For over 15 years, Iranian activist and cameraman Mahnaz Alizadeh has been fighting for women’s rights. During this time, she was arrested, threatened and recently saw her mentor, lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes. Traumatized, she decides to emigrate to Canada, but finds herself in an overcrowded cell controlled by the CCP criminal faction, in Rio Branco, Acre. We are a family business.
The future of Alizadeh, 35, mobilized the world of cinema. US director Jeff Kaufmann, who just released a vaunted documentary about Sotoudeh, revealed that Alizadeh was one of the cameramen who took the opportunity to film the lawyer without government permission. He included her in the credits “so that Brazilian justice understands that she can be arrested, tortured (and possibly killed) if she is deported to the country of origin”.
Former member of the Cannes Film Festival jury, Iranian producer Katayoon Shahabi is one of Alizadeh’s defense witnesses in the trial before the 3rd Federal Court of the judicial section of Acre. He said the two acted together in human rights documentaries. Two other Iranian directors have sent letters of support to the cameraman, but their names cannot be released due to political persecution in Iran.
On August 29, Alizadeh and four other Iranians were arrested red-handed in Assis Brasil (AC), on the border with Peru, as they tried to enter the country with false passports. An investigation by the PF, based primarily on the contents of seized cell phones, identified the cameraman and Iranian-Canadian Reza Sahami as members of an international human trafficking ring.
Without speaking Portuguese and in precarious English, Alizadeh spent around 50 days imprisoned in Assis Brasil and then in Rio Branco. He shared a mattress in a hot, overcrowded cell, suffered from rationed water supplies, and learned to live with the arguments between the CCP and Comando Vermelho.
For the cameraman, it was the worst time since she decided to emigrate in 2018, a journey that included months locked in rooms in Ecuador and Peru, during the pandemic.
“I had the impression of being at the end of the world, without anyone knowing who I was,” Alizadeh tells Folha, in a conversation in English mediated by an Iranian friend, who went to Rio Branco for help. For a few weeks, the two lived in a house while awaiting the outcome of the trial.
In early 2016, Sotoudeh offered to help me produce a documentary about his life. In the middle of this project, security guards started threatening Sotoudeh and me. We continued for a while, but when the threats against me got even more serious at the end of 2017, she advised me to stop working with her so that I wouldn’t risk being arrested. When Sotoudeh was arrested in June 2018, I decided to leave the country because I felt that I would not have the psychological and emotional strength to face another arrest and incarceration in Iran. I was also in a relationship lesbian at the time, which is prohibited by law, punished with flogging and can lead to the death penalty.
Alizadeh’s activism is intertwined with recent Iranian history. In 2005, she participated in the feminist campaign One Million Signatures, an initiative by Iranian women to pressure the theocratic regime to end discriminatory laws.
It was in this campaign that the film and art student met Nasrin Sotoudeh. In the following years, the lawyer would become the foremost representative of the struggle for human rights in Iran – and one of the regime’s main targets.
In 2009, Alizadeh participated in the demonstrations of the Green Revolution, against the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The color green was used during the campaign of moderate candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, who promised more openness to women.
Because of his participation, he spent 21 days in prison for political prisoners. “I expected to be arrested in the streets during the protests. Instead, at 2 a.m., men broke into the house where I lived with my parents. I was 24 and in my last year at university.
Alizadeh was sentenced to two years for conspiring against national security, but the sentence was suspended after payment of a fine. After that, she says, job opportunities in the public sector closed and she started working mostly in temporary jobs.
In early 2016, Sotoudeh, who had already been in prison for three years, asked the cameraman to participate in the recording of a documentary about his life. She had no idea, however, that the material would be edited by American director Jeff Kaufmann.
“The filming of her work had two objectives: she would go to see a director outside of Iran, whose details she would rather not know, and I would make a film about her life myself. In the middle of this project, security guards started threatening Sotoudeh and me.
At the end of 2017, these threats led to the cessation of shooting. A few months later, in June 2018, Sotoudeh was arrested. At the time, Alizadeh was in a relationship with another woman, which in Iran is considered an act punishable by death.
“So I decided to leave the country. I felt that I did not have the emotional and psychological strength to face another prison, ”he says.
I decided to leave Iran because threats from state agents and the pressure of a secret romantic relationship created unbearable stress. I must add here that after my arrest in 2009, I suffered from anxiety and depression for many years. I finally decided to undergo treatment and started going to a psychiatrist in 2014. I continued my treatment with medication and therapy until I decided to leave Iran, I had to do everything. stop when I left the country.
The cameraman chose Canada. In October 2018, he met Iranian-Canadian Reza Sahami, 56, posing as a partner in a travel agency.
After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a tourist visa at the Canadian consulate in Turkey – the country has no diplomatic representation in Iran – Sahami proposed a new route, via Ecuador, a country that does not require visa for Iranians.
The plan was simple and would take a maximum of two months: the cameraman would get a tourist visa and from there she would travel to Canada, where she would seek refuge on arrival. He would pay US $ 5,000 (R $ 27,000) for entry and US $ 7,000 (R $ 38,000) at the end of the trip.
Alizadeh arrived in Quito on January 8, when he had his first bad surprise. Sahami came into being with the deposit of $ 12,000 at a time. To pay, the cameraman had to turn to his family and friends.
Another change in plans was how to enter Canada, again according to the filmmaker. Instead of a tourist visa, Sahami gave him a fake Canadian passport. Surprised, she refused to go on board. Some of the Iranians in the group took a risk: some were arrested, others passed by.
After weeks of deadlock, Sahami smuggled the group to Peru, where boarding would be easier than in Ecuador. It was March 22, the start of the Covid-19 epidemic. International flights have been suspended and will not resume until October. The country has entered a lockdown.
Alizadeh had started a tumultuous relationship with Sahami. Cell phone conversations show that while exchanging romantic messages with the coyote, the cameraman called him a “merchant” and criticized him for his friends.
It was truly emotional torture, I felt like a sex slave to him instead of being in a relationship. However, since I didn’t want to come to terms with this and the resulting pain, I continued to convince myself that I had truly fallen in love with him. I always told him that he was actually my jailer, whom I fell in love with for some reason. I was raped when I was 16 and sexually abused so much because I had to keep my rape a secret due to our culture and my family’s perspective. Being raped again has become a phobia for me ever since. When he tried to convince me to have sex with him, I didn’t know how it would end if I rejected him.
These messages will later be used by the PF as proof that Alizadeh was working with Sahami, and was not just his client. The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) ended up accusing them both of human trafficking. Wanted, police said they would not comment on the case.
In August, Sahami convinced the group of Iranians to cross Brazil by land, arrive at Rio Branco, embark for São Paulo and from there to Canada. It was then that there was an arrest, after the PF received anonymous information about the attempt.
Currently, only Alizadeh is in Brazil – she won her freedom after paying a R $ 2,000 bond. Sahami was also released and, at the end of December, embarked for Tehran. The defense of the Iranian is in charge of the Public Defender of the Union.
In Rio Branco, she relied mainly on a women’s solidarity network created by Solene Oliveira da Costa, an ombudsman for the Public Defender of Acre, who met her in prison, while Alizadeh was facing a crisis. depressed. The cameraman calls him “angel”.
“Seeing this woman in handcuffs, without speaking Portuguese and crying copiously, made me cry too,” recalls Costa. “I didn’t understand anything she was talking about, but I felt her body trying to figure out what was going on.