Victims and Witnesses
Narges Mohammadi's Account of her Battle with COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
July 22, 2020
July 5: There are twelve of us in the ward who have come down with the coronavirus. In the last few days since the disease was discovered, they separated us from the healthy people. There are absolutely no facilities or medical care here in the ward. We don’t even have hand sanitizer. They just give out ibuprofen. Our bodies are ruined. I feel totally paralyzed from the knees down. I can’t breathe. The pain is terrible… I’m exhausted. This is how it is for all of us. I’m thinking this is the end of the line, that I won’t make it until morning, that it’s all over and done with. I imagine my daughter Kiana, feel myself drift into her mind. I think of what it would be like to hear of the death of a mother in prison, far out of reach: the bitterness seeps through my bones. Kiana must never go through something like this. I have to stay alive. The guard has said they’ll bring in a doctor: so where are they?
July 11: I’ve written a public letter describing the situation in the ward. Today they gave a mask to each of us. Yesterday, finally, they gave us the hand sanitizer we’d been begging for and paid for with our own money: just three bottles of them. Our general condition is disastrous. All my strength has left me. I can’t walk. To pull myself into bed, I have to grab a frame that is thirty centimeters off the ground.
July 13: Nausea. Vomiting. Fatigue. My sense of smell has gone away. I’m thinking that this disease is tougher even than the three surgeries I’ve had. Whatever I did, I couldn’t even manage to get my foot under the blanket. One of the staff came and helped until I got myself under the covers. I think he must have been afraid just like me. He said he’d call a doctor.
July 14: Again, no doctor yesterday. Today they came and said the doctor’s here, you ought to go see him. I said I don’t have it in me physically. They said it was mandatory. I dragged myself to the doctor’s room with a lot of difficulty. It was the same doctor who had checked me in when I was transferred to Zanjan Prison: I hadn’t seen him since then. I grabbed the chair and sat down.
The doctor asked how I was doing. I told him I was totally out of energy, asked him, please, do something to give us back our strength. “Take a deep breath!” he said. I did: my breath caught in the middle of my chest, and I fell into a coughing fit. It’s taken over my lungs. The doctor wrote a prescription: an IV drip, a B complex, and a 10 cc injection of something I don’t recognize. I struggled to stand up and get myself back to the ward.
The staff said the prison didn’t have these medications and that they’d have to get them from outside. I wish they’d let us eat properly a few days and recover a little spirit. The food here is awful. The stuff we can buy from the prison is even worse. I remember that from mid-January through mid-April, we could buy things from the prison just four times. And they don’t let you buy anything from outside.
July 15: They came last night and gave me the injections. The person in charge of purchases said they couldn’t find these shots in any pharmacy in Zanjan and had to go get them from somewhere else. The doctor came again. They said it’s mandatory for Mohammadi, it has to come in for a doctor’s visit. I’m better than I was yesterday. The medications have had an effect. The doctor asked me how I was: I said fine. The prison guard said I’ve improved since last night when they gave me the IV drip. “Deep breath” said the doctor. I took one and started coughing.
I went back – not to the ward, but to the weaving workshop. Why? They’ve brought the sick inmates in, too. They won’t let anyone out. People aren’t doing well.
After a few hours, I went back into the ward. I watched the 8:30 PM news there. They’d not even thought to bring hand sanitizer with them. They’ve grabbed it from my personal belongings. I’ve just realized why they made me go to the doctor, and that the film wasn’t suitable for broadcast because I was in bad shape. They gave me the shots and drips so I could sit up for them to film.
Even then, they couldn’t broadcast it in its entirety. The cough wouldn’t let go of me. What their own prison guard had to say wasn’t fit for broadcast, either. One of these ill women is a livestock herder, another the daughter of a livestock herder. They’re not poor per se. The situation they’re in goes beyond poverty. I feel shame over what they’ve gone through.
To deny what’s going on here and what I have to say, they bring these people into play. They don’t know they have a right to expect anything else. They think this is just what life is. They play political games with these people, too.
July 16: Yesterday, some head of the Harassat guards somewhere threatened inmates not to talk in front of cameras. But people spoke the truth anyway, except one. They told her to take off her black chador and put on a bright head covering. This is the same girl that told me two months ago that she was headed for the grave and would take me with her, who made sexual threats, who locked the doors and lowered the blinds and no guard came in. I was stuck there with her and four other people. As much as we banged on the door and yelled, it did nothing. These four would take turns following me everywhere. One of them slept at the foot of my bed for a while.
July 17: No word from the doctor since the 8:30 news broadcast. We’ve gotten by with the single masks they’ve given each of us. That fake, ugly video has really upset the inmates. The day after the 8:30 news segment ran, they brought in two kilos of ground meat from the prisons general manager and passed it out. They told us we had to eat it. I kept my lips tight. One of the inmates said they used to bring in eggplant for us to peel, and the peeled eggplant would be sent out to restaurants in the city, even though inmates themselves were starving and they’d sometimes give us the eggplant caps to eat. She said she felt degraded those days. Today we told them after that lie-filled video of yours we don’t want any meat from you; the said you “have to” eat it, and we felt just as degraded.
July 22: I’m better. I still can’t go for a walk in the garden. But I’m better.
Some people said I ought to go on hunger strike so they’d give me phone time with my kids. I don’t want to go on a hunger strike over an individual, personal demand. I told the judicial official in the prison the only thing left for them to do was to ban me from getting water: you all put me in prison, took my children away from me, beat me, exiled me, and spared me no kind of torture. Just take away my water, too.
I’m not worried about these things. I have no individual demand. After the massacres of protesters in winter 2017/2018 and November of 2019, I’ve taken a different stance. Reformism wasn’t what I was committed to: it was a means to the end of another commitment. I’m faithful to that commitment. And I have no intention of reconciling.
(Original Twitter thread in Persian: https://twitter.com/HedayatBahare/status/1286029508320071686)