Omid Memarian

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Women’s Rights Activists Arrested on the Eve of the International Women’s Day

Islamic Republic’s security forces arrested dozens of Iranian women in front of a Tehran courthouse for protesting in support of five women activists on trial there. The five women, Sussan Tahmasebi, Parvin Ardalan, Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Fariba Davoudi Mohajer and Shahla Entesari are on trial in connection with a demonstration last June in support of women’s rights. Other than Fariba Davoudi Mohajer, who is visiting her son outside Iran, the activists have all been transferred Evin Prison’s infamous section 209.

Hadi Ghaemi, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Rooz, “Arrests of this kind are unprecedented and extremely concerning. They reflect very negatively on Iran’s international image.” In Ghaemi’s view, these arrests send “a warning to all human rights activists; an alarm for more forceful and hurried action on those activists who seek peaceful change,” and demonstrate “an utmost lack of tolerance by the regime towards civil society institutions and women’s rights activists.” Ghaemi adds, “The Human Rights Watch asks Iran to suspend its violation of Iranian and international law, because the regime cannot simply overlook the fact that the demands of Iranian women represent demands of half of the Iranian nation.” In no country in the world, civic elite and leaders of the society are arrested so wantonly and recklessly in one day.” Zanestan, a well known women’s website, several of whose contributors are among the arrested, published a new entry about the incident: “Contradictory news filter out of the Judiciary and the Police, without any clear direction, and this has worried many of those involved and the families of arrested individuals. Since 9:00 a.m. on Monday, many family members, lawyers, and women’s rights activists have gathered across from the Vozara Police Station, and are awaiting the release of the detained activists.” The standoff continued through midnight, with other women’s rights activists scheduled to gather today (Monday) near the Evin Prison to protest the arrests and find out about the fate of those arrested.

While various lists of names of those arrested have been published, Zanestan names the following individuals: Fatemeh Govaraee, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Parastoo Dokoohaki, Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Nahid Keshavarz, Sussan Tahmasebi, Niloofar Golkar, Maryam Mirza, Maryam Hosseinkhah, Nahid Jafari, Minoo Mortazi, Shahla Entesari, Azadeh Forghani, Jila Baniyaghoub, Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, Nahid Entesari, Asieh Amini, Shadi Sadr, Saghi Laghaee, Saghar Laghaee, Elnaz Ansari, Sara Imanian, Jelveh Javaheri, Zara Amjadian, Zeinab Peighambarzadeh, Nasrin Afzali, Mahnaz Mohammadi, Somayeh Farid, Farideh Entesari, Rezvan Moghaddam, Sara Loghmani.

However, a journalist in Tehran, who is following the arrests, told Rooz Online that Evin Prison has taken custody of 33 women. According to this source, authorities have told him that some of those arrested will be released tomorrow after preliminary investigations are completed. This means that some others may not be released until later.

Prominent activists like Parvin Ardalan, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Jila Baniyaghoub, and Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani are among those arrested. These women have been previously arrested in connection to their social and political activism. Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh was imprisoned by security forces for a month in 2006. Some of the people on the list, such as Sussan Tahmasebi, had their passports confiscated upon return from trips abroad. Parastoo Dokoohaki, Asieh Amini, Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, Nasrin Afzali, Maryam Mirza, and Maryam Hosseinkhah are well-known bloggers, dedicated to women’s issues. Like many other families, Dokoohaki’s relatives had no news about the condition of their kin.

During the protests of last July, more than 60 people were arrested. Most of them were released the following days, though Ali Akbar Moussavi Khoeiniha was imprisoned for five months. That gathering was held in protest to descriminatory gender laws in Iran, and took a violent turn after police forces intervened.

During yesterday’s peaceful gathering, 40 to 70 women’s rights activists carried placards reminding the court authorities that they, too, were present during the July protests. Their placards read: “Article 27 of Iranian Constitution provides us with the undeniable right to a peaceful gathering.”

Arrests Becoming a “Normal Routine”

A women’s rights activist who has requested anonymity, told Rooz that demonstrators had gathered to protest the continuous stream of arrests of the past year, which seems to be turning into a “normal routine” for the government. Recently, several women activists were arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport while attempting to board a flight to India to attend a journalism workshop. According to this eyewitness, police officers attacked the women, broke their placards, and used insulting tones to threaten them to disperse or “be hanged from trees.” Some police officers repreatedly used insulting words.

Two small buses were dispatched to pick up the arrested individuals. According to various sources interviewed by Rooz, arrests were carried out through physical force. When the court session ended, the four women (Sussan Tahmasebi, Shahla Entesari, Parvin Ardalan, and Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani) left the court and objected to the way in which the protestors were being treated; hence they, too, were arrested. Everyone was then transferred to the Vozara Complex, a police complex dedicated to “fighting social corruption.”

The most violent treatment was handed to Nahid Jafari, whose head was rammed into the side of the bus, causing several of her teeth to break. The police ignored the requests of witnesses to call an ambulance to the scene.

Women Activists Speak Out With the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8th, some prominent women’s rights activists, who were arrested during yesterday’s event, prepared a communiqué, expressing ttheir hope for the resolution of women’s rights issues in Iran.

“On the eve of March 8th, International Women’s Day, we, women’s rights activists, believe that trial of several activists is a sign of continued oppression against women. We condemn these policies and actions, and warn against the negative consequences of violently reacting to the peaceful civic activities of women. We re-emphasize the democratic and unignorable demands of the Iranian nation, specifically the women’s movement, and show solidarity with five women’s rights activists who have been brought to trial a few days before the International Women’s Day for the role they played in organizing the peaceful gathering of July 2nd in Hafte Tir Square (Shahla Entesari, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer, Parvin Ardalan, Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, and Sussan Tahmasebi). [We also support] all activists who have faced abuse, insult, and degradation overf the years; those who were beaten up, summoned, and interrogated (such as Jila Baniyaghoub, Delaram Ali, Alieh Eghdamdoost, Azadeh Forghani, Bahareh Hedayat, Nassim Soltanbeigi, Maryam Zia, Leila Mousazadeh, Fatemeh Haj Hosseini, Massoumeh Zia, and Farideh Farrahi, who were arrested or tried or awaiting trial for their participation in the July 2nd gathering), and those who were arrested and are awaiting trial (such as Talat Taghinia, Mansoureh Shojaee, and Farnaz Seifi, who were arrested at the airport while boarding a flight to attend an educational workshop in India). On Sunday, March 4th, at 8:30 a.m., we will show up in front of the Revolutionary Court (located on Shariati Avenue, Moallem Avenue) to protest the security-judicial confrontation against women’s peaceful civic activities to pursue their rights.”

In another part of this communiqué, the group says, “We feel the pressure of the international community on our shoulders, which is adding threatening us with sanctions and nightmares of war on a daily basis. We, a group of women’s rights activists, on the eve of the International Women’s Day on March 8th, announce our objection to all patriarchal policies, whether as an inappropriate interpretation of Islam, or in the name of human rights or democracy, and believe that the international community should instead focus upon instituting democracy and human rights, not nuclear power. The latter issue must be solved through diplomatic dialogue, not war and destruction.”

An Eye Witness Account

An eyewitness, who was present at the protest, wrote about her experience on “Zanan-e Solh” [Women of Peace] website. “After picking up the placards, police officers and plain-clothed vigilantes began showing up gradually. Police officers approached us and asked us to leave because we didn’t have a permit. One of the participants told them that, based on the Constitution, peaceful gatherings do not require a permit. They started arguing that our presence disrupted the traffic and things got heated. Then Colonel […] began tearing apart the placards and hitting people with his radio…. Colonel […], who had gained more confidence with the addition of new forces, shouted, ‘hurry up, go get lost!’ and attacked the crowd. The people moved to the sidewalk but did not leave. Another colonel, who was more polite, asked us to walk on the sidewalk instead of standing around; but our friends were smarter than that.”

“If they had walked,” she continues, “it would have become a ‘demonstration,’ and the police would have found a legal excuse to arrest us. Then the mean colonel started threatening us, saying that if you don’t leave I will dispatch the buses to come take you slimes away. In the next attack of the colonel and his forces, some of our friends were separated from the rest. Their separation caused them to be pushed onto the street. Our remaining friends (about 40) decided to sit on the ground next to each other. Our separated friends went to the top of the street and several police officers were assigned to avoid them from joining our group. The rest of us just sat there. Slowly there were more and more plain-clothes officers. Two white vans (the same as the ones used in the July 2nd arrests) arrived at the Revolutionary Court building and waited there. About 11 a.m. Shadi Sadr, Nooshin Ahmadi, Parvin Ardalan, and Sussan Tahmasbi left the court building. As soon as they walked out, and the plain-clothed man arrived, it appeared that the ‘order’ was received.”

“The police,” she continues, “used force to pick up and shove those who were sitting into the two vans and drove them away. First, it was announced that they were taken to Vali-e-Asr Army Base, but they weren’t there. Those who had cellular phones called others. Jila said it is really hot in the van and they are suffocating. Twenty adults were shoved into a van. Someone else said that they are just aimlessly driving on the streets. It was almost 1 p.m. when it became clear that they had been taken to Vozara. Mahboubeh said ‘they are keeping us in the courtyard of Vozara Monkarat.’ Finally, half an hour later they told us in their last telephone call that they were being ‘delivered.’ ‘We are 36,’ they said. It was Sunday, February 4th, at 1 p.m.”

The Court Proceedings

All of this was heppening while the court was reviewing charges against Nooshin Ahmadi, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tahmasebi, and Shahla Entesari at the Sixth Branch of the Revolutionary Court. They were accused of undermining national security and participating in an illegal gathering. Mohammad Sharif, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Mohammad Dadkhah were their attorneys.

Mohammad Sharif, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer’s lawyer, who is one of the primary individuals accused in the July 2nd case, told ILNA: “As my client had left the country for a familial visit prior to being served the court summons, I have requested a re-scheduling of her court date, and the Judge will need to make a decision about that. Nevertheless, I delivered my power of attorney to the court on March 1st and requested to review the file, but the Sixth Branch of the Revolutionary Court advised me that in addition to my power of attorney, we had to present the Court with a separate contract between myself and my client. Since such a contract does not exist between myself and Ms. Davoodi Mohajer, and the Court insisted on having this document, I could not access the case file. It is, therefore, unknown to me on what basis the charges have been made.”

Sharif further explained that as he could not review the file, he could not defend his client. He said his client is accused of “publicity against the regime,” and “congregation and collusion to commit a crime against national security.” He said he hopes the Court will grant a permission to reschedule and waive the requirement for a separate contract between him and his client, in view of the fact that he has not been able to review the case file. He said he hopes to be able to defend his client at a later court meeting.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, attorney for Parvin Ardalan and Nooshin Ahmadi, others accused in this case, told ILNA, “the court session was held in absence of my clients, as they were arrested in the gathering outside the Court.” Sotoudeh said that Ms. Ebadi’s deposition in support of the accused activists wa presented to the court on Sunday. “I and Leila Karami, another attorney on the case, delivered our verbal defense. The defense’s closing argument regarding Nooshin Ahmadi’s case was heard by the Court, and since we have not been able to review the case file, we requested a re-scheduling.”

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, attorney for Sussan Tahmasebi, another individual charged in this case, said, “in this session, the charges against my client were read, and we presented our defense against the charges. We also submitted our closing arguments.” He said that the charges lacked legal foundation and said: “Since, according to our Constitution, peaceful gatherings are allowed, these charges lack legal legitimacy.”

Many analysts believe that the arrests are related to the approaching International Women’s Day on March 8. They recall that, in recent years, the regime has been very sensitive about celebrating the women’s day in Iran, and has exerted a great deal of pressure on women’s right activists to prohibit them from organizing demonstrations. They believe that some of the arrested women will be kept and monitored in prison until after March 8.

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