Iranian authorities have intensified their repression of women’s rights activists in the country in the first half of this year, carrying out a series of harsh interrogations and increasingly likening any collective initiative relating to women’s rights to criminal activity, Amnesty International said today.
The organization’s research reveals that since January 2016 more than a dozen women’s rights activists in Tehran have been summoned for long, intensive interrogations by the Revolutionary Guards, and threatened with imprisonment on national security-related charges. Many had been involved in a campaign launched in October 2015, which advocated for increased representation of women in Iran’s February 2016 parliamentary election.
“It is utterly shameful that the Iranian authorities are treating peaceful activists who seek women’s equal participation in decision-making bodies as enemies of the state. Speaking up for women’s equality is not a crime. We are calling for an immediate end to this heightened harassment and intimidation, which is yet another blow for women’s rights in Iran,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Interim Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International.
“Rather than addressing Iran’s disturbing record on women’s rights the Iranian authorities have once again opted for repression, accusing women’s rights activists of collusion in western-orchestrated plots in a bid to maintain their discriminatory practices towards women.”
The women summoned for interrogation were given no reason for the summonses they received, but once inside the interrogation room they were bombarded with accusations of espionage and collusion with “foreign-based currents seeking the overthrow of the Islamic Republic system.”
Amnesty International understands that the Revolutionary Guards subjected the women to verbal abuse, including gender-related slurs. The activists were not allowed to be accompanied by their lawyers during the interrogations, which lasted in some cases up to eight hours.
Amnesty International understands that the interrogations focused, in particular, on two local initiatives: a website called “Feminist School,” which posts reports and articles on issues related to feminist theories and practices and the state of women’s rights in Iran and globally; and the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament, launched ahead of the February 2016 parliamentary elections in Iran to push for the increased presence of pro-women’s rights candidates in parliament.
Members of both initiatives have been pressured to close or suspend their activities and practice heightened self-censorship. In its final statement, the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament explained how its achievements in terms of generating a five-fold increase in the number of women seeking candidacy, highlighting the demands of women for equality, and naming and shaming candidates with a history of making sexist remarks, have attracted the wrath of security bodies, leading to repeated summons, threats, prolonged interrogations, and the opening of new national security-related cases against the campaign’s active members. The Feminist School website has not been updated since the middle of February 2016.
The latest target of this intensified crackdown is the renowned women’s rights magazine Zanan-e Emrooz (Today’s Women) which announced it was suspending its activities on July 26.
“The Iranian authorities should be under no illusion that harassing women’s rights activists by carrying out interrogations and forcing them to close their publications silently will go unnoticed. They should be supporting women’s rights activists, not persecuting them,” said Mughrabi.
The renewed assault on women’s rights activism has been manifested most extremely by the arbitrary arrest and detention, since June 6, of Dr Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-Iranian national and prominent anthropology professor renowned for her decades of academic work on women’s issues. Except for one brief meeting with her lawyer, Dr Hoodfar has been held largely incommunicado since her arrest and is currently held in Tehran’s Evin Prison.
She had worked with WLUM (Women Living Under Muslim Laws), an international feminist network whose stated aim is to strengthen women’s struggles for equality and their rights in Muslim contexts.
The Prosecutor General of Tehran stated in a media interview on June 24 that Dr. Hoodfar’s “criminal” case is in connection with “her entry into fields concerning feminism and national security offenses.” Days earlier, media outlets affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards ran articles claiming that Dr. Hoodfar was “the Iran agent of a feminist network building operation” and the Campaign to Change the Masculine Face of Parliament was “her latest project.”
The articles also claimed that her work with WLUM to promote feminism and women’s equality in Muslim countries and enhance women’s bodily autonomy was aimed at “disrupting public order” and “prompting social-cultural changes that can ultimately pave the ground … for a soft overthrow.”
"It is appalling that the Iranian authorities are equating Dr. Homa Hoodfar’s valuable work relating to feminism and women’s rights in Muslim contexts with national security offenses. This distressing development highlights the absurd and chilling extremes to which Iran’s authorities are willing to go to crush those who challenge state-sanctioned discrimination,” said Mughrabi.
“The Iranian authorities must release Dr. Homa Hoodfar immediately and unconditionally and stop their relentless harassment of all women’s rights activists in the country.”
Tens of thousands of Amnesty International members and supporters have called for her immediate and unconditional release as she is a prisoner of conscience held solely for the peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression.
Women in Iran are subject to pervasive discrimination both in law and practice, including in areas concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, freedom of movement, employment, and access to political office. Women and girls are inadequately protected against domestic and other violence, including early and forced marriage and marital rape. Compulsory “veiling” (hijab) laws empower police and paramilitary forces to target women for harassment, violence and imprisonment regularly.