Iran Sentences Four Prominent Women’s Rights Activists

Iran has sentenced four prominent women’s rights activists to six months in jail over articles written on feminist websites that the regime says threatened national security.
Parvin Ardalan, Jelveh Javaheri, Maryam Hosseinkhah and Nahid Keshavarz were sentenced over articles on the “Change For Equality” and “Zanestan” websites, their lawyer Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi was quoted as saying in the Korgozaran newspaper last Wednesday.
The women are active members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, an initiative that seeks to amend discriminatory laws against women in Iran by collecting one million signatures. Dozens of campaign members have been arrested and detained since the campaign began in 2006.
Ardalan, who won Sweden’s Olof Palme Prize in 2007 for her activism in support of women’s rights, already faces another six-month jail term and suspended sentences of two and two and half years—which are being appealed—on national security charges. She was not able to attend the awards ceremony as Iran barred the activist from leaving the country.
“You can’t accuse people on security charges for expressing their opinions,” said campaigner Sussan Tahmasebi, who is appealing a partly suspended two-year jail sentence issued last year.
In June 2006, the 41-year-old campaigner was detained along with 70 other activists at a demonstration in Tehran Square demanding equal rights for women on divorce, inheritance and child custody.
Hosseinkhah, 27, and Javaheri, 30, were also arrested in November and December 2007, for allegedly spreading lies and propaganda against the system over articles written on feminist websites.
“This is part of a backlash against women’s rights activists who demand equal rights in a patriarchal system,” Tahmasebi said about the sentencing, adding that the women would appeal the decision.
“The security strategy of this country is that where there is dissent—workers, women, bloggers—they crack down on it right away, because they are afraid of the domino effect,” one Iranian analyst, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Responding to the sentencing, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt last Friday criticized Iran for sentencing Ardalan to prison, saying, “I see the sentence as yet another expression of the deteriorated respect or human rights in Iran.” He added, “The number of executions has dramatically increased and more have taken place in public. At least five people have since June been executed for crimes committed when they were minors [and] the list of people who risk suffering the same fate is long.”
Nasrin Sotoudeh, the acting lawyer for the four women, said, “The four activists of the women’s movement are charged because of their activities on websites such as Zanestan, Change for Equality and propaganda against the regime and each has received a six month imprisonment sentence,” adding that she and co-attorney Ebadi would object to the sentence in court.
Ebadi said, “There are no laws against internet activities and it’s against the international convention which the Iranian government has agreed to freedom of expression which is in the international documents including in International Human Rights and civil law.”
While Tehran has received much criticism for sentencing the women, Reporters Without Borders last week welcomed a ruling by Tehran’s Supreme Court overturning a death sentence against Kurdish journalist Adnan Hassanpour because of a procedural error.
“We welcome this ruling by the Iranian justice system with great relief. It is now time to free this journalist who has been through agony since his arrest more than 18 months ago,” the world press freedom organization said, adding, “There was never any evidence of his guilt, but despite this, the judges in the case have twice decided to sentence him to death.”
The court decided that the twenty-six-year-old journalist, who had been convicted of “subversive activities against national security”, could not be considered as a ‘mohareb’ (an enemy of God) and sent his case back to the lower court in the northwestern city of Sanandaj.
Hassanpour was arrested outside his home on January 25, 2007, and was imprisoned in Mahabad jail. He worked for the weekly Asou covering Kurdish issues. He also contributed to foreign media such as Voice of America and Radio Farda.

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