I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, am twenty-six years old. I have spent another day in a mass grave known as Shahre-Rey prison which is filled with tension and feud, no air in the stifling atmosphere that has become more suffocating and toxic as the implacable prison guards spread hatred. I have taken refuge in my bed. Today, a simple children’s game which could potentially put a smile on our face ruined the day because a spiteful prison guard intervened.
The young prisoners, who are usually imprisoned for small crimes such as theft, failing to wear full Hijab or swearing at officers, were playing with a water bottle. They placed the empty bottle on the floor and spun it around. The person to whom the bottle pointed when it stopped spinning, had to do a dare. It began with sweetness and laughter … the sound of laughters filled the room. Everyone, even if they were not in the game, was laughing from the sound of the players’ laughters. Then the game turned into a real disaster as a scornful and devious prison guard, who does not like to see prisoners laughing, suggested hostile dares. The outcome was smacking by officers and licking the toilet. And I witnessed how laughters turned into loud voices, rapid breathings, swollen neck veins, red faces, fights… and then to punishment and tiredness.
I like my bed. In this public place, it is the only space that is yours. Only yours. You can stick whatever you like to its ceiling. Or its side wall. I have some newspaper clippings of poems from a poet. Her name is Reyhaneh Jabbari. She is a few years older than me and lives in a city in Iran. Perhaps her emotions are triggered by her surroundings or the people who she meets and they inspire her to write a poem. Sometimes a poem from her is published in one of the newspapers that are available in prison. I cut it out and stick it to the wall of my bed which is made out of bed sheet. My bed is a lone cell in which I can gather my thoughts and cast my mind back to all the things that happened to me. It is a room for repairing my soul; a workshop in which I learnt that if I do not cut my ties with life, death will not come to me. Everything that happened to me shows that if, at the height of youthfulness and vivacity when you cannot even tolerate hot or cold weather, cannot tolerate a simple and unpleasant word, cannot endure hunger or thirst, cannot withstand subjection to oppression, you are placed in a situation which is completely opposite to your current circumstances, you will display an incredible flexibility and will be even surprise by your own tolerance level. I remember when I was a child, I used to watch a cartoon called Barbapapa. Barbapapa was a specie who had the ability to turn into various forms. This flexibility helped him to continue to live.
When I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was 19 years old, I became a Barbapapa. When I found out that my parents had not given up on me, I lived for the sake of their love. For days I was unaware of what was going on in the world… and I slept. As if to make up for all the sleep that I had lost in the past. I absorbed sleep with every single cell in my body, and as I was fed up with being forced to repeat the same endless confessions, I practiced remaining silence when I slept. It had been a while since I was last interrogated by Shamloo. Instead, two men with shaved heads, like soldiers began interrogating me or as it is more elegantly called “questioning” me. One was fat and had a belly and the other was slim and tall. They both had a stubble but the slim one’s moustache was longer than his beard. Many times they said that they had arrested my family and sent them each to a different prison. And in my heart, I cursed myself for ruining my family’s peace and quiet by making acquaintance with Sarbandi and Sheikhi. I imagined them in a similar situation as me; belittled and weak like a “chick” – a term used by the aggressive interrogators. They tie your hands and your feet. Then, like a piece of clothing they hang you up on a rod and beat you in the stomach with their knees. They don’t care about where in the stomach they hit you. You must be smart and despite the pain, try not to curl up in a ball because if you bring your head down for a moment, the knee strike will connect with your eye or your nose or your mouth and the blood will gush out and your face will fracture and you will suffer from an endless pain. I was aware of this and I protected my face from the knee strikes. The interrogator is a man and can never comprehend that during the monthly cycles, women feel numb and ache; they are lethargic and easily take offence. The mere task of getting up and answering questions is agony. The male interrogator does not know what it means to strike a woman in her breasts with a knee during her monthly cycle. I do not know why when women give birth to boys, they do not tell their sons how they feel, so that when their little son grows up and becomes an interrogator, he would know how to knee strike an accused in the stomach. An accused who turns out to be a woman and happens to be spending the most difficult days of her life.
I was terribly fooled during one of my interrogating sessions: “We have taken your mother from the detention centre to Evin prison and we will interrogate her there.” The following two days, I was left alone in my cell. They did not take me for questioning for two days and I, unaware of their devious plot, developed obsessive compulsive disorder which completely ruined me only a few days later. The prolonged hours in the solitary confinement without an adjustable brightness; they torture you with the perpetual glow of the fluorescent light which is kept on 24/7. The fluorescent light irritates your soul. It is your enemy and you don’t know what to do in order to change the situation. Whenever you want to think, you get distracted by the fluorescent light and you lose focus. Fragmented and disjointed thoughts destroy your sanity. You cannot focus on anything. If you want to eat or shower, you cannot open the water tap first, wash your head and then rinse and finish. When you lack intellectual coherency, you may leave the water running and get out of the shower without rinsing. It is possible that you pick up the food with the spoon in order to put it in your mouth but before the spoon reaches your mouth, your mind gets distracted and when you regain awareness, you realise that the spoon is suspended in mid air and you have just kept your open. You are also suspended between fantasy and reality; importance and truth.
When I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was nineteen years, I used to stick my ears to the cold iron door of my solitary confinement a thousand times a day in the hope of hearing my mother’s voice who I was lead to believe was in one of the nearby cells. All of my being became ear and stuck to the door. But I could not hear any sounds from Shole [Reyhaneh’s mother’s name]. I was nervous and paced my 9 meter cell; from left to right, from right to the corner and from the corner to the door. There was no rhythm in my pace and every once in a little while I twitched and became all ears again. I believed I could hear her voice. But it wasn’t. I slept, or maybe I imagined that I slept. I had no logical explanation or real proof to know for sure that what I believed was real. My eyes saw things which disappeared a moment later. It made me more agitated. In order to become aware of where I was and in what circumstances, I used to slap myself; like the interrogators during the early days of the investigation. Those who had long gone out of my life and took their graves with them. When I slapped myself, it made a sound and was painful, therefore it was real. Therefore I was awake. But is it not possible to hear a sound in your dream? Oh God, why none of the lessons that I learnt from school and university could help me to understand the true nature of these moments? And the painful struggle with my inability to grasp reality ended as I heard the sound of screaming coming from outside. I stuck my ear to the door. The sound was real and sustained. “AWWWWWWW”… the screaming went on and then turned into a whimper. I was glued to the door. This is my mother! So they were telling the truth! They had arrested all of my family! I was traumatised and wanted to communicate with her. I screamed: Mamaaaaaaaan [“Maman” which is “mum” in Persian]. There was no answer. I screamed louder: Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan. Still no answer. I banged on the door with my first; I scratched it. I went back and lunged towards the door with all my body. The lunges became longer and longer. I fell backwards and hit the wall each time but again with all of my power I lunged forward and hit the door. All of my body turned from ear to mouth and I screamed from the top of my lungs: Mamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan.
I, Reyhaneh, Jabbari, at the age of 19, did not know that getting rid of the fluorescent light would be used as evidence to suggest that I had been trained. I did not know that this peaceful darkness would lead me to horrific accusations against me. Accusations to which I later confessed. I could barely hear the whimpering outside. I tried to remember how my mother sounded when she was ill and whimpered. I could not remember. I searched through my memories to find at least one incident. It was helpless. I even recalled the day when my little sister was born and I was 6 years old. I could remember everything except the whimpering sound of my mother. I could remember every detail about her face and the clothes that she was wearing and even the scent of her body but I could not recall how her whimpering sounded. All I wanted at that moment was to know what had happened to my mother.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, am 26 years old and now I know that when man is struggling with illusion and reality, he does not have any power. He is not able to make decisions and has no choice but to submit. Even if you scream and hit yourself against the wall, you are still weak. Your physical strength may increase but due to lack of communication with the world around you, you develop a form of psychosis which makes you weaker and weaker; you reduce to nothing. You become nobody. Hollowed and devoid of any signs of life. Like narcotic drugs, delusion and hallucination lead you to idleness; thoughtless and without determination.
The next day, or night, I was interrogated. Again, my body did not have the energy to move. My slim interrogator explained to me: “Your mother will be freed if you write.” I duly wrote: “After I stabbed Sarbandi, Sheikhi opened the door and came inside. He had a scuffle with Sarbandi and threw him on the floor. Sarbandi left the house and Sheikhi who had picked up a statute, went after him. I then left the house after him…” When I returned to my cell, a new fluorescent lamp was illuminating. The cell was bright and I was tired and submissive as ever. I fell unconscious again. There was no whimpering sound anymore. Sometimes the silence outside was broken with the sound of somebody’s foot steps. So he fulfilled his promise and released my mother! I was comfortable and sleeping made me even more comfortable.
I recall when Shamloo said “Your mother and father do not want you and they have abandoned you”. I recall the day when it was Father’s Day and I helplessly begged the prison guard: “For God’s sake, allow me to make a single phone call to my father to speak to him for one minute. You also have a father. Let me say Happy Father’s Day to him. For the love of God!” And the prison guard who lacked many human characteristics, did not comprehend my pleadings. He calmly replied “It is not possible. The judge ordered to deprive you of everything. Telephone is prohibited for you.” He did not know that if I had heard my father’s voice for one second, I could have worked out if he had abandoned me at all or not. He did not know that by depriving me of hearing my father’s voice, he lead me towards mental obsession. He did not know that he crushed me.
When I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, was 19 years old, I had to play in a new stage show every day. Play; a word in which there are many hidden meanings. In a play, always some people are entertained and some people entertain. I and my interrogators had to do both. A new play was written every day with varying degree of ridiculousness depending on the person interrogating at the time. One said that I had been recruited whilst at university and that they had tested my intelligence level; I scored 99 percent; they thought that I had cheated and tested me again and I scored 99 percent again. The intelligence officers told me that I was put in charge of the girls and a guy called Arash was put in charge of the boys. Another one who had been creating a different story said “Add that you were supposed to carry out a mission in Cyprus. A man who owns a restaurant in Cyprus is the head of the whole operation.” And I wrote these down. I wrote that I had been trained to wipe off my memory; I even had been trained to deceive the polygraph; I had been trained; they had trained me for espionage. When I was writing these, I thought to myself “Have I done all of these?” As if they had stretched out my twenty-four-hour days into hundred-hour days. How could anyone believe these? Every day, I woke up in the morning and my father dropped me off in Sadeghieh. From there, I went to Karaj [a city about 20 kilometres from Tehran] and then took a coach to Ghazvin [a city about 109 kilometres from Karaj] in order to attend university. At the end of the lessons, I returned to Karaj, took the metro back to Sadeghieh and waited there for my father to take me home. During university holidays I worked at the firm and went home in the evening. When did I ever have any spare time to get trained? How can anyone train when there is not a single hour where their location is unknown. The university register and the firm’s records show that none of these stories are true. I hoped at court, the trial judge would ask all of these questions and uncover the truth. A year and a half later at court, Judge Kooh-Kamareiy raised important issues regarding the credibility of the investigation. In front of those who had accused me of cruelty, the judge with a strong Turkish-Iranian accent said, “Lets say that this girl was young and naive and she was fooled by appearance. Lets even say that she is a bad Muslim. Why did that man [the victim] who was a devout Muslim and middle-aged, put himself in a situation where he was alone with a female stranger in a place which he owned?” And the answer was silence. The judge continued “Do not speak in an unethical manner again in this Court.” After a couple of days of breath taking trial which lasted several hours, when the judge announced that the Court requires more time for closer examination, I knew that this judge could discover the truth about everything that happened to me. Alas, he was replaced by another judge; Hassan Tardast. I will describe him and his conduct when the time comes.
I, Reyhaneh Jabbari, am 26 years old and reside at Shahre-Rey prison. I have not had access to any information sources or academic studies relating to judgement and prosecution but I have experienced every level of the judicial process in Iran with my flesh and blood. I have seen many women with colourful stories. Some are here due to their misfortune and some are here because of malice within them. I have seen a lot of innocent girls who have been imprisoned for a short time due to a small wrongful act, but the reality of the events they go through, leaves them with no option but to return to prison after they are released. I want judges to read my writings. So that they know how their judgements influence the fate of a girl. A task which I started in the second year of my imprisonment. I wrote articles for many young trainee students at Evin and Shahre-Rey prisons to submit to their lecturers as their own piece of research project. They were glad about obtaining grades without any effort and I was happy that I had passed on my experiences to a lecturer. And I hoped that my articles would reach a judge someday; unaware that my writings, just like thousands of other student dissertations which were plagiarised and copied from research materials in a library, are collecting dust. Although, how was the lecturer supposed to know that the contents of these articles did not come from library materials, but instead were collected through field experience? So I became hopeless after a while and secretly sent everything out of prison. A task that is now also pending the conclusion of writing these events. Soon this burden will be lifted off my chest and there will be nothing left unsaid to take to my grave with me. The grave which has opened its mouth but I do not know when it will swallow me.
It is now the beginning of the seventh winter that I am spending in prison. The fifth year that I have been facing the death penalty without due process. I believe the reason for the delay in execution is that the Head of the Judiciary is examining my case. Two previous Heads of the Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahroudi and Ayatollah Larijani, had already looked into my case. I wish I could send them these letters. I wish… I wrote to Ayatollah Shahroudi on many occasions but out of 10 letters only a few of them were successfully sent out of prison and my father handed them to him. The efforts which were unfruitful.
It is now Saturday morning and I have visitors today. I must get ready to see my family who come to visit me every week. Four dearest people who never abandoned me. Four dearest people who are the pillars of my life. At the end of my time in solitary confinement and after I was transferred to the general ward, I was questioned hundreds of times by my mother and father, especially by my mother. Hard questions and answers; with a lot of diligence. Sometimes, I cried a lot after being questioned by these two. They appeared to be simply probing me but to me it felt like a kick in the teeth and it was too painful to bear. But they never abandoned me and I am alive today for the sake of their love. The thought of not having them in my life had utterly destroyed me when I was in solitary confinement and those days were even more bitter than the taste of venom. The venom which can be traced through its emission at every stage of my life. Today I have a meeting; with those who I love and they love me. I take my energy for the week from my meetings on Saturdays. Today is a good day. The day of living.
End of Part 5