By Jila Baniyaghoob
Friday, 11 June 2010
Shiva’s birthday cake. The message reads:
‘Oh, if only freedom could sing a little song.
Happy Birthday, dear Shiva.’
You turned twenty-six yesterday, while you’re in prison for the fifth time in your life. You don’t seem to feel the slightest exhaustion. You were first taken to prison when you were eighteen, for attending a meeting. That same one-month prison experience made you closely aware of the violation of prisoners’ rights. You are so deeply affected by the unacceptable conditions in prisons, where the defendants’ right were ignored, that after freedom you told your mother you had decided to devote yourself to defending prisoners’ rights. You said it did not matter at all what the prisoners’ beliefs or thoughts were. What mattered was that they were all entitled to citizenship rights.
Over the years, your mother has told the interrogators many times that they themselves chose this path for you. ‘If you had not jailed her unjustly, merely for attending a meeting,’ she’s been telling them, ‘she would never have thought of defending prisoners’ rights. You turned our Shiva into a human rights activist.’
And you began your work the day after you were freed from prison. Soon, your fame had spread across all the prisons in Iran. All political prisoners were speaking of the courageous girl who knew no boundaries in defending prisoners, and would not discriminate among them because of their views or tastes.
Prisoners would pass your phone number along to each other. Prisoners would call you from all the prisons in Iran. And your reports about the conditions of prisoners of conscience would introduce them to the people of your own country and the world. The more unknown and lonely a prisoner was, the dearest they would be to you and the more you would try to make them well-known.
Having heard your name from each other, prisoners’ families also would seek you out to share their grief with you. And you would patiently hear about their pains and make their voices heard to the best of your ability.
You would defend human rights day and night, but no one knew about your activities. You were not concerned about fame. Maybe that is why you were little known until a year ago, when you were put in prison. Now, it was the others’ turn to tell the world about Shiva.
Indeed, who knows that in fact you were the first person to expose the outrageous conditions in Kahrizak prison [where several prisoners died under torture following the June 2009 elections]? It was three years ago when they started taking people they described as ‘hoodlums and thugs’ to that prison, keeping them in the worst possible conditions, and you began to expose what was happening in Kahrizak.
You could not believe the atrocities that were committed at Kahrizak. You interviewed the families of dozens of Kahrizak inmates. You wrote dozens, nay, hundreds of reports about Kahrizak.
But it was bizarre that even some human rights activists were not prepared to join your efforts. ‘These are hoodlums and thugs,’ they would say. ‘They’re indefensible.’
And in spite of your youth, you were startled by this argument. ‘These prisoners are also human beings,’ you would say, ‘and entitled to a defendant’s human rights.’
But you would also use other arguments to convince such people. ‘If we don’t defend such prisoners’ human rights today,’ you would say, ‘tomorrow the same fate would await others, including political prisoners. We must not allow this style of administration to be institutionalized in Kahrizak. We must not allow the Kahrizak style of torture to spread across prisons, with the claim that it would ‘teach the hoodlums and thugs a lesson,’ because if it does, it cannot be stopped in future.’
You were right, dear Shiva. A few years later, Kahrizak was turned into a prison for university students, journalists and dissident citizens and the Kahrizak methods were applied to political prisoners.
After the June 2010 elections, you and I were in the same cell in Evin prison’s Ward 209 when Mr Karroubi exposed what had happened in Kahrizak. When we heard that, you were deeply saddened and said: ‘If we had protested more strongly against what was happening in Kahrizak a few years ago, the likes of Mohammad Kamrani, Amir Javadifar and Mohsen Ruhol-Amini would not have been killed in prison today.’
Happy birthday, Dear Shiva.
translated by Hossein shahidi