Iranian journalist and human rights activist Narges Mohammadi is currently serving a 16-year sentence. She sent a letter which was read during the event The Word is Free, at the Norwegian Festival of Literature in Lillehammer. The letter was read by Narges’ brother, Hamidreza Mohammadi, during the event. You can watch it on our YouTube channel or you can read the letter below.
It’s an honor to be your guest at this important conference in Norway, and I’m sorry for not being able to be among you because of my imprisonment, although these words convey my message to you. And this is important, because the words are exactly the reason why I’m in prison right now, and the words and the respect for the freedom of speech are the reason why you have gathered. So, I consider myself there with you, in a city of which beauty I’ve heard. I greet you in the beautiful city of Lillehammer.
I’m writing you after I’ve finished serving my 6-year sentence in prison, and the 16-year sentence just started on 14 March 2017, all of which due to my work at the Defenders of Human Rights Center, to my feminist activities and to opposing the death penalty.
You may wonder what I’ve done or said or written to deserve such a punishment.
Let me tell you a story so that you can judge for yourself what you would do if you were here instead of me or any other Iranian human rights activist. When I was serving my sentence in Zanjan prison, I met a beautiful young woman who had spent most of her life in prison. She was sentenced to death when she was a minor and she spent all her childhood and teenage years waiting for the gallows to be hanged once she reached adulthood. Because, according to the rules, children must stay in the prison until the age of 18 before they are executed. I watched her suffering every day. Outside the prison, because of the nature of my activities at the Defenders of Human Rights Center, I was often in contact with the families of the death row prisoners, and I’ve witnessed the horrible pain and suffering the death penalty imposes on society.
My dear friends, if you were me wouldn’t you use your pen to try to reform such laws?
If I’m not with you in the beautiful city of Lillehammer today it’s because I’m also paying the price for writing and speaking against solitary confinement and torture. Solitary confinement is a clear example of torture. It’s a place to brainwash and break the will of those opposing the system. One of my goals has been to try to abolish solitary confinement, which are unfortunately controlled and used by different Iranian institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence and even the Judiciary.
My dear colleagues and friends,
If you live in countries where you enjoy the blessing of equality and freedom of speech, it is because there have been people who had fought for and paid the price for it in the past. There have been, without any doubt, women who have fought against gender discrimination and inequality between men and women. Did you know that one of the reasons I’m in prison is my feminist activities? It’s obvious that, as long as there are discriminatory laws against women, there will also be people fighting against the discrimination.
My dear friends, my long prison sentence is because of my struggle side by side with my fellow countrymen and women to achieve democracy, and rest assured that I will continue my efforts the moment I get out of the prison.
Our ideals are: peace, security, freedom and equality for all.
What remains of human beings without their ideals? Narges Mohammadi can be imprisoned, like any other activist imprisoned on the way to achieve freedom and justice. But can they imprison our ideals? No! Never! And it is our joint responsibility to protect human ideals and aspirations, and to take actual steps in order to fulfill them.
My friends and colleagues who live in the free world, you who hold conferences and try to protect freedom of expression as one of the human ideals, I am addressing you. I believe that peace, security and human rights are achievable only if we unite and support each other.
I sincerely thank you all for listening to me. I also thank the hosts and organizers of the Lillehammer Literature Festival, PEN International that has never hesitated to support me, ICORN organization, and especially Norwegian PEN that has campaigned for my freedom of speech, and all the organizations and individuals supporting freedom of speech and human rights who have shown their support for me and my imprisoned colleagues all around the world.