The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award 2020

Kiana Hayeri

Best photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise published in any medium


AWARD NAME: The Robert Capa Gold Medal Award 2020



AWARD HONORED WORK: “Where Prison Is a Kind of Freedom”


Kiana Hayeri’s unprecedented look into the Herat Women’s Prison in western Afghanistan exemplifies the photographer’s extraordinary courage and enterprise: not only to overcome physical and access barriers at personal risk, but to challenge the status quo in the visual portrayal of underrepresented communities. Hayeri’s work sets the highest standard for upholding the dignity of her subjects while modeling the power of photographic reportage.

During Ramadan in 2019, the inmates at Herat Women’s Prison break their fast together in their rooms. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Nafas, 20, watching the baby of one of the prison guards. As a girl, Nafas was promised to a drug-addicted relative, a man 17 years older. Before they married, he beat her, leaving her with scars. She protested the union for a year, appealing to her parents and brothers. ‘‘Even if you die, you have to marry him,’’ they told her. When they wouldn’t relent, Nafas took her brother’s gun and shot her husband. He died from the wound. ‘‘I had to do it,’’ Nafas says. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Two inmates retrieve a volleyball stuck in some barbed wire during a game in the prison courtyard. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

The inmates take turns watching one another’s children and the children of the guards. Foroozan, 41, entertains some of them by blowing bubbles. She was born into a poor family and married off to a man 25 years her senior. “In the 15 years of our marriage, I didn’t leave my house more than 15 times,” she says. For years, Foroozan took the beatings in stride, until one early morning she saw her husband attempting to molest one of their daughters. Foroozan grabbed a shovel and hit him repeatedly with the blade until he died. Foroozan and her three children were all imprisoned for her husband’s death. Her son served two and a half years at a juvenile detention center, and he fled Afghanistan on foot when he was released. Foroozan’s daughters Mozhdah, 14, and Mahtab, 12, were moved to a safe house. On May 11, 2020, Foroozan was released after serving six years of her sentence, after President Ashraf Ghani ordered the release of thousands of prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Most children are sent to live with relatives or transferred to orphanages upon turning 5, so they can go to school. Mahtab, 4, was born and raised inside the prison. She has never left. Her mother, Wahida, was arrested when she was seven months pregnant and convicted of helping kill her sister-in-law’s husband and covering up the murder. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

The inmates practicing hairstyling on a guard at a weekly cosmetic workshop. They learn trades and are paid small stipends for work like tailoring and babysitting. Subjects taught in the compound include sewing, makeup and hairstyling, baking and literacy. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Parisa bathing her 1-year-old daughter, Fatima. Parisa, 20, arrived at the prison in 2018. She was married for about five years, during which time she was repeatedly beaten and stabbed by her husband. She said he would tie her up and beat her hands and feet with a thick piece of wood. Her husband threatened to kill her parents if she filed for a divorce. One night, she locked herself in a room in which she found her husband’s rifle and loaded it. She says she fired a shot through the door after her husband started screaming on the other side. The bullet struck him in the chest, and he died minutes later. Police took Parisa into custody, and after a brief investigation, she was tried, convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Fatima and her 3-year-old son, Mohammad Irfan, were incarcerated with her. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Parisa’s 3-year-old son, Mohammad Irfan, came to the prison with her. One weekend she let her in-laws take him for a visit and then they refused to give him back. Parisa petitioned the government, and her son was eventually returned to her in prison. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Nahid spends most of her time on her bunk, alone, watching television and smoking cigarettes. She was married for 15 years to a heroin addict who beat her regularly, stabbed her on a few occasions and shot her once. He also abused their children. “I knew he was going to seriously harm me or my children at some point,” Nahid says. “One day when we were fighting, it got out of hand, and I shot him.” Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Nahid’s arms are covered with cuts that appear self-inflicted. Her fingers and palms are dyed with henna. “I am regretful despite how he tortured me,” she says through tears. “I wouldn’t have done this if he had gotten better. He was the father of my children.” Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Many of the female guards bring their children to work and pay the prisoners to care for them while they’re on duty. On visitation days, the guards gather by the front gate and share breakfast as they search visitors who have come to see their loved ones. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

An aerial view of the facility. The prison grounds are a quiet world of cement walkways, courtyards carpeted in artificial turf and overgrown gardens of trees and weeds. Barefoot children play on what remains of a playground. Mothers watch as their sons and daughters play and grow, as if this were a backyard in any ordinary neighborhood. According to a local saying, “A woman enters her husband’s house wearing white and leaves his house wearing white,” referring to the shroud that wraps the dead before burial. That very well could have been the fate of some of the women in these photographs. Instead, they left in handcuffs. Photo: Kiana Hayeri

Citation for Excellence:
Nariman el Mofty
The Associated Press
“Fleeing War”

Watch pre-recorded acceptance remarks via the window below: