Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Roxana Saberi and the women of Evin Prison
Posted by Tania Kindersley.
As I start to write this, I keep feeling I should apologise for getting too serious. This blog was started as a light-hearted foray into all things that might be of interest to women. There were recipes for Charlotte potatoes, diversions into ballroom dancing or the nature of fame, adorable snapshots of small people in Easter bonnets. There are pictures of my dogs, for heaven's sake. I allowed myself the occasional rant, with one eye firmly on the self-indulgence police. So today, when I am going to hit you with a post that contains not one ounce of levity, I have a tremor of alarm. Shall I finally go one step beyond, descend into po-faced how can you laugh when the world is so oppressed self-righteousness, and lose every single one of my loyal readers, whom I cherish so much? And why is it that I even think this might be true?
The whole point of Backwards was that it celebrated the fact that women have the alluring ability to turn from profound to frivolous on a dime. It said: there will be no putting of the ladies into boxes, thank you so very much. You may enjoy deconstructing great eyeshadow disasters of our time with just as much vigour as you bring to the ethics of waterboarding. And yet, and yet. For some reason, I still want to say - forgive me. Perhaps it's not a gender thing at all; perhaps it is because I am British, and I have been taught all my life to do anything in my human power not to grow earnest and dull. Now I must close my eyes, take a deep breath, and risk both. But then, it's not really the end of the world, is it? It's not being locked up after a secret trial with no explanation.
So - As if the story of Roxana Saberi were not strange enough - from illicit wine drinker to international spy - now it seems that her entire case may be part of some labyrinthine political grandstanding within Iran. Commentators can only guess at what the real endgame is: it's hardliners rattling their sabres, it's a massive double bluff on the United States, it's a test of the novice President Obama. Sometimes, in moments of despair, I start to think it's just that the Iranian courts really love locking up women. There seem to be tiny green shoots of hope: an appeal has been allowed, Ahmadinejad has, for reasons of his own, made a vaguely conciliatory statement (before going off and bitch-slapping Israel at the UN), a Nobel Laureate has joined the defence team. We still do not know how this will end.
Here is what we do know:
Delara Darabi was sentenced to death at the age of 17 for a murder she clearly did not commit. She is now 22 and still on death row. If her appeals are not successful, she will be executed in two months' time.
Evin prison, where Saberi is being held, is a black hole of legal limbo. Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, an activist who helped organise the million signatures movement to work for improved women's rights, was arrested and sent there in 2007. She reported on a hellish scene of ill, drug-addicted and suicidal women. Several of them had killed their husbands. Forced into marriage at ages as young as 13, beaten, raped, made to work as prostitutes, unable to divorce, they turned to murder.
In March, Marzieh Amirizadeh and Maryam Rustampoor were arrested on charges of being anti-government agents and sent to Evin. Bail was set at $400,000. Amazingly, their families managed to raise the money, but it was then rejected on the grounds that the charges had changed, although they were not told what the new charges were. It appears that the women's real offence was to be Christian.
In 2003, Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was incarcerated in Evin prison for taking photographs just outside. She died in custody. Her body showed signs of extreme violence and brutal rape. Official cause of death: stroke.
This is what we know of the prison in which Roxana Saberi is being kept and the judicial system that condemned her.