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IranWire Exclusive: Faezeh Hashemi on her Incarceration, Protests and the Opposition

April 7, 2023
Shima Shahrabi
11 min read
Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has been sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing public order and peace by participating in illegal gatherings”
Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has been sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing public order and peace by participating in illegal gatherings”
Faezeh Hashemi said she believed that “a religious government is no longer suitable for the country”
Faezeh Hashemi said she believed that “a religious government is no longer suitable for the country”
“Nowhere in Quran it is said that you go to hell if you don’t wear hijab or to paradise if you do,” Faezeh Hashemi said
“Nowhere in Quran it is said that you go to hell if you don’t wear hijab or to paradise if you do,” Faezeh Hashemi said
“A religious government does more damage to religion,” according to Faezeh Hashemi
“A religious government does more damage to religion,” according to Faezeh Hashemi

IranWire has received an audio file of Faezeh Hashemi, a political activist and daughter of late President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in which she speaks about the conditions in Tehran’s Evin Prison, her cellmates, forced hijab, the issue of referendums and the opposition to the Islamic government. This audio file was recorded on April 3 when Hashemi was about to return to prison at the end of her leave of absence.

Hashemi was arrested on September 27, 2022, early after the start of nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody. She left prison on a leave of absence on March 27. According to her lawyer, Hashemi was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and “disturbing public order and peace by participating in illegal gatherings.”


Innocent Cellmates

In the audio file, Hashemi starts by saying that she was happy to spend the Persian New Year in Evin Prison with her friends and cellmates: “We don’t do things at home for Nowruz what we did in prison…There was a great amount of kindness and empathy in prison. Being next to my cellmates was a very good memory. In Nowruz of [2013] I also wanted to be next to my cellmates, but then they forced me out of the prison. This year, however, it was a sweet memory and I loved it.”

In 2012, Hashemi served six months in prison. Her prison term should have ended on March 20, 2013, when Nowruz festivities start. She thought she would celebrate the New Year in the company of her cellmates, but she was released a day earlier.

In the audio file, she mentions the names of the innocent prisoners she remembers.

They include Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, two Baha’i women with whom she spent six months in the women’s ward of Evin Prison in 2013. Sabet and Kamalabadi were arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years in prison because of their faith. They were released in 2017 after serving their sentences, but they were again arrested on July 31, 2022, and sentenced to another 10 years in prison although they had not been engaged in any activity.

“Now, Mahvash Sabet is 70 years old, and 10 years from now, if she is released, she would be 80. Is this justice? Is this Islamic mercy?” Hashemi asks. “Fariba is also sixty-something. See for yourself their situation. They are in prison, but they have committed no crimes. They have listed a series of crimes in their indictments, but they have not even given them the indictments to read. They have no idea about the charges against them and cannot communicate with their lawyer; all this shows that these charges cannot be true.”

Hashmi’s meeting with Sabet and Kamalabadi after their release from prison in 2017 became so controversial that her father Rafsanjani implicitly called it a wrong action.

In the audio file, in response to a person who reminds her of that controversy, Hashemi says: “I view the Baha’is from the point of view of human rights. I am not concerned with their beliefs. I have my own beliefs and they have their own. My judgement is based on human rights and the way that the Baha’is are treated does not conform in any way with the human rights or even our own religion.

“Mahvash recounts that during an interrogation the interrogator kicked the chair from under her and, since she was facing the wall, her knees hit the wall. Now, they have X-rayed her in prison and told her that the bones in her knees are broken. She is in such a condition, 70 years old, innocent and in prison only because she is a Baha’i.”

She then mentions other prisoners who she insists are innocent: “The journalist Vida Rabbani is my cellmate. [Journalists] Niloofar Hamedi and Elaheh Mohammadi are in Varamin’s Qarchak Prison. Undoubtedly there are other journalists in other prisons. Why should a person who has published a true story, a story that nobody has denied, be sent to prison? In other words, they treat those who have published true news worse than people who have committed offenses.”

“I am a Transformationist”

Hashemi also talks about families of the members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (MEK), environmental and human rights activists and Christian converts: “Some are in prison because members of their families were Mojahed, meaning that they themselves have done nothing but have been given heavy sentences. Human rights activists are also in prison, such as Narges Mohammadi, environmental activists like Niloofar Bayani and Sepideh Kashani, two who have converted to Christianity and women’s rights activists. None of them have broken the law, but, unfortunately, they are in prison despite being innocent. It is interesting that now, after the general amnesty, most of those who are in prison were for reforms, not for bringing down the government. Of course, I do not consider myself a reformist. Now I am a transformationist.”

When asked about the difference between transformationism and wanting to bring down the regime, Hashemi says: “Among other things, it is not important for me whether [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei stays or goes, but I believe that a religious government is no longer fit for the country. We have corrupted religion. I believe that our foreign policy is completely wrong…In our society, human rights have been completely forgotten, and this does not conform to our own constitution in any way. I say that all political prisoners must be released. Political prisoners and trials behind closed doors in security courts have no place in our laws. Therefore, I believe that the administration of the country needs to be fundamentally changed and transformed.”

In another segment of this audio file, Hashemi argues that rulers have a freer hand for injustice in religious governments: “I say I want transformation because I believe that a religious government does more damage to religion and ideological governments can do more injustice. They can more easily exploit people’s beliefs and hide behind them.”

She believes that the government must fundamentally change its view of hijab: “When I was at Evin’s Ward 209 I had more opportunity to study and review Quran and Nahj al-Balagha (a collection of sermons, letters, and sayings attributed to Ali, the first Shia imam). It is interesting that there are only four verses in Quran about hijab. The first verse advises men to put hijab over their own eyes. The second verse refers to religious women and the third to the prophet’s wives. The fourth verse is about women at certain ages who do not need hijab. In some other verses, we are promised hell or heaven for what we do. Nowhere in Quran it says that you go to hell if you don’t wear hijab or to paradise if you do. Quran promises hell for other things like deceit, lying, sowing discord, injustice, murder and violating people’s rights. In parts of this government, all these things are happening systematically or by individuals. We ignore all these wrongdoings except when it comes to hijab. Grafting hijab into the identity of the regime was wrong to start with and it is one of the issues that must be seriously dealt with.”

Support for Civil Disobedience

In another part of the audio recording, Hashemi expresses support for removing hijab in public places as an act of civil disobedience: “I support civil disobedience by women, and it is the right thing to do. When the government does not want to act rationally then people themselves must act.”

When asked if she would participate in such acts of civil disobedience, Hashemi answers: “No, I wouldn’t because I believe in hijab, but I support those who do not believe in it and do not like to wear hijab.”

Hashemi believes that referendums can be one way to address issues such as hijab or relations with the United States: “Referendum is a very good method, and it has been anticipated in our constitution as well. Our revolution happened four generations ago. Do we expect the fourth and fifth generations after the revolution to think exactly like the revolutionaries of the 1970s and 1980s? Definitely not, especially since the actions of the Islamic Republic has turned everybody against religion, revolution and…Referendums are a good way to address issues like hijab, relations with the United States and other things that have pushed the regime into an impasse, created numerous problems and put the government and the people against each other. Aren’t we a republic? We must see what our new generations want. To say that we are what we are, and we do not budge is a dictatorial position and is contrary to the law and religion.”

Letter to Khamenei from Prison

Hashemi says that while she was in Evin Prison she wrote a four-page letter to Khamenei, telling him about the arrests and interrogations that she had witnessed: “I gave the letter to prison authorities to send it to him, but I have no idea whether he has received it or not. I was in Ward 209 during the protests. They arrested women one after another and brought them there. The interrogators had their mobile phones, and, based on the pictures they found on these phones, for example a picture without hijab or in a swimming pool, they asked them weird questions. They asked the detainees to describe their sexual relations with their husbands or their boyfriends. Strange, inhuman and un-Islamic things were happening during the interrogations. Once I heard somebody shouting in the hallway of Ward 209, ‘I am so sorry! I am so sorry! I am so sorry!’ Then they brought the same girl to our cell, and I asked her about it. She said that she had quarreled with the warden and the warden had threatened to arrest her father.”

Hashemi says that contrary to the bylaws of Iran’s Prisons Organization, prison administrators do not have much authority and mostly work under the supervision of the interrogators, the Intelligence Ministry or the prosecutors. She also talks about gender discrimination at Evin Prison: “Unfortunately, there is discrimination against women at Evin Prison as well. Men can use the phone on Thursdays and Fridays, but the phone line to the women’s ward is cut off on Thursdays and Fridays. They give men every newspaper, but they only give women Kayhan and Etemad. No matter how many times we tell them that we would pay for other newspapers ourselves they don’t accept. In the men’s ward there is one phone for every three or four inmates, but, in the women’s wards, we have only three phones for more than 60 people.”

Hashemi says that the conditions in other prisons must be much worse than in Evin.

Can there Be Justice?

Hashemi says that she has written about discrimination, injustices and illegalities in her four-page letter to Mr. Khamenei. Then she is asked whether she still believes in this statement by Imam Hossein, the third Shia Imam: “Heresy may persist, but oppression will not.” Hashemi, who has repeatedly quoted this quote, answers: “When I look at dictators’ fates I see that they do not last but I do not know how long this situation where democracy, justice and human rights are inexistant will last. To be honest, when I look at the future at this very moment, I do not see any chance for a fundamental change. I do not even see a chance for a non-fundamental change, meaning an improvement in people’s lives. Our government might resume diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, accept the conditions set by the International Atomic Energy Agency and try to end its isolation by expanding its foreign relations, but, unfortunately, my experience tells me that whenever these things have happened, and Iran has become stronger and has achieved a better position internationally, injustice and tyranny have become worse in the country. In other words, the power gained [by the government] is used to put more pressure on the people. At least in recent years, meaning since[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad became president, I have not seen any improvements.”

“Discords” within the Opposition

Hashemi expresses dissatisfaction about “discords” within the opposition: “Besides intense repression, one of the reasons why protests are usually ineffective is the discords among them, which give the government a trump card. If they want to be effective, they must unite, and they shouldn’t draw lines because somebody is a Mojahed or a monarchist or a reformist and so on. They all want change and better conditions. They all want a just government, a country which flourishes, a country where human rights are valued, where there are no ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders,’ where the laws are respected and a law is corrected when it’s problematic. I am unhappy with these discords.”



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