Monireh Arabshahi: I feel like a free bird

Mrs. Monireh Arabshahi was recently sentenced to 16 years in prison for not covering her hair in a women-only subway train, while giving flowers to women on International Women’s Day.

Arrested along with her daughter Yasaman Aryani on April 11, 2019, and now detained in Qarchak Prison in Varamin, Monireh Arabshahi sent out an open letter on her birthday on August 3, 2019.

In reference to the ongoing social problems in Iran and particularly, women’s double hardships, she wrote that all humans can be aware of what the next day brings with the steps they take toward tomorrow.

Her letter is an example of the awareness and sacrifice of a generation of Iranian women who are determined in challenging the mullahs’ misogynistic dictatorship.

The full text of this letter is as follows:

Tomorrow is promised to no one. This was a sentence I had heard many times and I, like most people, believed it. But at this moment, in a corner of the prison cell without finding a cozy, quiet place for a bit of concentration and thinking, my view and perception on this old and pervasive saying has changed 180 degrees, and I have come to realize that all human beings can be aware of their tomorrow, but not with the prophecies of malicious fortune-tellers and illusionists. Rather, with the steps they take toward tomorrow, with the ideas that orient their lives, and with a heart that has faith in their steps and ideas.

One can mix their faith and practice to open the doors to the future and see what’s beyond. In such a quest, therefore, it is not important when and how one dies.

My name is Monireh, mother of two lovely daughters and wife of a kind man.

I have been in Qarchak Prison with my daughter, Yasaman, for four months on charges of “collusion against national security and the state.”

For the past 4 decades, I’ve had a very routine life. Despite my social role as a high school teacher, and although I enjoyed living with my husband and children, my worries made me feel stagnant, stuck in a pit, a pit made of the misogynistic mud and sludge that reeks of violence, exploitation, injustice, discrimination, humiliation, and inferiority, disturbing even those sitting on the throne.

By throne I mean the throne of God’s kingdom. The God who created Eve, not from earth and mud like Adam, but with a bone from his own bones to emphasize their unity, without any discrimination in having free will and choice, and enjoying the same wisdom, knowledge, reason and emotion.

So why is the prestige and dignity of a woman who was supposed to be a companion and a consultant, comforting, consoling and complementing a man, has unreasonably fallen from grace with foolish and violent words such as weak, incomplete, sightless, withdrawn, mother of children, second gender, etc. And in legends and folklore cultures, her human nature and gentle spirit has faded into one of the most deceptive and inhumane symbols such as a serpent, viper, Satan and witch.

Whereas, throughout the history of Iran, brave women have been the driving force behind men in many movements and causes.

My inner worries were like screams, silenced in fear of consequences. Then, last year, on a night like tonight which is my birthday, I received a gift from security guards which broke my heart instead of making me happy or excited. My heart broke with pain and anger. The gift was the arrest of my daughter, Yasaman, during a civil protest against high prices.

But it would be unfair if I do not admit that with that same gift, the hard shell of fear broke in me.

In reading a book by Simin Daneshvar, a beautiful sentence caught my attention. “Fear is a commodity for sale. If you don’t buy it, it will rot; so DON’T buy it.”

I was no longer a buyer of this product. Rather, I bought beautiful flowers whose aromatic petals smelt of love, affection, peace and empathy. I offered the flowers to women that I knew felt the lack or loss of something deep down, but never sought it out. Maybe they had bought the fear as I had in the past. Or maybe, they could not see within themselves the ability to regain what belonged to them. So, they mingled in the midst of bigotry and fanaticism, moving along the way that they had been paving for centuries without any words.

Although giving flowers to the ladies in the subway train transformed my life, but I do not fear since not every transformation is necessarily bad. Sometimes what is hidden beneath is better than what’s on the surface. So I am not worried. And I am actually happy that in the fifth decade of my life I have been able to pull aside the veil that had for many years covered my thoughts, ideas and beliefs. And today, on my birthday, I feel like a free bird who has chosen the path ahead of herself and moves on with confidence.

Monireh Arabshahi

August 3, 2019

Qarchak Prison in Varamin

The author of this letter, Monireh Arabshahi, was arrested on April 11, 2019, a day after her daughter, Yasaman Aryani, had been arrested.

During interrogation hearings Ms. Aryani and Ms. Arabshahi were charged with “association and collusion against national security, and encouraging and preparing the grounds for corruption and prostitution” by taking off their head coverings, and by their activities against the compulsory veil, and in particular appearing without a veil on the International Women’s Day in the subway train and giving flowers to passengers.

Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, Mojgan Keshavarz
Monireh Arabshahi (center) along with her daughter, Yasaman Aryani (left) and Mojgan Keshavarz (right) on the International Women’s Day in Tehran after handing out flowers to women in a subway train

On Wednesday, July 31, 2019, Branch 28 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz to a total of 55 years and six months in prison for “association and collusion against national security”, “disseminating propaganda against the state”, and “encouraging and preparing the grounds for corruption and prostitution.”

Based on Article 134 of the Islamic Punishment Law, the highest sentence which is 10 years’ imprisonment in this case will be implemented for each defendant.

Monireh Arabshahi had previously anchored a radio health program for two years and simultaneously worked as a playwright for the radio.

Ms. Arabshahi has also worked as a reporter for social programs on child labor. She has also been a teacher in elementary and secondary schools for exceptional students in Alborz Province.