Iran Women Rights Defenders Continue Undeterred by Prison Detention
ELAHE AMANI – WNN Features
Today on a daily basis, personal memoirs of ongoing encounters of government crackdown and resistance in Iran are being written in print and in cyberspace by countless Iranian civil rights activists, scholars and women human rights defenders.
In the process of finding a new transitional global identity, Iran state authorities have steadily continued in the use of legislative delays, reversal of legal means and arrests of dissidents, activists and journalists.
Younger, as well as older, women human rights defenders, are now finding themselves victim to increasing intelligence policies of non-disclosure, intimidation and repression.
The IRI (Islamic Republic of Iran) state detention policies act as only a surrogate solution to many of the social problems now growing inside the country. Human rights groups and international rescue teams watch as the list of detainees grows longer, as women have become targets in a shifting Iranian system of legal sanctions.
“According to Iranian officials,” said Amnesty International in a February 10, 2010 release, “over 40 people have died in demonstrations since the election, which were violently repressed by the security forces. Amnesty International said it believes the number to be at least 80 and possibly many more. More than 5,000 people have been arrested, many of whom were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.”
A clear crisis in the prison system inside Iran is growing.
“Reportedly prisons have become over capacity and fail to provide adequate conditions for prisoners.”
Iranian news agency, Payvand, February 19, 2010
As sports stadiums closed the doors to women attending sports events; as family courtrooms denied the rights of women to custody in divorce; as “proper” women’s dress became part of a hidden discourse of Iranian social criticism calling dress code enforcement officers “Chastity Guards” and “Morality Police;” women working in the field of speaking publicly on the issues of gender equality have been placed in ever increasing danger.
“The women’s rights movement has borne the brunt of this repression, in particular since the launch of the ‘One Million Signatures’ Campaign, in August 2006. This campaign seeks to provide education on women’s rights at the grassroots level and to obtain a repeal of discriminatory laws against women. To this end, the Campaign collects signatures that it plans to submit to the Parliament,” said the International Federation for Human Rights in an August 2007 appeal to the IRI.
The IRI is “in full compliance with the relevant international commitments it has taken on in a genuine and long-term approach to safeguard human rights,” said Secretary General of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, Mohammad Larijani, at a recent United Nations review of human rights violations at the February 2010 UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.
If a woman collects signatures on a petition to change discriminatory laws in Iran, she is currently likely to be detained and sentenced to prison terms. Upon release, if it has been decided that she could leave incarceration, bails are set at a high and publicly punitive amount. Access to family, to legal council and to dignity in these cases have been largely undermined.
Almost exactly one year ago, Hana Abdi, a psychology student from Payam Noor University and human rights activist living in Kurdistan, the Kurdish region of Northern Iran, was released from prison after serving a commuted sentence and a one and a half year prison term. She was charged by the Second Branch of the Islamic court of Sanandaj with “gatherings and conspiracies to endanger national security.”
Teaching human rights and legal rights education to women in Kurdistan, Hana Abdi had gathered, before her arrest, signatures in a nationwide effort to remove discrimination against women in Iran.
After two months in the Central Prison of Sanandaj, Abdi was sentenced to five years of exile to a prison in the town of Gami in western Azerbaijan. The sentence of exile, later dropped, came after Hana Abdi was charged by the Fourth Branch of the Islamic court of Sanandaj with an additional crime of “propaganda against the system.”
Abdi’s sentence of exile was pressed forward after she communicated with the outside world about conditions during her imprisonment.
“Based on the testimony of Abdi’s family, she was tortured while in solitary confinement,” said an October 2008 report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“No judicial system can consider as valid a confession obtained as a result of harsh interrogations or under torture.”
Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Attempts by IRI government agents to censure speech that outlines human rights causes and discussions inside the country, and globally via the internet, has caused the website for the Campaign for One Million Signatures (also known as Change for Equality) to be filtered from appearing online 23 times.
Using ongoing policies to work through peaceful means and assembly the Change for Equality Campaign was recently referenced by intelligence officials as a threat to “National Security.”
Recently, on January 2, 2010, months after a May 7, 2009 – 12 day incarceration, the 10th Branch of the Revolutionary Court (in Qom, Iran) charged two members of the One Million Signatures Campaign with conducting what the court called, “activity against the national security.” Fatemeh Masjedi and Maryam Bidgoli were, according to their attorney Mina Jahfra, also charged with “attempting to overthrow the state, the publication of lies and propaganda against the state through membership in the One Million Signatures Campaign.”
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