Civil rights activist Sepideh Gholian was re-arrested after her confessions were broadcast on Iranian state TV. (Screen grab)

September 23, 2021

Sepideh Gholian, a young journalist and civil rights activist, was recently released from Iran’s Buhshehr Prison. As ever, the 26-year-old wasted no time in speaking out about the abysmal conditions and sexual harassment of female inmates she had observed there in a series of shocking tweets on September 9.

On Wednesday, September 22, Sepideh posted a picture of a new court summons issued against her by Branch Two of the Buhshehr Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, seemingly in reaction to her disclosures. According to the document, she is now facing fresh charges of “spreading lies in cyberspace” and “propaganda activities against the regime.”

She wrote: “I am ashamed to report the complaint of the Bushehr Prisons’ Organization on the day I witnessed the torture of Navid Afkari. But there’s no way out.” Citing a poem by the iconic Shah-era Iranian female poet Forough Farrokhzad, she added: “‘The rescuer is asleep in the grave’, and no sound is heard.

“I received this summons two days ago. The Islamic Republic has proved once again that its response to the truth is repression and revenge.”

The first part of Sepideh’s tweet refers to the suspicious death of Shahin Naseri, a political prisoner in Greater Tehran Penitentiary, which was widely reported on Wednesday. Last year, Naseri had made a phone call from Evin Prison about the torture and harassment of Navid Afkari, a wrestler from Shiraz who was hanged last September.

Sepideh herself was first arrested in 2018 for covering protests by workers at Khuzestan’s Haft-Tappeh Sugarcane Factory. After 30 days of torture and solitary confinement at Dezful Intelligence Detention Center, she was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Revolutionary Court, later reduced to five on appeal. She has served spells in Sepidar Women’s Prison and Evin Prison, which she documented in her prison diaries, published by IranWire last year.

The young activist was transferred to Buhshehr in chains in March 2021 at a time when a number of political prisoners were being abruptly moved to remote facilities by the Prisons Organization.

In another tweet on Wednesday, Sepideh revealed: “Bushehr prison called 10 days ago to tell me that I had to return. When I tried to go back to Bushehr, I was told that I had to go to Tehran, and that the sentencing execution office in Tehran would decide which prison I would be taken to. Perhaps they’re searching through their prisons to find out which one is worse than Bushehr.”

Ever since her incarceration began Sepideh Gholian has worked to expose the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of all stripes in Iran, from Sunni Arabs to labor activists to women fleeing broken homes. She also tried to sue Ameneh Sadat Zabihpour, a correspondent for the IRIB, who took her forced confession for state TV in 2018. Zabihpour has since lodged a counter-claim.

In the thread on Wednesday, Sepideh also expressed concern for a fellow female prisoner of conscience, Mahboubeh Rezaei. “Mahboubeh Rezaei was transferred from Bushehr prison to somewhere else I don’t know,” she said. “The phones in the women’s ward were cut off.

“I wonder what they’ve done to my youth. But the struggle continues. The streets of Khuzestan and Mahshahr, the killing of 1,500 people in November 2019, and 43 years of secret executions show that the struggle continues, no matter how much they suffocate and kill.”

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.