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Canadian imprisoned as teenager in Iran brings performance about her ordeal to CMHR

News release details

An Iranian-Canadian woman who was imprisoned as a 16-year-old in Tehran, then forced to marry the prison guard who tortured her, will take part in a performance based on her story this Saturday at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR).

Marina Nemat, author of the best-selling Prisoner of Tehran and the subject of an exhibit in the Museum's "Rights Today" gallery, performs in a unique collaboration with the Toronto-based MOTUS O Dance Theatre, a 50-minute piece that merges spoken word, dance and theatre. Admission is free.

Nemat, who now lives in Toronto, is the author of two books about her ordeal – Prisoner of Tehran: A Memoir (2007) and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed (2010). After hearing Nemat speak and reading her book, the artistic directors of MOTUS O felt strongly that they needed to help tell her story, providing an "emotional landscape" of dance and theatre as she speaks about her experiences (see attached backgrounder).

Seating for this presentation is limited and will be on a first-come, first-served basis. The performance will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Nemat and a book-signing in the Museum's Boutique.

What: Prisoner of Tehran performance (in English) and Book-signing with Marina Nemat

When: Saturday, November 19, 2016, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Where: Bonnie & John Buhler Hall and Boutique CMHR, 85 Israel Asper Way

MOTUS O's artistic vision is to provide engaging dance theatre works making dance a relevant and significant art form to all sections of society. The company aspires to provide life-enriching experiences, causing individuals to reflect and respond in a positive way towards each other and the global community. 

Backgrounder

Born in Tehran in 1965 to parents of Russian ancestry (her grandmother fled the Russian Revolution), Nemat was raised as a Christian in a Muslim society run by a secular government. In 1979, following the Islamic Revolution, everything in her life changed. Dancing became illegal and her father closed his ballroom dancing studio. Women could be punished for wearing nail polish, perfume, lipstick or showing their hair, so her mother shut her beauty salon.

Nemat became part of a teen resistance and attended protest rallies. She was put on a list of anti-revolutionaries. On January 15, 1982, she was arrested as she was about to take a bath, opening the bathroom door to find two guns pointed at her face. She was taken to the notorious Evin prison, where she was blindfolded, interrogated, tortured and sentenced to be executed. She was 16 years old.

Her sentence was later reduced to life in prison. She was forced to marry a prison guard – one of the men who had tortured her – and forced to convert to Islam. Her husband was later killed for political reasons and his parents decided to help her. They paid for her release and she left prison in March 1984.

The next year, she decided to marry again. Because her new husband was Christian and she had converted to Islam, their marriage was against the law, but they proceeded regardless. In 1991, they immigrated to Canada.

The CMHR exhibit about her story, located in the "Rights Today" gallery, consists of a digital presentation of video, photographs and text, as well as several artifacts – including a silver sugar box that belonged to her Russian grandmother, a receipt from Evin prison, a copy of her first book and its original manuscript.

One of the photos in the exhibit shows her as a teenager with a group of friends in Tehran.

"We were all in the same class," she said. "There are five of us on this photo. Two us of got imprisoned, and three from this class got killed. I am glad they are featured in this museum so people remember. Without memory, there is no future. And this is memory." 

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Maureen Fitzhenry