Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Woman Life Freedom as in Free Maysoon and Marjan 


Tatiana Montella
Paola Rivetti


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Tatiana Montella (Migration and Asylum Law Clinic, University of Roma Tre) and Paola Rivetti (Dublin City University) 


As we learn about the detention stories of Maysoon Majidi and Marjan Jamali, both riddled with violence and irregularities committed by Italian authorities and police forces, we cannot help but think of the hypocrisy of European governments. Majidi and Jamali are two Iranian women who left their country to flee persecution and violence, making their ways towards Italy, whose shores they approached on a boat in December 2023. As they distributed food and water to their fellow travellers and helped them stay alive in incredibly dire circumstances, they were arrested with the accusation of being smugglers. Since December 2023, they have been incarcerated in Castrovillari and Reggio Calabria, respectively. They have been on hunger strike and attempted suicide to protest their detention, their conditions, and the unclear investigative procedures by Italian authorities. 

We wonder what Majidi and Jamali thought of the many images of European policymakers cutting their hair in solidarity with them, their comrades, and their fight against oppression during the Woman Life Freedom (WLF) uprising. We wonder if Majidi and Jamali believed those words of solidarity, and we wonder if those pronouncing them, believe their own words.  

Jin Jyan Azadi street art in Vienna
Jin Jyan Azadi street art in Vienna

“Dire circumstances” are two keywords here, as they well describe the necessity that Jamali and Majidi had to both leave their country of origin and survive while travelling towards Italy. The necessity to survive on the boat made tasks such as sharing food and water and organising forms of communal life something that the two women automatically carried out during the travel. Similarly, survival made the choice of leaving Iran a necessity. 

We know that Iran can be a hostile context, when it comes to women’s rights and the rights of minoritised communities, ethnic or otherwise. Even European policymakers knew it, when condemning the Iranian state’s violent repression of the WLF movement and the many death sentences executed in connection to the uprising.  


Jamali, 29 years old, decided to leave because of the domestic violence she endured daily. Iran’s legislation on the subject is precarious at best for women, as gender-based violence is not a crime per se and survivors often get blamed and criminalised in the place of perpetrators. This motivated Jamali to seek a better future for her and her son abroad. Maijdi, 28 years old, is a Kurdish-Iranian activist, who lived in Iraqi Kurdistan before deciding to continue her search for safety towards Europe. While in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurds enjoy a right to self-determination that is unknown to the rest of them living in Turkey, Syria and Iran, this region is not a safe place for activists from Iran because of the freedom with which Iranian law enforcement and intelligence forces operate. Activists may be arrested, persecuted, and even killed. Additionally, the shelling and bombardments of Iraqi Kurdistan by Iran following the eruption of the WLF uprising might have weighted on Majidi’s decision to continue her travel and seek safety elsewhere. 

migrants' protest at Budapest rail station, 2015
migrants' protest at Budapest rail station, 2015

Why were Jamali and Majidi arrested? Article 12 of Italy’s immigration law (“Testo Unico Immigrazione”, TUI) codifies “the crime of facilitating irregular(ised) immigration”, which covers a wide range of behaviours, anything that may help individuals survive while transiting. Majidi and Jamali are accused of facilitating the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea by distributing food and water, and by taking and storing the travellers’ phones. While these behaviours are human reactions to incredibly dire circumstances, motivated by the willingness to survive common threat and danger, Italy criminalises them.  

Article 12 does not to disincentivise or prevent harmful behaviours against other humans. Article 12 does not to tackle international trafficking either, considering that these acts can be criminalised in the absence of remuneration, whether economic or in other forms. Article 12 simply provides Italian authorities with a scapegoat to criminalise, with the objective of protecting the national borders. It is not enough to argue that Majidi and Jamali are not smugglers – which clearly, they are not. We should demand the repeal of Article 12, arguing that the acts it criminalises are legitimate conducts, whether carried out by activists, NGOs, or by migrants individually or in the context of their informal support networks. We should defend every and each single act of solidarity, demanding that it be protected, rather than criminalised.   

The crime of facilitating irregular(ised) immigration, as codified in the law, also creates a loop of long and life-wrecking, often preventative, detentions. This is particularly heinous in cases like Majidi and Jamali’s, as these two women seek protection from violently repressive regimes and life conditions. The very choice of exiting repressive environments and life conditions is punished not only in their case, but also, in hundreds of other cases which are often rendered invisible in the public debate. Their detention stories are similar to those of hundreds of other migrants, with their corollary of hunger strikes, suicide attempts, lack of clear communication by Italian authorities, incriminating witnesses’ reports which are impossible to confirm because the witnesses are irretraceable, continuous incarceration, and parents-children separation. These are irreparable traumas that migrants regularly endure in conditions of absolute isolation and abandonment. These are lives that our governments cheapen out to defend the national borders. Majidi and Jamali, who are Kurdish and Iranian, along with any other person, racialised and of colour, whose political collective profile may be less mediatised and well-known, deserve a different story and our full solidarity. 

street art in Akre (Iraq Kurdistan)
street art in Akre (Iraq Kurdistan)

The conducts of Jamali and Majidi have enabled life and prevented the death of dozens. We celebrate them in the spirit of Jin, Jiyan, Azadi, which could not better describe who they are and what they did: women protecting life and seeking freedom. Their acts interrogate our complicity as European citizens who live within European borders. The rhetorical device of “fighting human smuggling” is weaponised to prevent solidarity. Through it, a deadly border regime operates, empowered by policies and laws which are intentionally elaborated by our institutional representatives, past and present. As feminists and anti-racist activists, it is then important to build solidarity to break this system of complicity and protect everyone’s right to self-determination, of moving across the borders to seek protection and safety. 



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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

T. Montella and P. Rivetti. (2024) Woman Life Freedom as in Free Maysoon and Marjan . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2024/06/woman-life-freedom-free-maysoon-and-marjan. Accessed on: 24/07/2024

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