Shis voice resonates all the louder as the Islamic authorities do everything to gag it. Locked behind bars in Tehran’s infamous Evin prison since September 2022, Iranian writer Golrokh Iraee participated in the large-scale protests which followed the death just a year ago of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman who died in hands of the moral police for a poorly worn veil. But this 43-year-old woman with long brown hair is not just any demonstrator.
A renowned human rights activist in Iran, she has already experienced the jails of the Islamic Republic for her fierce fight against stoning: in 2014, the authorities found a news story in her computer where a woman burned a Koran to protest against the stoning of an Iranian woman, and sentence her to six years of incarceration for “attacks on the sacred”. Sentenced again last July to five years in prison, the novelist intends to maintain her freedom of speech at all costs.
On the occasion of the “anniversary” of the “Woman, Life and Freedom” revolt, Golrokh Iraee decided to grant Pointdespite the risks, exceptional maintenance. Point sent her questions in writing to the activist who managed to get her answers out of prison.
Point : What do you think is the meaning of the “Woman, Life, Liberty” movement?
Golrokh Iraee : The assassination of Mahsa Jina Amini sparked an uprising that had its origins in the protests of the 2010s in Iran and their aftermath. The movement does not belong to any particular movement and, at the height of the demonstrations, the demonstrators chanted with one voice their rejection of the Islamic Republic and their rejection of the corruption and tyranny that it represents. This movement is made up of the voices of the rejected people, whom those in power have always denied, and whose anger has turned into an uprising. He took away all legitimacy from this regime.
How is this protest movement different from previous ones in Iran?
The main characteristic of the 2022 uprising is its pluralism. There was a widespread presence of a large number of diverse popular forces in the streets, chanting slogans against the regime and all those in power. This is the result of promoting collective consciousness in Iran and acceptance of the “other”. Iranian society is a plural and multi-ethnic society. It has a multitude of different political opinions and demands that the government, far from trying to bring together, has always strived to divide.
What was also striking about the protests was the central and widespread presence of women, after years of humiliation and exclusion from social spheres in Iran, but also of men demanding freedom for women and launching protests. slogans against gender discrimination. This movement has its origins in the deep anger of a progressive society that exploded with sexual segregation and the humiliations that resulted.
Can we say that this movement has failed?
The movement did not fail. It was attenuated under the brutality of the regime, but also due to the absence of organization and theories [politiques] required. The strength of Jina’s uprising [prénom kurde de Mahsa Amini, NDLR] lay in the presence of the masses who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives to take over the streets, but these masses nevertheless lacked the necessary political experience, so that after playing an important role, they somewhat lost subsequently due to lack of revolutionary structure.
But the movement continues. It is not limited to a particular occasion or event, and, day by day, brings larger parts of society with it. He disrupts relationships and social structures for his own benefit. Thus, the requirements now exceed those of the early days. This movement is dynamic and has a growing number of demands. If it continues, it will turn a page in history.
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The reasons which led to the collapse of the uprising are the lack of consensus between the progressive forces, the lack of necessary organization between the effective political forces and the protesting people, the lack of financial support in order to create funds to help the movement of general and national strikes, the lack of coordination between the discontent of the workers, who define the economic pulse of the country, and the popular forces whose roars of anger are superior to any power, and finally the lack of distinction between the heart of the struggle and the details. In the absence of political forces, it is no longer possible to organize affairs on the ground and to make the link between the grievances of workers and the streets, in order to achieve a strike movement on a scale. national policy that will allow us to achieve our goal. On the contrary, the hidden organs of power took the opportunity to take control of the uprising.
Can the serious deterioration of living conditions in Iran revive the protest?
The turmoil of society faced with the burden of poverty and misery, caused by the strengthening of social class gaps which has led to the dissolution of a significant part of the middle class towards the lower class, suggests the apogee of uprising in the not so distant future. The strengthened presence of political forces, especially in taking positions and providing practical and concrete plans through internal structures, and establishing a deeper connection with popular resources and disaffected people, will make the movement more dynamic and will enable us to achieve our objective.
I have heard numerous stories from prisoners testifying to the existence of a large-scale system of torture in all detention centers across the country.
Is it possible to link political struggle and economic demands?
We must not forget that the 2022 uprising is due on the one hand to religious tyranny and the imposition of restrictions on people’s social and private lives, and on the other to deteriorations in living and subsistence conditions. of society, so that the greatest movements have been observed in the outskirts of cities and among the working classes. In my opinion, demonstrating for social freedoms or marching for bread are two important things that go hand in hand. We should not emphasize one to the detriment of the other.
However, in recent months, social freedoms have taken precedence over means of subsistence. The fight against poverty has simply been ignored even though this scourge affects more than two thirds of Iranian society. This forgetting delays, at best, the achievement of our goal by causing it to deviate from its course and, at worst, can give the possibility to opportunistic forces to offer certain limited social freedoms while remaining indifferent to the poverty, to the gap digging between classes, and to the galloping inflation from which we suffer. And by promising society to make symbolic, not structural, changes, they would lay the groundwork for the emergence of the next dictatorship.
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I personally suffered psychological pressure in my solitary confinement cell as well as in the interrogation rooms. But when I was detained in the prison of Amol (north of Iran) or Qarchak (south of Tehran), I heard numerous stories from prisoners testifying to the existence of a system of torture on a large scale in all detention centers across the country. These are the most serious and humiliating practices aimed at forcing prisoners – both political and common law – to “confess” to what the authorities want.
I thus met detainees who were not yet psychologically healed from the humiliations they had suffered almost a decade ago. I was able to observe these effects again on a number of prisoners during my last arrest in September 2022 in Qarchak prison, where demonstrators who had already been beaten during their arrest or in anonymous detention centers were confessed to having been raped.
You did not show up for your trial for “unlawful assembly” this summer. For what ?
After Jina’s murder, I was arrested by the security police following the fabrication of a case [judiciaire] against me. Each time, the trial judge and the appeal judge asked me to apologize and promise to remain silent [à l’avenir] in the face of oppression. However, I always reminded the court and the magistrates that they were not competent to judge me and I refused to attend my trial. In the end, I was sentenced to five years in prison for “collusion and propaganda against the system”, without the slightest evidence against me.