Alert Issued: June 12, 2008
UPDATE: Although police released all of those arrested on the June 12 anniversary after eight hours of detention, a number of the women arrested that day have been summoned to court in connection with their arrest. On September 7, 2008, Jila Baniyaghoob, a journalist who also runs a website on women’s issues in Iran, was summoned to court and charged with disruption of public order and refusal to follow police orders. Four other women previously summoned and charged with similar offenses are: Nafiseh Azad, Farideh Ghaeb, Sarah Loghmani, and Aida Saadat.
Today marks the second anniversary of a protest held by women’s rights activists in Iran. That demonstration was broken up violently by security forces and led to the arrest of 70 men and women. The activists then launched the One Million Signatures Campaign, an unprecedented grass-roots campaign to change gender discrimination in Iranian laws.
They chose June 12 as a national day of solidarity with their campaign, and planned to hold an event today commemorating the protests. However, their gathering was canceled due to threats and when a number of women arrived anyway, security forces blocked the doors. Eight women have reportedly been detained: Nafiseh Azad, Jila Baniyaghoub, Farideh Ghaeb, Jelveh Javaheri, Sarah Loghmani, Nahid Mirhaj, Aida Saadat, and Nasreen Sotoodeh.
Human Rights First has joined over forty international human rights organizations to express support for the defenders. On this anniversary, call on the Iranian government to cease its persecution of the activists, drop any charges against them, and to allow women’s rights activists to engage in their rights of assembly and peaceful political expression.
Tell Me More
Over the past few years, the women’s rights movement in Iran has become one of the most vibrant, grass-roots social movements in the country. The movement has organized its activities in the form of national campaigns, such as the One Million Signatures Campaign, a campaign seeking to raise awareness about gender discrimination in Iranian laws and to change them, and the Campaign to Stop Stoning Forever. Unfortunately, the Iranian government, particularly under the Ahmadinejad administration, has cracked down on the women’s rights movement.
One of the more heavy-handed attempts to intimidate and suppress the activists took place on June 12, 2006, when a broad coalition of activists had called for a peaceful demonstration in Haft-e Tir Square in central Tehran to ask for changes to laws that discriminate against women. Even before the day of the demonstration, agents from the Judiciary delivered summonses to some of the lead organizers of the campaign, including Parvin Ardalan and Fariba Davoodi Mohajer. On the day of the demonstration, security forces prevented participants from joining the event and forcibly disbanded the crowds that had gathered, beating them with batons and using pepper spray. Seventy women and men were arrested and detained that day in Evin 209, one of Tehran’s most notorious prisons, on charges of “participation in an illegal assembly.”
All but one of the demonstrators were released from pre-trial detention. However, charges against the detainees remained outstanding and the judiciary proceeded to prosecute some of the organizers and more active members of the movement. For instance, on April 17, 2007, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison, one year of which is suspended. Davoodi Mohajer was outside the country at the time and remains outside Iran. The court sentenced Parvin Ardalan to three years in prison, with a suspended sentence of two and a half years. She was awarded the Olof Palme prize in 2007 for her activism and was due to travel to Stockholm to receive her prize on March 6, 2008. However, on March 3, 2008, airport security officials removed her from the flight and took her passport, preventing her from traveling to receive her prize.
More recently, on May 25, 2008, Amir Yaghoub-Ali, a student who had been arrested on July 11, 2007 as he was collecting signatures for the One Million Signatures Campaign in a park in Tehran, was sentenced to one year of imprisonment for “endangering national security.”
On May 26, 2008, Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh was summoned to court for trial. Hosseinzadeh, who had participated in the June 12 demonstration, was arrested again on March 4, 2007, along with 32 other activists who were before the court protesting the trials of five of the June 12 protest organizers. Though Hosseinzadeh and her lawyer appeared in court on May 26 for the scheduled trial, it was rescheduled to July 2008 and charges against her remain pending. The trials of two other activists, Jelveh Javaheri and Nahid Keshavarz are scheduled to be held in August 2008.
By keeping the option to set trial dates or activate suspended sentences, the Iranian government can effectively intimidate activists and prevent them from further action.
His Excellency Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Head of the Judiciary
Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
His Excellency Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President
Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
I am writing to express my concern about the continued persecution of women’s rights activists in Iran.
It has been two years since June 12, 2006, when women’s rights activists attempted to hold a peaceful demonstration to ask for equality. Although the 70 individuals arrested on that date were released, several activists continue to be harassed and face prosecution in Iran. A number of activists have been convicted of “endangering national security,” for doing nothing more than participating in a peaceful rally or collecting signatures for a petition to reform discriminatory laws. On June 12, security forces detained eight women who were planning to participate in an event commemorating the second anniversary of the protests.
Human rights defenders in Iran should be allowed to engage in activities to advocate for their basic rights. The activists involved in the One Million Signatures Campaign, in particular, deserve recognition and protection for the efforts to promote gender equality and to make Iranian laws more compliant with international human rights standards.
The rights to peaceful assembly and free expression are enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was endorsed by all U.N. member states, as well as the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory and which is binding on the Iranian government. Therefore, these prosecutions (including the latest sentencing of Amir Yaghoub Ali on May 25, 2008) are violations of Iran’s obligations under international law.
I ask that the government of Iran comply with its obligations to protect citizens exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and assembly, to release those still in detention, and to drop all remaining charges against the activists.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.