Leading Human Rights Defender Detained in Iran’s Kurdish Region

NEW YORK — Dr. Roya Toloui, a champion of the rights of Iran’s Kurdish minority and of women’s rights was detained from her home in Sanandaj yesterday, Tuesday August 2. Human Rights First is calling for her immediate and unconditional release from detention and for the release of all those detained after a demonstration in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kordestan province, on Monday August 1.

There has been mounting unrest in Iran’s Kurdish region since the presidential elections in late June, which saw the election of Mahmoud Ahmadenejad, a candidate closely identified with Iran’s ruling clerical establishment. President Ahmadenejad is viewed as hostile to Kurdish aspirations for greater equality and respect for their distinct cultural and religious traditions.

Roya Toloui is an outspoken critic of the policies of the Islamic Republic and its negative impact on the rights of women and religious and ethnic minorities. Her public comments have brought her to the attention of the authorities and she was summoned to appear before a Revolutionary Court in April 2005 to face accusations that her non-violent activism “endangered national security.”

“Courageous activists in Iran will not give up their efforts to secure respect for their basic rights and freedoms,” said Neil Hicks, Director of International Programs at Human Rights First. “Government repression will only make them more determined.”

On July 9, 2005 security forces in Mahabad, a predominantly Kurdish city in West Azerbaijan province, shot and killed Shovan Ghaderi a leading youth activist and a member of the Association of Human Rights for Iranian Kurds. Press reports indicate that Revolutionary Guards and paramilitaries fired on a group of young men, wounding Ghaderi in the foot after he had approached the soldiers to see what they wanted. After shooting him twice more, soldiers tied his body to a military vehicle and dragged it through the city in a clear attempt to intimidate the population and deter further protests. Shovan Ghaderi’s killing has become the focus of mounting protests throughout Iran’s predominantly Kurdish provinces.

Kurds are a minority in Iran, comprising some ten percent of the population, concentrated in the western provinces of the country. They are economically disadvantaged and their distinctive language and culture has suffered in comparison to the dominant Persian culture. Moreover, most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, a religious minority in the Shi’ite Islamic Republic. Kurds had hoped for an improvement in their situation under President Mohamed Khatami, but their hopes, together with those of many of their compatriots who had hoped for promised political reform under Khatami, were not realized in eight years of his presidency.


Published on August 3, 2005


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