When the Iranian Green Movement broke out in June 2009, Maryam Violet watched from a computer screen as a reported three million reformers marched against former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Having arrived in the UK in January 2009, Violet was about to start a PhD in astrophysics, but the protests changed all that. Her entire life became devoted to “sitting at a computer, watching the news and searching for videos and seeing how people in Tehran’s prisons were getting abruptly raped and tortured”.
Violet soon realised that as an Iranian woman she couldn’t afford to have her head in the stars and follow her dream of working for Nasa.
Instead, Violet became production manager of Zanan TV, an Iranian feminist and activist TV channel that has production offices in Hackney. It was set up in 2011 by Violet’s mother, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, who runs the main office in New York.
Abbasgholizadeh is a high profile, prominent Iranian feminist and activist who fled Iran after she was imprisoned three times.
Although inspired by her mother, Violet insists on keeping her own identity. She says that until June 2009 “I wasn’t destined to become an active feminist… I came to London with just one suitcase; I was planning to go back. My valuables and all my memories, everything was left in Iran.”
But Violet has never returned to Iran. She misses friends, family and sometimes even the smell of pollution in Tehran, but her activism is stronger than ever. As a feminist she aims through Zanan TV “to fight against discrimination, obtain equal rights in the constitution, see less abuse in daily lives and fight for more freedom” for women in Iran who she says are viewed as “second-class citizens”.
Violet considers the 2013 elections of President Rouhani as a political act designed to improve Iran’s international footing.
“He made some international political gestures, like when he released Nasrin Sotoudeh, a feminist human rights lawyer, but his domestic reforms didn’t evolve,” she insists.
Last month Iran executed Reyhaneh Jabbari, a woman accused of murdering an intelligence service officer who she said had tried to sexually abuse her. Violet describes it as “the execution of all of us”.
“I don’t know if she killed him or not, but what I don’t understand is how as human beings we can decide to end the lives of others with our own hands.”
According to the UN, more than 250 people were executed in Iran in 2013.
However, Violet remains optimistic about the future of the country and was moved by the international campaign urging for Jabbari to be spared the death sentence.
For now, though, Violet’s dreams lie within the field of journalism. Her ambition is to become the next Oriana Fallaci, the Italian feminist journalist notorious in Iran for ripping off the chador while interviewing Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.