Open Letter: Atena Daemi Lauds the Emotional Labor of Iranian Mothers
Human Rights Activist News Agency (HRANA) – Atena Daemi, a civil rights activist imprisoned since October 21, 2014, has written an open letter to her mother marking her fourth year of incarceration.
In the note, Daemi describes the difficulties endured by her family — particularly her mother — who she characterizes as one of her most important sources of strength in recent years.
With fellow political prisoners Maryam Akbari Monfared and Golrokh Iraee, Daemi was punished October 3rd with a three-week ban on family visits, per verbal orders from the Women’s Warden at Evin. All three were told the ban served to punish them for refusing an unlawful interrogation this past September.
HRANA has translated the full text of Daemi’s letter below:
Four years ago to this day, I was on my way to work on a cold autumn morning. You had gone to buy fresh bread for us. I was running late, so I didn’t get to see you before dad and I left the house. Before we could reach the end of the alley, they blocked our way, arrested me, put me in another car, and returned to the house with dad, all 11 of them. I don’t know how you reacted when you saw them. After an hour, they brought me back home. I was shocked to see you. I was shocked by your screams at the agents.
“Go on and take my daughter too. You took all of these young people – and how far did that get you? You know what? Go ahead and kill my daughter too. You killed Sattar Beheshti [a blogger who died in prison in 2012] and all those other young people. And what came of it?”
They threatened to detain you too, and you shot back, “Take me! You’ve outdone yourselves putting mothers behind bars and bereaving them.”
I thought you would be scared, but you weren’t; I thought you would blame and reproach me, but you didn’t. In our own language, you told me to go– that this would be the first night I would spend away from home, but that you were still behind me, still with me, and that one day no child would be separated from their mother. That lifted a weight off my shoulders; it felt as though you had given me wings. I went, but you never left me for a moment; we were bonded more than ever, together, united.
I remember your face that day in the Revolutionary Court when I was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Giddily and sarcastically, you quipped, “14 years is nothing– we expected the death penalty!” I know you felt a quiver of fear, but you didn’t show it. Sixteen months later, I returned home and you were in good spirits, though you knew I wouldn’t be staying long. They came back for me nine months later. You weren’t in Tehran then. I called you to let you know they were taking me. You told me to put you on speakerphone so that they could hear you. You were screaming “What do you want from our children? What have they done? What did they ever ask of you? The day will come when us mothers will hold you accountable…”
After I went, they opened cases against your other two daughters, convicting them. You laughed and said that we should ask them to set up a family suite in the prison that would house us all!
I went on hunger strike. I will not forget the concern in your eyes, but your words, filled with hope and promise, only made me more steadfast. Your daughters were acquitted, and I stayed. They filed new cases and lawsuits against me, one after the other. Then, they dragged me to Gharchak Prison, beating me and insulting me. That following Thursday I called home. You were happy to hear my voice and asked how the prison administrators had come to be so charitable on a Thursday [the beginning of the weekend in Iran].
I laughed and said, “I’m calling you from Gharchak Prison.” You replied that it was only right that I see the women held in Gharchak as well. “Let’s see how far they want to go!” you said.
When I contacted you a few days later, you did not answer. I was told that you went to the Prosecutor’s office to see about my case. The more time passed without any news from you, the more worried I became. You finally replied after 7 p.m. and told me that they had detained you along with Hanieh [my sister]. You told me how they beat you both and shocked you with stun guns. My body trembled at that thought.
You told me they shocked your leg when you refused to get into their car. You said it didn’t hurt, that it felt like stinging nettles. I was trembling with anger, but you were laughing and said that you didn’t back down and gave them a piece of your mind.
My phone rights and visits were cut.
Then came your little girl’s wedding day– my sister Hanieh was getting married…
They did not let me go on furlough to come to the wedding. You came to visit me in Gharchak. Hanieh was restless but you calmed her down, telling her not to cry but to laugh and be joyous so that the authorities wouldn’t get the idea that their tactics can break [me]. I remember that you reminded her that Fariba Kamalabadi [Baha’i prisoner of conscience] hadn’t been granted furlough to attend her own daughter’s wedding. You asked me to distribute sweets to my cell and ward mates to celebrate my sister’s wedding inside the prison. What a memorable night that was!
I was returned to Evin Prison. Then we heard news of the execution of Zanyar, Loghman, and Ramin. You went on a hunger strike, wore black, and came to visit me in tears. They had harassed me that day, but the three of us just held hands and sang a song for our fallen brothers. Again, they cut me off from family visits.
Mother, would you look at how pathetic and short-sighted they are? When Zanyar Moradi hadn’t seen his mother in nine years when he was killed, and they think they’re going to break me by withholding my visiting rights for a while? The pain of mothers never ends. If they think they can reform us, silence us, or make us remorseful with such childish measures, they are sorely mistaken. We won’t be disciplined; rather, we will carry on with more resolve than before.
It has been three weeks since we last saw each other. You’ve gone to visit with Ramin’s mother, Zanyar and Loghman’s families, and the family of Sharif, who died in the fire[Kurdish activist who died fighting wildfires in western Iran]. You visited Narges [Mohammadi] and the family of Homa [Soltanpour]. While we haven’t seen each other, you have embraced the pains and sorrows of fellow mothers.
Send my regards to all the mourning and bereaved mothers of Iran and tell them I shall call for justice for them as long as I live!
October 21, 2019
After her arrest on October 21, 2014, Atena Daemi spent 86 days in solitary confinement before being transferred to the Women’s Ward of Evin prison. In May 2015, Judge Moghiseh of Revolutionary Court Branch 28 sentenced her to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of assembly and collusion against national security, propaganda against the regime, and insulting the supreme leader. She was released February 2017 on 5.5 billion IRR [approximately $140,000 USD] bail. Her sentence was then reduced to seven years on appeal. She was detained November 26, 2016 to serve her sentence, which since been reduced to five years.