A Birthday in Evin Prison - an opportunity to remember Iran's prisoners

June 10, 2010

By Ann Harrison, East Gulf researcher for Amnesty International
(As posted to livewire)

Shiva Nazar Ahari

To coincide with the 12 June anniversary of the disputed election last year in Iran, Amnesty International has prepared a campaign to highlight the situation of political prisoners, many of whom are prisoners of conscience, who are still held in Iran.

The year-long campaign was launched on Wednesday by a report which detailed the journey from protest to prison of ever-increasing numbers of Iranians.

For the campaign, we are highlighting the cases of several individuals whose experience epitomizes the injustices – arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trial and even the death penalty – suffered by hundreds of others.

One of these is Shiva Nazar Ahari, a human rights defender, detained since December 2009, her second arrest since the election.

She is celebrating her 26th birthday in Evin Prison today – a name synonymous with the system of injustice that prevails in Iran. Colleagues and I will be remembering Shiva on her special day with a cake and birthday wishes.

To understand what it must be like to spend a birthday in jail, I turned to Roxana Saberi, a former prisoner of conscience who spent her birthday in Evin Prison last year. She told me about her day:

“I spent my 32nd birthday in Evin Prison, in the midst of a hunger strike. Two guards took me from my prison cell that evening to another building on the prison grounds. There, one of the guards handed me a bouquet of flowers without offering any explanations. I didn’t understand why until I entered the building and saw my parents waiting there for me, with a video camera across the room, pointed in our direction.

“I couldn’t see any red lights indicating that it was rolling, but I was leery. I didn’t want the authorities to record a video of me happily embracing my parents with flowers in my hands. They could use it as propaganda to claim they had been kind to me on my birthday. I tried to look grave as I thrust the flowers into my mother’s hands and my parents hugged me, with my chief interrogator standing in one corner, off camera, coolly observing us.

“It turned out my parents had waited hours that day to get special permission to see me on a non-visitation day. Regular visitation days were on Mondays.

“It was the seventh day of my hunger strike, and my father informed me that staff members of the Paris-based media-rights group Reporters Without Borders were planning to start fasting to show solidarity with me. I found it hard to believe what my father was telling me. Total strangers were going to deprive themselves of food because of me?

“At the same time, I felt grateful for this support. I had begun to learn of other efforts for my release after my parents came to Iran earlier that month, more than two months after my arrest and after the Iranian authorities had finally acknowledged my whereabouts. News of this support strengthened me, and it made me realize how important it is for political prisoners to feel that the outside world is aware of and cares about their plights.”

I hope that, like Roxana, while she is still in prison, Shiva gets to hear about some of the solidarity actions that are being carried out for her, not only in London, but elsewhere in the world – groups in Brazil, Germany and Rome who will be demonstrating on 12 June have “adopted” her case.

I am proud to be among those standing up for her and the forgotten prisoners of Iran, so that they may be remembered.