Roya Heshmati’s story, an opponent of the compulsory Hijab in Iran, has sparked significant attention on social media.

Roya, 33, lives in Tehran but is originally from Sanandaj. On her Facebook, she shared her experience at the District Court in Tehran. She was there for her sentencing, where she received a punishment of 74 lashes for not wearing the compulsory hijab.

During the court session, Roya chose not to wear a headscarf. She described being flogged by a man in a place she resembled to a “medieval torture chamber.” Roya recounted, “I didn’t keep count of the lashes; instead, I silently recited the names of women, the name of life, thinking, ‘The garments of captivity are torn, the dark night will soon turn to morning, breaking all chains.’”

A few months ago, Roya was sentenced by the Islamic Revolutionary Court after a photo of her without the compulsory Hijab surfaced while she was walking in the streets of Tehran. The verdict comprised of one year of suspended imprisonment, a three-year travel ban, and 74 lashes.

Roya previously detailed her arrest and subsequent events.

“The tall, chador-clad woman pushed me aside and said impatiently and authoritatively, “Cover up! Quickly, cover up!” Still dazed from sleep, I realized a new chapter in my life had just begun. When the male officers entered my home, one of them said, “Put something on your head!” I replied, “You came into my home. You can’t tell me what to wear!” My glass-nylon socks, skirt, and red t-shirt were lying on the couch, reminding me of the sweetness of the previous day. I had said no to power, and now they had come for me…”

Within 24 hours, Roya was identified and detained by the secret police based on a photograph taken from behind. Upon being questioned by the officers about her unconventional attire in public, she provided her explanation:

I am angry about this endless darkness. I am angry about the constant marginalization and erasure of women. I am infinitely angry about the systematic poisoning of female students. I went out in this attire to reclaim my life and my plundered freedom, even if it was just for a few hours, and I accept the consequences of my actions.

Roya was ordered to review the charge sheet and prepare a defense if she so desired.

Propaganda against the regime in favor of opposition groups and media
Promotion and encouragement of corruption and indecency
Production and distribution of offensive content with the intention of professionalizing it
Violating public decency
Public appearance without Islamic hijab.

And she wrote in her defense “I am not sorry for what I did, and I do not accept the charges against me.”

An inspiring story of bravery and determination

Roya Heshmati documented the interrogation and her altercation with the officer on her Facebook page. Roya questioned the efficiency of the authorities, “Why was I identified in less than 24 hours from a back-view photo, while for four months, schoolgirls have been poisoned without any arrests or trials?”

The officer responded, suggesting ignorance of any arrests and dismissing the events as mere mischief by a schoolgirl and her father. Roya expressed disbelief at the explanation, pointing out the implausibility of such ‘mischief’ occurring across ten provinces and sixty schools. When the officer dismissively asked Roya what it mattered to her, she firmly stated her commitment to seeking justice. Roya emphasized that she would continue questioning the authorities’ priorities and their apparent lack of effort in finding the perpetrators of the schoolgirls’ poisoning until the matter is resolved.

Roya details the manipulative tactics of her interrogation, revealing how the questions were designed to falsely imply her affiliation with an organization and receiving illicit funds. She maintained her stance against these accusations.

The interrogation began with a question about her awareness of breaking the law, to which Roya responded, “I know wearing a hijab is law here, but I question its ethical grounding. We all have to choose between compliance with law enforced by power or acting on what’s ethically right.” When asked about her view on the girls of Enghelab Street, Roya expressed profound respect, noting the immortal impact of the moment created by Vida.

Further pressed about regretting her actions, Roya was unwavering: “No. I have the freedom to choose my beliefs and attire. I won’t compromise my rights.” Even when pushed for confirmation of her lack of regret, she reiterated, “No, I don’t regret it.”

The interrogator, seemingly dismissive of the broader issues like the serial poisoning of schoolgirls and Roya’s right to protest, attempted to undermine her very existence. Roya stood her ground, determined to assert her presence. The interrogator threatened her with severe punishment, asserting, “I’ve seen many here. I’ll ensure the harshest punishment for you. You might get bail, but you’ll be consumed by fear and anxiety until we meet in court.”

When the draft verdict of the Islamic Revolutionary and Criminal court has been issued, she was sentenced to one year of suspended imprisonment for propaganda against the regime, and in the Criminal Court, to twelve years and six months of penal imprisonment for promoting and encouraging corruption and indecency, one year and three months of penal imprisonment and seventy-four lashes for producing and distributing offensive content, seventy-four lashes for violating public decency, and a fine for the production and distribution of offensive content, an another fine as a penalty payable to the government.

Despite growing government pressure following nationwide protests sparked by the death of Mahsa/Jina Amini in custody, resistance against the compulsory hijab and gender apartheid by Iranian women persists.

In the name of women, in the name of life…

This morning, I received a call from the Prosecutor’s Office, summoning me for the execution of a 74 lashes sentence. I promptly contacted my lawyer, and together we proceeded to District 7 Prosecutor’s Office. Upon passing the entrance gate, I defiantly removed my hijab. Entering the hall, agonizing cries echoed from the stairs, likely from a woman facing a similar fate.

My lawyer said, “Roya, please think again. The scars that whips will incur will stay with you for a long time.” We went to the 1st branch of the execution of sentences, where the branch employee ordered me to put my scarf on my head to avoid trouble. Calmly and respectfully, I explained that I came here for the same reason – to be whipped – and I won’t wear a hijab.
They called, and the execution officer came up to execute the sentence. He said, “Put on your hijab and follow me.” I replied, “I will not.” To my surprise, he exclaimed, “You won’t?! I will whip you so hard that you’ll know where you are. I will open a new case for you, and you can be our guest for another seventy-four lashes.” Despite the threat, I refused to wear my scarf.

We descended the stairs. They had apprehended some young men for drinking alcohol. The man sternly repeated, “Didn’t I tell you to put on your hijab?” I ignored him. Two women, wearing Chador (head-to-toe cover and a conservative form of hijab), approached and pulled the scarf over my head. I took it off again, and this process was repeated several times.

They handcuffed me from behind and placed the scarf over my head. We proceeded to the ground floor using the same stairs where the woman had been taken. At the bottom of the parking lot, there was a room. The judge, the execution officer, and the Chadori woman stood next to me. The woman seemed visibly impressed. The judge sighed several times and said, “I know. I know.”

Cleric Judge laughed at me. I recalled the old man who was a character in Sadegh Hedayat’s book, “Blind Owl.” I turned my face away from him.

They opened the iron door. The room’s walls were made of cement, and at the bottom, there was a bed with handcuffs and iron bands welded to both sides. An iron device, resembling a large canvas stand with a place for handcuffs and a rusty iron binding, occupied the middle of the room. Additionally, there was a chair and a small table behind the door, the latter full of whips. It resembled a full-fledged medieval torture chamber.

The judge asked, “Are you okay? Do you not have any problems?” As if he does not exist, I did not answer. He said, “I am talking to you, madam!” Once again, I did not respond. The executioner said, “Take off your coat and lie on the bed.” I hung my coat and scarf from the base of the torture bed. He said, “Put on your scarf!” I firmly replied, “I won’t.”

I told him to put the Quran under his arm and do what he had to do. I lay on the bed, as it’s an Islamic ritual to keep a copy of the Quran under the arm of the executor to ensure they don’t exceed the limit or lash harshly. The woman came and pleaded, “Please don’t be stubborn.” She brought the shawl and pulled it over my head.

The man took a black leather whip from the bunch behind the door, wrapped it around his hand twice, and approached the bed. The judge cautioned, “Don’t hit too hard.” The man started hitting my shoulders, back, hips, and legs, but I did not count the number of hits.

Silently whispering, “In the name of woman, in the name of life, the clothes of slavery are torn, our black night will dawn, all the whips will be axed…” Finally, it was over. We came out, and I didn’t let them think I was in pain. We went up to the judge to execute the sentence. The female agent came behind me, careful that my scarf did not fall off. I threw my scarf at the entrance gate, and the woman begged me to put it back.

I didn’t listen, and she forced it over my head. In the judge’s room, he expressed dissatisfaction with the situation but insisted it should be executed. When he suggested leaving the country, I asserted, “This country belongs to everyone.” He acknowledged the law but emphasized following it. I replied, “Let the law do its job; we will continue our resistance.” We left the room, and I took off my scarf.

Thank you, dear Mr. Taataaie, my lawyer. Without his support, these days would have been harder to bear. I apologize for not being a good customer. I believe people will understand your magnanimity. Thank you for everything.

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My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin's powerful work,
"The Fire Next Time". Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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