standing behind the door kept threatening me saying that if I did not open the door they would call their special forces to come along and break it open. They promised that they would give me sufficient time to make the necessary arrangements (for the children). However, the moment I arrived at Evin they took me straight to the Women’s Ward, where there was no possibility of making phone calls. It was soon 1.30pm, and I had no news of Ali and Kiana. I went to the prison office several times explaining that I was concerned about my children and requested to make a brief telephone call to make sure that my children were not left behind the door. They informed me that there was no telephone access for inmates in the Women’s Ward since on the prosecutor’s orders all phones had been removed. I went to the prison office several times until finally at 3.30pm they took me to Evin’s Sentence Enforcement Unit to make a phone call. In my brief telephone conversation I discovered that my brother had not yet arrived in Tehran and that my neighbour was looking after my children. In the early evening I went back to the prison office and requested to make another phone call. I knew that Ali and Kiana would not go to sleep unless I or another family member was with them; I knew that they would be crying their eyes out. But they told me that no-one was allowed to make phone calls in the Women’s Ward and that the earlier phone call they had allowed me to make was an exception. I had no choice. I had to return to the ward. They had not given me my medicine and I stayed awake the whole night anxious and frantic with worry. In the morning, I went back to the prison office and asked again, but they gave me the same response. From Tuesday to Sunday I had no news of my children; all I wanted was a brief phone call to make sure that they were safe with family members. Of course, this kind of behaviour is part of the psychological pressure to which prisoners are subjected and is so unjust.
And a month and a half later: I have written a series of letters to Judiciary and prison officials urging them to allow me to have a face-to-face meeting with my children. Ali and Kiana would be leaving Iran on 17 July and I wanted to have a proper meeting with them. Finally, they consented. On Monday, they were to call my family and tell them to bring Ali and Kiana for a prison visit at 11 the following morning. At 11 I sat on my bed ready and waiting. Nothing happened. I approached the prison officials. They told me that they had not arrived yet. I went to the prison office several times until 2pm, urging them to give me some news or at least contact my family themselves to find out what had happened. Several females in the ward joined me as I sat in the prison office. Finally, officials in the Sentence Enforcement Unit agreed to contact my family to see what had happened. After some time they informed me via the guard in the Women’s Ward that Ali was sick and could not visit me on that day, or the following day or even the following Sunday. That was all they said. After three hours of anxiously waiting, I was frantic with worry at the news of Ali’s sickness. I returned to the ward. In this ward, we are given no news of our families, children or parents. I did not know how and why Ali had become sick and why he could not visit me for the next week to 10 days. Why was I not permitted to call my family the previous day to enquire about my child’s sickness and to have a chance to speak with him, especially now that he needed to hear his mother’s voice more than ever? Do those who behave in this way have any idea of what prisoners and their families are going through? Thanks to frequent requests made by my fellow female prisoners to the prison office, they allowed me to go to Evin’s Sentence Enforcement Unit where I was able to talk to my son for a few minutes and hear his weak and sick voice over the phone. Afterwards, I was taken back to the ward. Further appeals to the prison office by myself and other female prisoners for another phone call to my son, were in vain. I had no choice but to spend yet another week in worry and anxiety until finally on Sunday I received some news about my child.
Mr Prosecutor, in relating these two incidents, I seek to highlight the need female prisoners and mothers in the Women’s Ward have to telephone access, as per rules and regulations, and also to request a meeting with your excellency. In the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison there are 22 inmates, 14 of whom are mothers and five of them have children under the age of ten. Yes, we have to endure imprisonment, but the fairness or unfairness of it is not our concern at this moment. But we are human beings, women, and mothers. Is a few-minutes-long telephone conversation two or three times a week, just to hear the voices of our children and our parents, in contravention of our prison sentences or the rules and regulations of the judicial system? If not, then why is this unjust directive enforced? Or does a mother’s telephone conversation with her child undermine national security? Could it be that this punishment is aimed chiefly at women who have embarked on criticizing [the system]? Or is it to ensure that we have realized and understood that we are subjected to greater pressure because we are women and mothers? Because if discriminating against free women in society is permissible, then discriminating against imprisoned women is even easier and more permissible. Mr Prosecutor! It is said that inmates in the Women’s Ward have been barred from telephone access upon the orders of the esteemed prosecutor. I have described two instances related to myself and to the state and feelings of inmates at the Women’s Ward in the hope that your excellency might, out of respect for human beings, women and mothers, reconsider your directive.
Mr Dolatabadi. Maternal love and affection is an innate and integral part of every mother’s nature. It does not recognize time and place. It is constant, whether she is free or incarcerated. We are women and mothers. Our children, like your children and like millions of children on this land, need maternal love and affection. As fate would have it, we are in prison, but we are mothers. At least do not deprive us of hearing our children’s voices or deprive our children of hearing our voice.
[Signed] Nargess Mohammadi – Evin Prison – July 2015