Interview with Delaram Ali
by Omid Memarian
“The ten slashes mean nothing compared to 10 months in prison, and are more of an insult to civil society and women’s rights activists.” These are the words of Delaram Ali, the 24-year old social worker graduate who is an activist in the women’s movement of Iran. She got the prison sentence for participating in the peaceful women’s march last year, which she says surprised her. Following are the excerpts of an interview Rooz Online had with her.
Rooz (R ): What did you feel when the court gave you a 34 month prison sentence plus 10 slashes?
Delaram Ali (DA): I went alone to the court to get my sentence. When I read it, I was very surprised. So I read the judgment a number of times to see if I could find something that would say the judgment was a suspended one. When I wrote down the judgment on a pieced of paper, the judge asked me to show him what I had written. He told me I could appeal the judgment within the next 20 days. Because my sentence seemed to unreal, if he hadn’t check my notes, I would have not been sure whether I had written the sentence correctly. The night before I went to court, I had thought of all the possibilities, but had concluded that my judgment would most likely be like those of other women activists, which was a 6 month imprisonment plus a year or two suspended sentence. What really annoyed me was the 10 slashes because the slashes don’t mean much when compared to the prison term, but they are more of an insult to civil society and the women’s movement. Anyway, I got a six month prison sentence for engaging in propaganda against the state, two years for participating in an illegal demonstration and four months plus the 20 slashes for disturbing peace. After this, Ms Eghdam Doust got her sentence which was 3 years imprisonment. What is noteworthy is that everybody in that case who was charged with anti state propaganda and disrupting peace was pardoned while those who were charged with participating in an illegal demonstration got actual sentences. I am the only one who was charged with propaganda against the state and got a sentence on that too.
R: Perhaps you were sentenced for propaganda against the state because of the photograph that was published showing you being dragged on the ground by the police, which is related to police brutality that you have complained about last year. What do you think?
DA: When my charges were read to me at the police station we pointed out that we had not disrupted peace but that it was the police who had done that. We were on the sidewalk and it was the police that dragged us into the street and then began beating us. We wrote this in our defense too that we were the plaintiffs in this regard and have a claim against the law enforcement authorities. As far as I know Tehran’s Prosecutor has sent this file to the Revolutionary Court. We told the court that we were the plaintiffs and that they cannot charge us with anything. It was me who was battered and it was my hand that was broken. But apparently one criterion for propaganda against the state is a photograph, which is what they reference.
R: So if the police attack someone and then a photograph of the incident is published, the victim is the criminal?
DA: Yes, although this is not an accurate presentation. We can say that Mr. Batebi too was the victim of the same situation. He had not requested that someone publish his photograph, but a photo was taken and published and he was accuses for displaying a bloody T shirt. The difference is that at least he had raised a bloody T shirt whereas my photograph shows me while the police are beating me, with absolutely no action or control by me.
R: Did you ask the judge how he had reached this judgment against you?
DA: I was initially shocked at the judgment and felt there was no use in arguing with the judge, especially as I had said everything I wanted to say at the trial. My defense attorney was not allowed to talk during the trial. At the hearing the judge asked me, “Do you know what you are doing? Do you know that I will pass a judgment based on what you say? Do you know what may happen to you?” The judge treated me like a child as if I had been tricked, probably expecting me to express my regret. I did not and he passed his judgment. So when I asked him for a piece of paper to write down the judgment he was surprised and asked whether I wanted to protest the decision. His look reflected the same insulting tone that the judgment had as if he was saying that I did not think the judgment was fair concerning what I had done. I told him that if I had know that I had been summoned to court to simply see my judgment I would not have come because they had to send the judgment to my defense attorney. In fact the court summons did not give a reason for the summons.
R: Had you ever thought that you may get such a sentence for a mere participation in a peaceful demonstration?
DA: Never. I was sure that I would simply be subjected to a discussion and a reprimand but not a 2-year sentence and 10 slashes. I knew that the government punishes any act that may contain a protest, but did not think that it did not have such a low level of toleration.
R: How did you family respond to this?
DA: Because they had not been involved in the issue as much as I had, they were even more shocked at the judgment. Initially they thought I should stop my activities. But that passed. They did know from the beginning that I had not done anything wrong to receive any kind of punishment. They understood that the judgment was wrong, not the peaceful demonstration. They recognized my right to make my own decision as to what to do in this regard (i.e. participate in a peaceful demonstration). And they stood behind and beside me, like a friend, respecting my decision.
R: Do you think the media sufficiently reports on such issues?
DA: The way they deal with media is not much different. Just the other day they closed Ham-Mihan newspaper and ILNA labor news agency. I don’ remember whether it was Etemad Melli or Sharq newspaper that printed a one liner on this incident in its Around the Town section. It simply said that Delaram Ali was sentenced to prison. I think better reporting takes place on the Internet, while newspapers resort to just a few lines on the event.
R: How do you think your going to the prison will impact others?
DA: It has already had its impact. This makes the activists of civil society to be closer to each other and feel a closer affinity and cooperate even more. I am not saying that it is not important that one goes to prison for 2 years and ten months, but that what do others get out of this. I do not think this will impact the movement negatively and in fact will make it more zealous making the links even stronger. The recent court judgments in this regard have already made the ties between civil society activists stronger. We believe we are doing the right thing.
R: Do you not have anxiety and worries that your sentence will be implemented?
R: What image takes shape in your mind when you think of a 24-year old going to prison?
DA: I cannot say that I am not. But it is not that important to occupy the center of my thoughts. I am not obsessed with the question of whether I will be going to prison or not. I am more focused on what I must do when I do go to prison. There are many things I want to do before going to prison.
DA: That the establishment is getting less tolerant. In the past they passed prison terms for people like Akbar Ganji and Dr Zarafshan, while today they are imprisoning a 24 year old woman. Tomorrow they may imprison an 18 year old woman. Their toleration of dissent and protest is getting so low that they cannot even tolerate protests that fall within the law and are legal by their own standards. Even for those, they impose the harshest punishment.