Int'l Women's Day Rally Forcibly Dispersed
Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN, Mar 8 (IPS) - A valiant attempt by several hundred women to commemorate International Women's Day by demonstrating in front of the Iranian parliament ended in violence when police and plainclothesmen used force to disperse them.

One of the coordinators of the rally asked the demonstrators to leave to prevent more violence, according to news portals.

Citing eyewitness, Meydaan (Women's Field), a woman's rights portal said the organisers of the rally were beaten by police. The Advarnews portal estimated that there were about 300 demonstrators.

The rally took place although police had arrested 30 women on Sunday outside a Tehran Revolutionary Court where the cases of five women, who had taken part in a Jun 12, 2006 demonstration, demanding legal equality with men, were being heard.

Police broke up that demonstration and arrested 70 women, all of whom have since been released. Charges against the five on trial include conspiring against national security, making propaganda against the state, disruption of public order through participation in an illegal gathering and acting against national security.

''We believe that what the international community must insist on is human rights and democracy (in Iran) rather than (Iran's) nuclear issue. And that has to be done through diplomatic dialogue and peaceful means, not through war and destruction," the activists had said in their invitation to join peaceful demonstrations in front of the court.

Following Sunday's arrests, 620 leading members from a range of Iran's political parties and trade unions had written an open letter to Iran's chief judge expressing ‘'disappointment'' at the arrests.

Earlier, the Washington-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called for the immediate release of the arrested activists. Amnesty said in a statement that it believed the arrests may have been intended to deter activists from organising events to mark International Women's Day.

"Based on Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution, demonstrations and gatherings are free if arms are not carried by demonstrators. The two women that I represented at the trial on Mar. 4 for participating in the Jun. 12, 2006 demonstrations had been exercising exactly the same constitutional right,'' Nasrin Sotoudeh, lawyer for Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani and Parvin Ardalan, detained in front of the court, told IPS.

The demonstrators were attacked by police officers and security agents. Plainclothesmen on the ground tried to disperse the crowd violently even before the demonstration actually commenced. Seventy activists were arrested but released within a few days. Several organisers of the event were officially charged and a former male parliament member, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoini, was kept in detention for five months.

''Jun. 12 was a turning point. Soon after the incident, women's rights activists said they realised that there was need for a new tactic and the ‘Campaign to Collect One Million Signatures to Change Discriminatory Laws' was born,'' a women's rights activist and journalist told IPS on the condition of remaining anonymous.

‘'The campaign (launched in November) has caused much concern to the establishment because with face-to-face and door-to-door outreach, it will move the cause among ordinary people in the society. It is not going to be limited to a closed circle of activists and intellectuals. And it has already spread, through workshops to train volunteers, to quite a few provinces," she said.

"Demanding change for equality between men and women is so threatening to the patriarchal establishment, they will do everything to stop the idea from spreading and 'infecting' society. The campaign website was filtered three times in five months, twice in the past two or three weeks only," she added.

The ‘Keyhan' newspaper, a mouthpiece of Iran's hardliners has accused feminists and women's rights activists of being sponsored by what the paper called ‘'executives of American plans for soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic''. The United States and the Netherlands are funding the signature campaign, the paper claimed.

Men's exclusive right to divorce their wives and exclusive guardianship of children, a law that permits a man to take as many as four permanent and several temporary wives and giving a woman's testimony half the value of that of a man, are among laws that the campaigners have been demanding changed.

On Thursday, Shirin Ebadi, Iran's celebrated winner of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize joined Irene Khan, who heads Amnesty International and is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1977) to call on the government to revoke laws that discriminate against women.

In an open letter, the two Nobel laureates said women in Iran faced ‘'serious and widespread discrimination'' because of laws that exclude them from ‘'critical areas of political participation''. They noted that women were entitled to equal status with men under the Iranian legal system and that the time was ‘'long overdue to make this a reality''.

The letter referred to the mass signature campaign and stressed that the time had come for the Iranian government to ‘'pay heed to these voices and put an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran''. (END/2007)


Post a Comment