Canadian-Iranian Professor Homa Hoodfar—I survived Imprisonment by Studying My Captors

Updated: May 1, 2019

Long after the interrogations at Iran’s notorious Evin prison had ceased for the day, Homa Hoodfar’s work would begin.


While her cellmates slept, the 65-year-old would lie on the floor, and, using the end of her toothbrush as a makeshift pen, slowly scratch her observations onto the stone walls.

Some days she wrote down her thoughts on the dozens of brutal interrogations she had been subjected to. Other days she scrawled snippets from conversations with other prisoners.


The Canadian-Iranian professor of social anthropology was arrested in June after nearly three months of interrogations by the Iranian Intelligence service. After 112 days in prison, she arrived in Montreal last weekfreed on what Iran called “humanitarian grounds"after Canada enlisted the help of Oman.


Nicknamed Evin University, the Tehran prison where Hoodfar was held has housed intellectuals, activists and journalists. But Hoodfarwell known for her work on culture and gender in the Middle Eastsaw a way to take back some of the freedom that had been seized from her.


“I decided, I’m an anthropologist and I’m here, so I can use this as a method of doing anthropological fieldwork,” she told the Guardian. “It wasn’t fieldwork that I had chosen, it was not a project I wanted to write, but there I was.”


The research recast the 30 interrogations she was put through while imprisoned. As she sat facing a wall or a one-way mirror while her interrogators screamed and yelled at her, Hoodfar analysed their choice of words. When they hurled threats at her“They were telling me, ‘You’ll get 15 years here and we’ll send your dead body back to Canada’”she contemplated t