March 10, 2023

Soha Mortezaei, an Imprisoned Student’s Story

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An imprisoned student’s story, Soha Mortezaei

Soha Mortezaei is a student activist who is currently imprisoned and has been barred from continuing her studies. She was born in Tehran on January 19, 1991, and attended school on Dovlat Street. Mortezaei began university in September 2009 at Amirkabir University of Technology, an institution known as one of the most lively and political academic environments of the capital. Mortezaei studied polymer engineering at Amirkabir and was one of the most active students until she earned her bachelor’s degree. 

Mortezaei’s time at Amirkabir coincided with some of the largest and most comprehensive political demonstrations and protests of the last two decades during the Green Movement, along with the application of stricter, more conservative policies and behaviors to society and citizens. In addition to her academic duties, Mortezaei also pursued professional and political interests as a student activist amid this heavily securitized political climate, including through her involvement in the student magazine, “Takapo.” In some cases, the disciplinary committee of the university suspended her from studies because of her political activities.

After completing her undergraduate studies, Mortezaei’s next step was taking the master’s exam, which was accompanied by a change in her field of study. She was accepted as a senior expert student in the Political Science Department at Tehran University in 2017. It was undoubtedly not without hazards and difficulties that she still continued her professional and student activities at Tehran University this time.


Arrested for political activities

Mortezaei’s political activities have made her a target for the repressive Iranian authorities. In January 2015, Mortezaei and Zahra Khandan, another student at Amirkabir, were arrested for the first time by agents of the IRGC Intelligence Organization and were subjected to forty days imprisonment.

Mortezaei was arrested again in January 2018 for being the secretary of the Tehran University Students Trade Union Council. As secretary of the Students Trade Union Council, she was responsible for defending the rights of all students at the university, especially those who were arrested amid the December-January 2018 protests. Having been detained for several days, she was released temporarily and returned to the university. Despite the obstacles and pressure, she did not resign and continued to serve as secretary of the union council.

Eventually, this arrest resulted in the issuance of a sentence against her. In the summer of 2018, Judge Ahmadzadeh of the Revolutionary Court sentenced Mortezaei to six years of imprisonment and two years of exclusion from political activity and membership in political parties. On appeal, the sentence was reduced to one year in prison.

Mortezaei graduated in September 2019 after completing her courses and defending her master’s thesis. Upon completing her master’s degree, she planned to continue her studies at the doctorate level.


Denial of education triggers sit-in

Mortezaei was looking forward to the next step in her career by pursuing her doctorate, but when she attempted to register on the university’s website, she received an error message. The university refused her registration due to “defects in her file.” Mortezaei confirmed that her education was opposed by the Ministry of Information. After passing the doctoral exam, the “National Education Evaluation Organization” and professors at Tehran University confirmed that the Ministry of Information’s order was followed. Her right to continue her education had been denied to her.

Mortezaei protested in front of the university’s central library on October 12, 2019, calling for the ban on her education to be lifted, provoking many reactions. Mortezaei’s family was invited to a meeting at the university by the security officials and disciplinary committee. Tehran University’s security chief, who had threatened her numerous times, attended that meeting, along with the university’s cultural vice president. The authorities gave unacceptable explanations for why they had banned Mortezaei from her education. 

As part of the sit-in, she announced in a short video that the warrant for her arrest in January 2018 was based on her activities as secretary for the student union – including her meetings with various officials to advocate on behalf of arrested students.

The intersection of her sit-in with widespread protests in November 2019 led to her targeting once again by Iranian authorities. On November 17, the agents of the Ministry of Information once again arrested her along with two other students in the student dormitory.

Mortezaei was beaten by authorities during detention, according to numerous reports. Mortezaei’s mother, who was following up on her daughter’s condition and her release from prison after her arrest, was also summoned and threatened by the security agencies following this arrest.

In December of the same year, other reports regarding harassment and threats against Mortezaei’s family were published. Security officials reportedly told her mother that if her daughter’s sit-in continued, she would be sentenced to two years and six months in prison. The head of security at Tehran University even told Mortezaei’s mother that her daughter should be given electric shocks to supposedly control her behavior and – adding to their cruelty – asked for consent to transfer her to a mental hospital, which was rejected. 

On August 28, 2019, Mortezaei began a hunger strike in response to this brutal treatment and her continued imprisonment. In a letter addressed to the investigator, she explained the reason for her hunger strike: “When I, as a prisoner, cannot afford bail, you must release me on bond. In the midst of my imprisonment and discrimination, I am witnessing the injustice and discrimination that led to my imprisonment. Since I cannot afford bail, I am incarcerated. Until my assignment is determined, I intend to go on a hunger strike to protest this unfair process.”

Four days after the start of this strike, the agents took her out of Evin women’s prison under the pretext of being released from prison and transferred her to Qarchak prison using handcuffs and blindfolds. But ultimately, on January 22, 2020, Mortezaei was finally released on bail.

In 2020, Mortezaei went before the court as it reviewed her case. Judge Salavati, head of Branch 15 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, sentenced her to six years in prison for “assembly and collusion with the intention of acting against the security of the country.” Three months later, the 54th branch of the Court of Appeals confirmed the sentence of six years in prison and sent it to Mustafa Nili, Mortezaei’s attorney. The court reportedly used Mortezaei’s sit-in at Tehran university in response to her education ban, as well as her participation in a protest against mandatory hijab, as evidence of participation in the broader nationwide protests of 2019 in upholding the sentence.

Amid the Women, Life, Freedom protests on November 21, 2022, Mortezaei, was arrested yet again by intelligence agents while she was on her way to work. Mortezaei was first sent to Evin prison where she experienced physical assault, according to the Telegram channel of the University Students Trade Unions Council. She was taken to Shohada Tajrish hospital to treat the assault she sustained. After being sent to the hospital, she was ultimately returned to Evin prison.

After numerous reports of sexual harassment and beatings during this Mortezaei’s arrest were released, reliable sources confirmed the story of the Trade Union Council channel, which wrote: “The officers tie her right hand to a chair and tie her right leg to another chair, so that she hangs and is beaten by a female officer in a silver Santa Fe. Sexual harassment and insults are also included. In response to Soha Mortezaei’s protest, the officer punched her leg and stomach after she resisted.” Then, it was announced that Mortezaei was arrested and transferred to Evin prison for the execution of her sentence of three years and eight months.

In December 2022, Mortezaei was once again transferred to Qarchak prison, where she remains incarcerated. The prison officials are not willing to register the symptoms of sexual abuse or send her to forensic medicine even now, according to news sources. In addition, the authorities of Qarchak prison neglected to send her to the hospital or provide her with appropriate medical care, even though her ankle ligament was torn and her hand and shoulder were injured.

Mortezaei has also not received the books sent to the prison as a prisoner’s right despite repeated follow-ups. Deception, neglect, and violations of prisoners’ rights are common practices in Qarchak prison, according to many prisoners’ testimonies. 

Mortezaei has suffered repeatedly as a result of outrageous treatment by Iranian authorities that violate the government’s international human rights obligations, including the right to freedom of expression and prohibitions on torture. We look forward to the day where she is released and able to pursue her education and work without interference.

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