Iran Must Stop Repression of Women’s Rights Defenders

New York, July 17, 2008 – The Iranian government should drop charges against four women’s rights defenders facing imminent trial, and set aside other convictions for peaceful activities to promote equal rights for women in Iran, said Human Rights First.

On July 14, human rights defenders Nasrin Sotoudeh and Mansoureh Shojaee appeared before the Revolutionary Court with their attorney, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Nasrin Sotoudeh is an attorney who has represented a number of the activists involved with the One Million Signatures Campaign, which was launched in August 2006 to raise awareness about gender discrimination in Iranian laws. Sotoudeh and Shojaee have been charged with acting against Iran’s “national security” by having unauthorized relations with “Iranians outside the country.”

Two other activists facing charges are Raheleh Asgarizadeh and Nasim Khosravi, who have been summoned to appear before the 13th Branch of the Revolutionary Court on Monday, July 20. Both women were arrested on February 14 while collecting signatures on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign at Daneshjoo Park in Tehran and were detained for about two weeks before being released on bail.

“The Iranian government should immediately drop all charges against these women and end the official campaign of repression against peaceful activists like them,” said Matt Easton, Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First.

In addition, on July 13, student activist Bahareh Hedayat was arrested and taken to Evin Prison. Hedayat had previously received a two-year suspended sentence for participation in a women’s rights demonstration on June 12, 2006. Hedayat’s arrest is one of nearly two dozen in connection with the anniversary of the July 1999 student protests.

These arrests are just part of a crackdown against women’s rights activists that intensified two years ago with the violent break-up of a demonstration in support of gender equality on June 12, 2006. The trend has continued with the repression of individuals active with the One Million Signatures Campaign, including 44 arrests.

Human Rights First is deeply concerned about a series of recent judicial proceedings taken against human rights defenders, notably the recent conviction and sentencing of a 21 year-old student, Hana Abdi, to a prison term of five years. Abdi, a member of Azarmehr, a women’s rights organization in the Kurdistan province who was also involved with the campaign, has been detained since November 4, 2007, when she was arrested by seven security officers from her grandfather’s home in Sanandaj. She was charged with “gathering and colluding to threaten national security” under article 610 of the Islamic Penal Code. Her sentence, one of the harshest to have been meted to a women’s rights activist, is the maximum sentence allowed in such cases.

“The actions of the Iranian government violate the rights of defenders and intimidate others from further action,” said Easton. “The One Million Signatures Campaign is a non-violent way to seek much-needed change, not a threat to law and order.”

Other alarming recent developments related to women’s rights defenders include:

  • the July 9 arrest of Zeinab Bayzeidi, a member of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan who has also been involved with the Signatures Campaign;
  • the June 14 arrest of Mahbouhbeh Karami on, who was forcibly removed from a public bus and continues to be held in Evin Prison; and
  • the May 25 sentencing of Amir Yaghoub-Ali to a year in prison, on charges of endangering national security following his arrest on July 11, 2007, while collecting signatures;

For a timeline of arrests and other developments in the harassment of the women defenders and the One Million Signatures Campaign, click here.


Published on July 17, 2008


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