Five years and 32 lashes for criticising Iran’s economic policy

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International.

To mark this, Amnesty, in association with The Irish Times, is profiling a prisoner each month . . .

ACROSS THE Middle East and North Africa, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding change. They have toppled dictatorships and threatened undemocratic regimes. But in Iran, the oppression and abuse of any who dare to speak out against the government continues.

Bahman Ahmadi Amou’i is 43 and was editor of the Iranian daily business newspaper Sarmayeh , which frequently published articles criticising the government’s economic policies. He was one of the country’s leading economic commentators and published two books analysing Iran’s economy.

Bahman was arrested on June 20th, 2009, and his newspaper banned in November. He spent the first two months of his detention in solitary confinement before being brought to trial. The allegations against him were the familiar list of vague and ill-defined charges used against political dissidents. He was accused of “propaganda against the system”, “disrupting public security” and “insulting the president”. Convicted after an unfair trial at a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on January 4th, 2010, he was sentenced to more than seven years, reduced to five on appeal, and 32 lashes.

He is currently serving his sentence in Evin Prison, Tehran, notorious for its harsh treatment of inmates, particularly political prisoners. He is allowed one monitored visit from his wife, journalist and former prisoner Jila Baniyaghoob, each week but no other visits or phone calls.

Despite the harsh conditions of his imprisonment, Bahman continues to resist the authorities. In June he was one of 12 prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protest the deaths of fellow prisoners Haleh Sahabi and Hoda Saber. Haleh Sahabi was a pro-democracy activist and a member of Mothers for Peace. She died at the funeral of her father on June 2nd, while on temporary release. Eyewitnesses said she died after she was struck by a member of the security forces.

Journalist Hoda Saber was a prisoner of conscience linked to an Iranian opposition party. He died in custody on June 12th following a hunger strike launched in protest at Haleh Sahabis death. According to a letter from more than 60 of his fellow prisoners, he was beaten and denied adequate medical treatment before his death. This is what life is like in Iran’s prisons for the hundreds of people still detained simply because they do not agree with their government and because they have campaigned peacefully for change. Bahman and the other prisoners ended their hunger strike at the end of June.

Today, they remain in Evin Prison, at the mercy of an increasingly brutal prison regime. Earlier this year, investigative journalist and prisoner of conscience Emadeddin Baghi was released so we know international pressure can make a difference.

Please write immediately calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Bahman Ahmadi Amou’i to:

His Excellency, the Iranian ambassador to Ireland, Mr Hossein Panahiazar, Embassy of Iran, 72 Mount Merrion Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin.

Or log on to http://www.amnesty.ie and take action online.

Update : In February, as part of this series with The Irish Times , we profiled Chinese prisoner of conscience Mao Hengfeng. We are delighted to report that she has been released early from the Re-education Through Labour camp in which she was held. Although her health is very poor following her prolonged detention, she is back with her family and improving. We would like to thank everyone who took action on her case.

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Words of Women from the Egyptian Revolution

The participation of women in the Egyptian revolution didn’t come as a surprise to us, nor do we view it as an extraordinary phenomenon.

Women are part of every society and form a part of the social, political and economical spectrum. It is history that tends in most cases to ostracize the participation of women and keep them in the shadow while highlighting the participation of men and attributing leading roles exclusively to them. This is why we want to document and share Her-story.

This project intends to shed the light on the participation of women and to document their experiences as part of the historical (herstorical) memory of the Egyptian revolution. It is also a tool for women empowerment everywhere and a source for researchers, students and everyone interested in the matter.

Your support and donation is highly appreciated and needed
http://www.indiegogo.com/herstory-egypt

Director Leil-Zahra Mortada
Producer Aida El-Kashef
D.O.P. Laila Samy
Editor Ziyad Hawwas
Sound Sandy Chamoun
Investigation Kholoud Bidak
Assistant D.O.P. Nadim Mourtada
Art work Marta Paz

American and Afghan Slavery Will Soon Be Signed


by: the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers

August 9, 2011

The world doesn’t have to choose between the Taliban and the US government.

All the beauty of the world—literature, music, art—lies between these two fundamentalist poles.’

War Is Peace, by Arundhati Roy, October 18, 2001

We need clarity. The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers reject the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration. We reject such declarations made by politicians who do not know us, nor care for us. We want the freedom to solve our own problems. In case you haven’t heard of the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration, here is how it is being described in the international press.

 We need to listen

The United States should maintainlong-term military presence in Afghanistan as a “tenant” on bases jointly occupied with Afghan forces, rather than on permanent U.S. bases, after its combat mission ends, according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates……the administration is negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with the Kabul government for the longer term.’ — U.S. wants ‘joint bases’ in Afghanistan, Gates says, Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, 8th June 2011.

So this is a mutual document of interests,’ President Karzai, Press Briefing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Kabul, 5th June 2011.

The Iranian interior minister made a rushed visit to Kabul, followed shortly by the national security advisers of India and Russia. The Russians, though generally supportive of NATO’s role in Afghanistan, were alarmed at the prospect of a long-term Western presence. “The Russian side supports the development of Afghanistan by its own forces in all areas — security, economic, political — only by its own forces, especially after 2014,” said Stepan Anikeev, a political adviser at the Russian Embassy here. How is transition possible with these bases?Talks on U.S. Presence in Afghanistan after Pullout Unnerve Region, Rod Nordland, New York Times, 18th April 2011.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani…bluntly told Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the Americans had failed them both…Mr. Karzai should “forget about allowing a long-term U.S. military presence in his country…,” Mr. Gilani said. Pakistan is lobbying Afghanistan’s president against building a long-term strategic partnership with the U.S., urging him instead to look to Pakistan—and its Chinese ally.’ Karzai Told to Dump U.S., Matthew Rosenberg, Wall Street Journal, 27th April 2011.

The US has been bankrolling the effort with up to $100bn (£61bn) a year and is negotiating a new strategic partnership with President Hamid Karzai. “December [2014] is not a campaign end date but a waypoint – a point at which the coalition security posture changes from one that is in the lead to one that is mentoring and advising, but is still here.” General James Bucknall, 2nd in command of International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).’ Nick Hopkins, The Guardian, 10th May 2011.

Because of deep concerns over militant groups in the region, (U.S. officials) want some kind of launching area … to go after individuals and training camps. They see few other basing options in the region. So, the U.S. government will push hard for this.’ Caroline Wadhams, a security expert at the Center for American Progress, 3rd June 2011.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit ( SCO, a mutual-security organisation which was founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan ) adopted a statement calling for an “independent, neutral” Afghanistan (read: free of foreign occupation). Nurusultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who hosted Karzai, put it on record, “It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014.”’ Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar, a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service, Asia Times Online, 21st June 2011.

In a statement, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Party of Hezb-e-Islami described establishment of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan as an eternal occupation of the country. The statement said establishment of permanent US bases in Afghanistan would mean the war never ends.’ Tolo News Afghanistan, 19th July 2011.

What is described is the framework for Great Game 3.0, demonstrating the world’s militarized inability to resolve distrust and human conflict in a sensible manner, and the ineffectual silence of the international community and the United Nations.

We need to ask questions

 Our leaders, the Afghan and American elite, don’t want us to be concerned about the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration. They want us to be appropriately upset by news of suicide bombings and I.E.D.s, and sufficiently curious about the Taliban, the 2014 draw-down, and peace.

What’s more, the ‘debt crisis doom’ will not allow us to look at the big picture, which is the consistent abuse of the people’s interests by global governments determined to maintain the status quo of Power-and-Wealth-dictated inequalities. Yet, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers are committed to recovering their values. This is difficult because such values have been de-humanized, as we ourselves have become disconnected from other human beings and distracted by material OBJECTS. This happens to us and it happens more so to ordinary Americans who face even greater distractions and may not want to bother with this ‘agreement.’ After all, Americans have enough troubles of their own.

Or can we expect her citizens to break out of their cold, lonely bubbles? We need an urgent global debate about this. The US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration will perpetuate ‘terrorism’ and bring it to everyone’s doorsteps. The ‘partnership’ will allow permanent joint US-Afghanistan military bases to launch and project hard power. The ‘extreme’ Taliban would conveniently ‘use’ these bases as a stand-alone reason for their ‘holy jihad.’ We cannot forget that one of Osama Bin Laden’s reasons for attacking the US on September 11th was the presence of US military bases in Saudi Arabia.

This Strategic Partnership Declaration would kill any chance for our madness to slow down and our violence to calm down. It will doom ordinary Americans and Afghans to permanent terrorism. Why can’t we quiet our nerves, look deep inside humanity, and begin healing? The reality is that Afghans are not only very angry but also tired, while US/NATO citizens are essentially unaware, so are neither concerned, nor angry.

We need options

As Arundhati Roy said, Afghans don’t have to choose between the Taliban and the US-Afghan Government…these two fundamentalist poles. Just like Americans don’t have to choose between ‘feeding’ the rich or ‘feeding’ the rich.We can choose normal, decent lives, based on respect for life, on valuing life.

We can connect our aspirations with those of human beings elsewhere:

When people decide to live, destiny shall obey, and one day … the slavery chains must be broken.’ Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasem Al-Shabi (Schebbi)

Hurriya! Hurriya! Hurriya! – Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!’ Egyptian Tahrir Square protesters

We are not merchandise in the hands of politicians and bankers! We are not slaves!’ Spanish Indignados, Real Democracy Now

The world is no longer dignified enough for words… This is my last poem, I cannot write more poetry. Poetry no longer exists inside me. No more blood!Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and the Caravan of Solace

The people demand social justice. This is Egypt.About 300,000 Israelis marching through the streets in central Tel Aviv

Tell the world not to send their money,’ says Abdulai, a 15 year old Afghan boy. ‘I don’t need their money. I need to live without wars.’

At a Press Briefing in Kabul on the 5th of June 2011, President Karzai addressed Robert Gates as ‘His Excellency’ and gave him a medal, which Gates self-proclaimed as ‘an award’ presented to him ‘on behalf of the Afghan people.’

If the Afghan public knew that Karzai had given Gates an award on their behalf, they may have fumed. But then, most rural Afghans don’t even know who Gates is. This proud and exceptional self-praise by the rich and powerful is ugly; the People of the world should expose and disempower this imposition of values. There ARE other options, especially since there ARE other deeper values.

We need an equal conversation

 No Power today represents the people. Today, ordinary Afghans are denied the basic human dignities, living in a country that Save the Children said was the most dangerous place on earth for mothers, and that UNICEF said was the worst place on earth to be born in, and to be a child.

 Moreover, the country that is pushing to sign this Strategic Partnership Declaration with Afghanistan, namely the US, has neither ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women nor the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

 These indicate the ‘human regress’ which the Afghan government/Taliban/US/NATO have been responsible for. We mustn’t ‘just watch and do nothing’ about our glaring socio-economic inequalities; 20% of the earth’s population is hoarding more than 70% of the total income.

 It is an unsustainable inhumanity. Why not listen, as human beings are capable of doing? Why not grieve? Why not have decent and equal conversations? Have we all become incapable of perceiving the ‘beauty of the world – literature, music, art…?’

For the sake of Abdulai and billions of ordinary people like him, why not join the rising masses across the Middle East & Africa, Europe, South & Central America and more, under the same blue sky, to end our slavery to the status quo values?

We need to at least have conversations about the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration, before it is signed in betrayal of ordinary Americans, Afghans and global citizens.

Y Not? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPySr8sHA0k

We have little left to lose anyway.

The Powers have been laughing at us, right from the very beginning.

The US coalition was dropping 26,000 bombs on an already destroyed Afghanistan from October 2001 to March 2002, when these words were recorded: ‘By the second day of the air strikes, US pilots were returning to their bases without dropping their assigned payload of bombs. As one pilot put it, Afghanistan is “not a target-rich environment.” At a press briefing at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, US defense secretary, was asked if America had run out of targets. “First we’re going to re-hit targets,” he said, “and second, we’re not running out of targets, Afghanistan is…” This was greeted with gales of laughter in the Briefing Room.’

Gandhi had said, ‘Our slavery is complete when we begin to hug it.’

When the Strategic Partnership is signed, peace groups will still be working hard to demand complete withdrawal. Unawares, the rest of the world will be repulsed by but still admiring how ‘intelligent’ politicians are ‘Mafia-ing’ the economic crisis. But, there will then be at least 5 permanent US military bases in Afghanistan, and ‘gales of laughter in the Briefing Room.’ Brutality Smeared in Peanut Butter, Arundhati Roy, The Guardian, October 23, 2001

Next the statesman will invent cheap lies, putting the blame on the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception…Mark Twain.

Interview with Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh

by: Semira N. Nikou

       Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, a women’s rights activist, is a founding member of the Stop Stoning to Death Campaign and the Iranian Women’s Charter. She was director of Entesharat-e Banoo (Banoo Publications) and Entesharat-e Jamee Iranian (Iranian Society Publication). She was the director of the Association of Women Writers and Journalists NGO. She is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
 
  • What is the status of female political prisoners in Iran?
Human rights organizations have reported around 300 female political prisoners since the Green Movement’s emergence two years ago. The accuracy of this statistic is uncertain since some women have chosen not to publicize their arrests.
We know that around 80 women’s rights activists have been arrested since 2009.  At least 34 are still in prison. Examples include student activist Bahareh Hedayat, journalist Jila Baniyaghoub, and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh. Others have been temporarily released but are still waiting for their final verdicts.
Extended prison sentences and/or punishments are an issue. Before the 2009 presidential election, prison sentences were usually less than three months—a worst case scenario being two years of house arrest. But since the election, the same crimes have been punished with years of imprisonment and the number of people arrested has increased. Currently, the shortest prison sentence has been six years. Baniyaghoub, for example, has been banned from pursuing journalism for 30 years.
Circumstances in Evin Prison are also dire. All 34 women reside in one room. They have to sleep on the floor. Before the Green Movement, prison standards were far better—higher quality of food, sanitary environment, warm clothes, more living space, etc. Now, that is not the case.
  • On what grounds have female political prisoners been arrested?
They have been accused of being a threat to national security. The regime targets activists from all spheres who can in some way keep social movements alive. The regime does not want the Green Movement to benefit from any other movements. The regime has always targeted women’s rights activists but the rate greatly increased after the emergence of the Green Movement.
  • Women were at the forefront of the 2009 demonstrations that produced the Green Movement.  What is the current status of the women’s movement two years later?
Since Iran’s 2009 presidential election, the women’s movement has focused on the status of female political prisoners and the daily government crackdowns. Women’s rights activists have broadened their human rights efforts. They are pursuing their cases not just in Iranian courts, but also in the international arena in their attempt to confront state violence with non-violence.
These activists simultaneously continue to battle gender inequalities, which are getting worse. Inequalities still exist in family laws favoring men, gender segregation in universities, and the exclusion of women from educational opportunities.
  • Have the women’s rights campaigns changed since two years ago?
The Green Movement and the women’s movement have influenced each other. Before the Green Movement, the latter focused only on gender equality.
The Green Movement broadened the discourse on equal rights—which women’s rights activists had been pursuing for decades—to democracy. Religious and ethnic minorities such as the Turks, Kurds, and Arabs, and other movements, such as the labor and students movements, began to speak about civil rights. The women’s movement, for its part, worked to ensure that the discourse on democracy included issues of gender inequalities.
The women’s movement increased its activities in human rights organizations—both in Iran and internationally. There are many human rights organization in Iran but they often function in secret. They spread information through social media and various other networks.
A number of Iranian women’s rights activists, after leaving the country, now work either in international human rights organizations or have created their own organizations. One example is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and former judge, who still focuses on human rights issues while residing outside Iran.
Interestingly, however, the Green Movement did not push the women’s movement from a social movement into a political movement. The women’s movement has not joined any political movements active inside or outside of Iran.
  • What is the status of the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks to collect one million signatures to change discriminatory laws against women in Iran?
The campaign is still functioning but has had to change tactics. It now functions underground because of the heightened government crackdown. Many of the campaign’s members have also become active in the Green Movement, helping to further democratize the opposition.

Music of the Egyptian Revolution

by: Elizabeth Blair

 

Musicians have not been silent in the movement that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Perhaps the most popular song of the Egyptian revolution is by Mohamed Mounir, a singer so revered, he’s known as “The Voice of Egypt.”

The song is called “Ezzay,” which means “How come?” Dalia Ziada, a blogger and human-rights activist in Cairo, says Mounir compares Egypt to a lover in the song.

“He’s telling it, ‘I love you, and I know you love me, too, but you have to appreciate what I’m doing for you. I will keep changing you until you love me as I love you,’ ” Ziada says, adding that that’s exactly how Egyptians feel about their country. Mounir’s song was not played on Egyptian state radio, but the video is online, and it’s been watched hundreds of thousands of times.

Artists can often express the feeling on the streets better than anyone else, says Hani Almadhoun, who writes the blog Hot Arab Music. He says you can hear this phenomenon in Haitham Nabil’s “Sefr,” one of the first protest songs to be released. Sefr means zero; Almadhoun says Nabil’s message is that “Egyptians’ dignity became the equivalent of zero.”

A lot of songs have been inspired by the protests in Egypt. Almadhoun, who goes by the name Hanitizer online, says some songwriters are exploiting the opportunity.

“But the majority of the stuff,” Almadhoun says, “has been really good and drives the message home.”

One song that’s been very popular with Arab-Americans in the U.S. is called “January 25,” or “#Jan25,” after a trending topic on Twitter. Arab-American and African-American musicians living in different parts of North America contributed to the song. The first verse, which was written by rapper Omar Offendum, begins, “I heard them say the revolution won’t be televised / Al-Jazeera proved them wrong / Twitter has them paralyzed.”

“I wanted to open up that way because it symbolizes how a lot of people were hearing about this revolution,” Offendum says.

“#Jan25” has been viewed more than 100,000 times online. Offendum says he’s proud of the song, but that the real music that defines the revolution in Egypt was created on the streets there.

“The protesters were coming up with amazing call-and-response songs and chants on the fly, as Egyptians do, because they’re so creative,” Offendum says. “And to me, that’s the real true music of this revolution: the voice of the people.”

An Ode to Islam

Upon Ali’s pillow drew odes from farmers of the Oikumene,

they whose dirges lamented silence.

Curious hands dug and sought the seeds of heaven,

they whose omens split open silence.

Jesus summons Joseph through colour of time,

to coat Potiphar’s rhyme,

draw God’s dream to deign

and thread open silence.

His majesty, the Mehdi slumped, bored with waiting.

“My progeny!” Quipped Ibn Abbas, “who will herald open heaven’s silence?”

The whirling dervish, that punch-drunk lover,

tale spinner, under wool cover.

Shari’a she does not,

the Prophet’s prayerful plot,

capriciously interpret open silence.

Today there is Islam’s infidel,

they who say he’s jihad’s occupation,

and Leila’s infidelity.

She whose intifada espouses no open lovers,

and He who built Majnun’s settlements,

though ilk of monoclonal caste,

demand

a time to break the silence.

Iran Rights Activists Face Challenges from Both Sides

By Ramin Mostaghim and Roula Hajjar
Los Angeles Times
July 26, 2011

In Iran, many human rights lawyers find themselves jailed or threatened with legal action. At the same time, some are criticized by peers who say they sometimes overlook clients’ best interests in their determination to take a stand.

Reporting from Tehran and Beirut— When Iranian activist-lawyer Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, human rights activists cheered. Here was a chance for Iranians to rally around a figure for political change and reform much as Poles rallied around Lech Walesa and Burmese around Aung San Suu Kyi, both fellow laureates.

Eight years later, the small cadre of attorneys close to Ebadi and the organization she started with her prize money, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, are either in jail or threatened with legal action. The center has been outlawed.

Activists decry the detentions as a vengeful crackdown by government hard-liners who were incensed by Ebadi’s Nobel prize. But some human rights lawyers criticize their peers, saying the attorneys sometimes overlook clients’ best interests in their determination to take a stand.

Few of the lawyers have escaped the attention of the government. For the last two years, Ebadi has been in exile. Another human rights lawyer, Abdolfattah Soltani, has been in and out of prison for months since a crackdown against civil liberties intensified in the wake of the country’s disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet another lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has waged prison hunger strikes between sporadic court appearances. Mohammad Seifzadeh, who once represented Ebadi in court, has been in prison since April, facing a nine-year sentence.

This month, when Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Court sentenced prominent human rights activist Mohammad-Ali Dadkhah to five lashes and nine years in prison and barred him from practicing law for the next 10 years, few in the Islamic Republic even blinked.

Dadkhah, who was found guilty of spreading “propaganda against the regime” and plotting a “soft revolution,” was typically defiant about the sentence.

“Even if I am in jail, I will cheerfully advocate human rights, and those who put me in jail will be unhappy,” he said in an interview.

After Sotoudeh was imprisoned, Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Simon Gass, wrote an article for the embassy’s website in which he criticized Iran’s human rights record and called for Sotoudeh’s release, saying her “real crime” was “doing her job courageously and highlighting injustices that the Iranian regime would prefer stayed hidden.” In a Persian New Year address in March, President Obama called on Iranians to release her from jail.

Activists say Iran’s hard-liners have made good on private vows to make both the West and Ebadi’s circle pay for the Nobel, the first given to a Muslim woman or to an Iranian. They wanted to discourage those within Iran’s intelligentsia from pursuing Ebadi’s course, and to some extent they have succeeded. There appears to be no rush of lawyers taking the place of those jailed.

Some activists remain more optimistic, disagreeing that hard-liners had managed to scare lawyers away from representing controversial human rights cases.

“The center has succeeded in making defending human rights a common cause for all social groups, regardless of whether they are radical, Islamic, fundamentalist or reformist,” said Soltani, who is out of prison and is no longer facing serious charges. “We are ready to pay the price for practicing law to defend human rights, no matter how high the price is.”

But some lawyers believe that human rights defenders have played into the hands of the regime.

A well-known human rights defense lawyer who asked to remain anonymous says that his colleagues were not prudent or discreet enough given the climate in Iran over the last 10 years.

“In our job, when we practice law and defend our clients, our top priority is to save them from the death penalty and get a reduction of the sentence,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be quoted criticizing his colleagues. “We want to save our clients from the gallows. So it is not a matter of honor to speak like colonels in war fronts with Voice of America or BBC Persian, making our clients’ situation worse.”

He added: “It is not an honor to get yourself in jail. Our job as lawyers is to reduce the jail sentence of our clients. When we as defense lawyers receive applause from the USA and the European Union and their media, it is counterproductive for our clients.

“We are not here to look like heroes,” he said. “We are here to help human rights in an efficient way.”

Increasingly, the lawyers complain that they are being subjected to the same types of human rights violations they’re fighting. Soltani’s wife, Masoumeh Dehghan, received an official notification this month summoning her to the magistrate’s office inside Tehran’s menacing Evin Prison to clarify “some points,” Soltani recalled.

As soon as she arrived, she was hustled into jail and held for five days, in what Soltani believes was an attempt to show him how far authorities were willing to go to shut him up.

“My wife has never been a political activist,” he said. “She has only been active in some charities to help orphans. That’s it.”

The detention of Sotoudeh, an advocate for juvenile offenders on death row, who began serving an 11-year sentence in January, has left her two children miserable, her husband says.

“My wife is happy to do her time for 11 years and I am ready to bear it,” said Reza Khandan, Sotoudeh’s husband. “But why should my children suffer and be traumatized? As a father, it is agonizing to see this.”

He said his 2-year-old son cannot understand why he is not allowed to stay with his mother, and when their prison visits end, he “screams and cries for hours.”

When the boy asked why his mom had not yet come home, his aunt told him that he should pray, Khandan said.

But, according to his father, he replied, “Aunt, I have prayed a lot, and in vain. Praying does not work.”

Ballet Afsaneh

Ballet Afsaneh, the professional performance ensemble of the Afsaneh Art & Culture Society, is based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California in the USA. This dynamic group presents performances and activities featuring dance, poetry, and music of the Silk Road —the historic trade route stretching 7,000 miles across the continenet of Eurasia from the China Sea in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. The Ballet Afsaneh repertoire displays a wide range, from the glittering lyricism of fairytale to incisive, thought provoking, contemporary work.

Traditional repertoire includes dances representing; Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Armenia, Turkey, Chinese Turkistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and North India. In our rapidly changing world the need for cultural understanding and preservation has never been greater; Ballet Afsaneh brings to light the history, poetry, iconography, and spiritual heart of these enduring cultures. Promoting positive visibility for these expressive arts in all of their beauty and richness, so that such cultural treasures can be shared by the world.

Many of the 15 core dancers, poets and musicians performing with the company are from Central Asian families, a majority are women. Ballet Afsaneh often performs at large mainstream venues and provides programming for many smaller, community-oriented events as well. The company occasionally tours both nationally and internationally.
Past Performance Highlights

Since its founding by Artistic Director Sharlyn Sawyer in 1986, Ballet Afsaneh and the Afsaneh Art & Culture Society have produced critically acclaimed programs for San Francisco’s M.H. De Young Museum, the Asian Art Museum, British Museum in London, and the Cabrillo Music Festival. They have been honored by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for producing the annual Norooz (Persian New Year) event at SF City Hall, and are featured regularly in San Francisco’s Ethnic Dance Festival at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater. The company has toured in Central Asia and sponsors international artists during their visits to the United States.

Feminist Association of Tunisian Women

There women from all over the world at the Commission on the Status of Women, which is presently taking place in New York. Both governmental and non-governmental delegations are present at this UN sponsored event. We used this opportunity to find out a little more about the situation of women’s rights and women’s rights activists in other countries. The following is an interview with two women’s rights activists from Tunisia, Dr. Khadija Arfaoui and Usra Farwes, who are working with the Feminist Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development.

Q: What is the legal situation of women in your country?

Well Tunisia has one of the most progressive laws when it comes to women, as compared with the rest of the Arab world. Our laws are both secular and also some are based on Sharia law. We have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). But, of course that ratification is with reservations on 3 issues, which include articles 8, 9 and 15. For the most part women have equal rights with men. There are a few issues which are problematic. One is the right to pass on nationality. Women are allowed to pass on their nationality to their children, but only with the stated permission of their husbands. And women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims, but marriages that occur outside of Tunisia are recognized in Tunisia, so women who want to marry non-Muslim men do so outside the country. The other issue of concern is one of inheritance, where women inherit less than men and this is problematic.

Q: In Iran too women inherit at half the amount of their brothers (when they are inheriting from their parents) and wives inherit 1/8 of the assets of their husbands, excluding land. Though new legislation has recently been passed in the parliament to allow for women to inherit land from their husbands and we are hoping that this legislation will be approved. Is it the same in Tunisia?

In Tunisia, women inherit land and there are no restrictions in this respect. But our law on inheritance is based on Sharia law and like Iran, when inheriting from their parents, female children inherit half of male children (or 1/3 to the female and 2/3 to male). Women inheriting from their husbands women inherit 1/8th of his assets. Our organization is involved in addressing this inequality and we are seeking equal rights for women to inheritance.

Q: In Iran women are working to change laws that discriminate against women, including equal rights in marriage, right to divorce and right for child custody and guardianship. One of the demands of women’s rights activists is an end to polygamy. How prevalent is the practice of Polygamy in your country? Is it legal?

Polygamy was abolished in 1956, at the same time that Tunisia gained independence. Currently polygamy and temporary marriage are not allowed under the law, and in fact if a man marries a second wife, he faces jail. Women and men have equal rights in marriage as well. In 1993 the law was changed to ensure that both men and women have equal rights in marriage. Before that the law required that women obey their husbands, but with its change in 1993, both men and women are obliged to obey each other. Women also have the right to divorce and custody and guardianship of their children. Also the legal age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls.

Q: Tell us about what you are planning for International Women’s Day Celebrations in your country?

We are planning a conference on women. We are also holding a workshop to commemorate the 20th anniversary of our organization. And we will be launching our website.

Q: Do you plan to hold any public events, like a protest or a march?

No street protests need authorization and even if we request a permit we will not be issued one. The government fears public protests and so they do not allow for it. If we go out in the street without a permit, our protest will end in police violence. We recently held one protest in support of Gaza and to object to the killings that were taking place there. There was a lot of public outcry about the situation of Gaza in our country, so the authorities had no choice but to issue a permit for our protest, but the whole time, the protesters were surrounded by police. At the same time the government sent organizations that are affiliated with the government to our protest and instead of chant our slogan in support of Gaza, they began chanting slogans in support of the president and his bid for re-election. Our President has been in office for 20 years and now he wants to run for office again, despite the fact that when he was elected, he claimed that there should be term limits for Presidents. Anyhow, these government protesters chanted slogans like: “We want to elect our president to office again.”

Q: It sounds like you are working in a difficult security environment. What is the situation in your country with NGOs?

The situation of NGOs in our country is very difficult. There is a lot of pressure on activists and on NGOs and the police can storm the offices of NGOs at any given time. But we believe that our work is important and we continue. Interesting for you may be the fact that we had a meeting with Shirin Ebadi in our NGO when she was in Tunisia.

Q. I told you that women in Iran are fighting for their legal rights. I work with a national campaign that seeks to change all laws that discriminate against women. It’s called the One Million Signatures Campaign. Have you heard of the Campaign?

Yes we have heard of the Campaign. We get all the news related to the Campaign through different international email lists on women. In fact, when your colleague Khadijeh Moghaddam was arrested and we read the news, we took the initiative to translate the news into French and share it with our colleagues in French speaking countries and in Tunisia. We are shocked that women in Iran go to prison for simply asking for their basic rights.

Q. Have you ever had any women’s rights activists imprisoned in your country?

Not for the demand of equal rights, certainly not. But we have had some women in the south of Tunisia who have been engaged in demonstrations for several months. These mothers have protested lack of employment opportunities for their children. One woman’s rights activist who was a supporter of this group was placed in detention for 4 months. Her name is Zakia Dhifaoui. She is free now. We really commend all of you working with the Campaign and for women’s equal rights in Iran and we hope that you know that we will support you in whatever way possible.

Thanks for your time and your support.

Statement by the Women’s Movement In Protest of the Recent Escalation of Violence against Women in Iran

By: Change for Equality
July 2011

Physical and sexual violence against women in Iran, including violence perpetrated by state security forces, is rapidly increasing. News releases in official media, which usually censor such topics, have surprisingly reported on incidents of gang rape and assaults against women. Examples include incidents in the provinces of Isfahan (where 10 women were gang raped by 14 men), Golestan (where a village doctor was raped and assaulted by 4 men and a young girl was murdered by 2 men), and Khorasan. Reports of similar developments continue to emerge.

Following the attack and rape of a group of women, who had come together for a family gathering, in a private garden in Khomeini Shahr, by a group of thugs, the residents of the town demonstrated in front of the courthouse demanding that officials find and prosecute the perpetrators. However, the judicial officials not only remained silent, but through public declarations began to blame the victims. The local Friday prayer leader said: “the victims of rape were not proper Muslims either.” Even the head of Isfahan’s intelligence service, which is ostensibly responsible for the safety of the citizens, announced: “perhaps these women would not have been harassed in the garden if they had at least kept their veils on.” A similar comment was made by an official at Mashhad University, following a rape and assault of a young female student. The University official said: “a young woman has to maintain her hijab in order to remain safe and to avoid such incidents.”

Such statements stem from a patriarchal mentality that denies men’s responsibility for their sexual behavior. Men are seen as creatures with uncontrollable sexual desires, who are not bound by any moral sense and who could not care less about the consent of the other side. According to this mentality, the only way to prevent such incidents is to make sure that men are not sexually stimulated. This means that all responsibility for male sexual action and aggression paradoxically lies with women. However, rape occurs all over the world, regardless of the way women are dressed and even when they are fully covered in a veil. Devoid of any sympathy, government officials heartlessly pour salt on the wounds of rape victims with such comments, and in essence encourage a culture of assault and violence against women. Along these lines too, they do not describe rape as a crime but as a common sexual response to female sexuality inherent in male nature.

As feminist and anti-rape movements around the world have shown, rape is a common feature of patriarchal societies, which maintain male domination through violence against and intimidation of oppressed groups, especially women. Rape is nothing new, neither in Iran, nor in other countries. In Iran, however, the recent reports of rape and sexual assault reveal the hypocrisy of a State that attempts to present itself as a “model Islamic society” adhering to ethical and religious values. Moreover, rape is being used as a political tool of repression by the state’s security apparatus. For many years reports and testimonies have shown the prevalence of physical, sexual, psychological violence and torture against political prisoners in many of Iran’s prisons. In recent years, during and after the mass protests against Ahmadinejad’s contested re-election (June 2009), rape was used as a systematic tool to intimidate green movement protestors and other dissenters both women and men. The Kahrizak prison tragedy, the attack on Tehran University’s student dormitory, and the harassments in the basement of the Interior Ministry building are among the few incidents that were publicly disclosed. Several courageous rape survivors have broken the silence. The recent video of the testimony of a 22 year old woman released by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran is one example.

These rapes have been occurring at the same time as a broader crackdown against women’s social participation is underway, intent on preventing gender equality. Reintroduction of 1980s’ policies such as gender segregation in universities, strict control over students’ dress code, applied gender quotas in academic fields to limit women’s admission, and a requirement that female students study in their home cities or regions encompass only some of the recent attacks against women. They demonstrate the extent of misogyny of the Iranian state authorities.

Police violence against women has also taken a more public face. Women have been targeted for violence on the streets under the guise of morality and under a policy called “guidance and discipline,” which includes programs such as “fighting against those inappropriately dressed,” “chastity,” or “heightening moral security.” Police have targeted, violated and humiliated women while labeling them as “improperly dressed or poorly covered.” Violence and rape committed by the police, security officers, basijis and plainclothes security forces have been supplemented by thugs disguised as government agents attacking, intimidating and raping women. Even religious leaders have been using official podiums at places such as the Friday prayers, to express their anger towards women, describing them as “biting and devouring” creatures. The regime’s insistence on maintaining an Islamic facade for the country manifests mainly through forcing hijab on women. The Islamic dress code for women is not a religious but a political symbol of sovereignty of the Islamic state, which the regime wants to maintain at the price of sexual and physical violence against women. Different fractions of the regime, regardless of their internal conflicts, come together over their hostility toward women.

However, these policies have been ineffective and have led to women’s increased resistance to police violence.

Our Demands

As women and women’s rights activists, we are protesting against systematic violence, constant insults and humiliation, and the blaming of victims for acts of sexual violence against them, by government authorities. We insist on our right to choose our clothing.

Instead of worrying about controlling women’s style of dress or their hair, we call on all Iranian authorities and responsible institutions, such as the judicial and security forces, to take their responsibilities to ensure the life and security of Iranian citizens seriously who are constantly being subject to threats and violence.

We call on the judicial and security authorities in Iran to be accountable with respect to the systematic sexual violence and rape of female and male prisoners being carried out in state prisons.

We call on judicial and security authorities as well as all religious leaders who insult women and accuse them of being guilty of provoking sexual assault, to stop these destructive accusations and use their same podiums for expressing apologies.

Victims of violence are in urgent need of medical care as well as the emotional and social support of the entire community. They are not responsible for the violence they have suffered. We therefore call on medical and social work professionals as well as the entire citizenry to treat victims of rape with sympathy and to support them in their attempt to return to their normal lives.

We ask Mr. Ahmad Shahid, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, to call attention to discrimination and violence against women in Iran and pay his respect to them by arranging meetings with women activists and rape survivors on his visit to the country.

As a first step, while protesting the recent escalation of violence against women in Iran, we, as Iranian women, affirm our solidarity with our sisters in the region and the rest of the world and with the global campaigns for ending sexual, physical, gender-based and police violence. In honor of our collective struggle, we put on purple bracelets as a symbol of our voices all over the world and in protest to violence against women.

Supporting Our Sisters in Afghanistan

Farah Mokhtareizadeh

In a neighborhood of northern Kabul once called little Paris after its famous patisseries and tree-lined avenues, a taxi driver drops me off in front of a 15-foot-high metal gate. The gate surrounds a large old house barely visible from the street. The street is really nothing more than an ominous dirt path marked by potholes, and a trench where sewage wafts up from an opening where pipes were never laid. Across the street is a makeshift refugee camp, homes built from dirt and materials gathered from nearby garbage heaps. The man who works security at the gate instructs me the refugees are from Pakistan, families fleeing the ongoing fighting and US air raids.

I am here to have a meeting with the director of the Afghan Women’s Skills and Development Center (AWSDC), a non-government organization working to enhance the basic skills and capacities of women and girls through education and training courses. The AWSDC is a member organization of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN), “an umbrella association of over seventy women focused NGO’s,” according to its director Afif Azim.

I am here because both organizations have signed a report submitted by 29 NGO’s working in Afghanistan to the NATO Heads of Government called Nowhere to Turn. The report documents the NGO’s serious concerns over growing insecurity for ordinary Afghans, and cites a recent UNAMA briefing claiming a 21% increase in civilian deaths in the first six months of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. Careful to outline that a majority of deaths are at the hands of armed opposition groups, like the Taliban, the report emphasizes that the current US/NATO military strategy including arbitrary detention, night-raids, drone bombing and financing and arming of militia groups are the most significant factors creating instability for civilians.

The Afghan Women’s Network and its partner organizations have been working since the fall of the Taliban to advocate for the implementation of international conventions and national legislation that would protect, and maybe in the future even benefit the status and rights of women across Afghanistan. All are starkly aware of the realities ‘on the ground’ for women, and this is why they speak passionately about the need to create security before any substantive work towards human rights can be accomplished.

Still, the issue of security in Afghanistan is as pressing as it is contested. The narrative of guaranteeing women’s rights in Afghanistan has served as the highly politicized accessory to the US’s 2001 invasion. And this objective remains a potent piece of the political puzzle in Afghanistan. Thus, while these two organizations were clear in their condemnation of US military strategy, they also advocated for the necessity of the troop presence due to the reality of violence women would face if there were a civil war.

However, other women stress that the US/NATO presence are contributing so significantly to insecurity in the country that there is no choice but to demand from the UN an alternative international force that would not act as occupiers. Zohra, a photographer and self-described feminist with a local arts collective Third Eye reasons that while cosmetic changes for women have occurred in Kabul and Heart cities since the fall of the Taliban, for the vast majority of women in the provinces this event held no significant political meaning. Zohra, like her colleagues from AWN, assert that whist many people in the West focus on the ‘need’ to challenge the gender norms of a cultural conservative society, it is the insecurities accented by war and occupation that remain the principle obstacle to securing women’s human rights.

As Zohra explains, “Your [US] leaders say they are here to secure Afghanistan, especially for the women. The reporters happily wrote stories about how the Taliban did not let women to go to school. And this is true; many of our women cannot even to read. But now girls cannot go to school, and where is the Taliban? It is not the Taliban who are stopping the girls. What mother would let her child to go to school if they think a bomb will drop on them? For the girls does it matter from which hand the bomb drops?”

I leave the AWSDC offices humbled by the work these women accomplish despite overwhelming challenges. Yet, I am most immediately struck by the faces that greet me across the way in the refugee camp. Whilst my colleagues and I discussed largely theoretical scenarios for possible solutions to the ‘women question’ in Afghanistan, the inhabitants of this camp have been scavenging a nearby trash heap, looking for materials to burn a fire and keep warm enough to survive the night. Their day-to-day existence depends largely on the generosity of what is discarded from the NGO offices that line this street. I tremble under this most cruel reality, and remind myself that across Afghanistan women weep for children who cannot survive the cold; women whose anger must grow as they send children to bed with pains of hunger, or who fear the terrorizing bombs that mutilate and murder loved ones without recourse to justice. These are the very women we seek to ‘help’, and I come to the conclusion that many in Afghanistan have stated over and over to us in our all too brief time here, “you cannot bomb people and then expect them to accept your aid.”