Friday, February 29, 2008
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Women act against repression and intimidation in Iran28 February 2008
The Iranian authorities are continuing to harass activists working to defend women's rights. Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi – two Kurdish Iranian activists – currently remain detained without charge or trial. They were arrested in October and November 2007 for peacefully exercising their rights.
The two activists were working as part of The Campaign for Equality, an Iranian women's rights initiative. Launched in 2006, the campaign aims to collect one million signatures of Iranian nationals to a petition demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. The group also provides legal training to volunteers – both women and men – who then travel across the country to promote the campaign, and talk to women about their rights and the need for legal reform.
Women in Iran face far-reaching discrimination under the law. They are denied equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Evidence given by a woman in court is considered only worth half that given by a man. A girl under the age of 13 can be forced to marry a much older man if her father permits it.
With the increase in women's literacy in the last 30 years and the large number of women students at university, women are increasingly empowered to challenge discrimination. But their efforts are viewed with suspicion by the authorities, who have launched a campaign of intimidation and repression against them. The campaign's website has been blocked at least seven times by the authorities and its activists are being targeted because of their work.
In August 2007, Nasim Sarabandi and Fatemeh Dehdashti were the first women among the campaign's activists to receive prison sentences. Detained for 24 hours in January 2007 while collecting signatures in Tehran, they were later sentenced to six months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, after being charged with "acting against state security by propaganda against the system".
Over 40 others have been detained in connection with their campaigning activities, including Reza Dowlatshah. He was hosting an educational workshop for the campaign in September 2007, when he was detained for three days and beaten.
Although the obstacles are many, activists are still willing to risk their safety to bring about a fundamental change in how the Iranian authorities treat Iran's women. As Shadi Sadr, a lawyer currently facing possible imprisonment for her human rights work, says: "My grandmother wasn't allowed the life she wanted. I was lucky. I achieved everything but the struggle was still hard. I didn't want the dearest person in my life [my daughter] to have the same troubles."
These sentiments are echoed by former Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, "We are a nation bursting with female ability. We are a country blessed with hard-working women desperate to make a contribution, but one hobbled by legalised prejudice and social bigotry. Now more than ever, the women of Iran deserve our support".
Rather than using its power to repress and intimidate those who protest and demand their rights, Iran's government should see the work of women's rights activists and human rights defenders as an asset, and recognize the important contribution that such activists and defenders are making to address discrimination and intolerance and to promote universal human rights for all Iranians.
Amnesty International has called on the government of Iran must take urgent steps to:
· dismantle discriminatory legislation
· release imprisoned women's rights defenders and stop detaining and harassing those peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.