A mother in prison, whether she is there because she was defending a cause or because she is a victim of society, is forced to spend time away from her children. During this time, she needs legal entitlements for the protection of her rights as a prisoner and her special rights as a mother. In most countries around the world, especially where many mothers are among political and conscience prisoners, these rights have never been respected.
But this isn’t the only problem faced by mothers in prison. Many imprisoned mothers around the world speak of a sense of guilt. The stigma of “a mother in prison” is not solely imposed by judicial systems and governments. The society, with its stereotype of what a “Mother” should look like, stigmatizes her imprisonment and take its upon itself to remind her of the suffering borne by her children.
To change this universal view and to force judicial systems to respect the rights of prisoners, especially rights deserved by mothers in prison, we should name a Day of Mothers in Prison and add it to the calendar of civil struggles. This is an opportunity to remember those who are forgotten, sometimes due to political reasons and sometimes due to an unprincipled approach to the question of crime and prison. With naming a day after them, we will be able to remember, at least once a year, those prisoners who in addition to going through security pressures and spending jail time have to suffer a double punishment for being a “Mother” for the role society has imposed on them.
This day is an opportunity for us to remember that imprisoned mothers, away from any sense of guilt imposed on them by a traditional outlook, should enjoy special conditions and have access to contact with their children. This day would be a small opportunity for us to remember those mothers who have spent time in prison alongside their children, from the times of the Pahlavi regime to the dark 1980’s and beyond. This day is also a reminder that if the imprisoned mother has made a mistake, she has already been punished by incarceration and we should support her return to the bosom of society. And if a mother finds herself in prison due to her civil and social activities, pressing her by abusing her maternal feelings counts as violence against a human being.
Finally, this day can be an opportunity for us to, together with civil activists and governments, address governments and call on them to pay special attention to rights and fundamental needs of mothers in prison, whether they are political and conscience prisoners or ordinary ones, to prepare alternative punishments in lieu of imprisonment, to improve the lives of mothers and children in jail, to eliminate aggravated pressures that are imposed on mothers by using their maternal emotions.
To dedicate a day in calendar to this, one could pick a number of occasions. Sadly, in Iran, every day reminds us of many mothers who have been imprisoned in our contemporary history, from Pahlavi times to today, for their struggles for justice and equality. These mothers in prison have sometimes shared cells with mothers who are victims of poverty, addiction or smuggling and they have shared their pains of being away from their children. Picking a symbolic day is not easy but it is necessary to create sympathy and to build a rational space for discussions on the subject of “Mothers in Prison.”
Our information on the history of mothers in prison, especially those imprisoned on ordinary crimes, is very limited. In the memoirs written by imprisoned women during the Shah’s era, there is little mention of motherhood. A rare example is that of the late Vida Hajebi who, in her book Memoirs, speaks in detail of meeting her son, Ramin, in the Qasr prison and the pain of a mother in being away from a child. After the revolution and the dark events of the 1980’s, one could write many books on the suffering of mothers in prison and their small children but, during all the years past, the memoirs written by political prisoners have paid scant attention to motherhood and femininity.
The insistence of women prisoners on their identity as Mothers in Prison has started in the last decade; especially from the Green movement where mothers started writing their “Letters from the Heart” to their children and also led protests and hunger strikes. Mothers like Nasrin Sotoodeh who led a hunger strike while demanding meeting her children and protesting against the insecure conditions of her child.
The signatories of this statement have picked a recent event to honor a symbolic day in the memory of Mothers in Prison. This is the day when Narges Mohammadi, the human rights and women’s rights activist and a current prisoner in the women’s section of the Evin prison, sent her children to another country because she knew that, with her in jail, her children are to be without parents. This is why she sent them to a faraway land to live with their father who had had to leave the country two years before due to security pressures. It was two years ago, on July 17, when Narges Mohammadi bid her children goodbye.
From that day on, she regularly writers her “Letters from the Heart of a Mother” in which she protests the infringement on her rights and that of other mothers and speaks of the common suffering faced by mothers in prison, irrespective of the reason they are in prison for. In her “Letters”, she has described what she has faced as a mother in prison. We believe that such a day can be a basis to focus on an aspect of the conditions faced by mothers in prison that had remained unwritten before. With her “Letters from the Heart”, Narges Mohammadi has exposed a secret that lay heavy in the heart of many mothers for years.
We, with proposing the naming of a day as the Day of Mothers in Prison, ask you to join us, to register this day in your calendar and to, at least once a year on this day, remember mothers imprisoned throughout history by acting for mothers in prison today. We hope to reach the recognition of the heavy responsibility faced by mothers who are political and conscience prisoners, reduce the stigma that society and the legal system imposes on mothers in prison, and ultimately safeguard the rights of mothers in prison to have access to their children.