#WomenOfFreedom

An online campaign organized yesterday by United for Iran, used the hashtag “WomenOfFreedom” to recognize courageous Iranian women, which have shown time and again that they will continue to fight for their rights to the last inch. Highlighting the activism of some in particular, the campaign honored Nasrin Sotoudeh, Sepideh Qoliyan, Niloufar Bayani, Atena Daemi, Azita Rafizadeh, Zeinab Jalalian, and Shekoufeh Yadollahi. Many groups and individuals participated in the campaign in a show of solidarity with these environmentalists, lawyers, and activists, who have been unjustly treated and unfairly detained.  

Iranian women have seen two important recent developments for women’s rights in Iran. First was the citizenship law approved by the Guardian Council, and the second was Iranian women purchasing tickets for a soccer match at Azadi Stadium. Such policy changes are a consequence of the tireless efforts by these women to address the imbalances and repression of Iran’s gender-biased legal code.

Though these victories may seem small, they carry immense meaning to the women who bought tickets for the first in their lives to watch a soccer game, the mothers who will be able to apply for citizenship for their offspring, and the children who will finally receive the services they deserve. Of course, more sweeping reforms are needed to tackle the rightful grievances of Iranian women, beginning with the release of female activists who have done nothing but demand their basic rights.

Iranian Women Buy Tickets for Soccer Match

Iranian women have been allowed to purchase tickets to watch an upcoming soccer match between the national teams of Iran and Cambodia at Tehran’s Azadi stadium. As of October 4th, 3,500 seats in the stadium were allotted for women, which sold out immediately. This comes roughly one month after the self-immolation of Sahar Khodayari, a young woman who tried to enter a soccer match in Tehran.

On Persian social media, the hashtag “Come to the Stadium with Me” began trending. The government outlet ISNA stated: “Given the reception by women, more seats must be made available for women.”

The move to allow women to watch the Cambodia game comes after pressure from FIFA. After Khodayari’s death, FIFA said Iranian women were engaged in a “legitimate struggle to be allowed to watch soccer games in stadiums and called on the Iranian government to give Iranian women “freedom and security” to attend matches.

Youri Djorkaeff, FIFA’s executive officer, will be leading a FIFA delegation to Tehran to oversee the Cambodia game and the attendance of women at the match. Previously, a FIFA official had said that Iranian authorities had given a guarantee that women would be able to attend the match.

Despite there being no law forbidding women from watching soccer matches in stadiums, women have largely been prevented from doing so since the 1979 revolution. In recent years, there have been a few cases of women being allowed to enter Azadi stadium to watch soccer games. For years, Iranian women’s rights activists have campaigned to lift the ban, and have met pushback from Islamic Republic authorities and some clerics.

An official from Iran’s Football Federation has said no decisions have been made on allowing women to attend matches of Iranian domestic leagues.

Iran Passes Citizenship Law in Favor of Women

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.

Family Members of Iranian Activist Detained

Last week, Amnesty International reported that Iranian authorities arrested three members of a prominent Iranian activist and U.S. resident, Masih Alinejad, who is best known for her activism against compulsory hijab in Iran. Alienjad is also known for establishing “My Stealthy Freedom” an online platform for Iranian women to share photos of themselves without hijab. Those detained include her brother and the brother and sister of Max Lofti, Alinejad’s ex-husband. Lotfi’s brother, Hadi, was reportedly released 24 hours after being detained. However, Lofti’s sister, Leila, and Alinejad’s brother, Alireza, have yet to be accounted for. Before being arrested, Ali Alinejad made a video for his sister explaining the increased pressure on their family, especially on their parents to speak out against her activities. 

 

The Iranian authorities’ detention of Masih Alinejad’s family underscores an all too common phenomenon of the Iranian government taking aim at activists’ families inside the country in order to silence individuals championing civil rights, both inside Iran and abroad. Alinejad is a vocal Iranian women’s rights activist and has afforded Iranian women space to join a social movement that simply calls for freedom of dress.

 

NIAC calls on the Iranian government to immediately halt its untenable practice of targeting the family members of Iranian activists advocating for improved human and civil rights inside the country. The interrogation and harassment of activists’ families is an intimidation tactic used by authorities to frighten and dissuade Iranians, like Masih Alinejad, from voicing their opposition against repression. The Iranian authorities must immediately release Alinejad’s remaining family members. Additionally, we call on Iran to respect the international human rights covenants to which it is signatory and allow for free expression—including the right to express dissent without fear of reprisals.

Iranian Authorities Confirm Arrests of Three Australian Nationals

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.”  

Iranian Filmmakers and Artists Speak Out in Support of Nooshin Jafari

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.

The Tragedy of a Female Iranian Soccer Fan

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.”

Women’s Rights and Anti-Hijab Iranian Activists Continue to Get Harsh Sentences

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.

Iranian Court Sentences Journalist to 10 Years in Prison and Lashes

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.

Iranian Activists Calling for Khamenei’s Resignation Arrested

The General Intelligence Department of Mashhad and Khorasan province has announced the arrest of 12 people who wrote a letter calling for Ayatollah Khamenei’s resignation. The department claimed their arrests had nothing to do with their call for Khamenei’s resignation. It alleged they had connections with foreign forces and sought to topple the Iranian government. 

The letter was released in early June and was signed by civil society activists. The relatives of the arrested signatories of the letter say they were pressured by authorities because of the letter. 

Some of the signatories of the letter were arrested after they staged a protest in Mashhad on August 11th. They were protesting in support of Kamal Jafari, an Iran-Iraq War veteran who was one of the signatories of the letter and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. His charges included “insulting the Supreme Leader.” The protests were forcefully dispersed as authorities and protestors clashed.  

Similar calls for Khamenei’s resignation have come from other Iranian activists, intellectuals and artists. In August, 14 women issued a different letter calling for the Supreme Leader to step down, grabbing the attention of many Iranians on social media. These women demanded not only a change in leadership, but also a fundamental shift in gender equality and women’s rights.

Though criticism of Khamenei in such an open fashion risks arrest and imprisonment, these activists have shown courage and a steadfast attitude toward the state of affairs in Iran. Rightfully believing that dissent is a right and duty of a citizen, these protestors are boldly challenging the status quo and the fixed position of the Supreme Leader. 

United Nations Special Rapporteur Report on Human Rights in Iran

The United Nations Special Rapporteur’s (SR) report on the situation of human rights in Iran was released on August 16th. The following is a brief summary and analysis of Javaid Rehman’s report. The full text of the report can be found here

  • The flash floods in March-April 2019 devastated millions of Iranians, resulting in everything from displacement to infrastructure damage and harm to the agricultural sector.
  • U.S. sanctions have devastated ordinary Iranians, triggered currency devaluation, and suffocated Iranian traders and businesses. This has resulted in increased inflation and austerity, which in turn exacerbated rising unemployment levels, poverty, and further limited the Iranian people’s access to health, education and other basic services.
  • Freedom of expression in Iran remains a major issue, as do violations to the right to life, liberty, due process, and fair trials. The judiciary continues to implement the death penalty, including with regard to child offenders.
  • Human rights activists and defenders, journalists, and women continue to be targeted, intimidated, harassed, and face unjust charges of acting against national security, among other tenuous charges.
  • Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities, including members of the Baha’i, Christian, Azeri, and Kurdish communities, are continually targeted and prevented from fully celebrating their culture, religion, and language.
  • While the number of executions has dropped, Iran still has one of the world’s highest execution rates. Though amending the anti-narcotics law helped to mitigate this, vague, politically driven charges like ‘moharebeh’ that carry the risk of the death penalty continue to exacerbate the issue.
  • Iran’s government must adhere to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Iran’s government must take seriously the Special Rapporteur’s current and previous recommendations–including his request to enter Iran on monitoring visits.

Dual British-Iranian Academic Arrested

Kameel Ahmady, a British-Iranian academic, was arrested on August 11th in Tehran, according to his family. The charges against him have not been announced and it is unclear which institution arrested him. Last year, Ahmady won the World Peace Foundation’s Literature and Humanities Award at George Washington University.

Ahmady’s wife, Shafagh Ahmady, has said that security forces raided their house: “Security forces came with Mr. Ahmady to our house. They totally messed up the place and took documents like birth certificates.”