33 Activist Women Arrested in Tehran
Group Was Protesting Trial of 5 Others
By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 6, 2007; Page A15
Amnesty International yesterday demanded the swift and unconditional release of 33 prominent Iranian female activists arrested last weekend and jailed in Tehran's notorious high-security Evin prison. The women were arrested after peacefully protesting the trial of five other activists and grass-roots organizers against discrimination in the legal system.
On the eve of the U.S. State Department's release of its annual human rights report and only days ahead of celebrations marking International Women's Day, Iran's best-known female activists were arrested early Sunday after they gathered with placards outside Tehran's Revolutionary Court.
The five women whose trial they were protesting had held a public rally last June 12 to call for equal rights for women under Iran's penal laws, family code and blood money practices. At the time, club-wielding security officers rounded up 70 people.
Under Iran's penal code, girls as young as 9 can be executed by hanging or stoning for adultery or what are referred to as morality crimes, while for boys the age limit is 15. If an Iranian girl dies in an accident, her family receives only half the compensation paid to the families of young male victims, according to traditional practices.
"Rather than arresting peaceful demonstrators, the Iranian authorities should be taking seriously women's demands for equality before the law and addressing discrimination against women wherever it exists in the Iranian legal system," said Irene Khan, Amnesty's secretary general, in a statement distributed by the group's Washington office.
"Practically the entire top layer of the women's movement in Iran, except for Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, who happens to be in Italy, is in jail," said Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch in New York.
Under Iran's constitution, protesters have the right of assembly provided they are not carrying arms or defaming Islam. Yet Nusheen Ahmadi Khorasani, Shahla Entesari, Parvin Ardalan, Sussan Tammasebi and Fariba Davoodi Mohajer went on trial Sunday on charges of acting against national security by participating in an illegal gathering. All but Davoodi Mohajer, who is visiting her daughter in Washington, appeared in court with their attorneys Sunday morning. When they emerged from the chambers to observe the commotion surrounding the arrests of the other women outside, the four defendants were rearrested, Ghaemi said in a telephone conversation from New York.
In calling for gender equality, the protesters outside the court used a play on words similar to a slogan used by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to rally public support for nuclear energy. Rights activists have launched a campaign to collect a million Iranian signatures for a petition to end legalized discrimination against women.
"In Iran's prison system, there are eight women sentenced to death by stoning, while only two men have that sentence applied against sexual crimes or extramarital relations," Ghaemi said. If only one woman has witnessed a serious crime, the suspect goes free because her testimony is worth only half that of a man in court, he said.
Although Iran, a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has promised not to execute anyone under 18, in August 2004 it publicly hanged 16-year-old Atefeh Sahaleh Rajabi in a public square in the city of Neka for "crimes against chastity."
With 159 people executed by the state in 2004 , allegedly in accordance with Islamic law, Iran was second only to China in the number of death sentences it carried out that year. Amnesty has expressed concern that Ahmadinejad's focus on a return to pure revolutionary values is making such executions more common.
Labels: News update about Iran