Women Activists in Iran: A Life of Repression, Defamation and Intimidation

Women Activists in Iran: A Life of Repression, Defamation and Intimidation - Protection

You may have heard of Facebook page “Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women” which invites women in Iran to send photos of themselves with uncovered hair. As expected the campaign stirred controversy and retaliation from Iranian hard-liners making Masih Alinejad, the orchestrator of the Facebook page, the target of a shocking smear campaign. Iran’s state-run broadcast agency, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), televised a program on its IRINN news network channel during prime time on May 31, 2014, which attacked the exiled female journalist, stating that Alinejad was “trying to deceive Iranian girls and women”. The programme went further to falsely claim she had been found “naked under the influence of heavy drugs on a street in London” and was then “raped by three men in front of her child,” implicitly drawing a connection between the lack of hijab and sexual assault.

The Executive Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI), Hadi Ghaemi, rightly noted that this move is clearly encouraging attacks on these women. It indirectly hints that this is a fate such women deserve (something Iranian clerks have openly maintained in the past in similar situations).  “This only confirms the flagrant lawlessness of hardliners who desperately fear any challenge to their repressive grip on society”. Ghaemi further touches on how the IRIB network routinely uses “its broadcast monopoly in Iran to defame, discredit, and intimidate critical voices”.

Although President Rouhani has openly spoken in favour of freedom of expression along with social and cultural freedom, and women’s rights, we are still seeing an increasing repression of activists, and steadily more female activists. Women’s voice is powerful and dominate in Iranian culture and thus a voice hardliners attempt to silence aggressively. Just two days ago (11/06/2014) Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights defender and Deputy Head of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Tehran had new charges brought against her stemming from her March 8, 2014 meeting with the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. She was charged with “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security” for her meeting with Ashton at the Austrian Embassy in Tehran. She told ICHRI that that she had been charged with “every single civil activity [she had] engaged in since [her] release from Zanjan Prison in August 2012, such as participating in gatherings on women’s rights, air pollution, and [Rouhani’s] Citizenship Rights Charter.” The melange of the accusations covered many of her activities: “honoring families of political prisoners at meetings”, “attending a gathering with Gonabadi Dervishes in front of the Prosecutor’s Office” and “giving interviews to media outside Iran.” Her shock at the breadth of the charges conveys exactly what prosecutors are attempting to bring on dissident voices of Iran: “I told them there that when you fit all my civil activities into these two charges, it means that I must remain silent and still.” Mohammadi was arrested in 2009 and charged with “assembly and collusion against national security,” “membership in the Defenders of Human Rights Center,” and “propaganda against the state.”

On Saturday June 7, Iranian documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi also began serving her five-year prison sentence on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “propaganda against the state”, in connection with her alleged work for BBC Persian, which she denies. Her charges have been baseless and seen as an intimidation tactic to silence her and those undertaking similar work. Among her charges is her collaboration with Iranian director Rakhshan Bani Etemad on the documentary film ‘We Are Half of the Iranian Population’ which focuses on women’s role and demands in the months preceding the 2009 election. Her other charges included  “attending the 2009 gatherings” and “participation in the memorial services for Sohrab Arabi and other victims of the 2009 events”.

In her interview with ICHRI she said: “My interrogator told me ‘when we shape you up, the other documentary filmmakers will get the message,’” whilst attempting to force a confession out of her (for a detailed break-down of the interview click here).

The  Iranian Judiciary’s brazen denial of the most basic tenets of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press are becoming more concerning, where women are being targeted with belligerently repressive laws. Aptly put by Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, the editor of Jam’eh, “We have freedom of expression in Iran…We just don’t have freedom after expression.”

Women’s freedom of expression is dismantled in many ways by the Iranian regime; be it through the forced dress code, unequal protection under domestic laws or restrictions on employment and entrance to events deemed unsuitable for women. This situation has led to Iran being ranked almost bottom of nations assessed ( 113 out of the 136) in the 2013 Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum.

Although Rouhani has spoken out in favour of the right to the Internet, as well as women’s rights and social and civil freedoms, U.N. report counts almost nine hundred prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including activists, religious minorities, women, online commentators, journalists, and students. We therefore urge the president to deliver on his stance and speak up against the routine practice of defamation, repression and the blatant incitement to violence against women that we are witnessing in Iran and demdand fair trial and due process guarantees which are lacking for political prisoners in the country.

Image source: http://www.mahnazafkhami.net/2011/fighting-for-womens-rights-an-interview-with-mahnaz-afkhami