Spotlight on Global Erasure of Women Prisoners in Iran

Shahr-Ray women’s prison

According to a recent report, on April 27th, 2014, female prisoners at Shahr-Ray were attacked from the inside. The all women’s prison located in Iran was completely disconnected from the outside world and the trapped 240 women located in Wards 1 and 2 were at the mercy of their attackers. With the phone lines cut and the doors sealed shut, four Iranian soldiers and a night guard descended upon the women, beating “them with belts, batons, and electric cables”. The attack could have been prevented had the prison been more closely monitored and security more diligent in their duties.

Though one of the attackers, Mr. Asghar Kolivand, was a night guard for the prison he was not responsible for the wards that were attacked. Responsibility for the wards’ security, as well as the women’s safety, fell upon Sima Boormand. After the attack ended, the doors leading to the prison remained in lock down.

This recent brutality offers a brilliant spotlight to reveal and dissect the erasure that occurs globally to women in prison. Despite their particular needs and differences to the male population, women are often seen as prisoners first and women second. Not having more security within the institution was a major oversight. Iran is known to treat women harshly and cruelly in regards to punishment, but to leave a group of women isolated with no protection other than a few assigned, random men and no higher overseer is a poor oversight for the female inmates’ well being. The guard for Wards 1 and 2 was not at his station, otherwise the attackers would not have been able to carry out the beatings, and, as the beatings continued, he did not return to interrupt them. Where was he? Were the women simply not worth his time or did he condone the actions of his co-worker?

Despite the vicious nature of the event, the report made no mention of penalty or trial for any of the attackers involved in the assault. Likewise, there were no comments on improving the functionality of the prison to improve safety. Though clearly unsafe for the women within its walls, the institution appears to be leaving security as is. Furthermore, the report made no mention of medical attention or of follow up care. This moment is the point of erasure. These women were brutally beaten, and who cares? The answer is silence. Neither Iranian nor international news agencies covered the event. Rather, the information came from an international human rights think tank. For the rest of the world, these women do not exist and their plight is not worthy of public attention. They are prisoners to be forgotten.

But aren’t prisons supposedly sites of rehabilitation during time served? In order to leave prison and smoothly transition back to society, Iranian women prisoners would need to maintain their facilities and health, but these 240 women have been physically and emotionally compromised within the system, and that is the point. Many women who enter the prison system are convicted of behavior that is caused by a cognitive or mental illness. Their actions stem from a need for medical attention, not punishment. The point of erasure is to slowly ease such individuals out of the world in the hope that they will die within the system. Within the Iranian system this might actually make sense. After all, the rate of execution for the current regime “has literally doubled”. If prisoners died within the system, execution numbers could fall while deaths rise.

This attack may be one of many such incidents. Organized with input from a guard, the participation of prison security raises the question of every day behavior within the institution. What daily care is provided to and received by the women of Shahr-Ray Prison? At present, only the women and their guards know.

 

(Photo Credit: Gatestone Institute)

Let them eat pesticide

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes.

For the past 37 days, six pro-democracy Iranian asylum seekers have been on a hunger strike outside the central headquarters of the United Kingdom Border Agency, in Croydon, in the south of London. Some had sewn their lips shut. Sewing one’s lips is minor compared to the torture all six had suffered in Iranian prisons. They had the medical evidence to prove the torture, and yet were initially denied asylum. Finally, today, after 37 days on hunger strike, the six refugees – Ahmad  Sadeghi Pour, Morteza Bayat, Keyvan Bahari, Kiarash Bahari, Mahyrar Meyari and Mehran Meyari – were assured their cases would be reopened and they would at least be able to apply once again. They ended the hunger strikes, and proclaimed the struggle continues.

Sometimes, hunger strikes save lives and secure at least the glimmering hope of something like justice.

Then there are the hunger strikes that are fatal and ferocious drone strikes, assaults on the body, community, and land. Globally, over 900 million people go hungry every day. That’s down from one billion the year before, but the prospects for the next year are gloomy. Food prices are on the rise everywhere. In fact, food prices are at a twenty-year high. In Asia and among Pacific island nations, food prices are skyrocketing and food `shortages’ loom large. For example, in the Philippines, thanks in large part to marketization and speculation, rice is suddenly both scarce and overly expensive.  Egypt is running out of food, as is the entire Middle East and North Africa.

But it’s not all bad news. Glencore, for example, is “a leading commodities producer and marketer.” Glencore is doing fine. Along with tons of mineral, literally, Glencore controls 10 percent of the world’s wheat, and 25% of the world’s barley, sunflower, and rape seed. Glencore takes, the world slakes. And then dies … again, literally.

Across the United States, two million men, women and children work on farms, picking by hand fresh fruits and vegetables. The US government estimates that every year 10,000 to 20,000 of those workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning.

In India, over the last sixteen years, 250,000 farmers have committed suicide. That’s one farmer every 30 minutes. And this number only includes the farmers who are acknowledged as such by the national government. Those who can’t hold title, they’re not included. Women farmers, Dalit farmers, Adivasi farmers: they don’t count in life, they don’t count in death. What killed these farmers? Indebtedness. Market liberalization. The invisible hand of the market, that hand which polished shining India, provided farmers with loans they could never pay but had to assume, with dwindling access to water, with impossible competitive demands. And so the farmers die.

And they leave behind notes, addressed to the Prime Minister, to the President, to all the lofty people who are nestled in the invisible hand that killed them.

And they leave loved ones behind. Widows. Children. Women like Nanda Bhandare, a farmer, a widow since 2008. When her husband killed himself, she had to pull her two young children out of school to work the farm. The money, if there was any, has gone to pay off the predators. The land, a small parcel, no longer provides sufficient harvest in the current economies to feed even a family of three. Who will be next to drink the pesticide in that household?

There are hunger strikes and there are hunger strikes. For every hunger strike that saves a life, even temporarily, such as that of the six Iranians in England, there are literally 900 million deadly hunger strikes. The planet is aflame with hunger strikes. Farmers are poisoned and are dying, women and children in particular are starving, and the response of the global market, and of the nation-States it supports and controls, is as it has always been. Let them eat pesticide.

 

(Photo Credit: http://indiatoday.intoday.in)

 

The dead shall not walk through those open doors

Andries Tatane's Wife

Who is the stranger in our midst? Ask the police.

There was a protest, a service delivery protest, on Wednesday in Setseto, outside of  Ficksburg, in the eastern part of the Free State, in South Africa. During the protest, Andries Tatane, a 33 year old activist, approached the police. Either he approached the police to plead for some consideration for an elderly man who was not part of the protest or he approached the police to ask them to stop using water cannons because there were elderly people in the protest. Tatane was shirtless, unarmed, unthreatening. About six or seven riot police attacked him, beat and kicked him. Then Andries Tatane was shot. Finally he collapsed, and died, 20 minutes later. By the time the ambulance arrived, Andries Tatane was dead, and the mourning, and outrage, had begun.

There was a protest, a student protest, on Monday in Kabale district, in southwestern Uganda. Students at Bubaare Secondary School went on strike, protesting a policy shift affecting the disposition of male and female students. During the protest, Judith Ntegyerize, a senior, walked by, on her way to classes. The riot police showed up just then, allegedly shot their rifles in the air, and a `stray’ bullet hit Ntegyerize in the head and killed her, instantly.

These are only two stories, only two stories from the past week. In the past year, there have been similar stories of unarmed innocents killed by police fire everywhere. Around the world there are murals to the martyrs, more often than not young women and men, such as Oscar Grant, in the United States, or Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran, or the young women and men killed by live fire in protests in Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt. Sometimes, their names become known, more often they remain anonymous. Sometimes, the State apologizes, but usually it just spins.

Whenever police are armed with live bullets and sent to a protest, the State has decreed that deadly force is an acceptable means to an end. But what is the end? It is the identification of the strangers, the strangers in our midst. Only the strangers can be so blithely beaten, kicked, shot, disposed of, dumped like so much garbage, killed. That is the nation-State’s rule of law, the law that protects `citizens’ against the threat, the pathogen, of strangers.

In a poem entitled “Passover”, Primo Levi enjoined us, all of us, to “light the lamp, open the door wide so the pilgrim can come in”. That poem ends with these words: “This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and in justice.” Open the door, open it wide, and when you do, remember Andries Tatane and Judith Ntegyerize. Remember. The dead shall not walk through those open doors.

 

Black women prisoners haunt International Women’s Day

BobbyLee Worm

Stacey Lannert grew up in the middle of the United States, in Missouri. Her father sexually abused her, starting when she was eight years old. On July 5, 1990, at the age of 18, Lannert walked into her father’s bedroom and shot him, twice, killing him. The `final straw’ was her father raping her younger sister. Two years later, in December 1992, Lannert was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In January 2009, at the age of 36, Stacey Lannert was released, thanks to the outgoing Missouri governor, Matt Blunt, who commuted her sentence: “After eighteen years, I was allowed to be Stacey Ann Lannert instead of Offender #85704. I’ll never completely shed the number, but I did start over.”

Wilbertine Berkley would like to start over as well, but the State of Florida has other plans.

In the United States, over five million people cannot vote because of past criminal offenses. One million of those people live in Florida. In one state alone, a million people who have served their time are disenfranchised. Of that million, almost 300,000 are African American.

Wilbertine Berkley is a Black woman in Florida who struggled with drug abuse, spent time in jail, turned her life around, joined a program, got clean, went to college, and gave back to the community in volunteer work. She was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Award. She did everything she was supposed to do and more, and the State response has been to `alienate’ her, to identify her as frozen in the past. Her good work counts for nothing.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency will vote on whether to make it even more difficult for former prisoners to be re-instated. The proposed change would include a five-year mandatory waiting period before being able to apply for `clemency’. Florida’s Attorney General sees this as a fight against entitlements: “I believe that every convicted felon must actively apply for the restoration of his or her civil rights and that there should be a mandatory waiting period before applying. The restoration of civil rights for any felon must be earned, it is not an entitlement…The burden of restoring civil rights should not fall on the shoulders of government, but rather it should rest on the individual whose actions resulted in those rights being taken in the first place.”

Wilbertine Berkley wants and deserves respect for who she is today, for who she has become, for what she has made of herself and of her world. She made a mistake. She worked hard. She paid her debt.

But for Black women, the debt of incarceration is the gift that keeps on giving.

Ask BobbyLee Worm. BobbyLee Worm is a 24 year old aboriginal woman prisoner in the Fraser Valley Institution, a Canadian federal prison that describes itself as “a multi-level facility for women…. Programs focus on the particular needs of women offenders, including Aboriginal inmates and those with psychological problems or learning disabilities.”

One of these particular programs is called Management Protocol.

Management Protocol is “a special program for handling women prisoners who have been involved in a major violent incident or threat of incident while in the system.” Established in 2005, seven women prisoners have been on Management Protocol. All seven have been aboriginal women.

Management Protocol is open ended, unrestricted solitary confinement. Twenty- three hours a day for as long as the prison deems `adequate’ and `necessary.’ How does one leave Management Protocol? One earns one’s way out. How does one earn? What are the wages? No one knows.

BobbyLee Worm entered prison June 7, 2006. She is a first time offender, sentenced to six years, four months. She has spent the majority of her time in segregation, paying off the debt of years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and trauma. For Black women, the debt of incarceration is the gift that keeps on giving.

These stories are typical of the conditions of women, and girl, prisoners around the world. Girls whose only `crime’ is being the daughters of asylum seekers, or of being born into oppressive communities, are stuck into detention centers, such as the Inverbrackie Detention Center in Australia. Once there, they suffer nightmares, turn violent, and refuse to eat. What is their crime, what is the debt to society that must be paid? They were born in Iran, they sailed to Australia.

Around the world, women of color, Black women, and their daughters, sit in prisons. Their debt grows incrementally by the second. Their numbers grow incrementally by the day. Today is March 8, 2011, International Women’s Day.  These women prisoners haunt International Women’s Day.

 

(Photo Credit: British Columbia Civil Liberties Association)

Asylum-seeker Mandana Daneshnia and her daughter haunt democracy

Every day, The Wall Street Journal runs a feature called Photos of the Day. On Monday, October 18, the first photo was of a woman throwing confetti at Evo Morales. The second photo showed riot police hauling off a student demonstrator in Lyons. The third photo was of a mother and child. The mother looks away, the child looks directly at the camera. Here’s the caption: “SEWN SHUT: Iranian asylum-seeker Mandana Daneshnia, who had her mouth sewed shut for a hunger strike, sat with her daughter before a news conference in Athens Monday. A group of about 30 Iranians seeking asylum have been on a hunger strike in Athens for weeks.”

Here’s one version of the story.

Last year, around this time, on October 12, 2009, Human Rights Watch issued a report on the situation of asylum seekers in Greece. It was entitled Greece: Unsafe and Unwelcoming Shores. Here’s how HRW described the asylum system in Greece: “Greece effectively has no asylum system. It recognizes as few as 0.05 percent of asylum seekers as refugees at their first interview. A law adopted in July abolished a meaningful appeals procedure. The effect of the new law is that a person who is in need of international protection as a refugee in Greece is almost certain to be refused asylum at the first instance, and having been refused has little chance of obtaining it on appeal. The new law leaves asylum seekers with no remedy against risk of removal to inhuman or degrading treatment, as required by article 39 of the EU’s procedures directive and articles 13 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. As a result of this legislative change, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) withdrew from any formal role in Greece’s asylum procedure.”

According to the report, Greece acted abysmally, and both the European Union and the United Nations did nothing more than withdraw and withhold. They did nothing to protect asylum seekers, they did nothing to intervene in either a draconian legal system or a Dickensian prison system. Everyone was found guilty: Greece, Europe, the United Nations. The entire `civilized’ and `democratic world.’

A year later, on September 20, 2010, Human Rights Watch returned to Greece to review the situation. What happened in the intervening year? Delay after delay. The year may have intervened, but no one else did. Not the European Union, not the United Nations. No one. What happened? Less than zero. The world stepped backwards.

Meanwhile, on September 1, 2010, a group of Iranian asylum seekers set up camp in the city center of Athens, demanding an audience, pleading for asylum. They began a hunger strike.

On Monday, October 18, after weeks of belligerent non-response on the part of the Greek government, a new government that had come in on the promise of change, six protesters sewed their lips together.

Mandana Daneshnia is one of the six: “Mandana Daneshnia, a former newspaper reporter, said she fled the country after being harassed by authorities for writing about women’s issues. She was one of the seven protesters who sewed their lips. `Women have no rights in Iran. They can’t wear what they want, do what they want, or even watch sporting events. Their testimony in court counts only for half of the one given by a man,” Daneshnia said, writing a statement in Persian, as her husband and young daughter looked on. `I have sewn my mouth to show that women in Iran are strong,’ said Daneshnia, 29, with short dyed-blonde hair and red-framed designer glasses, holding her lips with her hand when occasionally tempted to smile.”

The women in Iran are strong, whether in Iran or in Greece or elsewhere. For those women, the women in Iran, the institutions of democracy, as exemplified by the conditions of asylum seekers, are neither strong nor weak. They are lethal, and they are inhuman. Mandana Daneshnia haunts democracy. Mandana Daneshnia haunts Iran, Greece, the European Union, the United Nations, and anyone who cares about women’s issues and the reporting of women’s issues. As Mandania Daneshia haunts the `freedom loving’, `democratic’ nations, her daughter sits on her lap. How many smiling daughters must sit on the laps of how many mothers with their lips sewn together before asylum is realized?

 

(Photo Credit: Louisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

Nascent Collectivities 2

Everlyn Masha Koya

In my previous posting, I looked at testimony of Everlyn Masha Koya, a twenty two year old sex worker-turned-peer educator from Isiolo, Kenya. Ms Koya’s failure to persuade women who have children to leave the sex trade led me to reflect upon contradiction between women’s economic contributions to nation-state and the nation-state’s desire to control women’s behavior and women’s sexuality. Yet it is also a story about state efforts to provide women with different economic opportunities and about women’s efforts to negotiate better lives for themselves and for other women. What else could Ms Koya’s story tell us?

Ms Koya’s grant from the state suggests that it, or its agents, have an interest in expanding women’s economic opportunities. As Rajeswari Sunder Rajan points out, the state isn’t a monolithic structure. It is made up of different institutions and individuals who do different, sometimes competing, things. While one arm of the state might be securing its sovereignty by making it possible for sex workers to have access to military bases, another arm of the state might be securing grants to give women training so they have a wider range of economic opportunities. As Sunder Rajan argues, “any understanding of state-citizen relations requires…attention to the microlevel workings of state regimes” (6).

Ms Koya’s testimony suggests that the state might participate in the exploitation and oppression of women’s bodies and lives. But if we look at different branches of the state, and different individuals who work for it, the state also can be used to improve women’s lives. As Ms Koya reports, “Then in July [2009], officials from the [government’s] Arid Lands Office held a meeting for sex workers at the Isiolo stadium. We were asked to quit. They asked us to identify what kind of business we wanted to start, trained us in how to conduct business, budgeting, keep a record of our sales, savings and also asked us to go for HIV testing. I was lucky to test negative.”

What else can we learn from this story?  Within the situations that she has inherited, Ms Koya’s efforts to transform her own life and the lives of other women, to work for freedom from violence tells us about what women are doing within, and against, epistemic violence. In some locations, because of their economic contributions and their perceived social role of servicing male sexual need, sex workers have been able to emerge as a collective and make demands on the state. As Cynthia Enloe points out, there have been efforts by women in Kenya and in the Philippines to create networks of women in countries that host American military bases. This is a step towards addressing and dismantling the global gender structures on which military bases depend. There are other transnational and local efforts, including daily work of survival by growing gardens and recycling waste, organizing gender forum; occupying leftist organizations which don’t address gender and gendered labor; fighting back through state institutions and on the streets; union organizing; reporting which reframes issues as women’s issues; reporting which reframes issues as more than just women’s issues; story telling; women, and people around them, saying “enough,” and many other activities for dignity and well-being.

If we look closely, we see women actively participating in public life. Women are at the forefront of resistance movements in places like Honduras and South Africa. Women protest the failure of the state to investigate the systematic murder of women in Vancouver and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Women challenge the meaning of public space and public mourning in Argentina and Iran. Women organize feminist media in Costa Rica. And there is the more quiet, everyday work of women to improve the daily conditions and work to enable themselves and their families to survive in the face of everyday poverty or ‘natural’ disasters. This happens just about everywhere and has different contexts but let’s point to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as one place where women struggle to survive.

Paying attention to gendered violence and power, all forms and mixes of it, that work through the family, the community, the state and its institutions, and through economic structures and arrangements is important work. But so is paying attention to women’s individual and collective efforts, in the context of gendered power, all forms and mixes of it, to “transform the conditions of their lives” (Kabeer, 54). Women are not just victims of material forces, state power and cultural patriarchy. Women actively seek to work for the health and well being of their families, their children, other women, and their communities. In the context of structural constraints, we see women like Ms Koya struggling, negotiating, working, and, even, organizing. It’s important to pay attention to what women are doing, their activities and obstacles to their activities, in relation to the gender-structured conditions that they’ve inherited.

 

(Photo Credit: Noor Ali / IRIN)

Asylum haunts the foreign service

Bita Ghaedi fled to the UK in 2005 to flee a forced marriage. Then her troubles really began.

Asylum haunts the foreign service. People face violence, persecution, torture, from the State, from partners, from various sectors. Finally, they flee. They escape. They go to the United Kingdom, say, or the United States. Where they apply for asylum. And are treated like criminals. Often they are placed in immigrant detention centers, where they are treated as immigrant detainees, which is to say where they are treated as common criminals … or worse. Then they are returned to the torture zones and the killing fields. They tell their stories, others tell their stories. Their stories circulate, in the languages of those who suffered throughout their communities. Their stories, their bodies, their scars and their memories, precede the ambassadors and the envoys.

This week Bita Ghaedi was informed that she would not be deported immediately to Iran. Further, she was informed that she could finally leave Yarl’s Wood. In 2005, Bita Ghaedi fled a violently abusive family and an imminent forced marriage. In the UK, she has been a civil rights, women’s rights and human rights activist who has publically supported the opposition to the Iranian government. She has reason to believe she would be killed if she is returned to Iran. The question is whether it would be the State or her family who would commit the deed.

In 2007, Bita Ghaedi’s application was turned down. She attempted suicide. She appealed the decision. In January of this year, she was on weeks long hunger strike. She was supposed to be deported April 20, but Icelandic volcanic ash postponed that. She was supposed to be deported this past Wednesday, May 5. That’s when the high court decided, again, to delay the deportation and hold another hearing. That is meant to happen July 21.

Bita Ghaedi’s story parallels that of Rodi Alvarado. Rodi Alvarado was born and raised in Guatemala.  In 1984, at the age of 16, she married a man, a former soldier, who immediately began beating, torturing, raping her. She went to authorities who did nothing. She ran away, was caught by her husband, and beaten unconscious. Finally, in 1995, she fled to the United States, leaving her two young children with relatives. She applied for asylum. In September 1996, an immigration judge granted her asylum.

That’s where the story turns: “The Immigration and Naturalization Service appealed the grant to a higher court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). And in June 1999, the BIA reversed the decision of the immigration judge, by a divided 10-5 vote, and ordered that Ms. Alvarado be deported to Guatemala”

The case then lingered on until December 2009, when Rodi Alvarado was finally, and without explanation, granted asylum. For fourteen years, Rodi Alvarado waited in terror.

In March 2009, Amnesty USA released Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA. Without naming Rodi Alvarado, the report suggests that, in the context of US treatment of asylum seeking women, Rodi Alvarado’s case is not unusual. In fact, it’s almost benign.

In the United States, women asylum seekers are routinely abused. Some, like Saluja Thangaraja, can share their names: “Saluja Thangaraja fled the brutal beatings and torture that she suffered during the Sri Lankan civil war only to endure more than four and a half half years of immigration detention upon arrival in the United States in October 2001. She was granted asylum in 2004. However, immigration authorities appealed the decision, and Ms. Thangaraja remained in detention. She was finally released in March 2006 after filing a habeas petition. Despite posing no danger to the community and demonstrating a commitment to pursuing her asylum claim, Ms. Thangaraja was never given a custody hearing during the four and a half years she was detained.”

Others must continue to insist on anonymity: “A 26-year-old Chinese woman cried as she told AI [Amnesty International] researchers that she fled persecution after she and her mother were beaten in their home for handing out religious fliers. She arrived in the United States in January 2008 seeking asylum and was detained at the airport before being moved to a county jail. No one explained to her why she was being detained. An ICE Field Office Director decided that she should remain in detention unless a bond of $50,000 was paid. Neither her uncle in the United States nor her family in China had sufficient funds to meet the required amount. Her attorney told Amnesty International that the immigration judge indicated that he did not have the authority to release her from detention or change the amount of the bond set. Family members in the United States were finally able to raise the money needed to secure her release in December 2008, after she had spent nearly an entire year in detention.”

Women asylum seekers in detention centers are shackled in childbirth, placed in isolation for the crime of not speaking English, sexually harassed, abused, exploited. In other words, women asylum seekers are treated exactly the same as women immigrant detainees.

Bita Ghaedi, Rodi Alvarado, Saluja Thangaraja, the “Chinese woman”, and the thousands of other asylum seekers who are and have been abused, these are the ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom. Not the Secretary of State nor the Foreign Secretary. Not Hillary Clinton nor David Miliband, or whomever it will be next week. The lives and bodies of these women testify to the story of women who have sought refuge and the manner in which they have been treated in the great democracies of the early twenty first century. These women and the asylum they have sought haunt the foreign service and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

 

(Photo Credit: indymedia.org.uk)

Mourning Mothers, Morning Mothers

Kessie Moyo with a picture of her son Godfrey Moyo

A mother is a mother for as long as she lives.

Around the world, mothers gather in parks, gardens, public open spaces. As they sit and watch and talk, they gather and create comfort, wisdom, knowledge, strength, pleasure, laughter, sighs, touch, love, safety. They create spaces where truth can be spoken and heard. This is not sentimental or romantic. It is the news of the day.

Parvin Fahimi is Sohrab Arabi’s mother for as long as she lives.

Sohrab Arabi, a 19 year old student, “was reportedly killed on June 15, when a member of Iran’s ideological basiji militia opened fire on a crowd of protesters close to central Tehran’s Azadi Square, according to his aunt Farah Mohamadi, who was informed of his death by security forces.”

Fahimi went looking for her son. She went to the prisons, she went to the courts, she went to the hospitals, she went to the morgue. Then, on Saturday, July 11, 26 days later, Parvin Fahimi “was finally called in by officials and asked to identify her son in several photographs of corpses.” He had been shot.

She went looking from place to place to place, from face to face to face, for her son.

Taraneh Mousavi was also a young person in Iran. On Friday, June 19, she went to the Ghoba Mosque, in Tehran, to hear a sermon on the post-election `martyrs’. She was arrested. Reports suggest she was tortured, raped, burned to death. It’s hard to confirm. What isn’t in dispute: Taraneh Mousavi was arrested and disappeared. “Taraneh, whose first name is Persian for “song”, disappeared into arrest. Weeks later…her mother received an anonymous call from a government agent saying that her daughter has been hospitalized in Imam Khomeini Hospital in the city of Karaj, just north of Tehran — hospitalized for `rupturing of her womb and anus in…an unfortunate accident’. When Taraneh’s family went to the hospital to find her, they were told she was not there.”

Taraneh Mousavi’s mother is Taraneh Mousavi’s mother for as long as she lives.

The Mourning Mothers, the Mothers of Laleh Park, gather every Saturday in public parks, such as Laleh Park in the heart of Tehran, from 7 – 8 pm, the day and hour in which Neda Aghasoltani was killed.

The world is too full with Mourning Mothers.

Kessie Moyo is Godfrey Moyo’s mother for as long as she lives.

Godfrey Moyo was from Zimbabwe and suffered from epilepsy. On January 3, 2005, he was awaiting trial, at Belmarsh prison in the UK, when he suffered a seizure, followed by a behavioral disturbance, in which he attacked his cellmate and struggled with guards. He was taken out of his cell, thrown to the floor, constrained and controlled, during which he suffered two more seizures. Unconscious, he was taken to the intensive care cell and dumped, kneeling against a bed. Then he was injected with a sedative and died, 20 minutes later.

Four and a half years later, an inquest was finally held, from June 22 to July 6, 2009.  This story brings together disability, race, nation, class into one terrible stew. And it conjures the Mourning Mothers.

Kessie Moyo, Godfrey Moyo’s mother, lives in Zimbabwe. In 2005, she received a six-month visa to attend the funeral and inquest, the inquest which wouldn’t occur for another four and a half years. When Mrs. Moyo applied for an extension, she was denied. Due to “very compelling family reasons”, Kessie Moyo stayed in England until 2007, only then returning to Zimbabwe. When at last the inquest date was announced, she was denied a visa. Why? She had overstayed the earlier one, and those family reasons didn’t matter. Also, since Zimbabwe is a humanitarian crisis site, Kessie Moyo would have no reason to return. There’s no logic like State logic.

Finally, the High Court [a] granted her a visa and [b] forced the UK Border Agency to expedite the processing. She barely arrived in time to sit with her daughter, Godfrey’s sister, Lomaculo Moyo, and listen to the guards describe her son as `a smashing lad’. She barely arrived in time to weep for her murdered son.

Kessie Moyo is Godfrey Moyo’s mother for as long as she lives.

Marta Servin lives in Koreatown, in Los Angeles, and she is the mother of three children. She is their mother for as long as she lives.

Koreatown, located in the center of Los Angeles, is the most densely populated area of the city. Mostly Koreans and Latin@s. Ten years ago a group of women started a community garden, Francis Street Community Garden. Small in size, huge in value. Now, “every day at about 5 p.m., women from the neighborhood gather at the garden to drink coffee and tea, cook spontaneous meals and talk for hours as the sunlight fades and neon signs begin flickering on in neighboring strip malls. They celebrate birthdays together with colorful pinatas and paper flowers and welcome newcomers to the neighborhood. Their children play and chase after the free-roaming roosters, hens and chicks.”

Marta Servin is one of those women. She came to help the clean up and never left. Mothers and daughters gather, in their garden, in their space. They are the Morning Mothers. One day, I hope the Mourning Mothers, those of Iran, those of Zimbabwe, those of anywhere else, might become the Morning Mothers as well, because, you know, a mother is a mother for as long as she lives.

Who’s in, who’s out, who’s counting?

Roma

Maps and tallies tell stories. They tell something about what’s going on, who’s in, who’s out, who’s where. They reveal more about the mapmaker and the list maker, the cartographer and the accountant.

Over the weekend, police in three major provinces of South Africa were accused of `fiddling’ with the statistics to make it look as if they, and `we’, are winning the war on crime. Like all modern wars, the war on crime is a statistical phantasmagoria, and so to win the war, one must play the numbers. The police played. Charges include stockpiling, burning, hiding dockets generally; ditching dockets of crimes on the increase; failing to register crimes with a low chance of prosecution; reducing serious crimes to lesser charges; and cover up.

Meanwhile, the police in Los Angeles are fiddling as well. The LAPD online crime map `omits’ close to 40% of serious crimes committed over the last six months, serious crimes that are actually reported elsewhere by … the LAPD! The Department officially reported 52,000 serious crimes between January and June of this year. The map shows 33,000. 19,000 crimes went missing. That’s a lot of missing numbers. That map has some pretty big holes.

From South Africa to the United States, and beyond, some numbers are abandoned, others are abducted.

In Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi is a guest of the State, in Insein Jail. She counts. Sunday July 5 marked the 5000th day of her incarceration.

In Uttar Pradesh, or UP, in India, Roma counts, too. She’s Number One, the first woman in the state to be charged under the National Security Act. She’s accused of consorting with Naxalites, of being a terrorist, a dangerous woman. There have been no incidences of insurgent violence where Roma works and lives. There has been “a silent revolution”. Women from over 500 villages have occupied over 20,000 hectares of forest land and have established farming cooperatives. Without committing an act of violence. But Roma is a member of the National Forum of Forests People and Forest Workers, she has worked and lived with tribals in UP for twenty some years, she is a writer, a researcher, an activist who calls for democratic dialogue, a woman who supports tribal women, social justice, peace. She says she has lost count of the number of accusations and arrests. She has never been successfully prosecuted.

In Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is also counting. Having been abducted and disappeared last year, she now counts the number of times the government of Zimbabwe lies in order to keep her in prison or under the formal threat of imprisonment. At the end of June, state prosecutor Fatima Maxwell admitted that indeed Mukoko had been abducted by state security agents, and that the abduction was illegal. According to government testimony, at least three rights were violated: the right to liberty, the protection of the law, and the right to freedom from torture. A week later, State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi denied it all, said no rights were violated. Jestina Mukoko is counting the lies and mapping the spaces where rights used to be. Some are abandoned, some are abducted. We keep trying to count, we keep losing count, we keep counting.

We are in a map of the countless. In Iran, for example, journalist, feminist Zhila Bani Yaghoub was arrested, along with her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amooy. They were taken to Evin Prison. Yaghoub has written about, and for, women’s rights in Iran for years. The Nobel Women’s Initiative expressed concern “for the safety of Zhila, her husband and the countless other Iranian activists and protesters currently being detained in Iran.” Countless. The numbers are countless. Not because they are so many, although they are many. They are countless because the tally is forbidden. How many lives lost, how many acts of violence, how many rights lost, how many mourners?

Mairead Maguire, Cynthia McKinney, Derek Graham, were among a small boatload of 21 people and humanitarian aid, toys and building supplies and medicine, headed for Gaza, epicenter of the countless. The Israeli Navy took the boat and hijacked it to Israel, where the crew and passengers were detained, mostly in Ramle Prison. Two days later, Maguire, Graham and McKinney were deported. According to Maguire, “Gaza is like a huge prison, but—because its borders are closed. The sea pass into Gaza, which has been closed for over forty years by the Israeli government—we are only the seventh ship to get in to the port of Gaza that tried to break the siege.…And also farmers—fishermen, who try to go out without—in about twelve miles to fish for their families, are shot up and have been killed by the Israeli navy in that area. So, Gaza is a huge occupied territory of one-and-a-half million people who have been subjected to collective punishment by the Israeli government…. It is also tragic that out of ten million Palestinians of a population, almost seven million are currently refugees out in other countries or displaced within their own country, particularly after the horrific massacre by Israeli jet fighters after just earlier this year. Twenty-two days Israel bombarded Gaza, Gazan people, civilians.” 40 years, seven ships, twelve miles, 1.5 million people, 10 million Palestinians, 7 million refugees and displaced persons, 22 days of bombing. Countless. Not infinite, not insuperable, not unimaginable. Simply imprisoned, behind walls and barriers. How many abductions, how many abandonments?

In Ramle Prison, Cynthia McKinney met African women refugees, women who had “arrived…in a very difficult way”. Those countless women wait to be counted. In immigration detention centers around the world, countless women and children and men wait for the fog of their war to dissipate, for the fiddling to stop, for a new set of maps and tallies, and cartographers and accountants.

 

(Image Credit: Tehelka)