By Joanne Michele - Middle East Correspondent for Safe World for Women. October 2013.
"She has had a very difficult time in solitary confinement, where she was beaten. Currently, she is in the female section in notorious Evin prison..."
Twenty-five-year old student activist Maryam Shafipour was arrested on July 27 and has been held largely incommunicado, only contacting her family to inform them of her imprisonment in Evin prison's notorious ward 209 a week after she had been detained.
Maryam, a student and women's rights activist, was banned from continuing her education at Qazvin University for political reasons. She had been involved in a number of student campaigns, including the Female Students for Karroubi presidential campaign in 2009. In 2010, she was given a one-year suspended sentence by the Qazvin Revolutionary Court for her activism, and was detained again this year after receiving a summons from the Shahid Moghaddas court.
On September 16, when her parents arrived at Evin to see their daughter, they were informed Maryam had been transferred from ward 209 to an unnamed hospital. When pressed, prison authorities would not reveal the name of the facility or the conditions that led to Maryam's hospitalization.
Friends and family have been concerned for her health as she had been experiencing numbness in her arm and had requested to see a doctor. Her parents have since been unable to get any further information about her condition or whereabouts, but it was reported on September 30 that she had been transferred to the women's ward at Evin prison.
Despite being held in solitary confinement for over 50 days and being denied bail, Maryam Shafipour has not been officially charged with any crime, though her father told Kaleme that he fears she is accused of conspiring against national security. Another source told Kaleme that the case would proceed through Revolutionary Court and an investigator suggested it would be "in her interest" for Maryam to cooperate.
Maryam Shafipour's trial was set to be held on October 21, 2013, but her supporters were told on that date that it had been postponed.
The following is an interview with a close friend of Maryam's, who needs to remain anonymous for her own safety.
Suspended Sentence for Activism and Blogs
1. What has motivated Maryam to continue her work despite her 2010 arrest?
"Maryam is a human being. She loves freedom. It was hard for her to imagine and see students and her friends in prison and not be able to do anything. Maryam was highly motivated for struggle. Maryam is a human rights defender, and advocacy for human rights in Iran is considered a major crime.
Maryam Shafipour was an activist for Mehdi Karroubi's campaign for the presidential elections on June 1388 (2009) and in 1389 (2010), she was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Qazvin (the city where she goes to university) to one year in prison for her student activism and writing blogs. The sentence was suspended.
A former student on architectural engineering, with "water orientation", she was also suspended from Qazvin International University and expelled due to her political activities."
No Evidence Against Maryam
2. Why do you think she was arrested again?
"Really, we don’t know why they arrested her. I know only that her place is not in the prison. She is an outstanding student, and is truly innocent.
Her attorney investigated the case and wrote on his Facebook page that she is innocent. There is no evidence against Maryam and she had not committed a crime, but in the Islamic Republic, lack of evidence is no reason not to arrest people.
Let us not forget that she was the last person who was in temporary custody during Ahmadinejad's presidency. She is totally innocent."
Home Attacked and Family Threatened
3. Why do you think she is still being held, especially with limited contact to her family, since her recent arrest?
"She had been summoned to the court number 2 labeled “Holy Martyr” in Evin prison on Saturday, July 27th, at noon; she went there on her own feet, but they incarcerated her. They have inspected/attacked her home few times since her arrest and have threatened her family.
According to the reports that I have, Maryam refused to cooperate with her interrogators. She did not confess to anything and she stressed that the elections in 1388 (2009) were rigged. They intended to extend her detention in an attempt to break her, but Maryam has not given up; on the contrary, she has a lot of strength and showed a lot of resistance, and she did not consent to the accusation and false charges."
4. What updates can you give us on her health? Was she ill before she went to prison or has something happened to her in detention?
"Maryam was perfectly healthy and had no illness before her arrest. She started having skin problems due to the bad water in Evin prison; she also has tooth pain.
In one of the visits, she signaled it to her dad that her right hand was so weak that she was even unable to lift a pen."
Beaten in Solitary Confinement
5. Has Maryam been able to have any further contact with her family, friends, or supporters? What can she tell us about her condition?
"Maryam has only been allowed to have a series of weekly visits, but they are limited. She is separated from her visitors by glass, or allowed on the phone under the supervision of a prison officer, and then only allowed to talk for twenty minutes. She was at first only permitted visits by family, and as a result of their follow-up, her attorney can now also meet her for short visits.
She has had a very difficult time in solitary confinement, where she was beaten. Currently, she is in the female section in notorious Evin prison, although conditions there are better than in the solitary ward, 209, where she was imprisoned before. But Evin prison is not a good place at all for a young woman."
6. Has she been formally charged with anything? If not, is there any new speculation about the possible charges?
"Maryam was sentenced to one year of suspended imprisonment. In a suspended sentence, the verdict is not executed but your freedom has limitations. This means if you are again sentenced by the court, the imprisonment will be imposed. We hope that Maryam will be acquitted because she is innocent.
The ridiculous accusation against her is 'threatening national security'. That charge can be defined and implemented so broadly in Iran that practically anyone who walks in the street can be sentenced to prison for it."
We Can Be Maryam's Voice
7. What can we do to support Maryam and her family from outside Iran? How can we best advocate for her release?
We can be Maryam's voice. The publicising of any updates on her situation could help. We must not forget that her family was threatened and are under pressure. Maryam, herself is in custody, and it was difficult for us to get even the little information we do have.
Anyone who cares about human rights in Iran can be Maryam's voice. It does not matter if it is a senator, a minister, a president or an ordinary citizen. We should not allow the political prisoners in Iran to become voiceless.
Maryam Always Loves to Help People
8. What is Maryam like as a person? What are her interests and passions? What can you tell us about your friendship?
Maryam is a very gentle person, intelligent, and beautiful. I feel like I'm close to her.
In a sentence: Maryam is a creature whom it is impossible not to love. Innocence even comes out of her beautiful eyes. She likes painting and music, and always loves to help people in any condition, even if they turn against her. Maryam is like a sister to me.