ROME—There is a deafening silence inside the independent bookshop owned by Alberto and Miriam Piperno in south central Rome, and it is not to allow shoppers to browse. The couple’s 30-year-old daughter Alessia, a noted travel and food blogger and digital nomad who has spent the last seven years exploring the world, is in a prison in Tehran and her parents have been told by Italy’s Foreign Ministry to avoid reporters.
Before they were silenced, Alberto posted a plea for help on Facebook with a recent photo his daughter posted from Tehran, where she had been for nearly three months. “This girl is Alessia Piperno, and she is my daughter,” he wrote Sunday on the now-deleted Facebook post. “Got a call this morning. It was her crying letting us know that she was in prison... She was arrested by police along with her friends while she celebrated her birthday. There were few words but they were desperate. She was asking for help.”
A number of foreigners have been arrested in the clampdown on protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, who died September 13 while in the custody of Iran’s infamous morality police. Prior to her arrest, Piperno posted about the protests, evoking the struggle of Italian Partisans’ protest song Bella Ciao, against the Fascist regime at the end of World War II. “22-year-old girl killed by Iranian police for not wearing hijab correctly,” she wrote in mid September. “The truth is that that girl could have been me, or my friend Hanieh, or one of those women I met on this trip. Hijab in Iran is not synonymous with religion, it is synonymous with government.” She went on to write, “Every woman must deprive herself of her femininity, hide those beautiful facial features and the shapes of her body, in order not to risk ending up in prison, or worse still, being whipped 70 times.”
She wrote that having been in Iran, “I feel part of it all, I feel part of these girls who fight for their rights, who demonstrate for their freedom, but who are ultimately forced to hide in a blind spot.”
Alberto Piperno wrote that his daughter told him they were not told why they were arrested, but that nine others were taken into custody with her. “I’m fine, but here there are people who say they’ve been inside for months and for no reason,” she told her father, according to his post. “I’m afraid I won’t get out, help me.”
The blogger’s last Instagram post showed her birthday party in what looked like a private home in Tehran. The five women pictured do not have their heads covered. Piperno wrote, “These years have been the most beautiful of my life, the most lived, where I learned and unlearned so much, where I met wonderful people and friends, and where I discovered the true beauty of our planet. The world and its people have given me more than I could wish for, day after day, year after year.”
Hours later she was in prison.
Piperno has spent the last seven years traveling the world, according to her various blogs. She began traveling full time in 2016 by backpacking through Australia and since then has traveled through much of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. She posted that she had trouble securing a visa to stay in Iran, but did not elaborate whether she was there illegally in a post after she first arrived. She wrote that she was planning to return to Pakistan, where she was before traveling to Iran. Her intent was to help rebuild after the devastating floods.
She was part of a group known as digital nomads, who support their travels through sponsorships and remote working. She had more than 42,000 followers on Instagram, which was her primary outlet, where she often posted from markets and bazaars to describe the food and culture to her followers.
Her earlier posts showed her in various markets and mosques in Iran. Many of her videos showed her cultural awareness, as in how to wrap her hair in accordance with the laws. She did not post any images of the protests, but she did write about them. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that first night,” she posted a few days after the protests began. “We had run to the hostel with our hearts in our throats, as the sounds of gunfire boomed behind us and the smell of gas wafted into the air... The chaos, which before that day, I didn’t know what it really was. I closed the door of the hostel as people screamed in the streets.”
Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed her arrest to The Daily Beast, but did not elaborate on what action was being taken to secure her freedom. Many of her posts have been marked with stern criticism in the comments about why she was in Iran in the first place, with a number of people posting that she deserved it. “We Europeans do not know anything about these people, the news that reaches us is retouched, and we have been too well used to marching like puppets, believing everything we are told,” she wrote a week ago. “Here, however, people are tired of being a puppet, which is why thousands of people are taking to the streets to protest. They are demonstrating for their freedom. Women, men, adolescents and the elderly. And every one of them, every single person, risks his own life when he goes on the streets.”