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NATIONAL | WINTER 2010

Iran Continues Crackdown on Women’s-Rights Advocates

By Elham Gheytanchi

Despite a February 15th United Nations review of its human-rights practices, Iran’s government has not curbed its censorship and repression of women’s rights activists. The morning after the review was held, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian feminist lawyer, was detained by the Iranian government. Her alleged crime is “to have spoken with foreign media” about human rights violations in Iran. Meanwhile, women activists report to Ms. that threats against them are ongoing and they believe their cell phones are tapped by the state.

During the U.N. session, delegates from most countries—with the exception of Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia and a few others—condemned the Iranian government’s treatment of dissenters, especially violence against women and religious minorities. Simultaneously, Iran censored portions of women’s rights websites and blogs reporting on the session.

These latest cases of detention, intimidation and censorship come on the heels of a government crackdown on dissidence on February 11th, the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution. To thwart a planned demonstration by Iran’s pro-democracy “green movement,” the government shut down the Internet in parts of Tehran and other major cities. Meanwhile, state-backed, pro-government demonstrations were accompanied with utmost security measures enforced by the Basij (paramilitary forces) and Sepah (the Revolutionary Guard). Even so, shouts of “Death to Dictator!” could be heard during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech, although few protestors were visible.

Some 4,000 activists, journalists, social scientists, students and ordinary citizens have been detained in Iranian prisons since the unrest over contested election results erupted in June 2009. The families of those imprisoned were repeatedly told to stay silent before the February 11th anniversary, avoid coming out in the streets and refrain from spreading news about potential protests. Many of these families still remember the threats they received from the government of the Shah of Iran before the 1979 revolution that led to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Women’s rights activists have not identified themselves with the green movement, in order to stay independent, but that has not protected them from being the target of state violence since the June 2009 election. The growing list of women’s rights activists in detention centers and prisons—such as the notorious Evin prison, first used by the Shah to suppress dissent—consist of secular as well as religious women, first-generation activists who fought against the Shah’s rule as well as young activists who have only known the current Islamic republic. Peaceful protests were a contributing factor in the Iranian revolution of 1979, and the right to peaceful protest is enshrined in the Iranian constitution. Yet 31 years later, peaceful protests are violently crushed.

During these difficult times, Iranian feminists have drafted a letter calling upon women’s rights groups around the world to announce their solidarity with women in Iran. This is especially crucial now, when the right-wing Iranian parliament is preparing a bill that would severely set back gender equality. It would allow men a universal right to divorce, the right to have multiple wives, and right to set Mehrieh (the dowry a groom gives his wife in case of divorce). At a time when women’s rights activists are in prisons or threatened to stay silent, an international show of solidarity is crucial.

Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.

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