Translated by Laleh Irani
Fatemeh Rahnama is a female political prisoner who is spending her 10-year prison sentence in exile in Sepidar prison in Ahvaz. She was detained at her home on July 29, 2009.
Her sister Zahra Rahnama spoke to Human Rights House of Iran about Fatemeh’s situation. She is about to spend her third Norouz (Persian New Year) behind bars without any furlough.
“My sister’s situation is the same as it has been and nothing has changed. My sister is being held in Sepidar Prison in Ahvaz. We recently made another official request for her release, and we asked for an answer to my sister’s written letter. But unfortunately so far they have refused to grant her freedom. When we asked the authorities why they are keeping my sister behind bars, they said it was because of her crimes. What those crimes are, we still do not comprehend but anyway they have refused to free her.”
Rahnama’s sister spoke of the refusal to grant furlough to her sister.
“So far [3.5 years] she has not been granted any furlough. Recently there was an announcement with the names of prisoners in Sepidar prison in Ahvaz who have been granted furlough and my sister’s name was not on that list. They said prisoners who have committed crimes against national security would not be on the list. Not only now during Norouz (Persian New Year), but even months ago when my sick mother ended up in a coma for 6 months before losing her life, my sister was not allowed out to see her mother or attend her funeral.”
In a session of parliament, Elias Naderan, a conservative member of parliament and supporter of the Ahmadinejad regime referred to Fatemeh Rahnama as the “mistress” of Shapour Kazemi, who is the brother of Zahra Rahnavard. Zahra Rahnavard, wife of Mir Hossein Mousavi has been under house arrest along with her husband for over a year.
The allegation that Fatemeh Rahnama was the “mistress” of Shapour Kazemi was not only made by state run media, but it was published by the Islamic Revolution Documents Center. In their documents they made the written allegation that “on June 16, 2009, Mr. Shapour Kazemi, who has dual citizenship with the United Sates of America and is brother of Mrs. Zahra Kazemi, known as Rahnavard, wife of Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, was arrested along with his mistress Ms. Fatemeh Rahnama as they were creating disturbances in Vanak Square and burning motorcycles.”
Zahra Rahnama, sister of this prisoner has a different version of events.
“Mr. Shapour Kazemi and my sister were detained on the same day. After a few months behind bars, Mr Kazemi was exonerated and released, but my sister is still in prison. The state run media were very vulgar in their coverage of this news, and accused my sister of dishonorable actions. They claimed that my sister was detained while she was burning 7 motorcycles. But my sister’s neighbors are even witnesses to the fact that security agents went to her home at night and detained her. If Mr. Kazemi wanted to damage this regime, he had much better ways to do so than burning several motorcycles. What is interesting however is that Mr. Kazemi was exonerated of all charges while my sister has been held behind bars for the past 3 years. This is always how it is; the poor and innocent are targeted and sacrificed. My sister is a victim.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of her sister’s condition in prison.
“Prison is prison and it can never be a good place, but a few days ago my sister was again saying she didn’t understand why she had to be among prisoners who have committed serious crimes. Of course many of these same prisoners could be good people and better than some who are free.”
“But the fact remains that this is an injustice that has been committed against my sister; they sentence her to 10 years in prison, they exile a 50 year old woman to a prison that is 1000 kilometers away from where she lives and force her to spend her time behind bars so far away. Her mother dies and they refuse to grant her furlough. There are so many other circumstances that have exasperated us. We are baffled at why things are as they are. It is very troubling that the judiciary in Iran behaves in this manner. I don’t know what else to do, every door we knock on is slammed in our faces. I just don’t understand why we are being so challenged considering my sister has no affiliations, she has not done anything nor committed any crime. In my sister’s court dossier, there is no evidence of any crime. For her to be imprisoned due to other issues is a very dismal reflection on the judiciary in Iran.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of the difficulty of visitation due to the prison’s distance.
“Due to the prison being so far from where we live, we can only travel there every one or two months by plane. Ahvaz is too far for us to able to travel there once a week. I was never able to take my mother there and mother didn’t even once get to visit her daughter in prison.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of her follow-up actions for her sister’s case.
“Through our lawyers we have presented all the facts with great detail to the judiciary and they have responded that they will report to the Ministry of Intelligence. According to what the Judiciary is saying it is the Ministry of Intelligence that is prohibiting furlough for my sister. In my opinion it is they who owe an explanation, they cannot just arbitrarily arrest a person, sentence that person to prison in forced exile a thousand kilometers away from her home.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of the agony of her sister not being allowed so see her sick mother before she passed away.
“I went to the office of Mr. Kamkar, who is deputy prosecutor of Tehran, under Mr. Dolatabadi. I told him what had happened, that the authorities didn’t even grant her furlough to attend the funeral after my mother died. He was very surprised and said he didn’t comprehend why considering it is the legal right of every prisoner to get furlough for these reasons. He told me to write a letter and attach my mother’s death certificate. This was a month after my mother had died and they were supposedly going to at least allow my sister a few days of furlough so she could grieve by her family’s side.”
“We did everything they asked and provided every document they requested, but unfortunately nothing ever happened. We wrote the letter as they asked and delivered it. Every time we follow up they give us a different story. They claimed it got lost, they said it went to a different office, when we went to that office they said it was somewhere else, and we ended as always running around with no answers. Nobody seems to know where the letter went. After the entire running around we are told our request is in the hands of the person in charge of my sister’s file. Well clearly that person is the interrogating officer who is the one who prohibited her from furlough to begin with. Mr. Dolatabadi, Tehran’s Prosecutor told our lawyer Mr. Alizadeh that the person in charge of my sister’s file has denied her request for furlough.”
During the past three years the family of Fatemeh Rahnama has tirelessly made every effort to gain her freedom or time off on furlough.
Zahra Rahnama spoke of her family’s efforts in the past 3 years to obtain release for her sister.
“Recently we visited the leadership’s offices and told them we would like to provide a written request. We have done this in the past and they always tell us to go to the offices of the Justice Ministry. We have written letters to the Ministry of Justice and delivered them to various offices; the office of the Judiciary at Shahid Beheshti, the office of the Judiciary Committee on Human Rights, the office of the Judiciary at Shahid Moghadas, and every place you can possibly imagine of, we have been to. But unfortunately all our efforts have been to no avail. They tell us it is too late, that we should have done something before the sentencing was handed down, and now all we can do is hope for a pardon. So according to what they are saying my sister has to hope that they forgive her for something she has not done. It is very interesting that she has endured 3 years of prison, must endure 7 more years unless she is forgiven for an alleged crime that she never committed.”
Zahra Rahnama pleaded with human rights organizations for help.
“This is very heavy. I am pleading with human rights organizations to help all prisoners if you can. Please do something for them. For the love of god, these youth are rotting in our prisons. Why has my sister been in prison for 3 years? For what crime? We have suffered so much. We have been so damaged. My family has been devastated and broken apart in the past 3 years. It isn’t a joke for gods sake. My mother was sick, but these pressures caused her health to plunge and we lost her. My father is now 80 years old. I don’t even dare get in touch with him at nights because every time I talk to him all he wants to know is what is happening with my sister’s situation. Every time he asks, “why is my daughter in prison?” He says, “all you do is go to offices and still my daughter is in prison? I don’t understand why have they imprisoned her?” I keep telling him, “Father I swear I don’t know. They will not give us any answers. Nobody will even talk to me to give me a straight answer.” Well how am I going to answer my father? My retired father who worked for the youth of this country for over 30 years, now so many successful people benefiting from his efforts. Is it right that such a man, after all he has done for his country, at the end of his life he should endure such anguish and pressure? Does he deserve to suffer this way from his daughter languishing behind bars? Every time I talk to him he asks, “When will she be free?” I tell him she’ll be out in 5 or 6 months. I have to respond like that.”
“I have to endure all this pain. We have suffered so much and all for nothing. I have even told Mr. Dolatabadi’s deputy the following. One person wanted to be president and that happened. Two others wanted to be president and it didn’t happen. But we are the ones paying the price; the price of a person becoming president. But why? We want to know why we have to suffer the price?”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of the report by Ahmed Shaheed, UN Rapporteur.
I saw in the news that the Minister of Justice is very upset about the report made to the UN by Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed. But the situation described in the report is true and happening as described. I don’t know about every single scenario. But I certainly see what has happened to my sister. She is being harassed. It is not right. My sister Fatemeh Rahnama had one activity that could be construed as political in her life and that was in 1982 when she was only 19 years old. At that time she was arrested and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison on the charge of ‘supporting’ the MKO [Mojahedin Khalgh Organization]. She spent her sentence behind bars and now, almost 27 years later they again bring up an issue that is from over 2 decades ago.”
She explained the background to Human Rights House of Iran.
“My sister was employed at the company of Mr. Shapour Kazemi, brother in law of Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, for 15 years. Her job was neither related to Mr. Ahmadinejad nor to Mr. Mousavi, nor to the presidency. She was just an employee of the company. But all of a sudden she gets arrested and is accused of trying to associate Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi and his family to the MKO organization. This is what my sister is accused of yet there is no evidence of this in her court dossier. Not one of the countless people who are affiliated with Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, includig Mr. Shapour Kazemi, have supported these allegations against my sister, and they have all repudiated these false charges.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of her sister’s coerced confession.
“As I said in the court dossier there is no document showing any evidence of this alleged crime besides the confession my sister was coerced into making while under the influence of drugs they administered to her, along with threats and promises that the judiciary knows better than anyone. They forced her to agree to claim she had given monetary support to the MKO organization. This is all they have as their evidence. During the past few months my sister has written several letters refuting this forced confession, which we have delivered to the Ministry of Justice. In her letter she describes the condition she was put in, under severe duress and held in solitary confinement, when she was forced to sign the false confession. In this 4-page letter my sister describes her maltreatment and in detail all the events that transpired while she was held in solitary confinement for two months. This letter is now in her court dossier at the Shahid-Beheshti Ministry of Justice but unfortunately none of the judiciary officials have made any acknowledgement or commented on this letter.”
“It’s as if everyone has gone blind and deaf. There is only one reason I can come up with for this. The authorities are in a situation where they are not able to now admit that what my sister is saying is true. They know that if they acknowledge what my sister is saying, they will be admitting wrongdoing and this will create huge questions for the Ministry of Intelligence and the Ministry of Justice for imprisoning a person who has done nothing whatsoever.”
Zahra Rahnama spoke of her sister’s court session and sentencing.
“During the preliminary session at Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court my sisters lawyer wanted to defend her against the charge of ‘moharebeh’ (enmity against god), which had been brought up before the court session. But Judge Pir-Abassi presiding told my sister’s lawyer that it wasn’t necessary to defend this charge since thankfully she would not be charged with “moharebeh.’ Therefore her lawyer Mr. Keshavar did not defend this charge. My sister said that the whole court session was about her relationship with Mr. Kazemi, with accusations of immorality, and both of them were exonerated of these charges. But the sentencing that was issued later was a whole other matter. I myself was standing outside the court that day, when my sister’s lawyers, Mr. Keshavarz and Mr. Ghorbani came out and said everything went well in court and that were very optimistic. They said the judge accepted their defense and seemed to agree. But then, when the sentencing was issued it was a very different story.”
Zahra Rahnama, in closing asked again that human rights organizations pay more attention to the plight of her sister Fatemeh Rahnama and pleaded that they do whatever they can to help her.