Being Shiva Nazar Ahari
At Evin prison, Shiva Nazar Ahari is not just a name. It is a sea. A sea of hope. Hope that lights up the eyes of every new prisoner. You can find the name “Shiva Nazar Ahari” in every interrogation room in Ward 209, written in a neat and legible hand on the acoustic walls. It’s not simply a name –it’s a sign. A sign that communicates, “Don’t be afraid! Resist!” It is only during the agitation of a heavy, exhausting interrogation that you are able to grasp what it means to be Shiva Nazar Ahari. In my land, the story of “Being Shiva Ahar Nazari” is the painful narrative of all human rights activists in Iran. Those who selflessly inveast their resources and their lives –bearing many crosses along the way– for the goal of establishing the full observance of human rights and human rights law in the Islamic Republic.
From human rights activism to execution
Writing about Shiva Nazar Ahari is more than writing about a human rights activist and fighter. It’s writing about those who take up the mantle of struggle to fight for establishing and consolidating their countrymen’s basic rights, without having a political agenda. Some bear prison and torture, others exile and refuge camps. Still, Shiva Nazar Ahari’s case is a dangerous one and the silence of the media about her is reprehensible, especially as her lawyer says Shiva’s trial date is set for September 4, for charges of moharebeh, war on god, which is punishable by execution.
On the latest developments in her case, her lawyer says: “One of Shiva Nazar Ahari’s three charges is moharebeh. I’m wondering how to defend her in court on that one! In a conversation with my colleagues, I told them that if a few more charges like this are issued [for my clients], I’ll withdraw from all of my cases. Shiva Nazar Ahari’s trial will be held on Sept. 4, and I really have no idea what will happen –what verdict will be issued, based on what line of reasoning. If they are going to sentence her using the same logic with which they charged her, her situation may be dangerous. This is a charge that receives the death penalty.”
Mohammad Sharif goes on to say: “Shiva will stand trial at the same court branch that tried the case of Badr-al-Sadat Mofidi. In my estimation, the court’s ruling on Ms. Mofidi’s case was unconstitutional and illegal. As Shiva faces a first-degree charge of moharebeh, I am very worried about the court’s probable ruling.”
Sharif says one reason for his concern is that while a specific judge heads Branch 26 of the Revolutionary Court, a different had presided over Ms. Mofidi’s case.
He explains the three charges against Shiva: “One is moharebeh, based on Article 186. The second is ‘assembling and colluding to plan a crime,’ based on Article 610, and the third is ‘anti-regime propoganda,’ based on Article 500.”
Who is Shiva Nazar Ahari?
Shiva Nazar Ahari is a 26-year-old human rights activist specializing in child labor and the defense of political prisoners, and a former editor and current spokesperson for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. She is also a journalist, blogger, and member of the One Million Signatures Campaign and Tara Women’s Association. Formerly a civil engineering graduate student, Ahari was expelled from university as a result of her student activism.
Ahari became involved in human rights defense in 2002 when she joined the Student Committee for Defense of Political Prisoners. In July 2004, while she was chairing this committee and at the height of youth, Shiva was arrested in front the United Nations building in Tehran during a protest by families of political prisoners.
She was arrested again during the wave of protests that followed Iran’s disputed tenth presidential elections. Intelligence agents arrested Ahari at her workplace on June 14, 2009.
Shiva’s defense attorney, Shadi Sadr, was arrested a month later on July 17, while headed for Tehran University to attend the protests that day at Friday Prayers. Sadr was beaten by plainclothes agents, seized without an arrest warrant, and transferred to an unknown location.
On July 28, in a call to her family from Evin prison, Shiva said she would be unable to contact them for some time. After spending 33 days in solitary confinement at Evin’s Ward 209, she was transferred to a general ward on August 17. During this time, she was allowed to contact her family only a few times. In one conversation, Shiva mentioned that she had filed a request for visitation with her family; however, she has been granted visitation rights to date.
On August 14, the Iran Women’s Center wrote on their website that Shiva’s family had not heard from her in 20 days and that security agents had informed them she was barred from visitation rights –a cause for serious concern about her wellbeing.
On September 1, eighty days after her arrest, the Judiciary set Shiva Nazar Ahari’s bail at $500,000, an exorbitant amount her family did not have the means to pay. Shiva’s mother appealed to the Revolutionary Court to contest the heavy bail. She was told by Investigator Sobhani, the examining judge for Shiva’s case: “Then let her remain in prison.”
After repeated visits to this court by the Nazar Ahari family, on September 16, the Judiciary reduced Shiva’s bail to $200,000. After her family paid this amount, Shiva was released on temporary license (until her trial) from Evin prison at 9:00 pm on September 23. But this was not the end of the story.
In the wake of the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, a number of people attending his funeral were arrested. These arrests, however, were made before the attendees had reached the dissident cleric’s funeral, on the road to Qom. Shiva Nazar Ahari was among those arrested.
A woman of brave mettle
After her release on bail, Shiva Nazar Ahari began helping a young woman who had been raped at Evin by her interrogator seek legal redress. With her friends, Shiva started a campaign for Atefeh Nabavi, a student arrested during the June 15, 2009 protest march in Tehran. The campaign endeavored to push for Atefeh Nabavi to be freed from jail.
Shiva also published a piece about her experience at Evin, in which she identified Atefeh Nabavi as one of the many victims of physical torture and sexual abuse.
Defense attorney Nasrin Sotudeh, who represents Nabavi, says of Shiva’s arrest: “According to the statements of persons arrested and interrogated along with Ms. Nazar Ahari that day, she and Houman Fakhar-Moghadam (who was also out on temporary bail at the time) were interrogated about their roles in starting the ‘Atefeh Nabavi Campaign.’ My client, Ms. Atefeh Nabavi, was sentenced by Branch 12 of the Revolutionary Court to four years in prison for taking part in the June 15 march. It is stated clearly in Atefeh’s ruling that the heaviness of her sentence is a consequence of her family’s activities [in drawing media attention to her case]. The ruling blatantly ignores the first principle of indictment: individual criminal responsibility. Therefore, I think Ms. Ahar Nazari did well to start this campaign, and she has come under pressure for it.”
Making enemies in the Islamic Republic
From the morning after Ashura, when popular protests had hit a new peak, embattled Islamic Republic security agents launched an effort to fabricate an ‘organized enemy’ scenario in Iran. By linking human rights activists to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), they attempted to present the MKO as the primary force behind the street protests. To this end, they have continued to extract coerced confessions from activists to construct this scenario –an attempt that has failed thanks to the resistance of those like Shiva Nazar Ahari and Kouhyar Goudarzi.
All political prisoners in prisons across Iran, regardless of their various ideologies, have one thing in common: they all have Shiva Ahar Nazari’s phone number. If today she is in danger of receiving the death penalty, it is because she spent her days of freedom fighting for these prisoners, taking their calls every day to listen to their grievances about torture, not being allowed to see family, and other violations of their rights. We’d better do something for this courageous defender of human rights –before it’s too late, let’s at least work to ward off the shadow of death from this tireless young fighter. When we were in jail, Shiva worked for us. Now it’s our turn.