Renewed crackdown on Iranian women's rights activists

By agency reporter
August 11, 2016

The Iranian authorities have intensified their repression of women's rights activists in the country in the past six months, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations accusing activists of being "spies" who seek the "overthrow" of the government, says Amnesty International.

Since January, more than a dozen women's rights activists in Tehran have been summoned for long interrogations by the Revolutionary Guards and threatened with imprisonment on national security-related charges. Many had been involved in a campaign launched in October which called for the increased representation of women in Iran's recent parliamentary elections.

Women taken in for interrogations have been given no reason for their summonses, but once inside the interrogation room were bombarded with accusations of espionage and collusion with "foreign-based currents seeking the overthrow of the Islamic Republic system". Amnesty understands that the Revolutionary Guards subjected the women to verbal abuse, including gender-related slurs. The activists were not allowed to be accompanied by their lawyers during interrogations, which in some cases lasted eight hours.

Amnesty also understands that interrogations focused on two initiatives: a website called 'Feminist School', which posts articles on feminist theories and the state of women's rights in Iran and globally; and the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament, launched ahead of February's parliamentary elections to push for more pro-women's rights candidates in parliament. Members of both initiatives have been pressured to close or suspend their activities. In its final statement, the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament explained how its achievements – including a five-fold increase in the number of women seeking candidacy – have attracted the wrath of security bodies, leading to repeated summonses, threats, prolonged interrogations and the opening of national security-related cases against the campaign's active members. For its part, the Feminist School website has not been updated since mid-February.

Meanwhile, the latest target in the intensified crackdown is the renowned women's rights magazine Zanan-e Emrooz (Today's Women) which on 26 July announced it was suspending its activities.

Amnesty International's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Magdalena Mughrabi said: "Speaking up for women's equality is not a crime. We are calling for an immediate end to this heightened harassment and intimidation, which is yet another blow for women's rights in Iran.

"Rather than addressing Iran's disturbing record on women's rights, the Iranian authorities have once again opted for repression, accusing women's rights activists of collusion in western-orchestrated plots in a bid to maintain their discriminatory practices towards women."

One notable example of the renewed assault on those working on women's rights issues in Iran is the 6 June  2016 arrest of Dr Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian anthropology professor renowned for her decades of academic work on women's issues. Amongst other things, Dr Hoodfar has worked with the international feminist network Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

Except for one brief meeting with her lawyer, Hoodfar has been held largely incommunicado since her arrest and is currently held in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. In a media interview on 24 June, Tehran's prosecutor general said that Hoodfar's 'criminal' case is in connection with "her entry into fields concerning feminism and national security offences". Days earlier media outlets affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards ran articles claiming that Hoodfar was "the Iran agent of a feminist network building operation" and the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament was "her latest project". The articles also claimed that her work with Women Living Under Muslim Laws was aimed at "disrupting public order" and "prompting social-cultural changes that can ultimately pave the ground ... for a soft overthrow".

Tens of thousands of Amnesty supporters have called for her immediate and unconditional release as she is a prisoner of conscience held solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to free expression.

Magdalena Mughrabi added: "It is appalling that the Iranian authorities are equating Dr Homa Hoodfar's valuable work relating to feminism and women's rights in Muslim contexts with national security offences. The Iranian authorities must release Dr Homa Hoodfar immediately and unconditionally and stop their relentless harassment of all women's rights activists in the country."

Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination both in law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory 'veiling' laws empower police and paramilitary forces to target women for harassment, violence and imprisonment.

* Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

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