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Iran: fresh arrests of women for defying forced veiling laws

Video of women giving out flowers on metro went viral on International Women’s Day

‘The Iranian authorities appear to be lashing out in response to the increased defiance displayed by Iranian women’ - Magdalena Mughrabi

The Iranian authorities have launched a fresh crackdown on women activists protesting against the mandatory wearing of headscarves (commonly known as forced veiling or forced hijab).

Amnesty International has confirmed that two women’s rights defenders - Yasmin Aryani and Monireh Arabshahi - have been detained in the past week, and that a third activist - Vida Movahedi - was sentenced to one year in prison last month for peacefully protesting against forced veiling.

Iranian intelligence and security bodies have meanwhile subjected several other women’s rights activists to threatening telephone calls, warning of arrests if they continue to campaign against forced veiling. Some have been summoned for questioning and fear imminent arrest.

Last week (10 April), women’s rights defender Yasmin Aryani was arrested by security forces at her home in Tehran and taken to an unknown location. Aryani’s mother, Monireh Arabshahi, was arrested the next day after she went to the Vozara detention centre in Tehran to enquire about her daughter’s whereabouts.

Amnesty has received information indicating that both women were arrested in relation to a video that went viral on International Women’s Day. In the video, Aryani, Arabshahi and several other women activists can be seen without headscarves distributing flowers to female passengers and discussing women’s rights on a metro train in Tehran. Arabshahi is shown saying she hopes “the day will come when women are not forced to struggle” for their rights, and Aryani hands a flower to a woman wearing a hijab saying she hopes that one day they can walk side by side in the street, “me without the hijab and you with the hijab”.

The two women are believed to be facing charges in connection with the video, including “spreading propaganda against the system” and “inciting corruption and prostitution”. Aryani’s family did not hear from her until 15 April when she was allowed to make one brief telephone call. The authorities have so far refused to reveal her exact whereabouts, saying only that she is being detained in a “security” detention centre. Meanwhile, Arabshahi is being detained in Shahr-e Rey prison (also known as Gharchak) along with several hundred other women in extremely overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, without access to safe drinking water, adequate food, medicine or fresh air.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Middle East Deputy Director, said:

“The Iranian authorities appear to be lashing out in response to the increased defiance displayed by Iranian women and the growing peaceful popular movement against forced veiling laws in a bid to intimidate them into silence and submission.

“The criminalisation of women and girls for not wearing the veil is an extreme form of gender-based discrimination and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that deeply damages women’s dignity.

“Iran’s forced veiling laws are a blatant breach of Iranian women’s rights to freedom of expression, belief and religion. The Iranian authorities must immediately repeal these discriminatory laws and abolish the degrading bans on women’s appearance in public without the hijab.”

One-year jail sentence for veil protests

On 14 April, the lawyer of another women’s rights defender, Vida Movahedi, announced her client had been sentenced to one year in prison in March for her peaceful protests against forced veiling. She had been detained since 29 October, when she staged a solo protest by standing, without a hijab, on top of a large dome structure in the middle of Tehran’s Enghelab (Revolution) Square waving coloured balloons in her hands.

Movahedi had become known as the “Girl of Revolution Street” after her first protest in December 2017 when she climbed onto a utility box on Enghelab Street, removed her headscarf and waved it on the end of a stick. For this she was arrested, released on bail and then re-arrested in October 2018. Her act of resistance has since inspired women across Iran to stage similar protests against veiling laws. According to her lawyer, Movahedi is eligible for conditional release but her request has not yet been processed by the office for the implementation of sentences. She was also among several prisoners granted a pardon by the Supreme Leader to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1979 revolution in February but the prison authorities have refused to implement the pardon.

Summoned for questioning

Masih Alinejad - a US-based Iranian journalist and women’s rights defender who has run a series of high-profile online campaigns against forced veiling - has told Amnesty that in recent weeks her 70-year-old mother in Iran has been summoned for questioning by the authorities about her communications with her. Both Alinejad’s mother and elderly father were interrogated for more than an hour.

Last month, in a particularly shocking case, prominent human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh was sentenced to 33 years and six months in prison and 148 lashes after being convicted of seven charges - some of which stemmed from her work representing women arrested for protesting against forced veiling. She has to serve at least 12 years of the sentence in prison as per Article 134 of the penal code. Sotoudeh was also sentenced to five years in prison on a separate case in 2016, which she must serve in full. In January, her husband, Reza Khandan, and human rights defender Farhad Meysami, were both jailed sentenced to six years in prison for their support for the anti-forced veiling campaign.

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