An Alarming Experience! / Khadeejjeh Moghadam
Translated by Leila Sheernejad
Sunday 18 March 2007
Friday, December 22, 2006
It was 10 o’clock on Thursday night, after a satisfying meeting which brought together members of the Campaign from around the country, when I received a phone call. It was Zeynab Peghambarzadeh, one of the active young women involved in the Campaign. “I have been detained at the Cheetgar Metro station,” she explained. Without delay my husband and I left to follow-up. The station official, who was a well-intentioned and open-minded woman, explained :” If she had not resisted and not delayed the train for 10 minutes, she would be free by now. But there is nothing I can do now, this 10 minute delay caused a disruption in the transportation system and the matter has now been turned over to the Municipality.”
That night we went with Zeynab from one police station to the next, until she was placed in the Geesha police station. Unfortunately despite all my pleas and efforts, they would not allow me to stay with her. They had caught her with 72 pamphlets explaining the impact of laws on women’s lives. I wished that if this hardworking and active young woman had heeded the recommendations provided in the campaign workshops. In fact, in the workshops we stress that members should not try to collect signatures while carrying large numbers of pamphlets. We also recommend to workshop participants that they should not collect signatures in public places during sensitive times like “election day.” Because it is illegal to distribute election materials on election day, security forces tend to be on high alert during these days all across the country. Zeynab was initially held on the charge of “distributing election fliers on election night.”
Anyhow, the 10 minute delay of the metro train on the platform and then the coinciding of that night with elections together made it difficult for us to plead Zeynab’s case with the authorities. As such, she remained in jail that night and was detained for 3 more days. The experience was amusing to say the least. As we moved from police station to police station, I advocated Zeynab’s case, first as her mentor, then as the mother who had raised her, then as someone with special knowledge about her file, but in the end on Monday, I was too was accused and taken to the revolutionary court in handcuffs. But these charges didn’t stick beyond a few hour. Eventually Zeynab was released and we delivered her safe and sound to her father. It seems despite all the problems, Zeynab and I were able to defend our rights—the right to freely collect signatures in support of changes to the laws.
Of course, in our hearts we knew that had not done anything illegal or un-Islamic, for which to be punished. But some bad luck and minor mistakes created problems, placing us in a position where we had to defend our actions, not to mention the fact that Zeynab was held in custody for 4 days. For this reason, I think it is important to discuss some strategies to prevent problems such as this from occurring again. Certainly experience such as this can serve as a lesson for all of those working on the Campaign.
First: Campaign members should try to remain calm and refrain from interacting in a hostile manner with security or police forces should they question or interrupt in some some way our signature collection activities. Members should always remember that the work that we are doing and the message that we are giving is not illegal and that we have a right to engage in such activities. As such, we can calmly explain our activities and motives to police and security forces and avoid any harsh treatment.
Second: We should refrain from the collection of signatures on days which could be described as special occasions and when sensitive events are taking place (such as elections) during which security and police forces are on high alert and charged with crowd control for the purpose of prevent violence. If we collect signatures on these days, certainly we may cause confusion for the security forces and the police and then it may take time to explain and clear matters with them.
Third: If asked about the Campaign and its members, we should be transparent. Concealing information about activists involved in the Campaign will certainly put members at risk and create trouble, as was the case with Zeynab. If instead of not disclosing the names of members of the Campaign, Zeynab would have clearly and confidently spelled out the names of some of the activists involved, including Shirin Ebadi, Khadeejjelh Moghaddam, Simin Behbahai, Nooshin Ahamadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Nasrin Setoodeh, Rezvan Moghaddam, Farideh Gheyrat, Shahla Entesari, Zohreh Arzani, etc, she could have avoided a lot of hassle. Or she could have mentioned the names of former government officials like Massoumeh Ebtekar, Ms. Mohtashemipoor, Elaheh Koolai, among others, who have all signed the Campaign declarations, or provided the police with information on the Campaign’s website, perhaps Zeynab would have bee able to clear up suspicions and misunderstandings from the beginning.
Campaign members believe that their collective work is indeed completely legal and within the framework of the law. So why do we need to hide and conceal the identity of other activists engaged in the Campaign? We are not engaged in anti-governmental activities, so there is no reason to be afraid. Our entire objective is to raise awareness of our goals in a transparent manner, meaning that we willing disclose our identities—our names and last names. This transparency allows us to be heard and to create change. So, there is no reason to fear officials or police who ask us about our activities. In fact, this questioning provides us with an opportunity to clearly state what we want and why.
This experience goes to show that problems arise with any social activism, even when that activism is one hundred percent legal activism. Zeynab’s arrest will not be the first nor will it be the last. But these minor hardships are a small price to pay towards advancing goals within the One Million Signatures Campaign. It is a price, which members of the Campaign will pay voluntarily. Our situation reminds me of a wise saying by a poet:
“The key to the treasure of the universe human suffering. So be aware of the two paths you have before you: either surrender, or…..”