Born in 1972, Somayeh Taghvaei was only nine years old. She was doing her homework when the house she was staying at was stormed by security forces looking for her parents. Somayeh was subsequently arrested. Minutes before her arrest, Somayeh witnessed a struggle between the pasdars and two of the members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation who were living in the same team house. One of the two men- whom Somayeh considered ‘uncles’- were shot in front of her bewildered eyes while the other escaped. It was said that Somayeh was so scared from witnessing the scene that she hid between the kitchen wall and the refrigerator and screamed non-stop.
As soon as she was transferred to Evin, Somayeh was interrogated. She was forced to show the houses of her relatives and acquaintances to the officers. Her interrogations continued until she was released at the age of 14. During the entire five years of her detention, Somayeh was interrogated in various branches of Evin Prison under the supervision of Assadollah Lajevardi, Revolutionary Prosecutor of Tehran and Head of Evin Prison. Meanwhile, the nine year old girl witnessed the torture and lashing of other prisoners at the prosecution branches. All the interrogation questions were about Somayeh’s parents, Mehdi Taghvaei and Nahid Taheri, who were members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation. When Somayeh’s parents became aware of the sting operation, they left Iran for France along with their other three children. Later, they moved to Iraq and to Camp Ashraf. Somayeh was not the only member of the family taken hostage. The security forces also took Hassan Taghvaei, Somayeh’s uncle, into custody. Two years after Somayeh’s arrest, she came face-to-face with her uncle at Branch 7 of Evin Prison. In a written narration of this meeting, Hassan Taghvaei writes:
Believe me when I say that the weight of the world hanging on my shoulders would have paled in comparison to what I was witnessing. I was completely confused. I stood there staring at her dumbfounded, without the ability to even step an inch forward. My niece held me tightly and kept calling my name. Finally, I knelt and hugged her. My throat was stuffed. I squeezed her, took her scent in and kissed her. I was bewildered as to what she was doing there. She had grown in the two years since I had seen her. Without waiting for me to commence speaking, she started talking while her head was on my shoulders: “Amu Hassan, they arrested me at the Team House. I am staying in the female ward. I do guild work too… her speech and excitement helped me speak again… they had brought Mahdi’s daughter to Evin two years ago. They could not find the mother and in order to force the parents to return to Iran and introduce themselves to the prosecution office, they had taken a nine year old girl hostage too!
Testimony of Somayeh’s ward mates attest that she was provided with no educational opportunities in prison. She was instead put to work at the women’s sewing workshop:
At that age, Somayeh sewed clothes. The sewing machine was as big as her because she was so tiny. She learned to be a seamstress and to sew. This is how she spent her days. Once, when Lajevardi came for a supervisory visit, Somayeh had sewn a button-down shirt. Lajevardi asked her who she had sewn the shirt for and she said it was for her father. Lajevardi said, “So you sewed it for me!” and took the shirt from her.
Initially, she established close relations with some of the female prisoners who either had children or were her mother’s age. However, after one of those women to whom Somayeh was very close was taken to be executed, Somayeh didn’t eat for three days. Somayeh’s ward mates decided that in order to prevent further psychological damage to Somayeh’s psyche, none of the ward mates would get particularly close to Somayeh. In her last year of detention, the prison officials asked one of the prisoners who herself had a daughter to take responsibility for Somayeh. She asked her family outside of prison to bring clothes for Somayeh and took her to bathe. According to the woman’s testimony, during her entire prison term, Somayeh suffered from nightly urination.
She says, “due to psychological and mental pressure she was subjected to, she had nightly urination. The first night, she came to me and said, “Promise not to be upset if I say something.” I asked what she wanted to say. She said, “I may wet my clothes at night. What would happen if I am sleeping next to you?” I said it was no problem and that would change her clothes and then take a shower.”
It appears that in the first months following her arrest, Somayeh was in much worse conditions. One of the prisoners recounts that Somayeh was given to the supervision of one of the tavvab mojahed’s named Atiyeh Asbaghi. She used to make Somayeh wear diapers at night. Somayeh had told the aforementioned prisoner that she had pigeons at home and missed them.
Throughout the five years Somayeh was imprisoned, she was never allowed to be a child. The prisoner who had been placed to care for Somayeh describes her days as:
When her work would end in the sewing workshop, she would come to the ward, eat her food, pray and go back to the workshop again. At nights, she used to sit in a corner and talk to me and other girls. Or she would walk to other rooms. Even as a child, whenever the news would come on she would be all ears because maybe she would hear news relevant to her parents. When she walked and spoke, she looked like a miniature doll; she was so beautiful. She had light eyes, long lashes, and a white face. She had an unusual lack of colour.
At times when she slept next to me I placed her head on my bosom. I caressed her and touched her hair. Unfortunately, in those days in the prison, people were so mixed that one could hardly trust the woman sitting next to her. There were those who were executed because of one report alone. Although she was young, Somayeh understood that and tried to keep her silence as much as possible. I seldom remember her joking or laughing. Sometimes I wanted her to play with other kids who were in the ward with their mothers… Even the games were momentary for Somayeh because after them, she would be alone. She sat at the corner of the room and would stare in silence for long stretches of time.
In 1984, the prison authorities called on Somayeh and took her away from the ward. Two weeks later they brought Somayeh back to prison. One of the witnesses says,
When she returned her hands were hennaed. Her nails were hennaed too. She also had a gold bangle. I asked her, “Somayeh Jan, where have you been?” she said, “I was taken to Haj Lajevardi’s house.” When she returned from that place she was no longer the same Somayeh. She had appeared depressed. Her childish tenderness had vanished. Even her attitude had changed and she had become disgruntled. She was taken from the ward shortly thereafter. I didn’t know where she was anymore, but I asked about her from the girls coming from other wards. A few said that they had heard her name called in the branch: Taghvaei.
In 1986, when she was around 14, Somayeh was handed to the custody of her paternal aunt after around five years of imprisonment. After that, Somayeh’s paternal uncle accepted to be her guardian and she lived in his household.
In a letter written to her family dated April 16, 1986 and after her release from prison, Somayeh wrote:
“Dear father, if that incident (the conflict and my arrest) had not taken place, I should have been in 8th grade. In order to make up for the lost time, I am currently studying. If I can, I would like to make up the missing classes in the three months of summer when the school is closed.”
Somayeh started attending school outside of prison. A few years after her release, a woman came to Somayeh’s uncle’s home and asked for Somayeh’s hand in marriage for her son. Somayeh’s uncle rejected this, reasoning that Somayeh’s parents were not around. Following that incident, Somayeh and her uncle were summoned by the Revolutionary Prosecution Office at Evin Prison where Somayeh was told by one of the prosecution office’s officials that if she did not accept the marriage proposal, she would be returned to prison again.
Thus, at the age of 18, Somayeh Taghvaei was married to a man who was a close associate of certain governmental officials and had served in the Iran-Iraq war. The forced marriage resulted in two daughters.
Somayeh was in her early twenties when the doctors noticed of the presence of cancerous tumours in her body. The medical treatment received in Iran was not fully effective. Somayeh’s parents left the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation in 1992 and had since moved to London, UK. Somayeh was sent to London to the care of her parents to pursue further treatment. A year later, on March 15, 1998 and at the age of 25, Somayeh lost her battle with the advanced stage of cancer in a London hospital. She was never given the opportunity to feel secure, safe and calm enough to retell what happened to her in her lost childhood.