Held Hostage In Iran with Mariam Claren

Daughter to German-Iranian women’s rights activist Nahid Taghavi, currently held hostage in Iran, Mariam Claren, speaks at the 14th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

On leaving Iran:

“The last time I stepped foot in Iran, I was 2 years old. My mom decided it was too dangerous to raise a daughter in Iran, so we moved to Germany. And she was right.”

On her mother’s disappearance: 

“When she was in Tehran, we talked almost every day on WhatsApp. And then, on October 16, 2020, she disappeared.”

“I called my uncles in Iran and they went to her apartment — inside it was like a crime scene. Carpet ripped up from the floorboards, pillows ripped open, books scattered everywhere.”

“And that’s when I realized “ok, your mom is a political prisoner of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

“12 days later, my uncle got a phone call from Evin Prison: “It’s me, I’m here.” Click. That was all she said – we wouldn’t hear from her again for 33 days.”

On the campaign to free Iran’s political prisoners:

“I never wanted to be a political activist – but it’s impossible to ignore the regime’s abuse of human rights now. The inmates in Evin Prison with my mom are her friends. And their family members are my friends.”

“Every day, we share the worst experience of our life publicly. While our loved ones fight for their lives inside prison, we fight for their lives online. And I ask that you do the same.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran must be held accountable for its actions – we cannot stop fighting until then.”

Full Remarks

The last time I stepped foot in Iran, I was 2 years old. My mom decided it was too dangerous to raise a daughter in Iran, so we moved to Germany. And she was right – just a few years later, the regime murdered thousands of men, women, and children, all political prisoners, and dumped their bodies in mass graves.

But she never stopped caring about Iran & Iranian people. In the 70s, she was a left-minded student activist over 40 years, her beliefs never changed, especially about women’s rights. So when I grew up, she started splitting her time – 6 months in Germany, 6 months in Iran. Every time she left, I worried. I didn’t understand why she’d risk going back to a country that’s so repressive & so abusive. In Germany, she had her own room at my house & we’d stay up late talking. My friends were always so excited to see her. She’s the “cool mom,” you know? When she was in Tehran, we talked almost every day on WhatsApp. And then, on October 16, 2020, she disappeared.

I was on holiday with my partner at the time, and I sent her some photos of the beach. I could tell she’d see my texts, but she didn’t respond. So I tried calling her – no answer. As soon as I woke up, I tried calling again – but her phone didn’t even ring. And that’s when I got really concerned – she’s older, she has high blood pressure, maybe something happened when she was out on her walk??

I called my uncles in Iran and they went to her apartment — inside it was like a crime scene. Carpet ripped up from the floorboards, pillows ripped open, books scattered everywhere. So they went to the prosecutor’s office of the notorious Evin Prison and said, “We’re Nahid Taghavi’s brothers. Did you arrest her?” And they said yes. She is here, she’s in solitary confinement, and it’s a national security case.”

And that’s when I realized “ok, your mom is a political prisoner of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

That was Sunday. On Monday morning at 9 am, I called The International Society for Human Rights in Germany. The spokesperson said to me, “I need you to sit down and remain calm. This is going to be a marathon. The German government will say they don’t have leverage. But that’s not true.” Turn up the volume as loud as you can. Your mom needs to be in media every single day.

So I called my friend who’s a social media manager and we spent 48 hours together in my home office, researched what was happening in Iran & posting on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. On Friday, we issued the first press release. And on Saturday, I did my first interviews on live TV.

12 days later, my uncle got a phone call from Evin Prison: “It’s me, I’m here.” Click. That was all she said – we wouldn’t hear from her again for 33 days.

But we started to piece together what happened from witnesses who were brave enough to tell us. On October 16, Mom was walking back to her apartment building when a van pulled up next to her. 12 men from the Revolutionary Guard grabbed her, put a gun to her temple, and said, “if you scream, we’re going to kill you right now, and tell everyone that you’re a member of Isis.” They blindfolded her, kidnapped her, and took her back to her apartment. They took away her laptop and her German passport. They were shocked to see her library of books – “Did you read all these?!?!” they said, because they had to take them in as evidence. She had books on history, the collapse of the USSR, on philosophy, religion, and current affairs. My mom has always been an intellectual and a free thinker. But today, Iran is like George Orwell’s 1984. Thinking is forbidden & talking about your thoughts is a crime.

On her first day in prison, she told the interrogators, “I want to see a lawyer.” And they said, “People like you will never see a lawyer. Not until you’re sitting in a courtroom.” Four and a half months after her arrest, she received her charges: Managing an illegal group with the aim to disrupt national security and propaganda against the state. She was part of a group case – 6 people arrested at the same time. But she only knew four of them. And my mom was like “How is it that I’m managing an illegal group of people I don’t even know?” The four Iranians were released on bail, while my Mom & another dual-national from Britain, Mehran Raoof, were held in solitary confinement & interrogated. They’re political pawns – just waiting for the German or British governments to do something about it.

5 months after her arrest was the first time I got to speak to her. “Hi Mom.” I said. My voice sounds just like hers. I told her that I’d never stop fighting for her freedom, that we were in the media every single day, and that at her trial, she should imagine thousands of people on her side, screaming #FreeNahid. “I’m so thankful for all that you’re doing for me,” she said. “And I can’t believe my non-political daughter is becoming an activist!”

Even in prison, my mom has kept her spirits up. But I’m terrified for her.

From what we know, my 67-year-old Mom was interrogated 80 times for a total of 1,000 hours – all without a lawyer. For 194 days, she slept alone in a tiny cell on the hard floor. The first time my Mom met her lawyer was at her trial. It was a sham – the verdict was already written. But my mom never backed down. She said to the judge, “If propaganda against the state means talking about poverty, corruption, and destroying the environment, then yes, I’m guilty of that.” She was sentenced to 10 years, 8 months.

Today, the prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran are full of people like my mother — lawyers, poets, filmmakers, environmentalists, and human rights activists – they’ve dared to speak the truth, to stand up to injustice, to have opinions that challenge those in charge. These people deserve awards – not to be behind bars.

People ask me if I’ll stop campaigning when my Mom is released. And to that I say – yes, when my mom is sitting on a plane, I’ll be quiet… but only for a day! I never wanted to be a political activist – but it’s impossible to ignore the regime’s abuse of human rights now. The inmates in Evin Prison with my mom are her friends. And their family members are my friends.

Every day, we share the worst experience of our life publicly. While our loved ones fight for their lives inside prison, we fight for their lives online. And I ask that you do the same. The Islamic Republic of Iran must be held accountable for its actions – we cannot stop fighting until then.

Thank you.

Speakers and Participants

Mariam Claren

Daughter of jailed womens’ rights activist & political prisoner Nahid Taghavi

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