Vozara Detention Center: A Place for Women in Search of Freedom

Thursday 10 May 2007

By: Zeinab Peyqambarzadeh

Note: Zeinab Peyqambarzadeh was the first member of the Campaign to be arrested. She was arrested on Friday December 22, 2006 while distributing pamphlets on the metro and taken to Vozara Detention Center. She was subsequently released after spending 5 days in detention. Zeinab has since been arrested on two other occasions. She was among the 33 women arrested in front of the Revolutionary Courts in early April. In relation to this case, Zeinab was summoned to the Revolutionary Courts on May 7, and was arrested due to the fact that she was unable to post a bail of 20 Million Tomans. She is currently being held in Ward 3 of Evin prison. Zeinab wrote the following article based on her experience in Vozara detention center. Zeinab is also among many students whose registration at University has been suspended due to social and political activities. She is currently suspended from University but hopes to reenroll next term.

It seems like yesterday, but it was three years ago. “Who knows where Vozara Detention Center is?” asked my social science professor. “It is for holding those charged with corruption,” a veiled girl responded.

As usual, our professor began joking with the class. “Oh, so you have confessed. How long were you there?” The veiled girl tried to explain that her house was close to this detention center, but the Professor continued his banter. Afterwards, he began to tell us about the results of a research project he was engaged in, which examined the reaction of families whose daughters, accused of illicit sexual relations, had ended up at Vozara Detention Center. In those days, Vozara was unfamiliar to me and even its name seemed strange, but today, it is a place I know well and even at times I find myself missing it—missing the friends that I have made there and missing the invaluable experiences I gained during my stays in detention.

The first time I was taken to Vozara Detention Center was in December 2006. My crime was unusual and unfamiliar to the guards and inmates alike—the crime of actions against national security. This crime and the charge was so strange in fact that young soldier responsible for completing my admittance form, assumed that he was supposed to identify me as a runaway girl or one accused of having extramarital and illicit sexual relations. It was difficult for this young man to even spell correctly the term of “Against” [Aleyh in Farsi]. But today, given the repeated arrests of women’s rights activists, specifically in March and April, this charge, and the crime which we are accused of committing, has become commonly known among the staff at Vozara and the inmates alike. Prisoners and guards endearingly refer to us as “actors” for having acted against national security.

During my first stay of detention at Vozara, that I came to realize that this detention center was a place for imprisoning women. But despite being famous for the holding place of those accused of sexual and moral corruption, it is not just used to hold runaway girls or women charged with having illicit sexual relations. In fact, like all the prisons and detention centers in Iran, there is no differentiation between the ranks of “criminals” and all are held indiscriminately in the same location. Runaways, relationaries (a term coined by inmates to refer to those accused of sexual relations), thieves, traffickers, smugglers, while collar criminals, and of course on occasion women’s rights activists are imprisoned at this detention center.

Vozara is a place where Firouzeh a runaway girl, quickly learns lessons in delinquency. This is despite the fact that while in prison she is interviewed by the publication, “Green Family” so that she can serve as “model” for other young girls on what to avoid. In this place, Firouzeh quickly learns how to join bonds of thieves and prostitutes, and finds the opportunity to enter into a relationship with the policeman who she telephones from Vozara, as a reward for having accepted the unpleasant duty of mopping floors.

Vozara is a holding place for women in search of freedom. It is a place for young girls who run away from home, because they want to have a say in choosing their husbands, or in the patriarchal structure of their households and families, they demand the freedom to choose their own dress or come and go as they please. It is a place for imprisoning women who are accused of adultery, because they choose to sleep with the men they love. It is a place for victims of polygamy, who are charged with the crime of fighting with the “other” woman. It is a place for women, accused of kissing their lovers. It is a place for innocent girls who in their feeble attempt at pressing charges against men who have harassed them on the streets, end up in prison. And of course, more recently, it is a place for young women, who having objected to discriminatory laws and practices against women, are placed in prison, where they engage in conversation with the women they have defended and grown to love.

Vozara is a pass through for women on their way to the public coroner’s office, where their virginity is confirmed. It is a pass through for women who end up in Evin prison, who receive lashes, who are condemned to stoning and execution. It is a place that during these days is filled with women arrested as part of the campaign to fight “poor” Hejab, so that these young women can finally learn to purchase long monteaus or overcoats which cover fully their entire bodies.

My short stay in Vozara, along with 32 other women’s rights activists, was enough to wipe the memory of fear that had remained with me after my earlier detention of four days, in December. Instead now, I hold in my memory the unforgettable and sweet experience of detention with my 32 compatriots, in the fight against discrimination. Now when my university suspension ends, and I am allowed to continue my studies next term, I will be proud to proclaim to my professor that indeed I know where Vozara. I will be proud to claim that indeed I love the girls who are being held behind the bars of this detention center—the very girls who gladly choose death, over a life prescribed by a male dominated society.

Other articles by Zeinab Peyqambarzadeh, in Farsi, include the following:

1. Despite Problems, the Workshop in Rasht was Implemented

2. Why Collect Signatures

3. Lessons Learned From Bitter Experiences

4. The Need for a Women’s Commission in the Student Office to Foster Unity (Tahkim)

The One Million Signatures Campaign: An Opportunity for Female Students

Empowerment as a Strategy to End Child Labor

7. Read her weblog

This article was translated by: Sussan Tahmasebi


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