Nahid Keshavarz

A Right Devested From Us

Translated By Dorna Khazeni

Wednesday 18 April 2007

I wake up at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, the 7th of Bahman, 1385*.
I’ve packed my bag the night before and said goodbye to my friends and
family, and put a call in for a cab to come at 5:30 a.m. My spouse
sees me to the door. We say our goodbyes briefly. In the car there
are two other members of the women’s cultural center and we talk to one

We arrive at the airport and check in our bags. Then, right at the
end, they ask Tal’at, Mansoureh and Farnaz what kind of bags they’ve
checked. It seems a little strange. The officer asks Zohreh and I for
our passports and exit permits, and stamps our passports with the exit
stamp. But then, he gives our passports to a man who’s waiting for us
there, right next to the window. We are each accompanied by a separate man and go downstairs. They take us to a furnished room. We are ordered not to speak to one another and they tell me not to sit next to Zohreh. Our passports are in the hands of a man who is examining the pages attentively. Gradually, the rest of our friends arrive looking anxious and baffled. In a brusque, barking voice we are told not to talk to each other.

They call Tal’at, Farnaz and Mansoureh before anyone else. We ask the
plainclothes men about our friends. They give us the run-around. They
call Zohreh and tell her she can inform us that: "We are not mamnoo’ol
khorooj—the term means forbidden from leaving the country. But if we
choose to go on this trip, we must be prepared for the consequences."
She tells us our friends, Tal’at, Mansoureh and Farnaz, will not be
able to go on the trip. Finally, we decide not to go on the trip
either. One of the security officers comes and explains that in legal
terms we are not mamnoo’ol khorooj, we can board the plane, but we will have to answer to them upon our return. He wants us to write out a statement to the effect that it is as per our own personal inclination
that we have decided to forgo the trip. On the sheet of paper, I write
that I am foregoing the trip, but I don’t mention my personal
inclination at all.

They take me to be interrogated. I write out my bio. That I am 34
years old, I was born in 1376, have finished high-school in Bushehr and
received my Bachelor’s and Graduate degrees from such-and-such a
university, and that I am currently studying for a Ph.D. in sociology
in Paris, and all the rest of what I have done up to this point. The
interrogating officer says that as far as he’s concerned having a
Bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree means I know how to read and write. I reply that I’m glad in my country having a graduate degree is considered proof of literacy.

He asks about my social and political activities, and who I’ve
collaborated with to date. I tell him that I’ve felt the
discrimination between girls and boys ever since I was a child. I
believe in equality between men and women, and I can collaborate with
anyone else who believes in this equality. I tell him that the
question of women for me is not an ideological matter. I believe any
pulpit can be used to publicize this question. I tell him that I can’t
write on behalf of anyone else, because I don’t believe that would be
ethically right. I try to engage him in a discussion about women’s
rights and to defend the One Million Signatures Campaign. Even though
he’s not inclined to discuss women’s rights, I insist and speak about
women’s rights and state my criticism of current conditions. He
believes Iran to be very safe. But I speak of my personal experiences
and the sense of lack of safety in my country.

They ask me to show them my suitcase. They search my suitcase. To see a man I don’t know going through my suitcase, handling my underwear and sanitary pads is unpleasant. My books and binder appear to be problematic for them. They want to keep them. I say that my interrogating officer is aware that I am a student and that I have
school books with me. They call the interrogating officer and he says
it’s ok, I can keep my books and notes. After a half hour they call me
again and want to search my bag again. I tell the man that seeing as
we’re in the 21st century, copies of all these books and notes are
available on the internet and elsewhere. How can these books and notes still be problematic for them? They’ve developed a particular
sensitivity to a software CD. I tell them it’s a software CD and
contains no personal content. I spill out the contents of my bag in
front of the man. It’s a truly unpleasant sensation to have to do
this. He’s not satisfied with his search. He calls for a woman
colleague. Now we have to wait for the woman to come. Ten minutes
later, the woman arrives. Under her chador, she’s wearing the security
officers’ uniform. She searches all my belongings in detail.
Notebook, book, notes, the cards with the campaign site address, the
campaign notebooks, pills, batteries, CD, etc. She sets them aside and
sets my clothes aside. She even removes the top off the toothpaste
tube and examines the toothpaste. I say, "These gentlemen are not
looking for drugs in my bags. They’re looking for documents." She
replies that she’s just doing her job. She searches my whole body.
While she has my skirt up, her male colleague opens the door without
knocking. I scream at him, "And you’re supposed to be Moslems!?"

It’s a carrot and stick approach the entire time. One of them, in the
most clichéd way, plays the nice, friendly interrogator, and the other
one plays the mean one. My interrogator wants to talk to everyone. He
says our demands are legitimate and he agrees with a portion of them.
But, he says, there are those who’d like to take advantage of us. He
says that by participating in workshops such as these, we are adding
fuel to the enemy’s fire. His words are so clichéd I can’t be bothered
to argue with him. If our demands and more specifically, our demands
in the One Million Signatures Campaign are truly legitimate, how can
discussing them in our own society amount to fueling the enemy’s fire?
Is it not, rather, the destruction and crushing of our rights, that
accomplishes that?

Finally we’re done. At 2 p.m. at the airport, we learn our friends
have been arrested. Their houses have been searched, their belongings
have been seized and they’ve been taken to Evin prison, Section 209.
It’s going to be a difficult day. Looking at the part of the day
that’s behind us, we note that the most important element in dealing
with such a situation is to keep one’s composure. We have not
committed a crime. Taking a trip abroad to participate in a journalism
workshop is not a crime. The most important thing is to keep one’s
composure and to give one another moral support. It has been a
positive experience for all of us.

We know we are on the side of right. Our wish to secure equal rights
and our group’s efforts in the One Million Signatures Campaign are
legitimate. The work we do at the workshops at the cultural center, we
do lovingly. It is what our whole life consists of. We have not
committed a crime, and in today’s conditions in Iran they cannot
directly eliminate us. My experience tells me you have to engage them
in discussion. You have to defend yourself and show them that we are
capable of defending our activities. Because contrary to the
accusations of the interrogators we are not young children or
simpletons who can be taken advantage of. Our trip to India, in the
framework of our plan is a way of familiarizing us with the
international women’s movement. We want to learn from active, activist
women in other parts of the world, to expand our internal and
international network and believe this to be our personal and
collective right. The possibility of participating in such trips is
not just an individual right. It is a window through which we can
connect with the international women’s movement. Our responsibility as activists in the women’s movement, is not to motivate other activist in
Iran or our counterparts in other countries in the struggle against
patriarchy Patriarchy is extremely widespread and greater and greater
numbers are needed in the struggle against it. In the fight for
women’s rights, my red line, is the protection of women’s welfare.
Even if, in different situations, for the protection of their welfare,
different methods must be adopted, because our abilities and resources
are limited and because we have clear priorities. Therefore, if I
chose to forego the trip it’s because I did not know if, upon my
return, I would have the necessary resources to withstand the possible
pressures that I would face and the possible further interrogations.
But I have no doubt I made the right choice.


  • A Right Devested From Us

    30 April 2007 03:04, by Fiona

    I honor you for your sensible approach, you can often do so much more from within the framework of descrimination, than you can from outside where you become catagorised as one of the enemy, someone who is trying to destroy Islam, etc.
    What breaks my heart every time is the complicity of women in the suppression of womens rights, it happened in the West last century, and it seems to be happening now in Iran, when I read about women completely covered ( as is thier choice ) demanding that all women follow this example, I am saddened, who is our God, do people have so little faith in him that Men must decide how we respect and worship him.


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