Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Iranian Activists Arrested Ahead of International Women’s Day

More than 30 Iranian women have been arrested in Tehran for
protesting against government pressure being put on women's rights

The women had gathered outside a court in Tehran on March 4 to show
their support for four women's rights activists who went on trial
that day for organizing a protest last summer against discriminatory
laws. Reports say many of the protesters and the activists are now in

The arrests are the culmination of a year of increasing pressure on
women's rights activists, who have been arrested, summoned to court,
threatened, and harassed. Their protests have also been disrupted --
in some cases violently -- and their websites have been blocked.

Trying To Silence Activists

Some observers believe the arrests are aimed at intimidating
activists who were planning to hold a gathering on March 8 to mark
International Women's Day and to protest injustice against women.

The move is also seen as an attempt to silence activists who have
been fighting for equal rights.

Many of those who had called for holding a protest in front of the
parliament on March 8 are now in jail.

Iranian rights groups report that between 30 and 34 women who were
arrested are being held in Tehran's Evin Prison. Among them are four
top women's movement leaders: Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin
Ardalan, Sussan Tahmassebi, and Shahla Entesari.

Right To Freely Assemble

They went on trial on March 4 in connection with a June gathering
against laws that they consider discriminatory against women. Charges
against them include acting against Iran's national interests and
participating in an illegal gathering.

The four leaders were arrested after they left the court and joined
other women who had gathered outside Tehran's revolutionary court.
They were reportedly holding banners that said: "Holding peaceful
gatherings is our absolute right."

Activists say the Iranian Constitution ensures the right to holding a
peaceful gathering. Yet police forces disrupted the activists on
March 4 and drove the women away in minibuses.

Peyman Aref, a student activist in Tehran, told Radio Farda that
police used force against demonstrators.

"They were threatened and they were also beaten up," Aref said. "The
crowd -- [which] included more than 50 people -- tried to resist by
sitting on the ground and not reacting to the beatings. Finally,
around 10:00, female police came and the activists were arrested."

Reaction To Activists' Campaigns?

During the June demonstration, which was also violently dispersed by
police, some 70 people were arrested. All of them have since been

An Iranian rights group, the Student Committee of the Human Rights
Reporters, said today that the families of some of those arrested on
March 4 gathered in front of Evin Prison and called for their
release. Authorities have said they are investigating the case.

Azadeh Kian, a lecturer in political science and an Iran researcher
at France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), believes
women's rights advocates are being targeted in connection with two
campaigns they have launched in recent months.

One campaign aims to end the practice of stoning to death convicted
adulterers. Authorities, however, deny that stoning sentences are
being carried out.

Another campaign aims to gather the signatures of one million
Iranians who are in favor of changing discriminatory laws and to
present these signatures to the parliament. Islamic laws as applied
in Iran deny women equal rights in divorce, child custody,
inheritance, and other areas.

Kian tells RFE/RL that the campaigns have been well received, leading
to concern among Iranian leaders.

'Intolerance For Human Rights'

"The goal of women's rights activists is to gain the support of women
from different classes who are in favor of changing the laws but have
so far not joined the women's movement," Kian said. "This leads to
concern among some of those in power in Iran about the implications
of these actions. I see the arrests of activists [on March 4] in this
relation; it shows that more and more women want changes in laws and
also that women's issues are in fact becoming more and more political."

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the pressure and
persecution of women's rights advocates, including those who are
calling for reform legislation.

Kian says that by arresting peaceful activists, Iranian leaders are
demonstrating their intolerance and lack of respect for human rights.

"It shows once more that under the Islamic establishment, especially
under the current government, there is no respect for human rights
principles," Kian said. "These women were arrested even though they
had not committed any violent or armed action against the
establishment. None of the demands of these women are against Islam.
This shows that the current government is not ready to accept even
the slightest opposition."

The Center of Human Rights Defenders, cofounded by Nobel Peace Prize
laureate Shirin Ebadi, today described the March 4 arrests as
"illegal" and called on authorities to release all of those arrested.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W.
Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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