«Armita's funeral, and the presence of those who attended, demonstrated how disgusted the Iranian people are by violence against women. We only knew one thing: we couldn't remain silent." This is explained by Nasrin Sotoudeh, the Iranian human rights lawyer, who spent two weeks in prison for daring to attend the funeral of the young Armita Garavand without a veil. And she claims to remain without a veil, inviting the international community to forcefully reject all forms of violence against women, violence that the regime continues to impose with the dictatorship of the hijab.

How did your arrest happen and for what reason? Have you suffered violence?

On October 29th, I attended the funeral ceremony of Armita Geravand at Zahra's Paradise. Armita was the 16 year old teenager who had lost her life due to the veil. She was attacked by another woman while going to school. A government whose surveillance is such that it sends text messages warnings to unveiled women on their mobiles has still not declared the identity of the assailant. At the end of the funeral ceremony, we were ambushed and viciously attacked by plainclothesmen (nonuniformed security agents) who arrested us after unleashing a great deal of violence. We were 23 women and roughly as many men. We were dragged into vans and driven to Vozara Detention Center, the very same place where Mahsa was killed and many other women were assaulted, the place that they had declared to have shut down. It was not shut down. Manzar Zarrabi, a mother who had lost four of her children in the downed Ukrainian airplane (Flight 752) was at Armita's funeral. She was holding one end of a string of enlarged photos of her children and I held the other end. The agents grabbed the photos from above of our heads. Manzar pursued and yelled at them. She retrieved the photos, folded them and placed them in her bag. A few minutes later, they attacked Manzar. They pushed her to the ground. I stepped forward to help her get up. They threw me to the ground too. I fell backwards, hitting my head against the stones. I felt a sharp pain in my head. Roya, one of the mourners at the gathering helped me up. They attacked her too, and then proceed to arrest us all, together with another group. I cannot begin to describe the intensity of the violence we witnessed or how they despised our hair, dragging us on the ground in groups of two and three. I could not believe it, and yet, it was happening. This was the point that separated the culture of the people from that of the officials, The violence of these misogynist organs was mixed with a profound hatred for our hair. Shoving women around, which has become one of defining features of the regime's violence against women was glaringly obvious on the fall day in Zahra's Paradise. They had arrested most of the women by shoving them. And that's what they had done to Armita--shoved her. Her head had hit a railing in the metro, she had lost consciousness, and died in the hospital.

How was arriving in prison?

At the Vozara Detention Center, the agents are trained in causing psychological trauma and disturbance. I remember well how they would repeatedly ask us for our personal details. A second, third, and fourth time. I was moreorless familiar with this technique. After the second time, I told them, I am not your clerk, go get our details from whoever has our personal information. He ignored us and would interrogate our group again, and really disturb them with his vulgar and offensive manners. Once, with a very short distance separating us, he called out one of our group: "Golnar..." and then used explicit language. She, who stood face to face to him replied, "darling..." I, who was witnessing their exchange, worried that he might swear at her or hit her. I stepped in between them and Golnar, and said, "these are Vozara officials, do not deign to address them." At that time, calling someone a Vozara employee was the worst insult you could direct at someone. We could not say "Commando Fatemeh" or "Commando Sakineh" since all these terms could be interpreted as insults to dignified Fatemehs, Sakinehs and Commandos. These were the diminutive and humiliating terms the Iranian people used for such agents. But to be an agent at Vozara, to many, was to inhabit the most undignified of occupations...and that was why I used this term on that day. That night, they did everything in their power to find out the password to my moblie. They would come and go, incessantly asking me for the "password." I would ignore and dismiss them, all the while talking to my friends, telling them "It's obvious that i will not give you my password." They would reply: "It's not hard for us us to access your phone." And I replied, mockingly, "then do." That entire night, they failed to do so. I don't know, perhaps that was the reason, or maybe there were other reasons, for them not letting us sleep till the morning.

What happened the next day?

The next day we were dispatched to the Evin prosecutor's office. We sat unveiled in the courtyard--payback for all their misconduct. It was a marvelous experience. The men of the prosecutor's office could not believe it, staring at us, goggle-eyed. They would come, stare, and go. We were so deeply caught up in our own daily activities that we lost the opportunity to laugh at their shocked expressions.

What did Armita's funeral represent and why did it scare the regime so much?

Armita's funeral, and the presence of those attending it, demonstrated how much the Iranian people are revolted by the violence directed at women. We knew one thing. We could not remain silent. The presence of people like Manzar, exposed the intersection of the state's crimes, an intersection that exposed crimes with similar conduct, a pattern which sadly repeats itself. The next evening, Manzar, had severe convulsions. She was almost 70, and they were forced to release her.

You have always challenged the judicial authority by deciding not to take part in the trial in which you were accused, but this time you insisted on entering the Court without a veil. Why?

Yes, that is correct. I am still of the belief that the regime's judiciary allows the regime to uphold a pretense about legal procedure concerning its unjust sentences. But on that day I wanted to show that a government cannot make the veil an excuse for denying a defendant's rights. A judge can only refer the nature of a defendant's unveiled status to the concerned authorities. They handcuffed Manzar and I several times and told us that they would return us to the detention center and then, after thirty minutes, they would return us. But we still refused to cover our hair. Eventually, once Manzar's convulsions started, they freed her and told me that they would have me submit my defense by filling the questionnaire in the car outside the prosecutor's office. I refused to do so. I stayed in the car and after some back and forth, chaos and confusion, I officially filed a compliant that my defense was illegally obtained outside the court. I did so in order to document the illegal procedure.

What accusations were made against you? And what will happen now?

I currently face 5 charges: violating hijab rules, disrupting the public order, failing to obey official instructions, propaganda against the system, association with the intent to endanger national security. As to what will happen, it depends on the court's decision. So far, I have not received a summons and trial date. Once I do, I will go to court without a veil.

You remained in prison for about two weeks. What happened during your period of detention?

During my arrest, of course, in the first hours, they had used shockers against all of us. In those first hours in the van, I tried to change the atmosphere by singing songs from Sayeh and Hamid. Two, in our company, Manzar and Zeinab, had convulsions in the van. They took us to a government-run health clinic. We thought that given the gravity of their condition, they would be freed. But we were astounded to see them transported back to Vozara a couple of hours later. From there on, as we had come without veils, we remained unveiled. And that was how we went the prosecutor's office the next day. And in subsequent days when they took people to court, according to what they recounted, they had gone to the court without wearing a veil. On one of those days, the judge's deputy visited us in the ward where we were bing held. As soon as one of us, Fatemeh, went to hand him a letter concerning her case, he turned his face away and said: "I will not pursue your request." I was sitting in the room and had no intention to go up to the deputy judge. Naturally, I left the the room unveiled. He quickly said "I will not pursue matters concerning you either." I replied, rather dismissively: "I have not asked you to do anything." He said: "I will not listen to you." I said, "The assumption here is that you are familiar with the law. The law does not permit you to refuse to attend to cases because the defendants are not veiled. Additionally, all of us are veiled. Our veil is that which we are respecting in this instance." Others complained about his conduct as well and said they wanted to have nothing to do with him. He got up and left. The next day I wrote to the head of the prison and I explained to him his legal duties in terms of monitoring the activities of his personnel. I also told him that determining our compliance or lack of compliance as far as the veil was concerned did not lie with the deputy judge and that officials cannot ignore their duties citing the failure to comply with the compulsory hijab, an offense that would amount to an abuse of power and justify legal action. What I can say is that through this time, I moved through Qarchak prison, the Evin prosecutor's office, Vozara Detention Center, and Evin prison without wearing a veil. I had come back to my struggle, 13 years earlier, where, where after many highs and lows, over a period of 18 months, I was able to cast off my veil, and it was now many years that I did not dream of removing my headscarf. In my last arrest, which was for defending the "Daughters of Revolution Street" and their right to wear clothes of their choice, I had been sentenced to 38.5 years. I told my daughter, who was 18, that I would step out when I could do so without wearing a veil. I am still a prisoner of that sentence, and now they are compiling a new case against me. For the moment, I have stepped out without a headscarf. I hope that all women can avail themselves of this opportunity without facing any danger.

The international community has rallied to your defense. What can institutions do to give voice to the battle for women's rights?

In order to establish the rights of women, the world community needs to insist on common human values, the right to free speech, women's rights, nonviolence against women, and the right of women to choose their own clothing. Over the last 45 years, the Islamic Republic has unilaterally abused the idea of respect for different cultures to impose its reactionary perspective on the world. Just look at the question of the veil. The Islamic Republic wants all countries no matter what their ideology and perspective to allow Muslims who visit them to respect their right to wear the hijab. But when officials from those countries visit Iran, they cannot freely walk the streets. Even women who are diplomats are forced to wear the headscarf, and often, the veil. That women politicians and statemen obey the Islamic Republic's patriarchal commandments by women politicians and statesmen in the name of Iran is shocking for us. In the end, the Islamic Republic has to adopt a consistent manner in its relations with the international community and the international community should hold Iran accountable for adopting a consistent policy.