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Changes: Shiva Mahbobi

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Annie [00:00:00] Before we start, a word of warning that this episode contains some upsetting content. Please check the show notes for full details... Hello and welcome to Changes. Last September, huge protests were sparked after it was reported that a 22 year old Iranian woman, Masa Amini, died after being beaten by police for allegedly violating Iran's strict rules by not wearing a hijab. All over Iran women revolted; burning their hijabs, cutting their hair and chanting 'women, life, freedom'. This revolution lasted for months and it was powerful for so many reasons, but the root of it was that this was a movement ignited by women. All over the world people took to the streets and to social media in solidarity of these women. My guest today is Shiva Mahbobi, someone who knows the Iranian Islamic regime all too well. As a teenager she was arrested twice, once in a demonstration at the age of 12 and again at 16 years of age, after which she was imprisoned for over three years. Upon her release, she continued political activities but later had to leave the country for fear of being arrested and executed. She travelled to Turkey and lived there for a couple of years before moving to Canada and then to the UK. Now Shiva is an activist and a campaigner working to raise awareness and improve the conditions of political prisoners both in Iran and globally. Last week, the 20th of June was an annual International Day of Action to support political prisoners in Iran, which Shiva herself helped to campaign to establish... Shiva, welcome to Changes. 

Shiva [00:01:40] Hi Annie, thank you so much for having me here. 

Annie [00:01:44] Can I ask you to spell out very clearly for those who maybe don't know fully, how different life in Iran is for women than it is here in the Western world? What are the restrictions for a woman in Iran today? 

Shiva [00:02:01] I think I want your audience to imagine waking up being told you cannot wear what you want to wear. You cannot marry who you want to marry. You cannot travel without the permission of husband, brother, or whoever. You cannot study what you like. Every single aspect. You don't have a right to divorce and if you do, the custody of your children will be given to your ex or whoever. And at the same time, being raped is legalised, child marriage is legalised. So if you imagine everything from how you walk, how you talk, would you study, how you live, everything has a law. And so imagine waking up and someone telling you every single part of your life is monitored. It's almost like Handmaid's Tale, isn't it? 

Annie [00:02:59] Yeah, it's more extreme.

Shiva [00:03:00] Yeah, it's more extreme because we are living in 21st century and it's every part of you, every single thing about your life being legalised, you're going to be killed like Masa Amini. Murdered just because part of your hair is out there. And so imagine that, imagine being in a box and you can't go to the police because the police is the government, that's how they apply so everything about your life is illegal. Literally being a woman is illegal as being a woman expressing yourself and all that. You're not even second class citizen because we don't have a status as a woman in Iran under the Islamic laws. So therefore, I guess what it's like, people walk on the street with their hair out, they're laughing, they're walking with whoever they want to, they can't even imagine for the same thing you're going to get arrested, raped, tortured and killed in Iran. So it's unimaginable I would imagine- I would think for someone who's never been in that situation. 

Annie [00:04:07] How long have you lived away from Iran now? 

Shiva [00:04:10] Uh, I think since 1992. That would make it, what, 30 something years? Yes. Yes. 

Annie [00:04:19] And do you still have family and friends there? 

Shiva [00:04:22] My immediate families are all there. I lost touch with most of my friends because I think one of the things about having Islamic regime and power and dictatorship is not just about losing people it's about losing that connection, not being able to be in touch with them. I mean, people talk about childhood friends, I don't have one because some of them were executed and I don't know where the rest are. 

Annie [00:04:47] And social media is not allowed in Iran, is that right?

Shiva [00:04:50] Social media is not allowed but people use filtering by-passing that and courageously using that. And bear in mind, even that is a crime and they can put you in prison. People and especially women who are not giving up, who are fighting courageously, I mean, I can't have a word to describe that. Now they are going on the street without a scarf and they defying the regime. Whereas they know they gonna lose ---. For some of them they got shot by pellet gun in their eyes and they lost eyesight. They put their picture on the website and they said that I'll go to the protests again. That's amazing. And we talking about, what, early 20, I don't know, 16 years old, even younger. I mean, they killed 75 kids in this protest and their parents are still defying the regime. I think we have to remember that part. People are so courageous and they passed fear. Fear doesn't mean anything when you've lost everything and you are determined to get rid of this regime. So I guess there are two part to that. We have to remember that it's not just- people haven't given up and that's amazing. I mean, I look at these young people, if you remember the images of this young student- student girls were taking off their hijab, I really identified with them because that was me, you know, years and years ago that went on the street and fought for my right. I was only 12 and then went on again. I identify with them and I'm glad- I'm saddened that they still have to fight but I'm really proud that generation after generation, strong women been going on and doing, you know, as someone says, you know, women who made from fire, they are not going to be burned. It's impossible. They made a fire and that's how I think women in Iran are. 

[00:06:56] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:07:08] So, little you, 12 years old, demonstrating on the streets, how did you get to be that girl? What was your early childhood like and who was around you to shape you?

Shiva [00:07:19] So I grew up in a kind of family- my family members generally are very educated. They're not religious. Yes, they believe in God etc. but they're not, so I grew up with a family who never suppressed me for being a girl. I think that was very important. But obviously, stepping out of the house, you see all this when what's happening to women. Take an example, like I was 12, we always refused to cover all our hair so we had the scarf on, so some of my hair like Masa Amini  was out. And they used to kind of control that and they expelled me for two weeks from studying and they told my parents they have to guarantee that they cover all my hair otherwise I'm not allowed to go back to school. 

Annie [00:08:08] And what did your parents say about that? 

Shiva [00:08:10] Well, they had to. You dealing with the government that they arrest you and kill you *slight laugh* what would you expect? But I guess I grew up also, especially my paternal uncles and aunties were quite political activists and I was very much shaped by them. And I'm from the city that Masa Amini is, Kurdistan, which always been fighting against the regime more than any other area. 

Annie [00:08:35] And is there a reason for that? 

Shiva [00:08:36] I think historically Kurdistan has been quite suppressed by different regimes, even before, even in the Shah time, in monarchies time and therefore there is quite- people are very have this spirit of fighting and resistance. So I as a little girl, as you said, I opened my eyes, the revolution happened, which was people's revolution, it wasn't Islamic revolution, it was people revolution against the dictatorship of Shah at the time. 

Annie [00:09:05] So you were ten when the revolution happened, but then Islamic regime. 

Shiva [00:09:09] Took power. 

Annie [00:09:10] Took over? 

Shiva [00:09:10] Yes. 

Annie [00:09:10] So they took power even though the people were revolting against a dictator? Right. 

Shiva [00:09:15] Yes, absolutely. And they hijacked the revolution, the Islamic regime. 

Annie [00:09:19] Yeah, they hijacked it. 

Shiva [00:09:20] And then at the same time, I grew up looking around me, people being kidnapped, being killed. I think it comes maybe from the way I was. I was always thinking- I was always against injustice. I mean, yes, okay, we can go through it as a family but I think looking at that,, I could not be silenced and not do anything about this so I was that curious little girl who was saying, yes, I'm a woman but I, I should be able to live like other people. So I think that took me to politics. When we say politics, I was in student movements. And then when you see your classmates are executed- 

Annie [00:10:04] How do you see that happen? What's the context of that? 

Shiva [00:10:07] The context of that is like, student movement meaning we were demonstrating, we were writing slogans on the wall that we don't want this regime against execution and all that, and that could get you and get you executed. As simple as that, basically. 

Annie [00:10:27] So doing some graffiti on a wall. 

Shiva [00:10:29] That's it. Yeah, that's it. And then for that reason they arrested several of my classmates, schoolmates. 

Annie [00:10:37] And you were how old? 

Shiva [00:10:39] I was at the time, I believe I was 13 years old. 

Annie [00:10:42] Right. 

Shiva [00:10:43] So therefore, I mean, when you see that, your choice is either not to say anything or do something about it. I think I know for someone who is not familiar with Iran, people might ask how can you be killed just for doing graffitis or distributing flyers but any voice against the regime has been suppressed brutally. And at the time, remember, we didn't have social media. The world didn't know what's happening with us. 

Annie [00:11:13] So one day those people just weren't in class and they never came back? 

Shiva [00:11:18] No, I knew that they were arrested because I knew their family, we were in the same city. And in fact, for that reason, when I was prior to my arrest, a year before my arrest, I had to go to another city to live with my uncle because they wanted to arrest me. 

Annie [00:11:34] And your parents sent you? 

Shiva [00:11:36] Yes, and then when I came back and I refused to stop my activity, then that's when they arrested me. 

Annie [00:11:43] When you were 16? 

Shiva [00:11:45] Yes. Yeah. 

Annie [00:11:45] Yeah. And can I ask how your parents felt? Were they trying to get you to stop? *Laughs* Were they worried about you being arrested? 

Shiva [00:11:54] Definitely. I was the youngest child, the only daughter, and they were petrified because they never been political my own parents and they hate- they always tried to stop me but, you know, I wouldn't listen. I was a teenager who wanted to do something about this, like all these teenagers you see around the world. I want to make changes. I want to do something about it. So, yes, they did and I can only imagine how hard it was for my mum when they arrested me. My parents didn't know where I am for 40 days and imagine not knowing-

Annie [00:12:33] God. 

Shiva [00:12:35] They would come to the detention centre and they would ask them and they would say no, you can't visit her, we don't know. And when I saw my mum after 40 days from far away, we weren't allowed to hug or anything, I mean, you can't imagine she was only 31 years old because she's only 15 years old, older than me. When I saw her, I just saw an old woman. I couldn't recognise her because imagine what she went through. So, no, they always tried. They were really scared for me and I think they were relieved when I left Iran perhaps, even though they miss me but-

Annie [00:13:16] Were you not scared being held at 16 years old in a detention centre? 

Shiva [00:13:21] I was really, really scared but I think when you're an activist and you, especially that age as a teenager, you really want to make changes, I think you're angry at them for killing your friends, for doing all this to people and especially women. I was really scared, of course I was scared, you know, any minute I was scared. One thing I was really scared of being raped. I remember that was one thing. I was never raped in prison but that's one thing that I was really scared. I was scared when I was in solitary confinement for seven months, solid seven months. 

Annie [00:13:59] Seven months in solitary confinement? 

Shiva [00:14:02] So seven months and another time three months, but the longest was seven months. 

Annie [00:14:07] Talk us through as much or as little as you want of that. What was the condition that you were in? 

Shiva [00:14:13] So it was a small room, let's say one and a half to less than one metre with no toilet, no facilities, nothing. Just with a small window in the roof that you couldn't reach obviously. And constantly there they would take you to the toilet only three times, no matter how much you needed to go to toilet. And I think as a result I developed lots of kidney problems and stuff like that. And then they would come in any time they wish if they wanted and in the beginning I didn't have any, basically visit with my family. No one knew what happened to you. So it was quite horrible because I think being in solitary confinement, you really don't know if people know you're alive or not. You're really on your own. I mean, not just literally, emotionally, you know that you're on your own and anything could happen to you so it was really horrible and they would do that for punishment because if in prison you would then submit to them and you would say well, I'm not going to collaborate with you, then they would put you in solitary confinement. Like the first time I was arrested, I was in solitary confinement for ten days and they would lash me on the sole of my feet. So it's quite a lot. And you can imagine all this happening to a teenager because it's very different, when you're much older you have a sense of what's going on in life. With a teenager, I mean, my sweet 16 and 18 have been in prison, so it's really difficult. But I guess you are in a survival mode. You want to survive. And you're so angry at them you don't want them to see your weakness. So I guess that's what helps you survive. I guess when I was released, for years I had nightmares and all these PTSD symptoms. 

Annie [00:16:20] I'm sure, of course, yeah. 

Shiva [00:16:20] But going to therapy and also myself becoming a psychotherapist really was helpful to help me to be able to see it the way it was and, you know, see it as part of my life. 

Annie [00:16:33] Yeah. I heard you when you did a talk for the Cambridge University, you talked about a moment when you were in solitary confinement, a life affirming moment, a sound that you heard. 

Shiva [00:16:45] Yeah. 

Annie [00:16:46] Would you mind telling me about that? 

Shiva [00:16:48] That was the time, because I was in solitary confinement in different time, but that seven months, everything was dead literally and it was so horrible. And then all of a sudden, I heard this sound of a little baby crying. And I thought, it's like a link to life. And I thought, that's the most beautiful thing at that moment, hearing the sound of this baby crying. A life existed outside in the world and it was amazing. I still remember and I just purposely- it put a smile on my face and I was just listening saying oh my gosh, that's so beautiful. It's almost when- because I think you forget those signs of life. I mean, something that is normal, you're on the tube and you hear kids crying and say oh gosh! But then you don't know what does that mean to someone in solitary confinement. 

Annie [00:17:47] And how did you hear the baby crying? Did your prison back on to a street or something? 

Shiva [00:17:51] No, actually that was a child of one of the prisoners because it wasn't near the street, it was a quite a huge prison in the city of Kermanshah. And then lots of also non-political prisoners were there, unpolitical prisoners, there were many of them, I think more than a hundred. So their voice seemed coming from maybe another row or the corridor. 

Annie [00:18:17] And Shiva when you weren't in solitary confinement, what were your experiences of the other people that you shared prison with? 

Shiva [00:18:24] I was in a public ward as well so I had lots of inmates and when you're in prison, those people become your family. You look after each other which is really nice, and I'm still in touch with some of them. And they are your lifeline in a sense. So, you know, when we were ill, we were looking after each other. And it's, and even when I was in solitary confinement, one of the things we used to do, we weren't allowed to talk to each other, you would just pass by and when we would be taken to the toilet we were blindfolded so we couldn't see. But one of the things we were talking to each other by Morse code, we learned that. So I remember one of them, we were talking about our life. You get really good at it when you're doing it so long. But the problem is they were listening, and when they find out we are talking to each other through Morse code they took that prisoner to another cell and they beat him up basically. So that's how we would find a way to communicate. I think that's what really helps in prison when you have people to talk to, people who, you know, are together. They are the family. And if they were a small kid in the ward, we were all looking after that kid because some of the mothers were kept with their children. 

Annie [00:19:52] Right. When you weren't with them, did you have to make a deal with yourself to survive? You know, was there something that went on in your head psychologically to get through those many months of being alone? I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to try and stay well. 

Shiva [00:20:07] You're right. I mean, because several prisoners actually got really mentally ill. 

Annie [00:20:12] Yeah. 

Shiva [00:20:13] They weren't even recognisable, unfortunately. And I saw a woman which petrified me, that young, beautiful woman who was raped and who was completely mentally disturbed. And I think one of the things that I was really scared, I said no matter how much they torture me, I really don't want to be mentally ill in a way that completely dissociating from what's happening in the world. But I think what helped me, I always believed in change. And the other thing I accepted that's my life in that moment. That is my life. And in this life, which is either in solitary confinement or in the world with other people, what do I do? It's almost you redefine your life. What do I do now? Like one of the example I give you, because they also took me to seven different prisons in the hope of having impact on me. Like they keep exiling you to different prison. Like you don't even know where they are and your family don't know. So one of the things I used to do in that seven months in solitary confinement, I used to structure the way, I'm thinking about this memory and that memory, I'm going to go and stand up and do a bit of, you know, stretch or exercise or if any piece of paper you would find, you would read it I don't know, five times. There was an Islamic book that they would give it to us, which was nonsense but I would say, you know what, I'm going to look at it from the perspective of learning some facts and figures. So you kind of redefine it. I used to make little flowers with whatever left, like for example, if I had a toothpaste, when I finished it I would use it as a kind of a cup to make some little flower or something like that. Which the interesting thing, they don't want you to be like that. They want you to be depressed. So they would come to the solitary confinement, if they would see that, they would take everything away because they want you to be depressed and disturbed and we refuse to do that. So I guess that's how I survive. And I remember people love me, my family love me. And of course there were moments of powerlessness, sadness and despair but I guess that's how I kept my spirit. You know, when people listen to what I say, if they refer back to their difficult time in their life, they might ask themselves how did I survive? I think it's the same concept. You learn to accept and find a way to survive. And that's what we did. 

Annie [00:22:57] Did you know that you were going to be getting out at some point? 

Shiva [00:23:01] No, that's the thing. 

Annie [00:23:03] *Sighing* God.

Shiva [00:23:03] That's the most scary thing because in Iran, under the Islamic regime it doesn't work like that. If you have three years, next you could be executed, next the sentence could be extended. Like in the summer of 1988, they executed more than 5000 political prisoners. They already finished their sentence, but they didn't repent. So even now these women and these detainees that they arrest, they keep adding to their sentence. So, no, I didn't know. I actually, frankly Annie, I thought I'm going to be executed. And it was so interesting, in my mind I would say 'when they execute me, what would I want to say? Do I want to chant a slogan? Do I want to do something?' because you prepare yourself. No, I didn't know. That's the most scary part. I had no clue and I'd given up. I gave up on being released. 

Annie [00:24:02] So when you were released, how did you feel? 

Shiva [00:24:07] *Laughs* there is something they call it as a symptoms of PTSD, survivor's guilt, right. So when I was released, I was really happy but I was crying and I was sad because my inmates were still in prison. 

Annie [00:24:22] Right. 

Shiva [00:24:23] So I couldn't enjoy my freedom. And it took me quite a few months or even years to be able to adjust to the world, to the life outside of prison. Because I had to again redefine my life again. 

Annie [00:24:40] You'd gone from being a child to an adult. 

Shiva [00:24:43] Yes. I didn't have a childhood, I would say up to the age of ten but then I grew up, had to grow up. 

[00:24:49] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:24:59] It wasn't that many years later when you had to leave Iran for good. And what was the context of that? 

Shiva [00:25:07] I continued my activities. That's the thing. 

Annie [00:25:10] So you were still angry upon leaving? 

Shiva [00:25:12] I was still- actually, you know what Annie, when you are released you are even more angry.

Annie [00:25:17] I can imagine. 

Shiva [00:25:18] For what they have done to you and to your friends, you are even more angry. And even now, years, decades from that, I'm even more angry than the very beginning. So that's why when I see these young people and what they do to them, I do relate to them and it makes me more angry because I know what it's like. But when I came out of prison, despite my parents wish I continued, and then they wanted to arrest me again. Through one of my friend who got arrested, she kind of sent a message out that the interrogator asked about Shiva. 

Annie [00:25:54] Yeah. 

Shiva [00:25:55] And you better go and leave. So I left, otherwise I wouldn't be here talking to you. So that's how I left. 

Annie [00:26:03] When you say you were, you were still doing it, so what exactly were you doing? What activism- how is that manifesting in terms of your normal life? 

Shiva [00:26:11] Yes, sure. I mean, so with two other friends we were writing, handwriting leaflets and we were putting in people's house saying that you need to come on the street, you need to protest. We were again writing slogans on the wall, but usually when you are arrested once you are monitored so they don't leave you alone. I had to sign for a while, every week I had to go there and sign saying, I'm still here. So then I had to go to Turkey because that's what many people used to do, it's the neighbouring country. And then I went and claimed asylum. But even in Turkey I didn't feel safe because it's a neighbouring country and the regimes agents were constantly there. So yeah, that's how I had to- It was difficult because I personally, if I didn't have to, I would never leave. I would never imagine I leave my siblings and my mum, I would never imagine because I had more siblings after that. I would never imagine. I didn't get to see the birth of my little sister and brother, I was in prison and I left them when they were only five. So for me it was really difficult because I was really, really close to my family. 

Annie [00:27:30] Yeah. And are you still in touch with them now? 

Shiva [00:27:34] I am. I haven't seen them for years and years because I don't even dare to go to the neighbouring country. You might know that they kidnapped some of the dual nationals from the neighbouring countries. One of them got executed, Swedish-Iranian. I am in touch by phone and address, but I'm aware that everything I say will be monitored. And because I'm a public person and I have lots of interviews on TVs, etc. For them, you know, in the past they used to threaten them and it's hard. I mean, for me, I'm mindful that I put them in danger as well.

Annie [00:28:13] Yeah. So this revolution that happened, you know, when the Islamic regime took over you were ten years old. That was over four decades ago. And then we fast forward to September of last year and this huge movement starting up all over again with a whole new generation of young girls in Iran. How did that make you feel being over here and watching that from afar? 

Shiva [00:28:41] I think again, two sides. On one hand, I was really excited. As they say, it's not a protest, it's a revolution. Really excited. I think the world was watching for the first time. The first woman led revolution in the world in that scale. Every minute you would check, because also we were in contact with many activists inside Iran. 

Annie [00:29:08] Yes, I'm sure. 

Shiva [00:29:10] And the families of prisoners and doing even more activity to highlight the situation. But on the other hand, seeing all these horrible images, all this little girl, little boy being killed, I think it was really difficult, really angry but it's different when you're there. When you're far away, I appreciate that because I'm not there I can do a lot. But at the same time, I think it was really, really, really difficult. And remember, because my parents live in the same city where all this started, where Masa Amini was killed and of course worrying for them, for all of them. But at the same time, really, really, I've never seen myself feeling that empowered by the courageousness of these young people. I mean, I couldn't believe my eyes the things they were doing, they were confronting, they were after all these security forces. The security forces were running because these women were following them, defying them. It's amazing. And let me tell you, I know we don't see the demonstration on the streets that much, but it still continues. 

Annie [00:30:27] Has any governmental change happened as a result of it? Anything permanent? 

Shiva [00:30:32] No, it will never happen. 

Annie [00:30:34] So I suppose for everyone listening who's so frustrated on behalf of you and your experiences as Iranian women and men, what has to happen? Like, how can this regime be overthrown once and for all? 

Shiva [00:30:48]  I think only, as people in Iran say as we know, only by people overthrowing the regime. We don't want government around the world to rescue us, we're able to do that, because what needs to happen, which I'm sure it will happen like as the mass protests and strikes in Iran are nationwide, I think that should happen to overthrow the regime. Having said that, but I think what the governments around the world can do is actually to boycott, to politically boycott this regime. You know, we still have the embassy of the Islamic regime in every country. We still have diplomats. It's really sad because just recently they elected the Islamic regime as their chair for human rights for all. Can you imagine that? 

Annie [00:31:41] No. 

Shiva [00:31:42] And now they are part of the member of those who are in the General Assembly of the United Nation. Just I'm talking about a few weeks ago. I mean, we're tired of this empty condemnation, empty decent--- people are adamant. They always have a say, they say it's not finished, we gonna come up on the street again. You're going to protest again. We're gonna overthrow you. It's just a matter of time we overthrow the Islamic regime. That's the only ---. 

Annie [00:32:10] Am I right in saying that this time it was classless, as in it was kind of from all walks of- not just women but all types of people, rich and poor, kind of united more than ever? 

Shiva [00:32:22] Yes. And I think one of the reason is because, remember, the Islamic regime and its Revolutionary Guard attacking everyone, but the matter of women, when women are in the lead it's quite unifying because you have women everywhere. So yes, you're absolutely right. It was  everywhere. Every section of the society. There is no right for anyone, especially women, but especially they execute LGBTQ, that's the punishment for being gay or lesbian. The transgenders- you cannot be transgender. You have to be either man or woman. So they force you to go through surgery. So everyone's life is on attack but when the majority of the society women are standing up to the most notorious regime, misogynist regime, that says something about that country. Because remember, when the Woman Life revolution happened since September, but based on our estimate in the campaign to free political prisoners in Iran, where I'm the spokesperson for, they arrested approximately 60,000 people. 

Annie [00:33:35] Wow. 

Shiva [00:33:36] And that was their tactic because they arrested anyone, anyone who they suspected could participate. But what happened, that didn't work. They had to release some. 

Annie [00:33:49] Because they didn't have room or what was the nature of them releasing? 

Shiva [00:33:52] People didn't stop protesting. 

Annie [00:33:54] Right, I see. 

Shiva [00:33:54] I mean, over all this years I campaign, I've never seen that many rape and that many arrests happened. But that didn't work. So when that didn't work, then they started attacking these school girls with chemical attacks. 

Annie [00:34:13] Yes! Oh my God. 

Shiva [00:34:13] So that's another thing they started doing it. So if you look at this, the prison, the tortured execution, the chemical attack doesn't work. And that's the only thing they have, killing. 

Annie [00:34:26] I mean, the fact that they would try and attack schools, releasing chemical gases into classrooms to try and deter girls from going to school, that just shows a level of fear on their part, I suppose, that they would go that far to attack essentially children. 

Shiva [00:34:41] Absolutely. Because these children, that particular kind of age, very, very early teens, they were the big part of the Woman Life revolution and they wanted to punish them. And all this because they're scared of future protests. But they didn't give up. They're just so amazing. I saw a video clip that these little girls were saying 'they chemically attack us again. But we went in front of the school and we said, we don't want this regime who kills children'. 

Annie [00:35:14] Wow. 

Shiva [00:35:14] So you can see that. Do you see the anger? So with all this you see and you- what's happening in this society, this can only go forward to overthrow the regime forever. They can't go back because nothing is working. 

Annie [00:35:30] What is it like for you as someone who's not there but whose heart is there, in terms of how you feel about speaking out in this public way? You know, we know having tried to find someone that can speak on behalf of Iranian women, that it's hard. You know, there's not that many people out there and I guess, what is the price that you pay for what you're doing right now? 

Shiva [00:35:56] I think I'm aware that it's a big price and it's not just life or death, because we have to remember that my life is concentrated on what's happening in Iran and the activism around it for me is not just a campaign, just a job, it's the philosophy of change. And for that change, I'm willing to pay anything. And I've paid with my health, with my life, with everything. I mean, remember, I have two jobs. I'm a psychotherapist and also am a campaigner. For me, it means that on one hand, I feel no matter how much I do, it's not enough. I need to be doing more in order to help that change to come about. I guess that's why I also become a psychotherapist, I believe in change. I believe people can change their life, and so is the society and I think I'm very optimistic that people in Iran, with the leadership of the woman, those brave women, will overthrow the Islamic regime and I'm hoping one day we see free Iran. 

Annie [00:37:05] Mmmm, I hope so too. I really do. 

Shiva [00:37:07] We need people around the world. I think people have done amazingly this period. You know, the Woman, Life, Freedom slogan was everywhere, because people relate to that. You don't have to be in Iran to relate to what's happening. 

Annie [00:37:24] Yeah, and tell me about psychotherapy and I suppose what that's done for you in relation to what you've been through in your life. Has it helped you process what's happened to you? 

Shiva [00:37:34] I think what encouraged me to become a psychotherapist, it was actually my own therapy. For years I struggled with nightmares, flashbacks, all those PTSD symptoms and I didn't believe, like many people in therapy I said *whispers* 'okay'. And when you're with your symptoms, you think that's your life. You avoid stuff. You do things differently. But then when I had my own therapy and I worked through in a very painful way with my own trauma, and it changed me, I didn't have any nightmares anymore. I had a positive outlook on life. I think that kind of motivated me to study something in that sense. And I started studying and then relating to people and especially I- it's amazing when I work with survivors of torture. I relate to them. I can see what they come from. But at the same time, there is part of me actually saying, come on, I know you can do it. I've done it. You can do it. I know what you feel. Of course they don't know I'm a survivor of torture, but I think it's really helpful and also it helps me to understand my powerlessness. Like when I look at the situation of Iran and I feel powerless, it's okay to be powerless, it's okay to be feeling sad and all that. It does help me to make sense of my world and be more helpful to now people who are been tortured, been imprisoned, and being able to help them. 

[00:39:13] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:39:23] Shiva, just with regards to when, we'll say when, this regime does get overthrown, what is your utopian vision for how Iran could be ruled and run in the future? Fundamentalist religion does not seem like the right answer for anywhere in terms of ruling a country but what's your opinion? 

Shiva [00:39:48] What we want in Iran, for people to have the freedom and opportunity to choose between those who are able to take part in the government, not one person, we don't want monarchies, we don't want Islamic regime, we don't want any religion government whatsoever. I think people in Iran really hate religion now in a sense because of what's been done to them. This is what we want, a free Iran. That you be able to choose people in the power and be able to be an equal citizen.

Annie [00:40:22] Do you believe in God? 

Shiva [00:40:24] I don't. I'm an atheist and I'll tell you why. By default, when you're born somewhere they called you Christian and Muslim and it's very typical that when you are born in Iran they assume you're Muslim. Whereas there are lots of atheists in Iran. I remember the first time I looked at the Quran I was 12 years old and I looked at one of the verses regarding women and I was shocked, not that I believed in Quran in a sense, I wasn't brought up in an Islamic family, but then I decided that I want to believe in something that it's actually I can make sense of. I believe in humanity. That's what I believe. I believe in humanity and change. And for that, I don't need any religion to create rules for me, what to do and how to live. I don't need to be scared of being burned in hell in order to be a decent human being. And I think that's what I'm practising but I do define myself as a socialist, as an atheist, and I always believe people have power to change. 

Annie [00:41:34] How has your relationship with change changed over the years, if at all? 

Shiva [00:41:39] I think in different stages of your life, change has a different meaning. It depends how you look at it. For me, change is not constant, it's always changing. The change that I feel now, perhaps ten years ago I didn't feel that's a change, I felt thats the reality of life. You always changing. I change from- when I work with my patient, when I work as a campaigner with my campaign, I'm always changing because we learn from people, you reflect. We have capacity to reflect. And therefore you're always changing the way you look at the world. I was looking at your book and it was interesting, it says about getting used to living, making life in a strange place and I was just relating to that. How many time I changed my life, how many time I started from zero in different countries and different places, and true, I mean we learned to adapt, but I guess believing in change, it's a hope. The day that you believed change is not happening, I don't think there is hope. So I think for me, change is very much equal to hope. I can change, I can change things, I can change myself. And I think that's why change is so important. That's my relation, that's my understanding to change. 

Annie [00:43:08] Is there something that you would advise for our listeners who want to be able to help and support and show solidarity to the Iranian women, what they can do? 

Shiva [00:43:17] Yes. Everyone have the power to change something. Any citizen in this country, around the world, they can send an email as basic as that to their MPs, member of Parliament, to their governments, and saying that I am concerned about- I'm outraged about what's happening in Iran and we want you to pressure the Islamic regime to release all political prisoners. But more than that, they can pressure their government by sending only one email. That's it. And sending one email saying that we actually want you to boycott the Islamic regime to kick them out of our country, they have no right. A fascist regime has no right to have an embassy in the heart of every country. We wouldn't let Hitler to have an embassy, would we? No. So therefore, imagine if millions of people sent letters that would create lots of change. So please follow the situation in Iran and what has been happening because overthrowing the Islamic regime is not beneficial to Iran, it makes the world safer. And therefore push your member of parliament, push your government to expel the Islamic regime and their diplomats from your country. Because I think we should be ashamed that having fascist regime and diplomats in London, in any country we live in. 

Annie [00:44:47] Shiva, thank you so much. That was such a beautiful conversation. Thank you. 

Shiva [00:44:53] Thank you. Thank you. 

Annie [00:44:59] Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes, the better. We want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks for listening.