Iran’s legally codified patriarchy can be seen in its many laws that favor men to women. One such law has been on the question of citizenship. While Iranian law allows children born outside of Iran to become citizens based on parentage, this has only been applied to Iranian fathers with children born outside Iran. This discriminatory practice has barred Iranian mothers, who have married non-Iranians abroad, to apply for citizenship for their children.
More significantly, favoring male lineage has put children of ‘mixed marriages’ in Iran in a state of flux. Iran is home to millions of refugees and has a large migrant population, thus Iranian women married to non-Iranian men have not been able to secure citizenship for their children.
In May of this year, the Iranian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing children of ‘mixed marriages’, in which the mother is Iranian, to become citizens. Of course, due to Iran’s complicated power structure, the bill required further approval from the Guardian Council—a 12-member body that interprets the constitution and reviews Majles approved bills according to Islamic rules.
After months of deliberation, the Guardian Council has reportedly approved the law, permitting Iranian women to pass their nationality to their offspring. The development is imperative to the lives of thousands of children in Iran who will gain access to public services, such as health-care. Though small, it is also a symbolic victory for women’s rights, but much greater measures must be taken by Iranian authorities to ensure equal treatment before the law for men and women.
While the detention of dual nationals of Iranian heritage have been on the rise over the last year, Iranian authorities have also been hasty in their treatment and arrests of foreign nationals. The arrest of British-Australian academic, Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, in September 2018, fits a pattern of arresting academics that work on the Middle East.
Moore-Gilbert taught Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute and has done research on Bahrain. Though some reports say that Moore-Gilbert had been sentenced to 10 years on charges of espionage, other sources report that Iranian judiciary authorities have said the conviction and sentence is yet to be determined.
In a separate case also involving Australian citizens, Iranian authorities have also confirmed the arrest of two travel bloggers, Mark Firkin and Jolie King. The couple was detained after allegedly flying a drone with a camera near an Iranian military facility without permission or a permit. The couple has been documenting their travels for over two years online, but reportedly went quiet ten weeks ago.
Though Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs recently denied that the arrests by Iran are politically motivated, such arrests have increased especially since the U.S. abrogation of the Iran deal. As tensions rise under the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign, Iranian hardliners have taken more repressive measures and innocent people have continued to suffer the consequences. During the early stages of the deal, Iran announced easier visa programs to attract tourists from around the world. But such unjust arrests and brutal treatment deter visitors, reflected in the travel warnings page of the Australian government, which reads, “Iran overall, reconsider your need to travel.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last month that an Iranian photojournalist, Nooshin Jafari, was arrested by authorities in Tehran and had her home searched. Jafari has yet to be released and the reported accusations against her allege she was behind an anti-state Twitter account. Sources close to Jafari deny the allegations and argue she is the last person who would run such an account.
Jafari’s work has focused primarily on culture, arts, and films, which has evoked an outpouring of support from the Iranian film and art community. On September 1st Rakhshan Banietemad, a renowned Iranian filmmaker, took to her Twitter account to post a letter signed by 200 prominent Iranian artists. The tweet stated, “We, the family of cinema, theater, and art, express our deep concern for the safety and health of our colleague,” and further called for due process and legal rights to be upheld.
The accusation against Jafari also raises the issue of what is considered “criminal” behavior and the nature of free expression. Artists and filmmakers in Iran are limited by the moral restrictions of the state not only in their private capacity as citizens, but also as artists working in various mediums.
Despite these restrictions, Iranian cinema and arts have flourished, yet the growing crackdown and atmosphere of repression in Iran—especially since the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal–seems to have targeted artists in ways not long seen. These developments are particularly deplorable given the value and importance of arts and expression in any society.
For many Iranians, sports, especially soccer, are a source of great pride and joy. While Iranian fans gleefully cheer on their Men’s soccer team in Iran’s stadiums, Iranian women are painfully absent from the scene. Banned from watching soccer matches in stadiums, Iranian women have challenged the exclusion by calling for this basic right.
Some Iranian women have defied this restriction by dressing as men and sneaking into stadiums, an act for which they have been arrested. In fact, a 2006 film by Jafar Panahi, Offside, depicts the story of young female fans dressing up as men to enter the stadium. Unlike the film, the story in real life is much more tragic.
According to Human Rights Watch, Sahar Khodayari, also known as “Blue Girl”, was arrested in March for attempting to enter a stadium to watch a match. Suffering from bipolar disorder, Sahar’s health declined while in custody. After reportedly hearing that she would have to serve six months in prison, Sahar set herself on fire in an attempted suicide. Tara Sepehri Far, of Human Rights Watch, tweeted today that Sahar passed away from her injuries, rightly stating, “No woman, no girl, no human being should ever be arrested or put in jail for trying to watch the sport they love.”
According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Saba Kord-Afshari was recently sentenced to 24 years for peaceful protest against Iran’s mandatory hijab. Like many similar cases, Kord Afshari was charged with “propaganda against the regime” and “illegal assembly”. Authorities have also used cruel measures such as solitary confinement, to force “confessions” out of these activists.
Iranian women have long challenged their compulsory headscarf by pushing the boundaries and limits of the law. While Muslim women who choose to don the hijab often do so without exposing their hair, the mandatory nature of Iran’s hijab law has made Iranian women more creative about their fashion choices. The sight of Iranian women relaxing the way their scarves cover their hair has become commonplace.
However, in recent years Iranian women, with the support of many Iranian men, have protested more vigilantly against the compulsory dress code. Activists have come under more pressure and received harsh prison sentences, as Iranian authorities continue to enforce the repressive law. In fact, well-known human rights attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has represented these activists, was given a sentence of over 30 years earlier this year.
As authorities in Iran continue a crackdown on all signs of dissent, journalists, dual nationals and activists have been further punished with harsh judgments. The case of Marzieh Amiri, a reporter for Iran’s reformist Shargh newspaper, illustrates the lack of due process and cruel penalties many Iranians have suffered for taking part in ordinary life.
As a journalist, Amiri is tasked with investigating and bringing news to people, however, Amiri was detained simply for doing her job. On May 1st, Amiri was taken by authorities while covering a strike by Iranian workers on Labor Day. As the Committee to Protect Journalists rightly stated, “With this heavy sentence, Iranian authorities are escalating their threats against journalists who report on economic issues amid the country’s ongoing crisis.”
Worse yet, Amiri is epileptic and is not receiving proper treatment for her condition, despite appeals by her lawyer. The charges against Amiri include “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security”. Such broadly described charges have often been used against Iranians for practicing freedom of speech, press and assembly.
In January 2018, nine Iranian environmentalists were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of “spying” after filming an endangered cheetah. One of the activists, Kavous Seyed Emami—an Iranian-Canadian professor and prominent environmentalist—died while in custody.
Last year, over 300 conservationists pleaded with Iranian authorities to free the eight environmentalists still in jail. Other activists and human rights organizations have also called for the release of these experts. Unfortunately, these appeals have gone unheeded and, according to Human Rights Watch, these activists have spent over 550 days in legal limbo.
Last week, a number of the detainees embarked on a hunger strike in protest of their conditions and to demand due process before the law. The eight detainees—Taher Ghadirian, Niloufar Bayani, Amirhossein Khaleghi, Houman Jokar, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashani, Morad Tahbaz, and Abdolreza Kouhpayeh—are to be applauded, not criminalized, for their efforts to tackle the issue of climate change and environmental degradation in Iran and globally.
Iranian-Canadian resident, Saeed Malekpour, escaped Iran after being released from prison for a few days on furlough. His sister, Maryam Malekpour, posted a video of their long-awaited reunion in Canada on August 2nd, saying, “The nightmare is finally over!”
Malekpour was first arrested in 2008, on a trip to Iran to visit his sick father. His arrest came after he developed a program for uploading photos to the web. Malekpour was detained by Iranian authorities for insulting Islam when the program was used to share pornographic images on Persian language sites. He has long maintained his innocence, stressing he had no knowledge of the program’s use in disseminating pornography.
After a confession under torture, Malekpour was sentenced to death in 2010. After pressure from the Canadian government and human rights groups, Malekpour’s death sentence was commuted and he was given a life sentence. After being granted furlough, Malekpour escaped Iran and returned to Canada where he was welcomed by his sister. The video of their reunion has been viewed and shared extensively on social media, and though heartwarming, the moment is bittersweet given Malekpour has lost 11 years of his young life wrongfully imprisoned.
Award-winning Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof, was sentenced to one year in prison by an Iranian court last week on charges of ‘propaganda against the state.’ The sentence also includes a two-year ban on leaving Iran and involvement in social and political activities. This is not the filmmaker’s first clash with Iranian authorities, which are notorious for their censorship and strict guidelines on artists. Rasoulof has been targeted several times by authorities for his films, which examine government corruption.
The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in Iran sets rules and restrictions on artists, impeding their ability to express ideas that may be deemed in conflict with state authorities. Despite these hurdles, Iranian cinema has garnered a reputation as a premier international cinema and collected many awards. However, Iranian independent filmmakers, such as Rasoulof, often have their films banned and their permission to work prohibited.
The case of Rasoulof shows the various forms of arbitrary punishment Iranian artists suffer. The Cannes Film Festival, of which Rasoulof has been a past winner, condemned the sentence and called for the filmmaker’s “immediate and unconditional release…So that art and freedom can live.”
University of Tehran student activist, Ali Mozaffari, was first arrested in December 2017 for participating in street protests, along with other student protestors. According to human rights activists in Iran, the charges brought against Mozaffari include conspiracy against national security, insulting the leadership, disturbing the peace, and propaganda against the state.
According to Iranian news reports, after months of court hearings and trials, this week Mozaffari was given a final sentence of 30 months in prison by the court of appeals. As Iranian activists have noted, harsh punishments–especially for student protestors–have become commonplace.
Cases such as Mozaffari are significant for the types of charges brought, which prohibit peaceful and lawful protest activities of Iranian students, as well as the improper treatment they receive once in custody, such as solitary confinement and denial of due process.
Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian Anthropologist, was reportedly detained in June on a visit to Iran. Dr. Adelkhah is a researcher at Sciences Po, an elite French research institute focused on Social Sciences and Political Studies.
French authorities have asked for consular access and more information on Adelkhah’s current status, which Iranian authorities have yet to provide. The arrest of a prominent academic such as Adelkhah is a continued pattern of Iranian authorities that wrongfully detain dual nationals on charges of espionage.
Dr. Adelkhah is known for her fieldwork in Iran and research on post-revolutionary Iranian society. In her most celebrated work, Being Modern in Iran, Adelkhah asserts, “to be modern in Iran is to set oneself up as a moral being in a relatively precise context.” Unfortunately, her immoral detention reflects a growing crackdown inside Iran.