Women are at the forefront of the populist struggle for political and human rights in Iran. [Updated 9 Jan 2011]

 Women in Iran


Mourning Mothers in park; poster of their children, victims of regime violence.

In August 2006, a campaign was begun to collect one million signatures to protest discrimination against women in Iran. Gender discrimination in Iran is anchored in law. As soon as the movement began, the authorities started using strong-arm tactics to repress and crush it.

Another women’s protest group, Mourning Mothers, was formed after the violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators following the disputed June 12 presidential vote, which re-elected hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi. Since then, opposition activists and mothers whose children have disappeared or have been executed or detained have also joined the group. Among its members is the mother of 26-year-old Neda Agha-Soltan, whose chilling death in post-election protests was caught on video and became a powerful symbol for the opposition. The Mourning Mothers, who have been organizing weekly protests at Laleh Park in Tehran, are demanding government accountability for the deaths, disappearances and detentions of their children.

Nasrin Sotoudeh

 Women in Iran

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, a mother of two children aged 10 and three, was sentenced on 9 January, 2011, to 11 years in prison and has been banned from practising law and leaving the country for 20 years.

May 31, 2011

The first court hearing was held this week concerning the suspension of the legal license of Nasrin Sotoudeh. Nasrin was brought to court from Evin Prison flanked by a military and police guard and with her hands cuffed together. Sotoudeh was sentenced to eleven years in prison for her activities and the Iran Bar Association is now demanding she be banned from practicing law. In a letter to her husband from her prison cell, she stressed that whether or not she has a license to work as an attorney, she will continue defending political prisoners from unjust sentences (Rahesabz).

Background of case:
(Oct. 4, 2010) Calls to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, who is being held solely in connection with her work defending human rights campaigners and political activists, have been heard from Nobel Peace Laureate and Iranian lawyer, Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the International Commission of Jurists, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI), the Union Internationale des Avocats, and the World Organization Against Torture, who have condemned her continued detention without charge or trial. Sotoudeh has been detained in solitary confinement since September 4, 2010, at the Intelligence Ministry’s Ward 209 at Evin Prison.

(Oct. 17) Human rights activists report that Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been subject to heavy torture by agents of the Intelligence Ministry. Reports coming from within the prison say her loud screams, resulting from torture, are heard in adjacent cells during the night.

(Oct.19) Indictment: Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been indicted on three charges, namely “compromising national security”, “conspiring with intention to harm security” and “collaboration with the Center for Defenders of Human Rights”. More than 900 women’s rights and human rights activists, as well as clients of Sotoudeh, have posted a statement expressing their concern over her detention. The signatories demand her immediate and unconditional release and hold the Iranian judicial authorities accountable for her welfare and safety. Sotoudeh has been on hunger strike since September 25, and has had no contact with her family in almost a month, leading to alarm and fears for her health and well-being.

(Nov. 17) Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh’s first trial session was held on November 16 at Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. Nasrin appeared to be very weak and has lost a lot of weight. After the trial, she took the advice of her lawyers and husband and agreed to break her hunger strike. Sotoudeh’s lawyers defended Sotoudeh against the following three charges: “acting against the national security of the country,” “gathering information and collusion with the intent to disrupt the security of the country” and “working with the Human Rights Defenders”.

(Nov. 23) The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed renewed concern for the fate of human rights defenders in Iran, particularly Ms. Nasrin Sotoudeh.

(Dec. 7) Attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh’s detention has been extended, bail denied – Following the second hearing in her trial, attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh’s detention has been extended, with bail denied.

(Dec. 8) Nasrin Sotoudeh resumes hunger strike – The Iranian lawyer who has been on hunger strike twice since her detention in early September, was denied bail in the second hearing in her trial last week.

(Dec. 14) Nasrin Sotoudeh told her family by phone that she would continue her hunger strike as a general act of protest, demanding that all unjust and unfair sentences imposed on political prisoners since the recent elections be revoked. Nasrin’s husband said that she "could barely talk" and was in extremely poor physical condition.

(Dec. 15) Reza Khandan, husband of detained attorney Nasrin Sotoudeh, said a new charge had been filed against Sotoudeh: "She was not wearing the hijab while giving an interview." 


Shiva Nazar Ahari

 Women in Iran

Shiva Nazar Ahari, a journalist and human rights activist, was sentenced to six years of imprisonment in exile. She was indicted with “terrorist activities”, “compromising national security” and other similar charges, following a year of detention in Evin Prison, including 100 days in solitary confinement (Sept. 20).

Shiva Nazar-Ahari, a human rights and women’s rights activist who had been taken into custody 260 days ago, was released Sunday (September 12) on $500 thousand bail. Nazar-Ahari was arrested for human rights activities, released on October 28, 2009, and re-arrested on December 20 with another activist, Mohboubeh Abbasgholizadeh. The two women were on their way to Qom to participate in the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, but were arrested just as they got on the bus (Sept. 14, 2010).

Shiva Nazar Ahari is facing the death penalty on the charge of being a mohareb (wager of war against God). Iranian authorities first arrested Shiva Nazar Ahari in 2001, when she was seventeen. Her “crime” was attending a candlelight vigil in Tehran that commemorated the victims of 9/11. Since then, she has taught Iranian homeless children and Afghan refugees’ children. In 2006, she became the spokesperson for the Committee of Human Rights Reporters (CHRR). She was re-arrested in June 2009 and sent to Tehran’s Evin Prison, where she spent 33 days in solitary confinement. One informed observer described the cells at Evin as “human coffins”, so small that a short person cannot even stretch arms or legs.

Despite being verbally threatened by Saeid Mortazavi, Tehran’s prosecutor general, who told her she would be killed unless she stopped working on human rights campaigns in Iran, Ahari persevered.  She was released in September 2009 on US$ 200 thousand bail and promptly resumed her defense of political prisoners. A month later, she paid a visit to the gravesite of Sohrab Arabi, a nineteen-year-old student who had been arrested in June 2009 for protesting Iran’s presidential elections and was subsequently shot in the chest while in custody. In December of last year, Ahari was arrested yet again, along with two other activists, while en route to the funeral of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.

According to the Revolutionary Court, which is due to try her case on September 4, she stands accused of “anti-regime propaganda by working with the CHRR website” and “acts contrary to national security…" However, the most serious charge against Ahari is “mohareb” (rebellion against God), which carries with it the death penalty (Aug. 29).

Shiva Nazar Ahari  wrote a letter to her father shortly after her arrest, on the occasion of last year’s Iranian Father’s Day. A year later, on the recurrence of Father’s Day and while she is still imprisoned, human rights activists decided to publish the letter under the title “Till the Release of All Imprisoned Journalists”.
"I wasn’t there on Mother’s Day to hug her, and now, on your holiday too, my father, I am not there. Shed tears and worry about me. Let your tears penetrate the solitude that surrounds me and wash off all the crimes I have never committed. Cry, for you know it’s been months since I’ve slept in my own room. It’s been months since you’ve last known what’s going on with your daughter, your precious. Even though I’ve grown, even though I know learn the meaning of resistance in the prison called Evin, I still miss you. You taught me never to break down, you told me that evil and malice wouldn’t last forever – they would pass and only the good ones would remain. Cry, my father, but not for me, but for this land that sends its best children to prison" (June 27).

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

 Women in Iran

The Prosecutor General of East Azerbaijan Province announced that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, is currently being held in Tabriz Prison and is in good health. According to the Prosecutor, her legal case is moving through the legal stages in a Tehran court and, if the sentence is ratified, she will be executed by stoning (Nov. 22).

Referring to the case of Sakineh Moghammadi-Ashtiani, the spokesman of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Western nations had become “so shameless” that they have turned this case of a woman who committed “adultery, crime and treason” into a human rights case “against our nation”. “It has become a symbol of women’s freedom in Western nations”, the spokesman said, “and with impudence they want to free her.” “Thus,” he said, “they are trying to use this ordinary case as a pressure lever against our nation”. (ISNA, November 3).

World’s governments express concern over the possibility of imminent execution of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani – The White House put out the following statement:

"We condemn in the strongest terms the Government of Iran’s apparent plans to move forward in executing Ms. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.  The lack of transparency and due process in Ms. Ashtiani’s case, and the subsequent actions taken against her lawyer and family, are unacceptable.  Her case demonstrates the Government of Iran’s fundamental disregard for human rights, including those of women.  We call on the Government of Iran to stop this execution, and provide Ms. Ashtiani with the due process and fair treatment she deserves" (Nov. 2).

According to news received by the International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution, on November 1, 2010, the authorities in Tehran gave the go-ahead to Tabriz prison for the execution of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning. It has been reported that she is to be executed this Wednesday, November 3. See AFP report.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani accuses the Iranian regime of lying about the charges against her to pave the way to execute her in secret. “I was found guilty of adultery and was acquitted of murder, but the man who actually killed my husband was identified and imprisoned but he is not sentenced to death.” “The answer is quite simple – It’s because I’m a woman; it’s because they think they can do anything to women in this country. It’s because for them adultery is worse than murder” (Aug. 9).

Shirin Ebadi (Nobel peace laureate of 2003, one of the founders of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Iran, and a prominent human rights lawyer) explains in the Guardian: “When adultery means death” (Aug. 9).

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, fainted in shock after hearing the verdict. So tells a former cellmate of Mohammadi Ashtiani, who spent two years with her and accompanied her to the courthouse, to the Guardian. Newsweek report: “News of the imminent stoning of one Iranian woman for alleged adultery galvanized a global movement to save her. But sadly, her case was not an anomaly” (July 22).

Since May 2006, Mohammadi Ashtiani has been kept in  Tabriz prison, in the capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province. She shares a room with 25 women who are mostly accused of murder. She was originally sentenced to 99 lashes for adultery, but her case was reopened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and the death penalty handed down on the basis of "judge’s knowledge".

See film, July 8, 2010
See also blog: Under the Veil

Hengameh Shahidi

 Women in Iran

Female journalist Hengameh Shahidi returns to prison against the recommendations of her physicians (Nov. 18, 2010).

The mother of Hangameh Shahidi reported that her daughter’s physical condition was deteriorating. Hangameh Shahidi  needs to be granted a leave from prison in order to obtain medical treatment, however, according to her mother, the judicial officials are persistent in their refusal. She is also denied phone contact with her family and visiting rights (Sept 1, 2010).

Reformist websites reported about a ban imposed by the Evin Prison’s authorities on Hengameh Shahidi  from making any phone contact with her family. The ban has been in force for two weeks now (Aug. 25, 2010).

Hengameh Shahidi, a female journalist, women’s rights activist and advisor for women’s affairs in Karroubi’s (Reformist leader) campaign staff, was arrested on June 29th, 2009 and was detained in solitary confinement for almost 50 days. Her attorney announced that an indictment had been submitted against her, accusing her of participating in illegal assemblies, intention to compromise national security, disrupting public order, propagating against the regime by being a member of the Million Signature Campaign for women rights, and offending the president (IranPress news blog Oct. 26, 2009). 

Shahidi started an indefinite hunger strike on Oct. 25, 2009, after her transfer from isolation to the public ward. Shahidi had to be taken to the Evin prison clinic on the 7th day of her hunger strike (Nov. 1, 2009), after her blood pressure dropped and she showed symptoms of flu. Continuing the hunger strike could have dangerous consequences for Shahidi, who has a myriad of heart problems and suffers from low blood pressure. Before her hunger strike started, Shahidi used to take 28 different pills a day. On Nov. 2, 2009, it was reported that Shahidi was released from Evin prison on bail and immediately admitted to a hospital. On Dec. 1, 2009, it was reported that  Shahidi was sentenced to six years and three months in prison.

Dec. 14
Feminist website blocked for twentieth time – The Feminist School website, which focused on human rights and women’s rights in Iran, was blocked again, for the twentieth time since its establishment.

1 Dec. 2010
Senior cleric: Violations of Islamic dress code responsible for drought – Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani spoke out against sending women athletes to international competitions. According to Golpayegani, sins and immodesty and failure to comply with Islamic dress code are the causes of the drought in Iran.

Nov. 24
Tehran businesses ordered to ban immodestly dressed women – Shops and businesses in Tehran were ordered to hang signs banning the entrance of immodestly dressed women, and informed that failure to do so would result in fines. An official study conducted in Tehran revealed that 34% of women in the capital don full Islamic dress, with only 0.2% dressing in a manner “completely incompatible with Islamic values.”

Oct. 21
It is a crime for women to cycle or roller-skate or play volleyball in public – Further criminal activities include singing near Esfahan’s famous Khajoo Bridge. New police chief of Esfahan Karami also said that it is a crime for either sex to play cards in public parks. Karami said police will “severely prosecute” offenders.

Oct. 17
Arrests – mother and sister of missing student: Saeid Zeinali’s mother and sister were arrested Saturday in their house. The mother is a member of Mourning Mothers. The son was arrested 11 years ago, on Student Day, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Zeinali’s mother has recently announced that she holds the IRGC responsible for her son’s life and demanded they submit information about his fate.

Oct. 14
Women forbidden from riding bicycles – Mohsen Aghili, commander of internal security forces in Isfahan, announced that since women’s cycling has become a source of immodesty in defiance of the Islamic dress code, women are now forbidden from riding bicycles in the city’s streets or parks.

Aug. 23
Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hossein’s Mousavi’s wife, strongly condemned the so-called “Family Protection” draft-law that gives more power to men who wish to engage in polygamy, while limiting the ability of the first wife to object.

Aug. 15
The Iranian regime allowed a group of female musicians to perform at a concert hall in Tehran for the first time in ten years.

Aug. 2
Women on bikes? Not in Iran – Friday sermon’s leader in Mashhad reminded women that it was forbidden for them to ride bicycles.

July 26
Government sees women as a threat
: Meeting a group of political activists, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard said, “Part of the current Government sees women as a serious threat. They attack women in various ways, in the streets, in prisons and in their media. They do it by repression, torture and character assassination. They are putting women under unprecedented pressure”. Dr. Rahnavard, wife of Mir-Hossein Mousavi and a prominent Green Movement activist in her own right, further said, “The Green Movement realizes, of course, that the achievement of its high values is impossible without women’s presence or without addressing their demands”.

June 30
Arrest and fines for violating Islamic dress code – The Prosecutor General in the city of Tabas announced that women who appear in public dressed in an "inappropriate" way might be arrested for 10-60 days and be required to pay a fine of IRR 50,000-500,000. He added that shops in town have been warned not to sell women "inappropriate" clothes, including ties and formfitting dresses.

June 3
Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife, Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, continues her extensive activity in the fields of human and women’s rights. Rahnavard: “We carried out a great Revolution, but gradually deviations started to emerge. We know that many of the actions taken in the framework of the Islamic Revolution and by its name have nothing to do with the Revolution, but rather they are Islamic deviations that include oppressions, arrests, torture and turning the entire country into a big prison."

New York Times correspondent Nazila Fathi has also referred to women’s leading role in Iran’s protest movement. She said women are one of the pillars of the Green Movement and have established the foundations of political and cultural change in Iranian society.

31 May
State-owned newspaper calls to stop women’s sport activity in Tehran parks
– The state-owned newspaper Siasat Rooz called to stop the "inappropriate spectacle" of women doing physical activity in Tehran parks. The newspaper claimed that many women use sports as an excuse to expose their hair and wear immodest clothing, and that such activity encourages other people to act immodestly, and called senior officials to put an end to this phenomenon.

Iranian TV presenter fired for "immodest" appearance – A TV presenter in one of IRIB’s social programs refused to give up her somewhat colorful clothing and her makeup, and was fired for this reason. Iranian websites reported that the woman’s appearance angered conservatives, who requested to dismiss her from her job as part of the plan to increase "social morality".

May 9
Shirin Alam Holi, a female political prisoner from the Kurdish minority,  was among five prisoners who were convicted in 2008 of being “mohareb” (wagers of war against God), and were executed today. She was arrested two years ago by IRGC agents, and sentenced to death for allegedly maintaining contact with the Kurdish “Pejak’ opposition movement. In a letter sent from prison she tells about the torture she has been going through every single day, the fact that she did not receive proper legal defense during her trial, which she terms “faked”. She writes that her interrogators demand that she deny her Kurdish identity in a televised interview. She signs the letter with the word “Victory” written in Kurdish (read her last letter in English).

8 March
Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on the Iranian judiciary to release six women related to the Mourning Mothers movement, who had been arrested in January and early February 2010 (English).
7 March
Dr. Zahra Rahnavard
, Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife, posted a message on FaceBook on the occasion of the upcoming International Women’s Day. In her message, Dr. Rahnavard praised the high stature of Iranian women throughout history, whose courage, selflessness and sacrifice, standing side by side with men, brought about prosperity to Iran. Her message reads: "today the leading women of the Green Movement are unjustly imprisoned only because they demand justice in the country’s political, social and cultural affairs”. Dr. Rahnavard expressed her hope that the Green Movement would take major steps to eliminate the discriminatory laws and behaviors against women.

Feb. 9
Student arrested for “being feminist”
– Internal Security Forces came in the middle of the night to arrest Mahsa Jozini, a female student who had been suspended from her M.A. studies due to her social and political activities. The security forces told her she was arrested “for being feminist” and took her to the central prison in Isfahan.

Jan 20
Women’s rights activist held in solitary confinement 
– Samie Rashidi, a women’s rights activist, was arrested about a month ago and has been held in solitary confinement ever since. Her lawyers were not allowed to meet her.

Jan 14
All “Mourning Mothers” released; charges still pending – (source). These recent detentions represent the second time that security forces have detained the group’s members in less than a month. On 5 December 2009, authorities detained fifteen Mourning Mothers in Laleh Park in Tehran.

Jan 13
Eight women detained for removing their headscarves – during the last week, 8 women have been arrested in Tehran for appearing in public with no headscarves, as an anti-government protest.

Jan 10
Nobel Prize laureate and human rights activist Shirin Ebadi: "censorship is very strong; civil and political liberties have been taken away; unemployment is very high, and so is official corruption" – The recent intensification of protests in Iran has been met with more arrests. Among those detained: the sister of Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize–winning human-rights lawyer. NEWSWEEK’s Anita Kirpalani spoke by telephone with Ebadi, in exile in the U.K. since June 2009, about her perspective on the green revolution (source).
Jan 9
Ongoing assaults against Mourning Mothers – Security forces attacked and detained 33 members of the Mourning Mothers movement in Laleh Park and surrounding streets in Tehran on January 9. An eyewitness described the event:

"I was in Laleh Park today around 4 p.m. More than a hundred police and plain clothes agents had occupied the park and its perimeter. They would not allow anyone to even sit on the benches or congregate. Every Saturday the Mourning Mothers and their supporters gather in the Park. Today, after about 70 mothers had entered the park, security forces engaged them and started chasing them, grabbing them, and forcing them into police vans. They used a lot of violence and insults in the process.”

Nine of the detained women, suffering from various health conditions, were brought to emergency rooms but were later taken to Vozara Detention Center in Tehran. Families and other group members went to the detention center Sunday to demand answers to why the women were detained.

Jan 5
Widespread arrests of Women’s Rights activists, female journalists and relatives – For a list of women arrested, including the sister of Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, see International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran website.

Jan 3
• Security forces prevent the weekly gathering of the “Mourning Mothers” – Reports say that Laleh Park in Tehran, where the “Mourning Mothers” gather weekly, had been completely taken over by security forces. Forces encircled the park and did not let the “Mourning Mothers” arrive at their meeting point. They threatened the group’s members and violently forced them away.

• Female activist for women and children’s rights, Maria Zia, was arrested in her house by plainclothes militiamen. Her whereabouts are currently unknown.

Dec. 27
Iranian woman facing death penalty for killing abusive husband – Human rights activists report about a growing possibility that Behjat Karimzade, an Iranian woman accused of killing her husband, would be executed. Behjat Karimzade, who is currently being held in Rajaei Shahr Prison and is under psychological care, claimed that her husband, who was also her cousin, had raped her ever since she was a little girl, and abused her during their years of marriage.

Dec. 8 – Still in custody: Mehrnoush Etemadi and Hayedeh Tabesh , two women’s rights activists and members of the Million Signatures Campaign in Isfahan.

Dec. 6
15 women of the Mourning Mothers group arrested in Laleh Park; more pressure exerted on women’s rights activists from the Million Signatures Campaign – Security forces arrested fifteen women from the Committee of Mourning Mothers in Tehran, as reported by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. According to eyewitnesses, large numbers of police and plainclothes agents took control over Laleh Park on Saturday, preventing the Mourning Mothers and protestors from entering the park. Anyone who managed to enter the park was arrested. Fifteen mothers were reportedly taken into custody. Security and intelligence forces have also stepped up persecution and detention of women’s rights activists from the Million Signatures Campaign.

"Co-educational classes at universities will bring down educational standards" – Habib Mohammadnezhad, a deputy-head of the leader’s representative office at universities, suggested grades will improve if boys and girls are segregated. He said this had been the case at the Imam Sadeq University. He suggested trying out separate classes in universities like Tehran, Shahid Beheshti and Sharif Industrial, to establish whether single-sex classes indeed improve standards. (Jomhuri-e Islami, November 21)  See also ITIC Spotlight on Iran 19-26 Nov.

 A court ordered to prolong the arrest of Mehrnoush Etemadi, a women’s rights activist and member of the Million Signatures Campaign in Isfahan. Etemadi had been arrested a few days ago (Nov. 26).

Mohsen Parizad Moqadam and Ali Mashmouli, two students from Isfahan, activists of the Million Signature Campaign, were arrested by security forces during November 4 demonstrations (Nov. 9).

Behnaz Mehrani, a female activist in the Million Signature Campaign for Equal Rights and a prominent activist for children’s rights, was summoned to the Revolutionary Court for interrogation. Tens of the Campaign’s activists were summoned for interrogation in the past week (Nov. 8).

Many members of the Million Signature Campaign were summoned for interrogation in the past 24 hours (Nov. 3, 2009).

Jelve Javaheri and Kave Mozafari, two prominent activists of the Million Signature Campaign for equal rights, were called for interrogation at the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The two were previously arrested shortly after the elections and released on bail (Nov. 2).
Female students from the Abadan campus of the Iranian Open University (aka Islamic Azad University) held a rally in protest of the institute’s decision to impose a night curfew on women in the students’ dorms (Oct. 28).