AI protests arrests of women activists in Iran

From Amnesty International, Aug. 23:

Iran: Authorities thwart campaign for gender equality
Women’s rights activists in Iran face imprisonment. Activists campaigning for gender equality in Iran are unable to exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association, as shown by a number of recent arrests. Many of those arrested are supporters of the Campaign for Equality, a network which works to end legal discrimination against women.

The Campaign for Equality
Some of the activists arrested this year were collecting signatures for the Campaign in its bid to collect one million signatures from the Iranian public to a petition against laws discriminating against women in Iran. In addition to the petition, the campaign also runs a website to provide information and a forum for debate, and works with grassroots organizations expose the problems women face and inform them of their rights.

Arrests of activists
The group have faced various obstacles in their efforts as authorities have stifled the debate on gender equality, including dismissal from work and threatening phone calls after hosting meetings.

On 4 March of this year, 33 women were arrested while protesting peacefully outside the court room where five women were tried in connection with a demonstration held on 12 June 2006 to demand that women be given equal rights with men under the law in Iran. The June demonstration was violently dispersed by security forces, who arrested at least 70 people. All had been released by 19 March but are still under the threat of prosecution. A demonstration held for women’s rights in front of Iran’s parliament on 8 March, International Women’s day, was forcibly broken up by security forces, who are said to have injured several women.

In April, five women were arrested while collecting signatures in a Tehran park. Three of these women were released the following day, though Mahboubeh Hossein Zadeh and Nahid Keshavarz were released on bail after thirteen days of detention. They were reportedly accused of “acting against state security.”

Zeinab Peyghambarzadeh, a student and women’s rights activist who is involved in the Campaign for Equality, was detained on 7 May 2007, after being summoned to court in connection with her participation in the 4 March gathering. She was released on bail on 16 May, after court officials had repeatedly obstructed her father’s attempts to meet the bail payment. She had also spent four days in detention in January 2007 while collecting signatures on the Tehran metro.

Nasim Sarabandi and Fatemeh Dehdashti were the first activists to be tried and sentenced for peacefully collecting signatures. On 12 August 2007, they were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, on the charge of “acting against national security through the spread of propaganda against the system.” They had been detained briefly in January 2007.

Discrimination in law
Women in Iran face widespread discrimination under the law. They are excluded from key areas of political participation and do not have equal rights with men in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

Earlier this year, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi and Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, denounced discriminatory laws: “As long as women are denied human rights, anywhere in the world, there can be no justice and no peace.”

However, the arrests continue. Amir Yaghoub-Ali, a male activist, was arrested on July 11 while collecting signatures in support of the Campaign for Equality. He has since been released, but remains at risk of prosecution.

Amnesty International calls on the Government of Iran to urgently abolish laws that discriminate against women, and to drop all charges against these women’s rights activists, who have been exercising their internationally recognized rights to freedom of expression and association in collecting signatures and protesting peacefully. Anyone detained solely in connection with such activities would be a prisoner of conscience.

See our last posts on Iran and women’s struggles in the Islamic Republic.

See also our special report, “Iran: State Still Stones Women.”

  1. Iran: woman dies in custody of morality police
    Zahra Bani Yaghoub, a 27-year-old doctor, was arrested in a park in the town of Hamedan by agents of Iran’s morality police Oct. 12 on suspicion of adultery, because she was seen walking with a man there. She was taken to Sepah Pasdaran prison. Her badly bruised body was returned to her family 48 hours later. Police said she committed suicide, a claim which is vigorously denied by her family. (E-mail alert from Salam-Democrat, Nov. 7; November monthly update from French website SolidaritĂ© Ouvrière)