Poetry behind bars: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow prisoners

In the previous post I shared with you poems which were written behind bars, in the Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison. In this blog post I want to introduce you to the five women who wrote the poetry: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari and I want to share their stories with you. 

1. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanina) Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born on 26 December 1978. She is a British-Iranian dual national and worked as project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charitable arm of the news agency Thomson Reuters. She is married to Richard Ratcliffe. They have a daughter Gabriella who turned three on 11 June 2017. Richard and Gabriella are both British citizens.

b) Nazanin’s parents live in Tehran. In March 2016 Nazanin was on holiday visiting her family for Nowruz (Iranian New Year) together with her daughter Gabriella. On 3 April 2016 when Nazanin went to Tehran’s Iman Khomeini Airport with Gabriella, because they wanted to fly back to London, she was arrested by officials who were likely part of the Revolutionary Guards. Nazanin was allowed to leave her daughter in the care of her parents and was then taken by the officials. Gabriella’s British passport was confiscated.

After her arrest Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in solitary confinement for 45 days. She had during this time very limited contact with her daughter and parents and no contact with her husband. She was interrogated several times, but was not given access to a lawyer. On 15 June a unit of the Revolutionary Guards released a statement saying that she “participated in devising and carrying out media and cyber projects aimed at the soft overthrow of the government”. On 14 August 2016 the trial against her took place before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. On 6 September the judge announced that she was sentenced to five years in prison on unspecified “security charges”.

c) Nazanin was initially in Kerman prison, nearly 1000 km from Tehran. In mid June 2016 she was transferred to section 2-A of Evin Prison in Tehran. This section is under control of the Revolutionary Guards. She was held in isolation in this ward.  Altogether she spent 130 days in solitary confinement in different prisons. End of December 2016 / beginning of January 2017 she was transferred to the Women’s Ward in Evin Prison.

She is currently allowed to call her husband once a week for one hour. Her daughter Gabriella can visit Nazanin once a week, sometimes twice a week.

d) Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health declined dramatically after her arrest. She suffered form heart palpitations, blurred visions and pains in her hands, arms and shoulders. She did not receive proper medical treatment. In autumn 2016 she was on a hunger strike for five or six days and she even considered committing suicide. There were also times when she felt better, but recently she discovered two lumps in her breast. She also feels a stabbing pain in her breast. Her husband says that there is a history of breast cancer in her family and she is afraid that the lumps might be breast cancer. She is therefore kept under “close surveillance” .

e) On 22 January 2017 a spokesman of the judiciary announced that the five year sentence against Nazanin had been upheld upon appeal. She was convicted of “membership of an illegal group” in connection with her work for BBC Media Action and Thomson Reuters Foundation. There were more absurd allegations including the allegation that she married a “British spy” and that the extent of media coverage shows that she is “an important person“. On 23 April 2017 she was informed that also the Supreme Court had upheld her five-year prison sentence. All trials violated the principle of due process, were held under unclear charges and denied her full and proper legal representation. Her husband Richard describes the lack of representation vividly in an interview with Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

On 28 September, the day after she was diagnosed with an advanced depression, her request for furlough, a temporary release, was denied. On 8 October 2017 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had to appear again in court. The Revolutionary Courts had reopened her case and she was informed that she was now facing two new charges which could result in 16 more years in prison.

f) Richard Ratcliffe started campaigning for the release of his wife a few weeks after her arrest. Initially he thought and was told that it would be best to stay silent. He hoped that she would be released eventually. He has been campaigning tirelessly for now 18 months. He also had been urging the British government for a long time to condemn Nazanin’s treatment and her sentence and publicly call for her release. On 1 November 2017 Boris Johnson spoke at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. He was asked about Nazanin and condemned her detention by Iran at last. However, he also said the following: “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.” This incorrect statement was taken by Iran as proof that Nazanin was not only visiting family, but was working in Iran to influence journalists. On 4 November she was again brought in front of the Revolutionary Guards and she had to answer a new charge “propaganda against the regime”. It took Boris Johnson a long time to apologise, but he had done so last Monday (13 November).

Boris Johnson’s wrong statement lead to a lot of press coverage about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and Boris Johnson said that he is prepared to meet Richard Ratcliffe the first time and he also said that he is willing to travel to Iran. Richard hopes that Nazanin will be back home for Christmas, but this is not more than a hope. There are also discussions whether the UK could give Nazanin diplomatic protection and by that make stronger demands on her behalf. With so much information at the moment, I feel the best summary of Nazanin’s current situation is an open letter Richard wrote to Boris Johnson. The letter was published on 13 November 2017 in the Evening Standard.

g) If you want to know more about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and the Free Nazanin  campaign, please have a look at the Free Nazanin Website. The petition at Change.org has in meantime more than 1 million signatures, but please sign, if you have not yet done so, and continue to share it. Also Amnesty International campaigns for Nazanin and published a few days ago a new petition for her. Please also sign and share this petition.

If you are inspired by the poems in the previous blog post and want to write poetry in form of Haikus yourself, then please join the new campaign #haikus4Naz. You find here more information.

2. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee

IMG_1110a) Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee was born on 31 July 1980. Golrokh is a writer and a human rights activist. She is married to Arash Sadeghi who is also a human rights activist. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you might already know both from my post “A love story in Iran – #SaveArash” which I published earlier this year.

b) Golrokh Iraee was arrested on 6 September 2014 together with her husband Arash Sadeghi and two friends (Navid Kamran and Behnam Mousivand) by men which likely belonged to the Revolutionary Guards. They searched their place and confiscated several items, including her computer. She was interrogated and threatened and could hear how her husband was beaten and kicked in the next cell. On 27 September 2014 she was released on bail.

The trial against her, Arash Sadeghi and their two friends took place in May and July 2015. Golrokh Iraee was sentenced to six years in prison for “insulting the sanctities of Islam” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. The charges against her were based on her Facebook posts about political prisoners and an unpublished story the authorities found in her house. The novel is about a woman who watches a film about a woman who is stoned to death for adultery. The protagonist of the novel is so angered by it that she burns a copy of the Quran.

In February 2016 a court of appeal confirmed her sentence.

c) Golrokh Iraee was arrested on 24 October 2016. Security officials broke through the front door of her house and arrested her without showing an arrest warrant. In protest of her arrest Arash Sadeghi started an hunger strike. After 72 days of hunger strike, the authorities finally yielded to his demands. On 3 January 2017 Golrokh Iraee was released from prison against bail and the Iranian prosecutor promised to review her case. Arash Sadeghi stopped his hunger strike.

Golrokh Iraee could only enjoy her freedom for a few days. On 23 January 2017  the Revolutionary Guards arrested Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee again while she was on the way to visit her husband. The Revolutionary Guards also block a review of her conviction by the courts. Arash Sadeghi started a new hunger strike to protest against her new arrest. On 6 February he ended his hunger strike after the prosecutor gave some promises.

In March 2017 30 months were reduced from her imprisonment as part of a Nowruz (Iranian New Year) pardon. Golrokh Iraee serves her sentence in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison.
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d) Her husband Arash Sadeghi was also in Evin Prison serving a sentence of 19 years. Golrokh and Arash could see each other in weekly visits and knew that they had just “a wall between us // As deep as a hand span” as Golrokh describes in her poem “Couples in Prison” which you find in the previous post. However on 18 October 2017 Arash Sadeghi was transferred to Rajaee Shahr Prison which is  about 50 km from Tehran. This was a punishment after photos of him and the political prisoner Soheil Arabi as well as him and the political prisoner Esmail Abdi were shared on Social Media in which they smiled. Rajaee Shahr Prison is a prison known for his inhuman conditions. This also means additional hardship for Arash and Golrokh, because they will not be able to see each other.

3. Narges Mohammadi

IMG_3581a) Narges Mohammadi was born on 21 April 1972 in Zanjan (Iran). She studied at Imam Khomeini University in Qazvin and got a major in applied physics. She began her career as journalist writing for a magazine which was dedicated to women issues. She wrote mainly about human rights and women rights.

Narges Mohammadi is one of the well-known human rights activist. She has been targeted by the Iranian authorities for years for her support for human rights and women rights as well as her activism against the death penalty and her membership in the group “Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty” (LEGAM) .

In 2002 five lawyers (Shirin Ebadi, Mohammad Seifzadeh, Abdolfattah Soltani, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah and Mohammad Sharif) founded the Center for Defenders of Human Rights (CDHR). The purpose of CDHR was to report on human violations and to provide pro bono legal representations for political prisoners and their families. Narges Mohammadi become the vice president of the CDHR. In December 2008 the centre was forceably closed.

Narges Mohammadi is married to Taqi Rahmani. He is also a political activist and they have known each other since their time at the university. He spent 14 years in prison in Iran. After his release from prison he want to France in exile. Narges and Taqi have twins Kiana and Ali. They were born on 28 November 2006. After Narges’ last arrest the children joined their father in France.

b) Narges Mohammadi has a long history of activism and Iran has a long history of arresting and harassing her. She was arrested the first time in 1998 and spent one year in prison. Since then she had been summoned and questioned numerous time and was also arrested several times. Her passport was confiscated in 2009 and since that time she was banned from travelling.

The most recent arrest of Narges Mohammadi took place in the early hours of 5 May 2015 at her house in Tehran. The security forces had threatened to break down her front door, if she does not open. This arrest took place two days after she had appeared at court for a trail against her.

c) Narges Mohammadi’s general state of health is not good. Her health had been effected by years of harassment and intermittent periods of detention. After her arrest in May 2015 her health declined further. On 1 August 2015 she was transferred to hospital, because she had suffered a partial paralysis for eight hours that day. On the next day she was transferred back to prison and did not receive specialised medical care. On 11 October 2015 she was again transferred to hospital suffering a seizure. She was chained to the bed during the first days and was again transferred back to prison after a few day (on 28 October 2015) against her doctor’s advice.

d) After the first trial date on 3 May 2015, the trial was postponed four times and began at last on 20 April 2016 . The trial was before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Courts. Narges Mohammadi was accused of several security related charges. The “evidence”‘ which was used against her were her participation in peaceful protests, vigils in front of the prison with families of prisoners who were sentenced to death, interviews she gave to international media,  several speeches at different ceremonies and a meeting between Narges Mohammadi and Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the Women’s Day on 8 March 2014 at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran.

The trial against was unfair and violated the principles of due process. She did not have proper legal representation and she was not allowed to defend herself properly.

On 18 May 2016 Narges Mohammadi was sentenced to ten years in prison for “membership in the [now banned] Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty (LEGAM),” five years for “assembly and collusion against national security,” and one year for “propaganda against the state”. She will have to serve ten years of this sentence, because in accordance with Iranian law only the heaviest sentence has to be served if someone is convicted for several charges. In addition there is prison sentence of 6 years open from a conviction in 2011 for peaceful campaigning with CDHR and she faces charges for “insulting officers”, because she had filed a complain about the degrading and inhumane treatment she received by prison officers when she was transferred to hospital.

e) On 27 June 2016 Narges Mohammadi went on hunger strike to protest against the refusal of the Iranian authorities to let her speak with her children on the phone. Since her arrest in May 2015 a call of a few minutes on 2 April 2016 were her only contact with her children. She wrote an open letter on 27 June 2016 in which she explains her motivation and her feelings about not being able to speak with her children:

For a year now, my only contact with my two small children has been limited to me asking about them from my sister and brother. I always hear the same sentence back: “Don’t you worry. They are doing fine.” I have forgotten their voices. I don’t keep their photos by my bed anymore. I can’t look at them. My sister said: “Every time I want to come see you, Ali tells me to ask ‘Mommy Narge’ if she dreams of me?” My only way to connect with my children is in our dreams. How strange it is that they also see their mothers in their nightly, childish, sweet dreams and this is how they connect with me.

After thirteen days of hunger strike she was transferred to hospital, because her physical condition had deteriorated severely. On 16 July 2016 she ended her hunger strike after she was allowed a 30-minutes telephone call with her children. She also said in an open letter that she had received the permission to have one telephone call with her children every week.

f) On 19 September 2016, Narges Mohammadi and her lawyers appeared in front of Branch 36 of the Court of Appeal in Tehran to argue their case and present their evidence. However the Court of Appeal had already made their ruling. On 27 September 2016 the court refused to consider new evidence and upheld the sentence. In April 2017, Iran’s Supreme Court rejected her request for judicial review.

g) Narges Mohammadi is also in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison. She is very ill and is has several serious health conditions. Please support the campaign for her release. You can support her on Social Media. Please use the hashtag #FreeNarges. A group of human rights activists started a campaign on social media which is called #Mountains4Narges. Please join the campaign. You can find more information here.

4. Nasim Bagheri

IMG_2144a) Nasim Bagheri was born in 1984 in Tehran. She has two sisters and a brother. After school she studied at the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) general psychology and received her master degree. The BIHE was founded in 1985 when it was certain for Baha’is that their children were barred from higher education because of their faith. The university is effectively an “underground university” and many of its staff and students are in prison. Nasim Bagheri decide to become an associate professor at BIHE, because she had first hand experience of discrimination for being a Baha’i and wanted to help other students. She later did also administrative work at the university.

b) Nasim Bagheri’s persecution and harassment goes back to 2011. On 22 May 2011 the authorities raided the houses of several people who were associated with BIHE. Also Nasim Bagheri’s house was searched and she was questioned. On 12 March 2012 she and nine other people who taught at BIHE were summoned to the prosecutor’s office and questioned. They were all asked to sign a declaration that they would cease to teach at BIHE. They all refused to do so and were then charged with “propaganda against the state” and “acting against national security through membership in an illegal organisation” (the Baha’i Online University). On 8 October 2013 Nasim Bagheri was tried by Branch 28 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran and then sentenced to four years in prison. Initially she was released on bail, but on 27 April 2014  four agents of the Ministry of Intelligence come to her house with search and arrest warrant in order to enforce the court sentence against her.

c) Nasim Bagheri serves her sentence in the Woman’s Ward of Evin Prison. She suffers from thyroid decease and does not receive proper treatment in prison. Online sources report in October 2015 and in September 2016 that she had been denied furlough at several occasions, even so she has a right under Iranian law to a temporary release from prison. She only received a 6 day temporary release in January 2016 for her sister’s wedding. Iranwire adds that also her family faces harassment.

5. Mahvash Sabet Shariari

IMG_2146a) Mahvash Sabet Shariari was born on 4 February 1953 in Ardestan (Iran).

Mahvash Sabet was a teacher and school principal who had been dismissed of public education for being a Baha’i after the Islamic revolution. She was one of the founders of BIHE and since 1993 the director of this institution for 15 years. Mahvash Sabet was one of the seven members of “Yaran”, an informal community leadership group for 300,000 Baha’is in Iran.

b) Mahvash Sabet was arrested on 5 March 2008 while she was on a trip to Mashhad (Iran). She was transferred to solitary confinement in ward 209 of Evin prison. On 14 May 2008 also the other six members of “Yaran” (Fariba Kamalabadi, Jamaleddin Khanjani, Afif Naeimi, Saeid Rezai, Behrouz Tavakkoli and Vahid Tizfahm) were arrested. All of them were held incommunicado for weeks and did not have access to a lawyer for more than a year. Mahvash Sabet was not informed of her charges during the first 20 months of her imprisonment. On 11 February 2009 a security court announced the charges of all seven Yaran members: “espionage, insulting sanctities and propaganda against the Islamic Republic”.

The trial against all seven Yaran members started on 12 January 2010. At the trial the Baha’i leaders had four lawyers Shirin Ebadi, Abdolfattah Soltani, Hadi Esmaeilzadeh and Mahnaz Parakand. The lawyers had only very limited access to their clients and soon ended up either in exile or in prison. Maybe you read my blog post last year about one of them, Abdolfattah Soltani. After six short sessions, all seven were sentenced on 14 June 2010 to 20 years imprisonment. The charges were “espionage, insulting sanctities, propaganda against the regime and spreading corruption on earth”. They were convicted even so all seven did not attend the last court hearing. In December 2015 sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison. Iranwire says that no formal verdict was issued to the seven prisoners or their lawyers.

c) Mahvash Sabet began writing poetry in prison. She composed the poetry on scraps of paper in her cell in Evin prison. Friends and family were able to bring them out of prison and eventually out of Iran. The writer Bahiyyih Nakhjavani got to know her poems and translated them into English. Her book “Prison Poems” was published in April 2013. Mahvash Sabet was selected as one of the 100 writers who featured in PEN International’s “Day of the Imprisoned Writer” in 2014.

The American-Iranian journalist Roxana Sabert who was imprisoned in Iran for 100 days in 2009 wrote a moving account about Mahvash Sabet and Fariba Kamalabadi, the other female member of Yaran in two articles in the Washington Post: “Two shining lights in an Iranian prison’s darkness” and “In Iran, shackling the Bahai torchbearers“. Both articles are well wort reading.

In August 2017 Mahvash Sabet was awared the Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award which was accepted on her behalf by English PEN’s director Antonia Byatt.

d) During Mahvash Sabet’s time in prison she spent two and half years in solitary confinement and served altogether time in seven security and general prison wards, including the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison. About two months ago, on 18 September 2017, Mahvash Sabet was released from prison, after having served almost 10 years in prison. You can find an exclusive interview with her on Iranwire.

In October 2017 Mahvash Sabet was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize which she shares with the Irish poet Michael Longley. The award was presented at an awards ceremony on 10 October in London. You can read here her acceptance speech which Bahiyyih Nakhjavani accepted on her behalf and watch a video of Mahvash Sabet in which she accepts the prize and also recites one of her poems. Bahiyyih Nakhjavani also wrote a moving article about her: “Loosened Locket: on Mahvash Sabet“.

 

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Poetry behind bars: The Poems

15 November is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. Marian Botsford Fraser, chair of PEN International’s Writer Committee said about this day: It’s a way of saying to all imprisoned writers: “You are not forgotten. We stand with you and fight for you”. This blog post and the next one want to deliver exactly this message. To mark this day I want to share with you in this blog post poetry which was written behind bars, in the Women’s Ward of Iran’s Evin Prison by five women: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, Narges Mohammadi, Nasim Bagheri and Mahvash Sabet Shariari. In next blog post I will introduce you to these women and will share their stories. 

The poems were read at a Vigil for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in front of the Iranian Embassy in London on National Poetry Day (28 September 2017). All poems deal with the themes of prison and freedom and some of them were written for and about Nazanin, her husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella (Gisou). 

1. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Autumn Light

The diagonal light falling on my bed
Tells me that there is another autumn on the way
Without you
A child turned three
Without us
The bars of the prison grew around us
So unjustly and fearlessly
And we left our dreams behind them
We walked on the stairs that led to captivity
Our night time stories remained unfinished
And lost in the silence of the night
Nothing is the same here
And without you even fennel tea loses its odour.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

For Our Parents

I am sitting in a corner
Reviewing my dreams
And ploughing through my memories.
I think about my mum, who
Every time I touch Gabriella’s hair
Or kiss the back of her neck
Her eyes fill up with tears
I think of her safe hands, full of love,
And her longing look.

I think of my Dad
Whose hair has gone completely grey
Tired of walking up and down in the corridors
Of the courts
And the hope at the end of his eyes
That yet again reminds me
That these days will pass, however hard.

I think of your mum
That nothing would make her happier
Than seeing and embracing her granddaughter
After 19 months
To bring a smile on her lips and her pale face
And give her energy on her tired body
Flattened from illness.

I think of your dad
Who turned 68 this month without us
His silence is full of words for me.

I think of freedom, of return
Of that glorious moment of rolling into your arms
The arms I have longed for the past 500 days.

I think of my orchids and African violets
Have they bloomed without me?

It is true that the world in its great hugeness
Sometimes gets so small
As small as the eye in the needle
And unreachable like a dream
And I still
Am sitting in my corner
Reviewing my dreams
And ploughing through my memories.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

2. Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee

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Couples in Prison

You are under the sky of the same city
Just a little bit farther
And a wall between us
As deep as a hand span
We drink tea without each other
And shape clouds in our dreams together
We experience not being with each other
And together we watch the trace of migrating birds

Our date will be
kissing the first star
That twinkles at us every night

Golrokh Iraee

 

For Gisou

Mummy’s Lullaby
I can’t remember
The scent of daddy’s cuddle
I can’t remember
Gisou grows up
A stranger to her homeland
A stranger to her daddy
To mummy

Between moments
And a misty city
That leads to a building
And stairs
Which have devoured mummy
Gisou grows up
With a poem in her heart
And a story on her lips

Golrokh Iraee

3. Narges Mohammadi

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Three Goodbyes

Three goodbyes and a separation, like dying three times

When Ali and Kiana were just three and a half years old
I was arrested by the security guards when attacking my home
Kiana had just had an operation and it was only a couple of hours I had come home.
She had a temperature
When the security guards were searching the house, they allowed me to put the kids to bed.
I put Ali on my feet, and rocked him, and patted him
And softly sang him a lullaby
He slept
Kiana was restless. She had a temperature, and was scared.
She’d felt the fear
She’d clung her arms around my neck
And I, as if gradually sinking,
Was separated from them
When I was going down the stairs, leaving the house
Kiana was left crying in her father’s cuddle
She called me back three times
Three times I came back to kiss her

When Ali and Kiana were five, and their father was away from us in France
The security guards attacked my father’s house
And arrested me
Ali took his yellow plastic gun
And held the hem of my shirt
And Kiana, in that pretty dress,
Ran towards me, and took the edge of my skirt
They wanted to come, with me
Not being able to resist looking into their innocent eyes
I took their little hands away from my skirt
And went into the car of the stone-hearted men

When Ali and Kiana were eight and a half, I got them ready for school in the morning
And they left
The security guards attacked my home again
This time Ali and Kiana were not home
I picked up their photo from the bookshelf
And kissed them goodbye
And was led to the car
With men who had no mercy

And now in September 2017
I have not seen them in two and a half years

My writing might not be correctly worded
But it has the certainty of feeling – the pain of mothers throughout history
The mothers who take pride in their convictions from one side, and feel the pain of conviction being away their children taken away.

Narges Mohammadi
September 2017, Evin

4. Nasim Bagheri

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What Prison Means

Prison means tall walls
Prison means limitation
Prison is separation from what
Is precious to you
Prison means being kept in crisis

But a person with faith
Who believes in freedom
Looks for victory in that crisis
Looks beyond walls
Within the limitations and separations

Holding onto human dignity and values
And testing his soul
Be it in prison
Is being free.

Nasim Bagheri

5. Mahvash Sabet Shariari

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Not Seeing You

Not seeing you was enough
And
All this torture
The dark and small cell
And the wall of stone
Is for what?

Not seeing you was enough
For the world to become a cage
And I
A lovebird alone
Breathless, with a broken heart

Mahvash Sabet Shariari
(for Richard from Nazanin)

Sitting Alone

Sitting alone
In a corner of the earth
With women murderers, thieves, drug addicts and prostitutes
She is only skin on bones
With worry and stress
Like a stranger
That Nazanin
With the dream of your arms
That she has hidden away
In her heart

Away from the interrogator
The dream of a man with a bird on his finger
And the woman is only skin on bones
As if
She is filled with dreams
Dreams of a man who has a bird on his finger

Mahvash Sabet Shariari

I would like to thank Richard Ratcliffe for allowing me to publish all the poems in this blog post.

 

Forbidden Poetry: The Poems

In the previous post “Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami” I gave you some background information about the three poets and their punishments. In this post, I want to share examples of their poetry in English translation and give links to further poems in English translation.

1. Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia)

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The Name of a Masculine Dream

While you excel in worshipping anxiety –
didn’t you notice that your arteries have failed to pump your insomnia up to the eyes?
Didn’t you notice?
That the hearts of those abandoned on the pavements of the night
have split from your vision so many times?
The patterns of the night continue their work
until dawn appears on the edges of clouds gathering
on the ceiling of your imagination.
Didn’t you also notice –
how you enjoy interpreting the arteries of women
and the bodies tossed on the roofs of memories from long ago?

Your pages have been soaked with the sludge of exegesis
and not one word has been read
like you
these pages have exhausted all languages known to earth
in order to offer a name that matches your definition of self
your name – like an inkwell pregnant with possibilities
your build defies all definitions of its organs combined.

Come stand to where the thunder can see you so that your emaciated body may dissolve
and your soul be resurrected as a cloud followed by rain
pouring down life to where your name is not even a dream
that won’t come to pass as long as you’re unable to abandon the definitions
of dubious pleasures and drunken nights
and those who call out the sacred names of love.
Come – for the night is long for the beloved,
not long enough to write about pleasure
or bodies saturated in the smell of peaches
absorbed in all the forbidden pleasures of the night.
Come – to where the cloud chooses to shift your sickly form
and snatch your soul from its exile –
from a heart that had openly declared the absence of love
and from the mirages of the assumed homeland you thought you belonged
to every grit of its earth.

Since when does the wind honor traffic laws?
Since when?
Did the wind ever stop at your red light?
How long have you coaxed it to stop
so you could gather a few words
or find some news no longer fit for print?

Your eyes will confess that insomnia
has violated the secrets of the night
and the night too won’t keep silent for long.
Your heart is an idol to which your arteries have absconded
And they no longer offer your veins as sacrifice
as tribute to the throne of beautiful gods

Your name means nothing to me
it cannot deliver me of all the sins of drought
and it cannot supplicate the night so that I can walk free from its isolation
your name is a lost number –
a weight that has broken your back!

The poem “The Name of a Masculine Dream” is from the book “Instructions Within”. It was translated into English by Mona Zaki. It is published here with the consent of M Lynx Qualey, arablit.orga website for Arabic literature in English. This website has many more translations of Ashraf Fayadh’s poems into English, but also into other languages. Please click here for further translations.  M Lynx Qualey also mentioned in a post on 15 February 2016 that Ashraf Fayadh’s “Instructions Within” will soon be published in French and English translation.

2. Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran)

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I press my head down
It’s the result of insomnia oppressing me
I press my head to you and to my miserable memoirs
The night is pressing me too
But I’m so tough

Now it’s the sound of your scream coming
And there is blood
And there is the smell of tear and tear gas
A soldier is pressing my head down by his boots
Someone is pulling the trigger
Now there is a gun between my eyebrows
I feel the blood pressure in my head
The cowards have run
I press a cold hand in my cold hand

Someone was calling my name all the night
I feel the pressure of a lump in my throat
My throat is wounded
And I hear you screaming in the ear of someone who is all dead
I feel the pressure of life
And its wounds
And its marks
And I feel the pressure of the graves upon the solitude of dead
bodies

I press my fists to the wall and I swallow my cry
You are still screaming in the wild howls of the wind
I press my head down
A vessel is pressing a nerve
And I press a bottom to flash my life back
To go back to a scene where I’m opening a window towards light
Where everybody rise out of the graves
Where I hold a warm hand in my hand
And we are laughing in our homes and in our rooms
There I hear the sound of peace
And my heart beats normally
And that’s a better day with a green background

This poem is taken from a collection of poetry “When a breeze takes a shortcut” which includes poems by Iranian poets and by Radek Hasalik, a Czech poet. I am very grateful to Fatemeh Ekhtesari who allowed me to publish this poem in my blog. If you want to read another of her poems in English have a look at the Versopolis.com website.

3. Mohammed al Ajami (Qatar)

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Tunisian Jasmine

Prime Minister, Mohamed al-Ghannouchi:
If we measured your might
it wouldn’t hold a candle
to a constitution.
We shed no tears for Ben Ali,
nor any for his reign.
It was nothing more than a moment
in time for us,
historical
and dictatorial,
a system of oppression,
an era of autocracy.
Tunisia declared the people’s revolt:
When we lay blame
only the base and vile suffer from it;
and when we praise
we do so with all our hearts.
A revolution was kindled with the blood of the people:
their glory had worn away,
the glory of every living soul.
So, rebel, tell them,
tell them in a shrouded voice, a voice from the grave:
tell them that tragedies precede all victories.
A warning to the country whose ruler is ignorant,
whose ruler deems that power
comes from the American army.
A warning to the country
whose people starve
while the regime boasts of its prosperity.
A warning to the country whose citizens sleep:
one moment you have your rights,
the next they’re taken from you.
A warning to the system – inherited – of oppression.
How long have all of you been slaves
to one man’s selfish predilections?
How long will the people remain
ignorant of their own strength,
while a despot makes decrees and appointments,
the will of the people all but forgotten?
Why is it that a ruler’s decisions are carried out?
They’ll come back to haunt him
in a country willing
to rid itself of coercion.
Let him know, he
who pleases only himself, and does nothing
but vex his own people; let him know
that tomorrow
someone else will be seated on that throne,
someone who knows the nation’s not his own,
nor the property of his children.
It belongs to the people, and its glories
are the glories of the people.
They gave their reply, and their voice was one,
and their fate, too, was one.
All of us are Tunisia
in the face of these oppressors.
The Arab regimes and those who rule them
are all, without exception,
without a single exception,
shameful, thieves.
This question that keeps you up at night –
its answer won’t be found
on any of the official channels …
Why, why do these regimes
import everything from the West –
everything but the rule of law, that is,
and everything but freedom?

The poem “Tunisian Jasmine” was translated into English by Kareem James Abu-Zeid. It is also published here with the consent of M Lynx Qualey, arablit.org. Mohammed Al-Ajami also wrote a “poem from the prison cell” which English PEN published in an English translation for last year’s World Poetry Day. If you want to read it, then please click here.

Forbidden Poetry: Ashraf Fayadh, Fatemeh Ekhtesari, Mohammed al-Ajami

It is a dangerous undertaking to write poetry. Each of the three poets about whom I will write in this post will probably agree with this statement. For this year’s World Poetry Day on 21 March 2016, I want to raise awareness for three poets who were punished for their poetry: (1) Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia), (2) Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran) and (3) Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar).

1. Ashraf Fayadh (Saudi Arabia)

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English PEN protest for Ashraf Fayadh at the Saudi Arabian Embassy, London

Ashraf Fayadh was born in 1980 in Saudi Arabia. He is a Palestinian poet and artist and a member of the Saudi-British group Edge of Arabia, a non-profit cultural initiative to connect artists and ideas between the Middle East and the Western World. Ashraf Fayadh curated a large art show in Jeddah in 2013 and was co-curator of the project RHIZOMA at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013.

2013 was not only the year in which he was curator of significant exhibitions. It was also the year in which his ordeal started. On 6 August 2013 he was arrested following the accusation that he was “promoting atheism and spreading blasphemous ideas among young people”. Someone filed a complaint with the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice about his book “Instructions Within”, a collection of poetry which was published in 2008. He was released on the next day.

Ashraf Fayadh gave in an interview more background about the allegations: He said that the context was a personal dispute he had with another artist about contemporary art in a café in Abha, a city in the South-West of Saudi Arabia.

On 1 January 2014 he was rearrested. The exact charges against him were initially unclear, but his long hair was criticised and it was thought that his ideas contradict the values of the Saudi Arabian society. After his arrest he was detained in a police station for 27 days until he was transferred to prison.

His case went on trial in February 2014. The charges which were brought against him were very severe: apostasy (conscious abandonment of Islam) which carries the mandatory death sentence and in addition a violation of Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Cyber Crime Law by taking and storing photos of women on his phone. Ashraf Fayadh denied the accusations of blasphemy and apostasy and offered a formal apology to the court. In relation to the Anti-Cyber Crime charges he explained that he had only photos of fellow artists on his phone which were taken during the Jeddah art week. The prosecution had three witnesses: the man who had reported his allegedly blasphemous remarks and two officers of the Islamic religious police who had arrested him.

In May 2014 the General Court in Abha sentenced him to four years in prison and 800 lashes (for the charges relating to the imagines of women). He was cleared from the allegation of apostasy, because the court had accepted his apology. Ashraf Fayadh filed an appeal against the judgement, but the court of appeal dismissed it. To make things worse they also indicated that he should still be sentenced for apostasy. The case was then transferred back to the General Court.

The retrial took place in November 2015. On 17 November 2015, the General Court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh to death. This trial was unfair and violated International and Saudi-Arabian laws. Ashraf Fayadh did not have legal representation at court, because he could not mandate a lawyer without his passport which was seized by the police. The judge in the new trial did not even speak with him, but only gave the verdict: death sentence for apostasy.

Ashraf Fayadh’s arrest, trial and sentence were heavily criticised. Immediately after his arrest in January 2014 100 Arab writers and thinkers signed a petition and many others condemned his arrest in the social media.

The public outcry got obviously even louder after he was sentenced to death last November. Amnesty International and 60 other human rights groups and arts groups launched a campaign for him. In addition a large number of authors, artists and actors and also the director of Tate Modern joined the efforts for his release. Since January 2015 English PEN has been regularly protesting at the Saudi Arabian embassy in London for the release of Raif Badawi and Waleed Abulkhair. Since 27 November they have also been calling for the release of Ashraf Fayadh. The international literature festival Berlin had called for worldwide readings on 14 January 2016 to highlight his case. This was very successful and readings in support of his case were held in 44 countries.

Ashraf Fayadh filed within 30 days an appeal against the court decision which sentenced him to death. He claimed that there is no legal basis for the judgement, because of a number of formal errors:

  • He was arrested by the Islamic religious police, even so the arrest should have been done by the state prosecutor.
  • The allegations of apostasy were only based on the witness statement of the one person with whom he had the dispute. They were not corroborated by other evidence as required under the laws of Saudi Arabia.

On 1 February 2016 the court of appeal reversed the decision of the General Court. They overturned the death-sentence and replaced it with the following verdict: eight years in prison, 800 lashes (to be carried out on 16 occasions with 50 lashes each time) and public repentance. Ashraf Fayadh’s lawyer said that they again filed an appeal against this sentence.

Ashraf Fayadh is currently in prison. Sofar he has not yet been flogged.

2. Fatemeh Ekhtesari (Iran)

hjFatemeh Ekhtesari was born in 1986. She is an Iranian poet and she is also a midwife. Her poems are often about women. On the one hand she writes poems about the female body with pregnancies, deliveries and abortions. On the other hand the poems are about the world of women including demonstrations and resistance. She also edited a modern poetry magazine.

Fatemeh Ekthesari belongs to the literary movement “Postmodern Ghazal”. Ghazal is a classic poetic form which consists of rhyming couplets and a refrain. Traditionally the theme of ghazals is unconditional superior love. Mehdi Mousavi who is a pre-eminent member of this literary movement explained that “ghazal” has a wider meaning in the term “Postmodern Ghazal”. It stands for all formal styles of classic poetry and is not restricted to the traditional ghazal. Poets who belong to this movement use classic poetic forms, but modernise them and write about contemporary themes in contemporary language.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari’s first book was published in 2010. She spoke in one article about her approach to deal with censorship. She put dots in her poems for all words which would not get past the authorities. After the book was approved and published, she added the missing words by hand before she sent copies to her friends.

In 2013 Fatemeh Ekhtesari took part in a literary exchange programme with Sweden with the title “A Resistance Movement on My Desk”. Six poets from Iran and six poets from Sweden collaborated in this project and translated together Persian poetry into Swedish. One of the highlights of the programme was the participation at the poetry festival in Stockholm and Gothenborg in September 2013.

On 6 December 2013 Fatemeh Ekthesari (and Mehdi Mousavi) wanted to travel to Turkey for a literary workshop. At the airport they were informed that they were banned from travelling and they were summoned for an interrogation.

Both of them did not go to the interrogation and two days later, on 8 December 2013, they were arrested by the intelligence branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp at their houses. They were transferred to solitary confinement and spent 38 days in the Guards’ Ward 2-A at Evin Prison. Both had to endure psychological pressure and repeated interrogations which finally led to forced confessions. These confessions were the main evidence in the following trial. On 13 January 2014 they were released on bail.

Fatemeh has not only been prosecuted personally, but also her poetry is under attack. One of her books which was published with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance was removed from the Tehran Book Fair in May 2015.

On 10 October 2015 the Tehran Revolutionary Court rendered their judgement. Fatemeh Ekhtesari was sentenced to 11 1/2 years in prison and 99 lashes (and Mehdi Mousavi was sentenced to 9 years in prison and 99 lashes). The charges against her were:

  • Insulting sanctities through her poetry (7 years)
  • Publishing unauthorised content in cyberspace (3 years)
  • Propaganda against the state (1 1/2 years)
  • Kissing (the cheeks) and shaking hands with a member of the opposite sex who was not related (99 lashes).

Her lawyer said that it is not entirely clear which of her poems were deemed to “insult the sacred”. The poems which were mentioned in court did not relate to sanctities. All her books were published with permits issued by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. It is therefore difficult to understand why the censors did not take offense and prohibited the publication in the first place, if some of the poems were really against the law. There is some indictation that she was accused to “insult sanctities” because she was previously in contact with the exiled Iranian rapper Shahin Najaif who used her poems for one of his songs. Iran sees in him an apostate. However, he sang the song which was based on her poems some years ago and a long time before the allegation of apostasy were made against him.

The charge of “propaganda against the state” has to be seen in the context with her trips to Sweden for the exchange project. The ruling claims that she cooperated in Sweden with the press and with “spies” and is responsible for “negative propaganda about Iran”.

Her lawyer sees severe violations of due process and a fair trial, because there are some indications that the decision was made before the court hearing.

Several human rights organisations heavily criticised the decision against Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi. On 30 October 2015 PEN America sent a letter to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The letter is signed by 116 poets and writers and urges him to grant pardon for both poets.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari and Mehdi Mousavi filed an appeal against the judgement. The appeal is still pending. In January they fled Iran. For security resons they do not disclose in which country they are currently. They mentioned however that they have both applied for political asylum.

Fatemeh Ekhtesari shall have the final word. She explained in an article about a months ago her motivation for leaving Iran:

“Self-censorship was among the reasons I left Iran. I was becoming afraid of writing. I feared that anything I write would be used by IRGC interrogations against me.”

“I used to say I have to be in Iran, I need to be in close contact with my audience. I need to see their problems and feel their pain. But I was forced to leave behind the people that I love, the people for whom I’ve been writing poetry.”

 3.  Mohammed al-Ajami (Qatar)

IMG_2009Mohammed al-Ajami was born on 24 December 1975 in Qatar. He is married and has four children. He writes also under the name Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb.

The background of his arrest and his sentence are the following: In 2010 Mohammed al-Ajami recited one of his poems in his house in Cairo (“The Cairo poem”). The recitation was in front of a small private audience. However, one of the audience members made a recording of the performance and posted it without his consent or even his knowledge on YouTube.

On 16 November 2011 Mohammed al-Ajami was summoned to a meeting with state security officials in Doha. When he arrived he was arrested. About two weeks later he was transferred to the central prison. The laws of Qatar allow a pre-trial detention of up to six months, however his detention exceeded the legal maximum and his trial was postponed five times. He was held in solitary confinement for a long time. For several months he did not have access to books, television or writing material. Mohammed al-Ajami’s family and friends were initially not informed about his whereabouts and for months they were not given any right to visit him.

On 29 November 2012 Mohammed al-Ajami was sentenced to life in prison. The charges against him were “incitement to overthrow the government” and “criticising the ruling emir.” The charge of “incitement to overthrow the government” could have even lead to the death sentence.

The whole trial was unfair. It was a trial behind closed doors. Al-Ajami was not allowed to defend himself and his lawyer was not allowed to plead or defend his client. His lawyer also says that the evidence was tampered with. The court heard as expert witnesses three “poetry experts” from the ministry of culture and education. They gave almost identical evidence and asserted that the poem insulted the emir and his son. Al-Ajami never denied that he was author of the poem, but always emphasised that he did not intend to insult anyone. In addition the offence of “incitement to overthrow the government” requires a public action. Because of the private nature of the reading this requirement was not fulfilled. During his interrogations Al-Ajami was forced to sign a false confession which stated that the poem was read in public in the presence of the press. In the final hearing in October 2012 Al-Ajami was expelled from court (for being unruly) and was not brought to court when the judgement was handed down.

It is not entirely clear for which poem Mohammed al-Ajami was punished. A lot of people think that the reason for his punishment is not “The Cairo poem”, but rather “Tunisian Jasmine”. In this poem he praises the Tunisian revolution and denounces corruption and oppression by Arab rulers:

All of us are Tunesia
in the face of these oppressors.
The Arab regimes and those who rule them
are all, without exception,
without a single exception,
shameful thieves.”

Excerpt of “Tunisian Jasmine”

If you want to read the whole poem “Tunisian Jasmine”, you find it in the following post. There is also a link to another poem which al-Ajami wrote in prison.

The judgement against Mohammed al-Ajami was heavily criticised by Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations and also in the social media.

Mohammed al-Ajami filed an appeal against the judgement. On 25 February 2013 the court of appeal reduced the sentence to 15 years in prison.

Another appeal to the Court of Cassation was not successful. The Court of Cassation upheld on 20 October 2013 15 year prison sentence. The court made his decision to uphold the decision in less than three hours.

Several human rights organisation continously called for his release and there were readings of poetry in solidarity for Mohammed al-Ajami. On 20 October 2015 the UN Special Rapporteur raised his case and declared that his arrest, detention and sentencing “seem to be solely related to the peaceful exercise of his fundamental human rights”. He added that the charges are “clearly incompatible with international standard, which protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including in the form of arts, and the take part in cultural life.” English PEN held a protest in support of al-Ajami on 25 February 2016 and delivered a petition to the Qatari Embassy in London.

After the decision of the Court of Cassation in October 2013 there were no further ways to challenge the judgement. The only hope which was left for Mohammed al-Ajami was a pardon by the Emir.

Two days ago, on 15 March 2016, there was surprising good news reported via social media: Qatar has granted Mohammed al-Ajami a royal pardon and English PEN reported yesterday that he has been released.

I have decided to include him nevertheless in my post as acknowledgment of his suffering and the unfair imprisonment for more than four years. His story and story of every other poet who is punished for their poetry shall be heard and shared.

Please read also the following post in which you find examples of Ashraf Fayadh’s, Fatemeh Ekhtesari’s and Mohammed Al-Ajami’s poetry. 

I want to thank English PEN which allowed me to use the photo of their protest for Ashraf Fayadh and the pictures of Mohammed Al-Ajami in this post and of Ashraf Fayadh in the next post. I also want to thank M Lynx Qualey, arablit.org, who allowed me to use translations of the poems of Ashraf Fayadh and Mohammed Al-Ajami in the next post. Finally I want to thank especially Fatemeh Ekhtesari. She sent me the two photos I used in this and the next post, English translations of some of her poems and was patient enough to answer my questions.

Poem: Yā ẓalām as-siǧn (O dark of prison shade us) by Najīb ar-Rayyis

A couple of weeks ago I heard about a classic Arabic poem by the poet Najīb ar-Rayyis. I want to share with you in the following post the poem (in an English translation), its background and how I heard about it.

O dark of prison, shade us,
for we dearly love the darkness.
After night there is nothing unless
a dawn of glory rises up.

Alas, o place of fame,
o dwelling of our faithful ones,
we offered young men to you
who have no fear of death

and we all gave our word to each other,
on that day we swore the oath.
We shall never break our word,
for we took righteousness as our faith.

O you guards, be lenient,
and hear the words we speak:
Let us enjoy the air,
to withhold it would be a sin.

By God, I shall never forget
the ills my nation is suffering.
I call you to witness, o stars,
that I have loyalty and love within me.

O clanking fetters, give me more
of that sound which saddens my heart,
for your voice gives a meaning
to mourning and oppression.

I was never an evildoer,
I never betrayed the regime;
far rather, the love of my country
holds fast a place in my heart.

1. The poem “Yā ẓalām as-siǧn” (O dark of prison shade us) was written by the Syrian Poet Najīb ar-Rayyis in 1922.

Najīb ar-Rayyis was born in 1898 in Hama, Syria. Hama belonged at that time to the Ottoman Empire. He was a journalist, editor and activist against the French mandate for Syria and Lebanon.

In 1919 Najīb ar-Rayyis went to Damascus and worked as journalist for several Syrian newspapers and a number of Lebanese newspapers. From 1928 onwards he was editor of the newspaper al-Qabas / ‏القبس‎ / ‚The fervour‘. This newspaper became soon a major publication for the Syrian national movement for independence and was highly regarded by the Syrian people.

Even before he became editor of al-Qabas he was famous for his articles which supported the national movement of Syria. His editorials for al-Qabas were respected for their strong criticism of the French colonial ruler. As a consequence the publication of al-Qabas was often forbidden or at least interrupted. Najīb ar-Rayyis paid a high price for his activism and his clear advocacy for Syrian independence. Between 1920 and 1943 he was several times in different prisons, penal camps and banished. Altogether he spent eight years of his life in prison.

After the end of the French mandate in 1946 Najīb ar-Rayyis was highly regarded. He was soon elected as a member of parliament under the president Shukri al-Quwatli. In parliament he was known to be a eloquent and courageous orator and defender of all matters of his country and the well-being of its people. After his service in the parliament he went back to his work as a journalist and wrote many further articles. He died in 1952 in Damascus.

2. The poem Yā ẓalām as-siǧn has to be seen in the same context as his work for several newspapers. It is one of the most famous works of Najīb ar-Rayyis. He wrote it 1922 during his banishment to Arwad – a Syrian island close to Tartus, Syria’s second largest port.

a) The 1920s were a significant time for Syria. After the First World War the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and there were two distinct developments. The colonial powers France and Britain divided the former Ottoman Empire 1918 between them. The French controlled parts of Ottoman Syria (mainly modern Syria and Lebanon) and parts of south-eastern Turkey. At the same time Faisal established the first Arab government in Damascus. In May 1919, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress who declared the independence of Syria in 1920. An independent Syria would conflict with the French idea of a colonial mandate over Syria (and Lebanon). On 23 July 1920 the Battle of Maysalun was fought between the Syrian and the French forces. The better equipped and trained French forces defeated the Syrian forces decisively. In the aftermath of the battle France divided the whole mandate territory in six parts and established between 1920 and 1922 six states. The poem was therefore written after this decisive defeat in Maysalun, when Syria was in the process of being divided  into different parts and Najīb ar-Rayyis’ dreams of an independent Syria were shattered.

b) The poem follows the pattern of a classical Arabic Qaṣīda, even so it is shorter than many Qaṣīdas. In the Arabic version every half-line has three stresses and there is a rhyme at the end of every second half-line.

Also the contents and structure follows a Qaṣīda.This form of poetry consists of three parts. The first part contains the introduction. It is usually a nostalgic opening in which the poet reflects on the past. This part is known as nasib. Very often this past situation is a sad or tragic one. A common concept is e.g. that the poet reaches the camp-site, but the caravan of the beloved has already moved on. The second part can be described as release or disengagement (takhallus). It often describes a transition from the nostalgia of the first part to the second section. Typically the poet contemplates in this section the harshness of the land and life alone away from the tribe. The third part of a Qaṣīda contains the message of the poem. The message can take several forms, e.g. some moral maxim (hikam) or in our case the self-praise of the poet.

3. I heard the first time about this poem at the beginning of April. Asma Darwish, the wife of the Bahraini human rights activist Hussain Jawad mentioned it in a tweet. She wrote on 8 April in her tweet after her visit in prison the following: “@HussainMJawad kept repeating in visit today a verse of an Arabic poem: “Oh darkness of prison, approach. We do not fear the dark”. I was immediately intrigued by this tweet. I love poetry and was very curious to know the complete poem. However, one line of a poem in translation without any further information is not enough to find a poem.

Hussain Jawad was released on 19 May 2015 (conditional release). Within a week after his release he tweeted a picture of an Arabic text which was obviously a poem. I assumed that this text was the poem he was quoting in prison. I was now even more curious. I do not speak Arabic, but I definitely wanted to know the translation of this poem which seemed to be so important to him that it accompanied him in prison and that he wanted to share it with everyone a very short time after his release.

So how did I get the translation? I use very frequently a language forum (for English and German). Over the years I had learned that the participants in this forum are very resourceful. I thought it was worth asking for ideas how I could find a translation of a poem which I cannot read and of which I know neither title nor author. I was not disappointed – to the contrary the reactions exceeded all my expectations by far. Within a short time, someone contacted me and told me that he speaks Arabic and that he would be happy to make a translation of the poem. He is German, therefore he translated the poem into German. We then put the German translation on the forum. Together with another participant of the forum who is an English native speaker we made the translation into English. For each question or uncertainty of the English translation our translator from Arabic gave feedback and tried to explain the structure of the original Arabic sentence and the meaning of the words which are used with the aim to get an English translation which is as close as possible to the Arabic original.

I love the result and I am delighted that I have now a translation of this poem which I can share with you.

4. I would like to finish my post with saying thank you to both people who helped so heavily with the translation of this poem. Both do not want to be named, but I am really very grateful for their help. Both did far more for the translation than I.

The person who translated the poem into German wrote afterwards a Wikipedia article about it for the German Wikipedia. You can find this article here. Everything I wrote here about the poem and the background heavily depends on this article. There is also an article about the poet and the poem in the Arabic Wikipedia. If you are interested in the original Arabic version of the poem please have a look here.

If you had read my earlier posts you know that I mentioned Asma Darwish and Hussain Jawad before. In case you have not read it, please have a look here.

I  want to ask every reader of this blog to take action for him. Please have a look at the urgent appeal for Hussain Jawad on the Strictly Legal Law blog of a friend of mine. You will find there more information about his case and a link to the Amnesty International urgent action for him which asks you to write to Bahrain and demand that all charges against him are dropped and that the allegations of torture are investigated. The next hearing in his trial is on 2 September and the charges against him are based on a forced confession.