*UPDATE as of July, 2020: Recently we learned that Zahra has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Zahra Mohammadi is a 28-year-old Kurdish civil activist who was arrested on May 23, 2019 when agents of the Intelligence Department of Sanandaj in Iranian Kurdistan raided her residence. With the permission of Iranian authorities in 2013, Zahra co-founded the Nojin Socio-Cultural Association, which is a Kurdish cultural education center in the Iranian Kurdistan province with a focus on teaching the Kurdish language to the surrounding communities. At the same time as Zahra’s arrest, two other members of the Nojin Socio-Cultural Association were also arrested.
The month before her arrest Zahra had given her doctoral defense and was looking forward to completing a PhD in Geopolitics – quite a feat as a woman in Iran. Zahra and her siblings were raised in poverty, and this fueled her passion for advanced education. After graduating with a M.S. degree in Geopolitics from the University of Birjand, Zahra taught low-income Kurdish children the Kurdish language and culture. It broke Zahra’s heart that so many children in her community did not have enough money to buy school supplies and thus grew up uneducated, so she used all of her savings to ensure children in her community were getting the education they needed.
Zahra is being held at the Sanandaj Correctional Centre without knowledge of her charges, access to a lawyer, or any contact with her family. Several requests have been made to secure legal representation, but all were denied. After Zahra was arrested, she went on a hunger strike until Iranian authorities would tell her the charges or allow her to communicate with her family. Unfortunately, a few days after the hunger strike Zahra lost consciousness and was taken to the prison hospital. Once she regained consciousness the intelligence police tried to force her to eat, but she refused until she could contact her family to let them know her location. Finally, on May 30, 2019 Zarah had her first call with her family.
Zahra’s family demanded to see her, and during their first visit she told them she was living in solitary confinement where her cell was raided every few hours by several intelligence police who would interrogate her to try to force a “confession.” Zahra communicated to her family that the Iranian intelligence police had no evidence and no reason for her arrest and that she was being held there illegally and without access to a lawyer. Zahra has refused to sign a forced confession. By end of June 2019, the family was cut off from communication and visitation with her. They did not know if she was dead or alive for several months, but after much persistence the family was told that Zahra was alive but that all communication with her family was cut off until the police got a confession from her.
Finally, on September 16, 2019 after many pleadings, her family was permitted to visit her in prison. Zahra said in this meeting that she had been put under great pressure and psychological torture to make false confessions, but she still refused. She pleaded with her family to do whatever they could to get her out, and that’s when her sister, Maya, contacted TAF. The physical and psychological effects of the months in prison can be visibly seen on Zarah, and the family has been greatly concerned about her health. On September 18, 2019 Zahra was taken to court to be tried without a lawyer. A lawyer present who was representing another client intervened and demanded that Zahra not be tried without a lawyer according to Iranian law. The court relented and agreed to reschedule the court hearing for September 25, 2019 with a lawyer present.
Once Zarah’s case goes to trial on September 25th, she will be handed over to the Iranian revolutionary court for the final verdict. Iran revolutionary courts are known for their cruel and harsh sentencing. Zahra’s family is concerned that if something is not done before September 25, 2019 it will be impossible to repeal or overturn the conviction. Zahra’s family is also concerned that she might not survive the prison conditions. She has serious medical conditions including issues with her digestive tract, critically low iron, and respiratory issues for which she was hospitalized one month before her arrest. Her needed medication has also been denied.
In addition, Zahra’s father had a heart attack recently from the stress of her arrest, and he is not recovering well. The stress also impacted Zahra’s older sister who has been like a mother to her since her mother passed away when she was an infant. Her sister is a mother to 1.5-year-old twins and a toddler and has been experiencing numbness on one side of her body which sent her to the hospital as well.
Zahra’s other sister, Maya, lives outside of Iran and pleaded with TAF to ask others to be a voice for Zahra and other highly educated women who are targeted as leaders in their community. Iranian government considers these women a threat to their national security even though they are great assets to their nation. Many women in Iran like Zarah are thrown in prison indefinitely and are eventually forgotten. Maya told us, “We need to bring Zahra’s case to the light and make it known so that the Iranian government is kept accountable for their illegal treatment of highly educated women who care for their community. Please pray for Zahra. Please speak out for her.”
Please help Zarah by sharing her story on social media and donating HERE to help her family continue the fight.