The head of Iran’s Judiciary, Ayatollah Shahrudi, should suspend a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence upheld this week against women’s rights activist Delaram Ali, Human Rights Watch said today. Such a step is permitted under Iranian law. The government should also release at least 10 other students and activists it has detained for their participation in peaceful demonstrations and campaigns. On July 2, Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran sentenced Ali, a 24-year-old sociology student and women’s rights activist who works with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality, to two years and 10 months in prison and 10 lashes for participating in a peaceful demonstration on June 12, 2006, which police and security forces had violently disrupted. On November 4, Branch 36 of the Appeals Court in Tehran upheld her conviction on charges of “acting against national security” and “advertising against the system,” but reduced her sentence to two and a half years. It is not clear whether her sentence still includes lashing. Human Rights Watch opposes lashing in all circumstances as a cruel and inhuman punishment, illegal under international human rights law. Court authorities have informed Ali that she is to begin serving her prison sentence on November 10.
“Instead of punishing a young woman for peacefully protesting, the Iranian government should hold security forces accountable for violently disrupting a demonstration of women activists,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Ali’s sentence suggests a new intensity in the government’s crackdown on campaigners for the equal rights of women, in contrast to prior periods when the authorities have handed down only suspended sentences. Women’s rights activists in Iran who spoke to Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that they may face even further governmental persecution.
In the past month, the authorities have arrested at least three other women’s rights campaigners. On September 25, eight security officers in the northwestern city of Sanandaj arrested women’s rights activist Ronak Safazadeh, 21, as she was leaving her house to go to work. Eighteen days after her arrest, court authorities informed her family that they had extended a temporary detention order against Safazadeh for an additional month. Safazadeh’s family has not been able to meet with her, and the court has not allowed lawyers who have volunteered to represent her to examine her case files.
On October 23, seven security officers arrested Hana Abdi, 21, another women’s rights campaigner in the city of Sanandaj, as she left her grandfather’s home.
Both Abdi and Safazadeh are members of the Azarmehr Association of Women of Kurdistan, a group that organizes capacity-building workshops and sports activities for women in the city of Sanandaj and elsewhere in the Iranian province of Kurdistan. Abdi and Safazadeh are also active with the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality.
In the last month, the authorities also have arrested a number of other activists. On November 4, security forces arrested student activist Ali Azizi at his home in Tehran. On November 8, security forces searched the home of student activist Ali Nikonesbati and arrested him. Both students are members of the Office of the Consolidation of Unity, a prominent reformist student organization with branches in universities throughout Iran. Nikonesbati and Azizi have been vocal critics of the government’s crackdown on peaceful student activists. The authorities have not announced any charges against them.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the cases of five students in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. On October 16, security forces in the city of Ahvaz arrested five student journalists and activists on the campus of Chamran University – Roozbeh Karimi, Javad Tavalli, Javad Alikhan, Mehdi Mansouri, and Raee Nikzad. In statements to the press, Farzad Farhadirad, the deputy of the Prosecutor’s Office of the General and Revolutionary Courts in the city of Ahvaz, claimed that the government carried out the arrests to preempt the students from distributing fliers that “insulted Islamic sanctities.” Article 513 of the Islamic Penal Codes of Iran criminalizes “insults” to any of the “Islamic sanctities.”
“Women’s rights activists, student activists – no one who criticizes the government is safe in Iran,” said Whitson. “These arrests should be seen as a sign of the Ahmadinejad administration’s utter desperation and insecurity about the basis of its own popular support in the country.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Iranian government to amend or abolish provisions that impose criminal penalties for the free expression of ideas, such as Article 513 and 514 of the Islamic Penal Codes, as well as vague “security” laws that unduly restrict the right to peaceful association and assembly, such as Articles 500, 610 and 618.
More on Ali’s pending dentention from BBC News:
Delaram Ali has been free while awaiting the result of an appeal.
But she has now been told to give herself up by Saturday so the sentence can be implemented.
She says she has not been allowed to file a complaint against the police.
Instead an internal inquiry recently exonerated the police even though foreign journalists witnessed them beating the women who were singing feminist songs while sitting peacefully on the grass in a public square.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that police and intelligence agents lined Haft Tir Square in downtown Tehran hours before the start of the planned demonstration on June 12. As the demonstrators assembled, the security forces immediately started to beat them with batons, sprayed them with pepper gas, marked the demonstrators with color spray, and took scores into custody.
An eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that, for what is thought to be the first time, the government transported policewomen to the demonstration to arrest female demonstrators while policemen dealt with male protestors.
“Female police officers ruthlessly beat demonstrators with their batons and took many into police vans for detention,” this witness said. “Bystanders were shocked at how harshly the police reacted to demonstrators.”
(images copyright 2006 Arash Ashoorinias)
When we got there it was really scary. Several police buses and cars covering the whole area. Cell phones were obviously monitored because we were receiving suspicious text messages from an unknown number…We got to the meeting point in the Hafte-Tir Square and saw the police forces already being “busy” in three other spots. We sat down and started chanting slogans..After about 5 minutes of confused stares from the pedestrians at us we received the first surprise: the women police force which are scarier than men for two reasons…First they are “mahram” to women so they can kick and punch women without violating any religious code and second they are strangely way more aggressive than men! First they tried to force us by hand to get up and leave…When we resisted they started using their nightsticks, after not very long the kicks and punches and the nightstick beatings got very harsh…Right in front of my eyes one of them beat Mana right in her head so badly that I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of it…All of sudden everywhere is red…The second surprise: they are using a paint spray on us. We didn’t realize first but they were marking us so that they know later in the crowd who was sitting and resisting…Smart!
They finally forced us to get up and pushed us to the center of the square while we were still chanting the anthem for Iran’s women movement. At least people are seeing us and you can see the objection and sympathy in their eyes…The other side of the square is so crowded I can’t really see anything but I hear that they are arresting people…We are scattered…This is partly bad because we are so scattered that we can not even say why we are here so that they won’t call all this “a police encounter with women with bad Islamic Hijab”.
On March 4, 2007, 33 women’s rights activists were detained “for protesting against government pressure being put on women’s rights activists” in the wake of the June 12, 2006 crackdown. More from The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders:
[The women were arrested while] peacefully gathering in front of the Tehran Revolutionary Court to mark International Women’s Day, which [was to] be celebrated on March 8, 2007. They were also protesting against the trials of six women human rights defenders [Nahid Jafari; Sousan Tahmasebi; Parvin Ardalan; Noushin Ahmadi-Khorasani; Shahla Entesari. and Fariba Davoudi-Mohajer] who [were] prosecuted in connection with their participation in the peaceful assembly of June 2006, and with their involvement in the “One million signatures” campaign.
[Update: more from BBC Newsnight, including a brief interview with Delaram Ali:
The Observatory requests that the following actions be taken in solidarity with Ali and other detained activists:
Please write to the authorities in Iran urging them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Delaram Ali as well as all activists engaged in the “One million signatures” campaign;
- Suspend the implementation of Ms. Delaram Ali’s sentence, at least until a decision is issued by the Court of Cassation;
- Ensure that Ms. Delaram Ali be granted a fair and impartial trial when appealing her sentencing, so that the charges against her be dropped as they seem to merely sanction her human rights activities and as such are arbitrary;
- Drop all arbitrary charges against all women’s rights defenders involved in the “One million signatures” campaign;
- Put an end to all acts of harassment against all Iranian human rights defenders;
- Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its Article 5(a), which states that “for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels, to meet peacefully” and Article 8(2), which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organisations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;
- More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Iran.
- Leader of the Islamic Republic, His Excellency Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, The Office of the Supreme Leader, Shoahada Street, Qom, Islamic Republic of Iran, Faxes: + 98.21.649.5880 / 21.774.2228, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org;
- President, His Excellency Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Presidency, Palestine Avenue, Azerbaijan Intersection, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: + 98.21.649.5880, E-mail: email@example.com;
- Head of the Judiciary, His Excellency Mr. Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, Ministry of Justice, Park-e Shahr, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: +98.21.879.6671 / +98 21 3 311 6567, Email: Irjpr@iranjudiciary.com;
- Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Manuchehr Motaki, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdolmajid Keshk-e Mesri Av, Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, Fax: + 98.21.390.1999, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Chemin du Petit-Saconnex 28, 1209 Geneva, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 7330203, Email: email@example.com;
- Ambassador Mr. Ahani, Embassy of Iran in Brussels, avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 15 A. 1050 Bruxelles, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 39 15. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Iran in your respective country.
Contact The Observatory noting any action undertaken, quoting appeal code IRN 004 / 0707 / OBS 073.1 in your reply.