Civil rights activist and political prisoner Atena Daemi was finally released on Monday, January 24 after seven and a half years of arbitrary detention. Pictures of the 33-year-old embracing her family were widely shared on social media last night.
Daemi’s sister Ansieh posted a video of her climbing the stairs to embrace her shocked mother and father, clutching a bouquet of flowers and strewn with rose petals by an onlooker. Despite all that had happened to her, including an imposed exile to Rasht Prison last March, she had managed to make her return home a surprise.
Born in 1988 in Fuman, Gilan province, Daemi was an anti-death penalty activist and children’s rights defender before her arrest in 2014. She was interrogated for 86 days on the IRGC-controlled Ward 2A of Evin Prison, then charged and later sentenced to 14 years in prison for "propaganda against the system", "assembly and collusion against national security", "insulting the Supreme Leader" and "concealing evidence".
The sentence was later reduced to seven years on appeal, but fresh charges were brought against her in 2019 and 2020 after she submitted a mistreatment complaint, linked to being beaten and pepper-sprayed by the IRGC, and later joined a sit-in in prison in solidarity with victims of the November 2019 protests. She was sentenced to a further five and a half years and 74 lashes by Tehran Revolutionary Court.
Daemi’s state of health badly deteriorated several times while she was in prison. She suffered a heart attack in 2015 and went on hunger strike in 2017 and 2018. For most of her incarceration she was denied regular access to phone calls, and her mother and sister were beaten with batons after standing in front of Evin Prison to show solidarity with her in 2018. She was not granted a single day of furlough from 2016 onward.
“For all these years,” Ansieh Daemi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday morning, “we’ve dreamed of the day when Atena would be released. We imagined how we’d go to pick her up. We even thought of the music we were going to play in the car on our way home.
“But Atena’s release happened in a quite different way. She was released from exile alone, and travelled alone for five gruelling hours to get home. Though her loneliness was bitter to use, her presence here, and all the kind words from friends and relatives made this moment sweet.“