Narges Mohammadi and her fight against Islamist tyranny

Miles away in Tehran, she craves her children, whom she hasn’t seen for the last 8 years, as she continues to suffer ‘White Torture’ (intense psychological torture) inside the ‘notorious’ Evin Prison in Tehran. All this is for raising the cause of women’s rights in Iran and fighting against the tyrannical regime. This is the story of Nobel Laureate and Iranian activist, Narges Mohammadi, a woman whose name has become synonymous with the fight for human rights in the Islamic country.

Early Life and Family

Mohammadi was born in 1972 to a middle-class family, in the central Iranian city of Zanjan. This was seven years before the Iranian Revolution that changed the country’s discourse once and for all.

Two haunting episodes from her childhood left a deep impression in Mohammadi’s mind. First, her mother stuffing a red plastic shopping basket with fruit for weekly prison visits with her brother, and her mother sitting on the floor near the television screen to hear the names of prisoners executed each day. When Mohammadi was just 9, she heard her mother mourning her niece, who was executed at the age of 19, after being jailed for ‘wearing an orange coat’.

“From our very childhood we are exposed to the domination, blatant and hidden violence, tyranny, and discrimination,” Mohammadi recalls.

Since her college days, she had gotten into activism voicing for women’s rights and civic engagement. In Mohammadi’s elaborate life, her husband, Taghi Rahmani, another rights activist, also plays a pivotal role. The two met during one of the underground classes by Rahmani on civil society. Since, then both activists have rotated in and out of prison, hardly ever being able to able to remain together as a family with their twin children.

Kiana and Ali still remember the last time they saw their mother around 8 years back. Mohammadi made eggs for their breakfast, told them to study hard, and sent them to school after saying goodbye. When they returned, she was gone. The twin siblings were just eight at that time. Since then, these episodes have been a regular affair for them. At any given point in time, only one of their two parents was with them as the other continued to serve jail sentences, at times even both.

Taghi Rahmani, who was himself spent 14 years behind bars for activism lives with his two teen kids in exile in France. The family has not united for the last eight years. He says, he still wakes up in the morning under the cloud of fear that he may hear the ‘bad news’. He has to play the role of both father and mother for her teen kids, with whom he lives in exile, in France.

Lauding Mohammdi’s work, Taghi says that she has an “endless energy for freedom and human rights”, adding that she must keep going “for Iran, for our future.” While, Ali and Kiana have always said they are proud of their mother, at the same time they also acknowledge the fact, that there is little chance of ever meeting her again.

Narges Mohammadi Wins Nobel Peace Prize for Defending Women's Rights in Iran - WSJ

One of the visuals of Narges Mohammadi protesting for women’s rights in Iran (Photo: Wall Street Journal)

Mohammadi Inside Prison

Mohammadi is serving a long 10-year sentence for “spreading anti-state propaganda.” In addition to the jail term, Mohammadi is also sentenced to 154 lashes. But, even this brutal sentence has not succeeded in breaking Mohammadi’s resolve. She has remained one of the regime’s harshest critics within her cell. She has organised protests, hunger strikes and even organised workshops for women inmates about their rights.

Mohammadi was among the strongest voices behind the huge uprising that rocked the Islamic country in 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jhina Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police. According to a CNN report, an audio of the Evin Prison heard Mohammadi leading the chants of “woman, life, freedom” — a slogan that today represents the fight for women’s rights in Iran. The other inmates can be heard singing the Farsi rendition of the famous ‘Bella Ciao’ (yes, the Money Heist one), the 19th-century Italian folk song, often used as the anthem against fascism.

In November last year, she held another hunger strike inside the cell after the prison authorities refused to take Mohammadi to the hospital for treatment because she again refused to wear a Hijab to go there.

The children of Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi accept her prize : NPR

An emotional still from Oslo, with Mohammadi’s teen kids receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on their mother’s behalf (Photo: NPR)

Nobel Peace Prize 2023

In October last year, Mohammadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “fight against the oppression of women in Iran and her fight to promote human rights and freedom for all”. But, unfortunately, she was not able to receive the award at the ceremony as she continued to stare at the walls of Elvis prison in Tehran. It was her two children — Kiana and Ali — who received the award and delivered their mother’s message.

“I write this message from behind the tall and cold walls of a prison,” Mohammadi said in her speech, calling for a “globalization of peace and human rights in a world where authoritarian governments continue to commit abuses against their people”.

She spoke about the “soul-crushing suffering resulting from the lack of freedom, equality, and democracy” in her country, perpetrated by a “despotic religious government.” “Tyranny turns life into death, blessing into lament, and comfort into torment”.

Mohammadi described the ‘undemocratic’ ways of the Islamic republic, its ‘oppressive’ rules mandating the hijab for women, and the women-led uprisings that shook the country last year. She further warned that “human rights violations perpetrated by authoritarian governments” had broader consequences, including “migration, unrest and growing terrorist threats”.

As Ali and Kiana finished reading the victory speech to their mother, the whole auditorium erupted in huge applause and a standing ovation. While, when the Nobel announcement actually took place in October last year, it was broadcasted by Iranian state television in the women’s ward in Evin Prison. Mohammadi, recalled in her speech, how, once again she and her cellmates chanted: “Women, Life, Freedom!”

Narges Mohammadi: Children of jailed Nobel-prize winner fear they will never see her again | CNN

Mohammadi’s husband, Taghi Rahmani with their twin kids Ali and Kiana (Photo: CNN)

Narges Mohammadi’s message

Mohammadi has long decried the mandatory Hijab policy in Iran, which she calls the “hypocrisy of a religious state” using sexual violence against female detainees. She says that the Iranian state can’t put half of its population of men, inside a covering, but very easily they adorned the other half of the Iranian population with ‘mandatory Hijab’ to present the “odious face of the despotic religious system to the world.”

“Imagine Iranian women who, for 44 years, have been forced to wear a head covering, long coats, and dark-coloured pants in the summer heat, and in some places, black chadors,” Mohammadi said in a statement to CNN. “Worse than that, they have been under psychological pressure to strictly adhere to compulsory hijab, all to preserve the image of religious Islamic men and ensure the security and purity of women. Now, those same women are experiencing sexual assault and harassment against themselves.”

Mohammadi emphasises that she has missed out on the best years of her life which will never come back, but still reiterates that the world without freedom, equality and peace is not worth living or even watching. “I have chosen to not see my children or even hear their voices and be the voice of oppressed people, women and children, of my land”.

The Fight continues…..

“The global support and recognition of my human rights advocacy makes me more resolved, more responsible, more passionate and more hopeful,” Mohammadi said in a written statement to The New York Times. “I also hope this recognition makes Iranians protesting for change stronger and more organized. Victory is near.”

“I have to keep my eyes on the horizon and the future even though the prison walls are tall and near and blocking my view”, she added.

Narges Mohammadi’s story showcases the state of a dystopic and tyrannical regime, and what it does to the vulnerable sections of the society if the power is not kept under check. What is even more commending here is the rock-strong determination of Ms. Mohammadi and her family. Such a brutal sentence in those intense conditions can break anyone into submission. But, here is Mohammadi continuing with her message even more strongly and even carrying her activism inside the cell.

My heart goes out to Ms Mohammadi and her family for all they are enduring due to this dystopic regime. A regime that is of fundamentalists, by fundamentalists and for fundamentalists. And at the core of the issue is again the very notion these hardliner sections have about women in their minds, keeping them at bay and under submission. But, the voices like that of Mohammadi prove that even all brute force can’t overpower one’s resolve if it is indeed for the right cause. I just hope for Ms Mohammadi to come out of prison, unite with her family and meet all those she serves as an inspiration for, in and outside Iran.


“Victory is not easy…but it is certain”: Narges Mohammadi


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