Melville resident’s escape from oppression in Iran

Jacky Hennessy (Bateman) with portraits of her Iranian friend Sarah. Picture: Martin Kennealey d472836
Jacky Hennessy (Bateman) with portraits of her Iranian friend Sarah. Picture: Martin Kennealey d472836

MELVILLE resident Sarah* spent five years in a political prison for standing up for the kinds of basic human rights Australians enjoy every day.

As a university student in Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Sarah joined protests calling for gender equality, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

She lost half a decade of her life as a result, and was physically assaulted and tortured in prison until she pretended to conform to Sharia law, the system favoured by her captors.

She returned to her studies after her release, completing a law degree at the prestigious and competitive University of Tehran.

After she graduated in 1982, the government refused to issue her a passport for 12 years and constantly interfered with her work as a lawyer, especially her efforts to provide legal aid to women.

Sarah met her husband around the same time her passport was approved and, believing he could offer her a better life, decided to marry.

His career in the oil and gas industry took them first to Dubai, then to Kuwait, Malaysia and finally Australia in 2015.

Along the way, Sarah papered over serious cracks in the couple’s marriage, sticking with her husband for the benefit of their two children.

She eventually plucked up the courage to leave after witnessing the kind of free and fair society on offer in Perth.

He responded by removing her as a dependent on his Australian work visa. After hearing Sarah’s story, a social worker encouraged her to apply for a humanitarian visa.

Her application is under consideration, as is a custody dispute for the couple’s children.

“Since the revolution in Iran, there are no freedoms – especially if you are a woman,” Sarah said.

Sarah said after witnessing the daily cruelty on display in Iran she turned her back on Islam.

She recently received permission from the Australian Government to look for work and volunteers at an op shop and a library.

Artist paints portrait of kindness

BATEMAN artist Jacky Hennessy is angry a painting of Sarah she attempted to enter into the Black Swan Prize of Portraiture has been rejected by the competition’s organisers.

Hennessy met Sarah in a computer class at the Willagee a community centre four months ago and after striking up a conversation, the two quickly became friends.

Inspired by Sarah’s story, Hennessy asked if she would sit for a portrait and ended up painting three.

“I’ve always been a strong advocate of social justice and political freedom and I felt for Sarah being sent to prison for five years as a young girl,” she said.

“I was shocked by what she had been through and the whole topic was especially interesting for me because I’m a trained social worker and spent decades working in that field before becoming a painter.”

Hennessy said she was told her portrait could not be accepted for because the rules state subjects must be an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

“I called up the organisers and they told me the sitter has to be Australian or have a particular kind of visa; even though Sarah is on her way to becoming a citizen they wouldn’t accept it,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s fair to dictate to an artist who they can paint. Sarah is an extraordinary person who has survived real hardship in Iran and her story deserves to be told.”

A spokeswoman for Artrinsic Inc, the organisation behind the Black Swan Prize for Portraiture, said chief executive Simone Woodward had several lengthy conversations with Hennessy about Sarah’s eligibility and sought legal advice on the matter.

She said in the last conversation on August 2, Hennessy was advised that holders of visa sub classes 200-204 (which all relate to refugees) would be considered eligible as they grant permanent residency but that Ms Woodward had not heard back from Mrs Hennessy since then, with the date for entries now passed.

Sarah currently hold a bridging visa while her claim for asylum is being processed.

*Name changed to protect Sarah’s Iranian family.

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