March 15, 2007 VOLUME 34
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
For three consecutive years, Iranian women have taken to streets of Tehran and other major cities in Iran to demand more rights and recognition. Making their political presence and voice louder and more internationally visible, women of Iran have called for their " inalienable rights" on International Women's Day (IWD) on March 8, of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Many have been arrested, beaten by the anti-riot police, and are facing torture in various prisons throughout the country because of their courageous stand against fundamentalism in Iran. The truth is “fighting for equal gender rights is considered a subversive act threatening national security”.
On February 24th,the state's news agency announced government's plans to launch an intense crackdown targeting women. Tehran’s prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, announced the crackdown would start on March 6 and continue for a month to confront those "who spread prostitution and intentionally seek to disturb social and moral security by inappropriate clothing and behaviour will be firmly confronted”. Tehran's fundamentalist regime was planning to preemptively create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation to discourage women to take part in this years' IWD rally.
On March 4th, Tehran's Judiciary held a trial for five women charged with "acting against national security by participating in an illegal gathering" last year. Noushine, one of five arrested, wrote in her message to the fundamentalist regime, "Perhaps we will be imprisoned and become weary with the continuous summons to court. Perhaps we will not be able to continue along our path and educate our female counterparts about the existence of such discriminatory laws. But, what will you do with the countless women who come into contact with the court system - in fact, these very courts are the best educational facilities for women, through which they quickly learn that in fact they have no rights. Yes, perhaps with your security planning and your modern technology, you may be able to isolate and paralyze the current generation of Iranian women's rights activists, and stop the progression of our campaign, but what will you do with the love that we plant in the hearts of our children?...but what will you do with our dreams?"
For more than 5 days women staged protests in streets of Tehran to project their political demands and mark the International Women's Day. They joined the Teacher's Union Rally and those arrested staged hunger strike to further embarrass Tehran's regime internationally. Their campaign was successful given the reaction by UN Human Rights Chief, US State Department, international NGO's and human rights organization along with the numerous media coverage of their rally. However, their struggle continues. Those still in prison will undoubtedly face the harshest treatment. As many have said, "price of freedom is high, particularly for women".
The path to democracy and peace in Iran is through women's leadership and their organized resistance to the fundamentalist regime in Tehran. Iranian women began their journey more than two decades ago and they will not rest until the collapse of gender apartheid in their homeland. By politically, economically and diplomatically isolating Tehran's regime, the international community can play an instrumental role in facilitating the change in Iran. Women's Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran urges the democratic governments of the world, particularly female leaders in the United States and Europe to come to the aid of Iranian women and declare their solidarity with their resistance movement.
E-Zan Featured Headlines
Agance France Presse - February 21, 2007
Iran is seeking to create a paradise for female
tourists by turning an island on a northwestern lake into a male-free zone, the
press reported on Wednesday. All public transport, restaurants and facilities on
the island — on the gigantic Oroumiyeh lake close to the Turkish border — will
be staffed only by women, officials said. "The island of Arezou (Wish), one of
the 102 islands in the Oroumiyeh Lake, will be equipped especially for women," a
municipal official in the West Azerbaijan province, identified only as Aghai,
was quoted as saying by the Tehran Emrouz newspaper.
"There will be no men on the island," he said. "It will also boost tourism in the area." "The construction of hotels, small restaurants and medical centres under the management of women is one of the specifications for this island, which is the first such in the country," Aghai said. The initiative has even been cleared by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's provincial representative, who declared that a women-only island is not against Islamic sharia law, the official said. Iran's Islamic codes strictly prohibit exposure of unveiled women to men. Iran has already partitioned parts of its southern and northern beaches as women-only zones where women can legally remove their headscarves and overcoats in freedom.In some cities, there are also special "women parks".
WFAFI News - February 23, 2007
Somayeh Beynat, the wife of Iranian political prisoner Ahmed Batebi, was abducted by the Iranian agents of Intelligence and Security in city of Gorgan on February 21, 2007. Mrs. Beynat was to meet a friend at 8:30 p.m. that evening, and as her car approached her friend's, it was intercepted by government undercover cars. Two men showed her a paper and took her away in their own car. Mrs. Beynat's family has contacted all official agencies to find their daughter's whereabouts. After two days of search, the family received a phone call from women's prison in Gorgan saying Mrs. Baynat is in their custody. Human Rights Watch has issued a statement and asked the Iranian regime for her unconditional release. It is not clear why Mrs. Beynat has been charged with, but news from Iran indicated that her arrest will be used to pressure her imprisoned husband.
The International NEWS - February 25, 2007
Iran’s judiciary is to launch a fresh clampdown on women it deems are inappropriately dressed and “spreading prostitution,” the state news agency IRNA reported on Saturday. “The ones who spread prostitution and intentionally seek to disturb social and moral security by inappropriate clothing and behaviour will be firmly confronted,” Tehran’s hardline prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said. “It has been noticed that some people with an outrageous appearance in public hurt religious feelings and beliefs,” he said, adding the crackdown would start on March 6 and continue for a month. Mortazavi said the crackdown would also target what he described as “street women who get into cars as passengers and rob or extort the drivers.” Every post-pubescent woman is required to cover her hair and body in public in Iran. Crackdowns are common in summer when many women defy the Islamic dress code by wearing short bright coats, flimsy headscarves and capri pants.
Agance France Presse - March 4, 2007
An Iranian woman risks the death penalty for killing her father who she said raped her and made her pregnant, a newspaper report said on Sunday. Samira, 22, poisoned her father Nasrollah in December 2005 by putting cyanide in his juice for "raping her since the age of 19", the Etemad-Melli newspaper said. The woman has been charged with murder by prosecutors while her grandmother and uncles, including one who also allegedly abused her, have exercised their right under Islamic law to demand that she is executed if found guilty. "I kept quiet fearing for my reputation, but when my father got me pregnant I could not take it any more and killed him with cyanide that I put in his fruit juice," she was quoted as telling a hearing on Saturday. She is also accused of having an illegitimate relationship with a man who helped her buy the poison and who faces charges of being an accomplice to murder. Samira said her mother had been unaware of the abuse and helped her to carry out the abortion on the assumption she had been impregnated by a boyfriend. "I could not say a word to anyone. I told my mother and grandmother that I was scared of being home alone with my father," she told the court, adding her father sought to keep her quiet by giving her a car, a computer and trips abroad.Under Islamic Sharia law a murder victim's parents, siblings and children of legal age can ask for the death penalty while the spouse holds no such right. "One of my uncles who has asked for execution also (sexually) abused me," she said. Nasrollah's other children have forgiven Samira. The court has now adjourned ahead of a verdict. Her lawyer Abdolsamad Khoramshahi said: "My client believed the victim was Mahdur-od-Dam (one whose blood could be shed with impunity) and this murder was committed with a noble motive". Several Iranian women who stood trial for murdering men who they said were seeking to sexually assault them have been acquitted in recent months.
Agence France Presse - March 5, 2007
Iranian security forces on Sunday arrested around 30 women's rights activists rallying outside a Tehran court where a group of their fellow campaigners were on trial over a demonstration last year. "My clients and other women who had gathered in front of the court were arrested," Nasrin Sotoodeh, the lawyer for the accused, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency. According to unofficial reports, around 30 people were detained, including some of the most prominent women's rights activists in Iran.The protestors had gathered in front of the revolutionary court in solidarity with five women on trial over their roles in a demonstration which was broken up by police in June last year. Nushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Shahla Entesari, Susan Tahmasebi and Fariba Davudi Mohajer were standing trial for organising an "unauthorised" rally to ask for equal rights for women. It was not clear which of the accused were among those arrested. Sotoodeh later told AFP that the arrested activists had been transferred to the notorious Evin prison in northern Tehran. The families of those (arrested) who do not have a problem have been told to bring in property documents to bail them out," the lawyer said. "But this does not apply to those who do have a problem." Sotoodeh said that the authorities have still not officially said how many people were arrested and or released their names. Seventy people, most of them women, were arrested at the protest last June when they called for improved rights and changes to laws discriminating against women.
AKI Italian News - March 5, 2007
The women arrested Sunday in Tehran for taking part in a rally in front of a court house have not been allowed to meet a lawyer or family members, an attorney for some of those arrested said Monday. The protesters were staging a demonstration in support of five women on trial for organising a rally last 12 June against laws they say discriminate against women. "When I went to the place where these women were brought [after the arrest] along with the five who were in court, I wasn't able to learn anything about their situation, not even the charges against them," their lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh told Adnkronos International (AKI).Meanwhile all students' associations in Iran have been notified by university authorities that they will not be allowed to organize any rally or university meeting before 8 March on feminism or women's rights. The five under trial organised a demonstration last 12 June which was violently broken up by the police and led to the arrest of 70 people, many of whom were reportedly innocent bystanders. The aim of the activists was to protest against Islamic laws on polygamy and child custody they say discriminate against women. When the five women on trial left the court building on Sunday they were reportedly arrested again, along with their lawyer.
Amnesty Internationl - March 5, 2007
Amnesty International today called for the immediate
and unconditional release of over 30 women activists who were arrested on
Sunday, 4 March while staging a peaceful demonstration in Tehran. The
organization believes the arrests may be intended to deter activists from
organizing events to mark International Women's Day on 8 March. Rather than
arresting peaceful demonstrators, the Iranian authorities should be taking
seriously women's demands for equality before the law and addressing
discrimination against women wherever it exists in the Iranian legal system,"
said Irene Khan, Amnesty International's Secretary General. "We worry that the
women detained yesterday may be kept in detention until after 8 March, a day on
which they were planning to campaign for their internationally recognized right
Asia News - March 6, 2007
For years the Iranian regime has feared March, 8,
International Women’s Day. It has handled the issue different ways. On its own
initiative it began celebrating Iranian Women’s Day in late July on the
anniversary of Muhammad’s daughter, Hazrat Fatimeh. This non controversial day
is often used by the regime to claim that women’s rights are fully compatible
with Islamic rules. International organisations like UNICEF have cooperated with
Iranian authorities in cultural events and meetings on this occasion. Another
approach has simply been repression. All elements, including the symbolic date,
are there for a political show trial. The five women on trial were almost all
activists for the full repeal (not just a moratorium) of lapidation, i.e.
stoning, from Iran’s law books. They also demonstrated demanding equality
between men and women. Under Iran’s Islamic law women are worth half of men so
for example compensation for causing death is half in case the victim is a
woman.The trial’s date also coincides with the arrival of spring. This year as
in previous years, spring marks the start of the Iranian authorities’ ‘public
morality’ campaign whose rules target especially women. Since President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad’ came to power campaigns aimed at women in public spaces have become
more aggressive and repression harder as police and basijis (the regime’s
volunteers) cooperate more closely.
Similarly, snitching is used as tool of repression and self-censorship (by the press for example) is the regime’s best friend. The trial that began on Sunday thus promises to be exemplary
UN News Center - March 6, 2007
The United Nations human rights chief today
expressed strong concern over Iran's arrest of at least 31 women activists
during a peaceful gathering in the capital Tehran at the weekend, and urged the
authorities to adhere to all international rights agreements that the country is
party to, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. High
Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour stressed that these women were
exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, her
office said in a press release. They were demonstrating against the arrests of
five women activists who were charged with criminal offences against public
order and security for having organized a protest in the capital last June.Iran
is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, the International Covenant on Economic, Civil and Cultural
Rights, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran must
adhere to the legal obligations undertaken under those treaties to respect all
human rights without discrimination, Ms. Arbour was quoted as saying by a
spokesperson at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The High Commissioner also encourages the Iranian Government to ratify other
international human rights treaties, in particular the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its
Optional Protocol. In addition, Ms. Arbour highlighted that these arrests, which
occurred on Sunday, took place just four days before the celebration of
International Women's Day on 8 March that this year is dedicated to the theme of
"Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls." She also noted that on
the same day last year, Iranian security forces violently broke up a peaceful
gathering of hundreds of women who were demonstrating for their rights in
Tehran's Daneshjoo Park.
BBC News - March 6, 2007
Thirty-three detained Iranian women activists have
gone on hunger strike in prison, their relatives say. BBC News March 6, 2007
They say the women are protesting over the continued detention of some group
members who were expected to be freed. The women were arrested on Sunday after
staging a demonstration outside a courthouse in the capital, Tehran.
AKI Italian News - March 8, 2007
All but three of the 33 Iranian women's rights
activists jailed on Sunday were freed Wednesday night, on the eve of
International Women's Day, in exchange for a pledge not to demonstrate on 8
March. Nevertheless, many of them and other women's rights activists said they
would protest in front of parliament in Tehran on Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile
also on Thursday, teachers staged their third strike in a week in front of
parliament, demanding salary raises and that thousands of colleagues they say
were fired for political reasons be reinstated to their jobs. The women
were arrested on Sunday for staging a demonstration in front of a courthouse in
Tehran where five fellow women's rights activists were on trial for staging a
peaceful rally against sexual discrimination in Iranian legislation last 12
June. Two of the activists and their lawyer are still in Tehran's Evin prison
but the others arrested Sunday were reportedly freed in the middle of the night
after their families were obliged to sign a document in which they promised the
women would not stage rallies on International Women's Day Thursday.
Nevertheless after their release all the activists save for one said they would
stage a rally Thursday afternoon in front of parliament. Meanwhile on Thursday
morning teachers also gathered in front of parliament in their third protest in
a week demanding raises and asking that colleagues fired for political reasons,
as many as 1,500 only in Kurdistan, be given their jobs back. Thousands of
teachers had already gathered in front of parliament last Saturday and then on
Tuesday threatening to block mid-term exams and not to resume work in rallies
called by 30 teachers' unions.
The Los Angeles Times - March 8, 2007
Uncommonly high tensions between law enforcement
officials and human rights activists ahead of today's annual commemoration of
International Women's Day have led to dozens of arrests here in the capital. The
commemoration of Women's Day has been a perennial rallying point for those
opposed to government policies viewed by human rights activists as sexist or
discriminatory. This year, the hard-line government of President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad detained 33 women activists Sunday at a small protest outside the
Revolutionary Court, where five women are on trial for taking part in a July
2006 demonstration against laws seen as discriminatory. Many observers and
activists suspect that the latest arrests were meant to ward off gatherings
anticipated today. The government has bolstered domestic security agencies in
the face of perceived threats from the West, which opposes Iran's nuclear
ambitions and its support for militant Islamic groups. That has spelled trouble
for the smattering of activists pushing for social and political changes.
"They're stronger, and they've coordinated their activities and mustered their
power," said one women's rights activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"They're unified now. In previous years there was disunity among the security
forces." Several dozen students briefly faced off against riot and campus police
officers Monday at the University of Tehran. Authorities also have clamped down
on websites and blogs promoting the main demonstration, to be held today at
Baharestan Square in front of parliament. Another woman activist, speaking
on condition of anonymity said "We expect a heavy crackdown." Iranian officials
have painted the activists as dupes of Western powers and the United States
government, which has advocated "regime change" in Iran.
Reuters News Agency - March 8, 2007
Iranian police clashed on Thursday with scores of
rights activists who gathered in front of parliament to celebrate International
Women's Day, one of the activists said. "Police attacked a gathering of some 700
women's rights activists and hit them with batons," the activist, who asked not
to be named, told Reuters. Police cars and ranks of police blocked the roads to
prevent the demonstrators from marching, the activist said. "Despite the
pressure on the activists to abandon the protest, many of them took part in
today's gathering," said the activist involved in Thursday's gathering. Also on
Thursday, a protest of some 4,000 teachers against poor working conditions and
low pay in front of parliament ended peacefully, a Reuters witness said.
Analysts say demonstrations are likely to be a source of embarrassment for
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, which vowed to improve living
standards and to share out Iran's oil wealth more fairly. Instead, critics say
the government's economic policies have fuelled inflation, which mostly hurts
the worst off in society.
US State Department - March 8, 2007
The United States is deeply concerned by reports
that Iranian authorities attacked peaceful women's rights protestors in Tehran
today at a gathering to mark International Women's Day. These repressive actions
by the regime highlight an alarming trend of intolerance toward the expression
of independent views by the Iranian people. The regime's actions today follow
the beatings and arrests of more than 30 women earlier this week. Those brave
women had gathered outside a courthouse in Tehran to show solidarity with five
women on trial for organizing a June 2006 protest against gender-discrimination
laws. The United States stands with the women of Iran, who courageously struggle
for their universal rights and justice in their country. We continue to work
with the international community through the United Nations, foreign
governments, and international NGOs to focus attention on the Iranian regime's
abuse of its own citizens. We call on the Iranian government to improve its own
human rights situation before more Iranians suffer for attempting to exercise
their universal rights and freedoms.
The Washington Post Editorial - March 10, 2007
Here's how International Women's Day was celebrated
Thursday in Tehran: Riot police swarmed over a few dozen women who bravely
gathered near the parliament in an attempt to hold a peaceful demonstration.
Some were beaten; some were arrested and taken away in vans. All mention of the
demonstration was purged from state-controlled media, and independent papers and
blogs were warned not to cover it, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Repression of women is an everyday reality in Iran, but this week stood out. In
addition to Thursday's crackdown, more than 30 women were arrested in a protest
last Sunday. The group, which included almost all of Iran's leading female human
rights activists, had gathered outside a courthouse in solidarity with five
women who are on trial for organizing a protest in June. Three of those arrested
were still being held on Friday, including Jila Baniyaghoob, a journalist, and
Shadi Sadr, a lawyer. The women had been taken to Tehran's notorious Evin
prison, where legions of political prisoners have been held and many tortured.
Government propaganda portrays these activists as tools of Western powers who
want to overthrow the government. Actually, the movement has far more modest and
specific goals. It is seeking equal rights for women in Iran's penal and family
codes, under which girls as young as 9 can be stoned to death on charges of
adultery and a woman's life is valued at only half that of a man's. The
activists are trying to collect a million signatures on a petition to parliament
to end such discrimination. Their courageous struggle and the regime's violent
reaction to it are worth remembering at a time when the United States is edging
toward opening a dialogue with the Iranian government. Today U.S. and Iranian
officials will attend a regional conference in Baghdad. The implicit promise of
such contacts, which we have supported, is a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement in which
Tehran gives up its nuclear program and stops its support for militants in Iraq
and around the Middle East in exchange for improved political and economic
relations with the United States. Such an accord would be in the U.S. interest.
But another vital interest must be continued support for those people and
movements in Iran that fight for human rights and democracy. Unless they survive
and grow stronger, U.S.-Iranian relations aren't likely to progress very far.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Looking for Peace and not Pity
By Robert Hildman
The Sydney Morning News
February 17, 2007
I met Zarah
Ghahramani on Tehran's Revolution Boulevard in June 2003, just down the road
from the northern campus of the city's university. She was dressed in the tunic
of all young urban women in the Islamic Republic of Iran: dark scarf drawn tight
over her head, lightweight coat reaching almost to her ankles. She asked me in
her accomplished English whether it would not be too impolite to inquire what I
was writing in my notebook. I told her that I was gathering material for
newspaper articles on Iranian politics. "I thought as much," she said without
explanation, then offered her hand and spoke her name. As we walked along in the
gathering dusk for a minute or more, I could only assume that Zarah had made a
habit of approaching people who looked as if they might have a newspaper to
report to in the West. But why?
At the intersection of Revolution and Azari, where we might courteously have parted, Zarah stopped and made some comment about the rowdy traffic. Then she added that she had a few things to say about Iranian politics. Would I listen? We sat at a kiosk not so far from where we'd met, and Zarah told her story over two hours. All around us, Tehrani mums and dads feted their children on the peculiarly flavourless ice-cream that Iranians favour, while young men in mock-Benetton tops engaged in air-courtship (the right motions, but no action) of young women dressed like Zarah. Sitting hunched over the table, Zarah spoke with astonishing candour of her involvement in reform politics at Tehran University, where she was no longer permitted to study; of imprisonment, torture, severe sexual abuse. As I learned later, her scarf concealed the regrowth of hair shorn from her head in Tehran's Evin Prison 18 months earlier: she had torn her scalp to shreds with her fingernails while awaiting her daily interrogations and had kept her hair short after her release while the wounds healed. Before approaching me, she'd satisfied herself that she was not being followed and filmed. She knew she was watched. Her days and nights were vexed by the need to take care: any infringement of Iran's rigid dress code would be harshly punished, any expression of political dissent would see her returned to Evin for a very long time, or until her interrogators judged her so cowed by certain refinements of the torture she had already endured that she could no longer imagine rebuking her government.
Her story could have been told with variation by thousands of young Iranian men, and without variation by a few young Iranian women. She was 20 and studying languages at university when first detained by state security agents late in 2001. Tehran University had been at that time a centre of student activism. Hundreds of young men and women had raised their voices in the streets around the campus, demanding freedom of choice in what they read, in what they wore, in what they wrote.
Zarah had been one of the leaders of the protests, intense in her political convictions, but not truly aware of just how hard the other side played the game. Twenty-nine days of interrogation in Evin, much of it in a blindfold, had demonstrated to her the savagery of the regime when roused.
By the time her interrogators had finished with her, she had been prepared to confess to anything at all, and confess she had. She had worked as an agent of the United States; she had accepted money from anti-regime organisations in Europe and Britain; she had committed immoral acts with leading male figures in the protest movement; she had attempted to subvert the rule of law in Iran. Her confessions were nonsense, but she signed them. "That is what happened," said Zarah at the conclusion of her story, and she added, with a bestowing gesture of her open hands, "for you to use." Over the next two weeks, Zarah nudged me and my partner, Anni, north, south, east and west in Tehran, then took us down to Shiraz and Isfahan. She introduced us to writers, artists, moviemakers, businessmen, and to her many friends and relatives. Her account of her ordeal was confirmed everywhere. In Shiraz we visited her particularly close friend, Eva, who had shaved her head to satirise the regime's phobias, and to dramatise her solidarity with Zarah. Her own boldness notwithstanding, Eva was worried for her friend, and Zarah's family was more worried still.
Watching Zarah indoors among those who cared for her, bare-headed, laughing, lampooning the regime, I could see what it was that made her friends and family so anxious. Her attachment to the liberty she craved was too intense, almost mad. Her face flashed the rage of the humiliated. Her interrogator in Evin Prison had warned her of the torments to come if she were re-arrested. One day, I felt sure, she would carry her rage outdoors to spite him, and would pay all over again. "Come to Australia," I urged her. "Apply for a study visa."
"Would that be possible?" "Maybe. We should try."
"Then they win," she said, and dismissed the idea.
Anni and I returned to Australia after our month in Iran, but remained in contact with Zarah by email and regular calls from her friend's mobile phone. What she said to me and what she wrote made it more apparent than ever that she was living on borrowed time. And this was something she would have acknowledged herself if she could have set aside her contempt for the people who had harmed her and thought straight for a moment. She spoke of her lapses from the conditions of her release from Evin, and conceded that they were becoming more frequent. She was not supposed to talk to anyone involved in anti-regime politics, for example, but she did. She was not supposed to go anywhere near the university, nor attempt to use its library, but she did. She was not supposed to sign any of the reform petitions circulating in the university precinct, but she did. My response was always a version of "Stop it!"
Then one day, a year after my return to Australia, Zarah sent an me an email to say that she wanted to get out of Iran and would accept any help I could provide. What had changed her mind? "My father," she said. He had taken her by the shoulders and made her stand in front of a mirror.
"Look!" he'd said. He wanted her to see what Evin and the relentless surveillance since her release had wrought on her face and figure. She obeyed her father: she stood there and stared. But it was not the erosion of her beauty that had persuaded Zarah to flee to Australia; it was the grief in her father's eyes, reflected above hers.
Zarah met with a sensitive and sympathetic response from the Department of Immigration. Despite her argument with Iran's regime, Zarah had expected to live her entire life there, regardless of who governed it. Australia was not a deeply meditated destination; its unnewsworthiness was an attraction of sorts. Impediments to the refugee's mission vary from nation to nation, culture to culture. In Australia in the 21st century, the resettled Muslim is up against what appears to be an orchestrated program of state-sponsored harassment. At regular intervals, one government minister or another offers views on the psychology, philosophy and priorities of Islamic militants, often followed by suggestions of ways in which the community's good Muslims might help isolate the bad Muslims. Ministers use every opportunity to remind the electorate that bad Muslims have no idea of where to draw the line, feel licensed to cut the throats of their promiscuous daughters, amputate the hands of robbers, apply the lash with reckless abandon and stone young women to death for the sin of having been raped.
Further advice is offered to a third category of Muslims - those who are good, but not good enough: they are advised to take a long, hard look at themselves; to stop abusing their women; to stop listening with any sympathy at all to Islamist rowdies and firebrands; to learn English quickly, and in general to make a greater effort to assimilate.
Zarah's experience of Australia has been shaped by this climate of harassment, but not entirely in the way that might have been expected. It has been well-wishers who have pressured her to play down the more evident features of her heritage. And no well-wisher has been busier than me.
Well before Zarah left her homeland in 2004, it had been claimed that Muslims of a certain sort were capable of drowning their own children on the high seas, if that was what it took to gain entry into Australia. Further revelations established that this dire practice was a local political concoction, but some Australians, perhaps many, remained persuaded that, under the right circumstances, Muslims would sacrifice their children. Before she left Tehran, I kept Zarah well informed of the toxic anti-Muslim atmosphere building in Australia. My indignation tended to override my judgement. After all, I lived in an area where Muslim women from a dozen countries went about their business traditionally garbed and I'd never witnessed a single incident or insult. If I'd thought about it a bit longer, I would have realised how capable these women were of looking after themselves. I might have reflected on my own experience of living and travelling in Muslim countries, and recalled the wit, humour and cool mockery of male posturing that I'd noticed often enough among Muslim women.
Without intending to, I was contributing to Zarah's anxieties about the reception a young Muslim woman, a citizen of the pariah state of Iran, would meet in Melbourne. My concern for Zarah extended to her wardrobe. I was most relaxed when her choice of clothes matched that of every other casually dressed young woman on the streets of Melbourne: low-cut jeans, broad belt, simple top. Then, perversely, I began to worry that she looked too much like every other young woman. When we went to meet publishers to discuss a book we'd written together, I almost suggested that she wear a head-scarf with her jeans.
I was not only unwittingly amplifying the Government's invidious message, I was on the verge of suggesting that Zarah perform the unspoken obligation of all immigrants to Australia: to be exotic and different - colourful, in fact. We have come to approve of the exotic complement to the Australian way of life; we attend the festivals of colourful newcomers, celebrate their enrichment of our cuisine, endorse their right to be a little bit different. But we ask them, the colourful newcomers, to accept that we are not interested in changing anything. Colour is fine, but we want it as ornament, hundreds and thousands sprinkled on a blancmange, the blandness beneath untouched.
I have retreated from my insufferable supervision of Zarah's resettlement in Melbourne; the Damascus moment came for me a few months ago when Zarah asked me about the term "thought police", which had appeared in a newspaper article on the war in Iraq. I summarised Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the conversation led to a discussion on torture, a subject Zarah knew more about than the average person. When I spoke of Room 101, Orwell's vision of the ultimate hell, Zarah nodded and unconsciously put her hand to her head, an associative mannerism she has whenever the subject of interrogation comes up. We have one in Evin, she said, and went on to explain that the chamber had been established by Savak, the Shah's secret police, and was preserved by Iran's present regime. I waited for her to say more, but she didn't.
"You didn't go there?" I eventually asked, and Zarah laughed, not with mirth. "I'm sitting here talking to you, aren't I?"
In the days that followed, I thought of Zarah in her tiny cell in Evin Prison, a prison the size of a city. I thought of her seeking a way she could rest that spared her back and shoulders and arms, where the lash had landed, that spared her bruised legs and ribcage. A few floors below, Evin's version of Room 101 was awaiting her, for all she knew. Her great hope was that she would be asked to confess and sign a document of some sort. At her final interrogation, the document was offered but, before agreeing to sign, she suggested to the interrogator that he simply have her killed. The interrogator declined.
What did I think I was doing in trying to shield a young woman with such wherewithal from the foolish bluster of our politicians? I should have been thinking of the grit and anger and spiritual ambition that Zarah had brought with her to Australia. I had adopted a version of the Australian multicultural conceit: genial assimilation. A cynical reworking of that conceit informs the repeated rebukes of Muslims, but even in its uncorrupted form expressed as a collage of variously pigmented folk singing "We Are Australian" the conceit adds to the sentimentality sloshing about. It does not add to the nation's vigour.
The vital life of any nation is better served by the arrival of immigrants who take a look around and decide to change things, just as they may have wished to do in their first homeland. Or, if they are happy with what they find, well and good. At least let them be free of the pity of people like me. * Zarah Ghahramani now has a visa.
Women in Iran: Repression and Resistance
By Nasrin Alavi
March 6, 2007
Iranians are the
first to know how easy it is for a whole nation to be reduced to the rants of a
senseless politician, or for images of a handful of shroud-wearing crazies
burning the American flag in Tehran to reach the western media's front-pages.
But how easy is it for thousands of Iranian teachers protesting outside the
Iranian majlis (parliament) - as they did on Saturday 3 March 2007 - to merit
Not very, is the answer - and especially when the drums of war are being sounded. At such times, it is more convenient to dehumanize the prospective enemy than to see this enemy as it is - composed not of 70 million Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clones but of diligent nurses, factory workers, dear uncles and aunts, poets, writers, filmmakers, students cramming for their exams, lovelorn teenagers, and, yes, protesting teachers. It is not only teachers who are protesting. On Sunday 4 March, around thirty-three Iranian women - as far removed from Ahmadinejad as you can get - were arrested in Tehran. These women had gathered outside Tehran's revolutionary court in solidarity with five of their friends, charged with organizing a rally in June 2006 against discriminatory laws against women.
Only two days earlier, they had published an open letter asserting their rights to the freedom of peaceful assembly that are afforded them by the Islamic Republic's constitutional laws:
"International Women's Day is soon upon us as our nation endures a grave period. The internal policies of domination, duress and an ineffectual foreign policy - with an insistence on pursuing a nuclear energy program - when we have lost the confidence and trust of the world; as the confrontational issues and the continuous warmongering policies of the United States and its allies around the world with the pretext of exporting democracy and human right through sanctions and military attack has presented us with a mounting predicament. On one side - with the absence of a democratic structure - we witness decisions being made on our behalf without our presence or the presence of our legitimate leaders. While at the other end we feel the circle of the siege around us increasingly tighten as we are threatened with sanctions and the nightmare of war[…]
[…][W]e announce our protest against all paternalistic policies, whether they be in the name of dishonest interpretations of Islam or with the pretext of human rights and democracy and we believe what the world community should insist upon debates on democracy and human rights and not nuclear energy, and all within peaceful diplomatic dialogue, not war and destruction[…] […]Despite all the pressures and obstacles the Iranian women's movement in now within its most enduring and active periods in recent history." On their own terms Iranian women have come a long way in their struggle for rights. Morgan Shuster lived in Iran at the turn of the century and wrote about his experiences. "The Persian women since 1907 had become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world; that this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. It is a fact […] In Tehran alone, twelve women's associations were involved in different social and political activities. [Iranian women] overnight become teachers, newspaper writers, founders of women's clubs and speakers on political subjects."
The westernized lifestyles that were available to some Iranian women were lost with the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But even the most radical clerics realized that Iran's culture would not stand the strictures imposed in such countries as Saudi Arabia. As Nikki R Keddie has observed: "More than many women in the Islamic world, Iranian women occupy public spaces. Even as wives and mothers, they work, vote, drive, shop and hold professional positions as doctors, lawyers, corporate executives and deputies in Parliament."
Before the Islamic revolution of 1979, the majority of women chose to cover their heads in public in some way and the requirement that women wear Islamic covering may have helped some of them to gain an education and emancipation, especially in traditional families, as they did not need to go through a drastic cultural makeover to enter the work force. In 1975, women's illiteracy in rural areas was 90 percent and more than 45 percent in towns. Now, the nationwide literacy rate for girls aged between 15 and 24 has risen to 97 percent; while female students in state universities outnumber male ones. Women have transformed Iran since the revolution. A third of all doctors, 60 percent of civil servants and 80 percent of all teachers in Iran are women. Some people believe the regime is immune to change, but many others, especially women, are experts at finding ways round the constraints of the patriarchal system. These women activists are less interested in whether or not to wear the veil and more concerned with gaining access to education, wider employment opportunities, equality at work and better health care for their families.
Iranian women's advances have not come about overnight; they represent a long history of hard-fought grassroots struggle. Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, one of the women under arrest tonight, writes in the March 2007 issue of the New Internationalist about a day spent going door to door in Tehran in a campaign to get a million signatures in support of women's rights, and about her apprehension of ringing the first doorbell in her old neighborhood: "What crime am I about to commit that I feel so scared. Why should I be scared when I'm not doing anything wrong? When my government defends its 'inalienable rights' [to nuclear power], why shouldn't I defend my own inalienable rights?
[…]A woman wearing a chador comes to the door. The small flowers on her chador are pretty. She looks apprehensive. Her face is puffy and it seems that just like me, she's not had enough sleep last night. I calm down a bit after seeing her face. I am happy to be able to see her face. I think that had it not been for the womanly bravery of Tahereh a century and a half ago that enabled her to discard her nighab, I would have had to talk to my fellow citizen without being able to see her face. Even talking to someone 'face to face' would have been meaningless then..."
(The reference is to women's-rights activist Tahereh [Qurrat-al-Ain, 1814-1854], whose removal of her veil provoked a huge uproar).
Shadi Sadr, publisher, lawyer and journalist, and another one of the women under arrest, wrote in 2004:
"Today Iranian women […] have imposed themselves on a male-dominated society which still believes women should stay at home. Perhaps nobody sees us, but we exist and we make our mark on the world around us. I assure you that if you look around carefully, everywhere you will see our footsteps."
Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani wrote before her arrest:
"Perhaps we will be imprisoned and become weary with the continuous summons to court. Perhaps we will not be able to continue along our path and educate our female counterparts about the existence of such discriminatory laws. But, what will you do with the countless women who come into contact with the court system - in fact, these very courts are the best educational facilities for women, through which they quickly learn that in fact they have no rights. Yes, perhaps with your security planning and your modern technology, you may be able to isolate and paralyze the current generation of Iranian women's rights activists, and stop the progression of our campaign, but what will you do with the love that we plant in the hearts of our children? Perhaps with your advanced technology, you will be able to attack the hearts of our personal computers, but what will you do with our dreams?"
Women's Key Role Against Fundamentalism
By Maryam Rajavi (Speech on March 3rd)
March 11, 2007
you and the activists of the equality movement on International Women's Day. On
this day, which rekindles the great hope for equality, we hail all women who are
fighting for the realization of this ideal and think of all women who have
fallen victim to oppression, discrimination and violence. On this day, we also
commend such great women as Clara Zetkin and Olympe de Gouges, each of whom took
giant stride to advance the ideal of equality. We also pay homage to Fatemeh
Amini, Marzeih Ahmadi Oskoui, Mehrnoush Ebrahimi and other brave women who fell
in the path of the struggle against the Shah's regime. We laud Ashraf Rajavi,
who was slain 25 years ago by the Revolutionary Guards and who today is the
source of inspiration of a great resistance where the Iranian Resistance is
We salute thousands of heroic women who have been either hanged or murdered under torture in the struggle against the fundamentalists ruling Iran in the past 25 years. We laud the courageous women in Tehran, who on two occasions last year, on March 8 and June 12, ignored the mullahs' savage repression and staged a daring demonstration in the heart of the capital, chanting "the cry is freedom and the voice is a revolt for awareness." We salute especially the brave women who this very day staged a demonstration in Tehran to protest against the oppression and crackdown by the Ahmadinejad regime. Some 15,000 dignified teachers, including many of our sisters, displayed their anger and disdain for the religious theocracy by staging a protest outside the mullahs' Majlis. They warned the regime's leaders that they will get nowhere with murder and clamping down on voices of opposition. We also commend our suffering and bereaved sisters in Iraq, and especially the brave Iraqi women who played a special role in organizing the campaign to publicize the declaration by 5.2 million Iraqis against the Iranian regime's meddling in Iraq.
And we salute 1,000 pioneering women in Ashraf City, who lead the resistance against religious dictatorship and for freedom and equality.
In honoring the International Women's Day, we have gathered here to say that equality is women's right. And I have come to say that across the world we have many responsibilities, far beyond women's rights, which we must carry out. Otherwise peace, security and democracy in our world would be endangered. March 8, puts the spot light on women, their achievements and future responsibilities. I think that women's movement has come a long way. By the end of the 1920s, the equality movement won the right to suffrage for women. By the end of 1960s, this movement had major advances toward attainting legal equality for women. And in the final decades of the past century, the equality movement has struggled against obstacles in the path of women's freedom and equality in various ways.
The question, however, is that what objective should the equality movement pursue today. And why there is the need to ask this question in the present era. Today, major global developments have brought many opportunities and threats for the equality movement: the opportunity to play a role in the future course of the world and the threat of denigration of the equality movement to a lower position.
Now, the fundamental question is that what status the equality movement is searching for.
Do we want to share power as isolated individuals and submit to the continuation of the status quo? Or do we want to suffice by engaging in some reform in women's rights?
A profound observation of the current circumstances faces us with another strategy. We must overcome this crossroads and assume our role to change the world.
This strategy means an active participation in the political struggle in order to cast aside the obstacles to equality and freedom.
The equality movement must not limit itself to the present objectives. Only through advancing toward higher horizons can freedom be achieved.
In her book, "the Second Sex," Simone de Beauvoir considered this reality so important that she stressed that any time advancement is confined to the status quo, there has been a downward spiral. Therefore, although owing to women's struggle in the past decade, much has been achieved, but nothing is permanent. No social progress, even when drafted in law, could be definitive because discrimination and oppression continues to affect women as the dominant culture of our world today.
Indeed, history has taught us that nowhere the oppressors voluntarily give up their privileges. Neither do they voluntarily respect women's privileges and true position.
So far, all of us agree on the fact that women's entry into the realm of an active political struggle is inevitable.
But the main question which this premise immediately confronts us with is that in which direction women's struggle in this era should be pointed.
Should the present campaigns for the right to employment, against violence and aggression and against victimizing children and women in sex-slave trade be expanded?
Should the campaign for abortion and defending the rights of oppressed women be promoted to the next level?
Or is there another objective in the works?
These campaigns are, of course, quite valuable and must continue. On International Women's Day, all such activists must be commended.
In reality, however, in the current circumstances, a cyclone of blood, bombing, terror, rape and poverty which is destroying the lives of the people in the Middle East, should compel the equality movement to engage in an all-embracing and multi-faceted struggle.
Today, the Middle East is burning in the inferno of fundamentalism. The dangers of this ominous calamity have gone beyond the Middle East and from time to time victimize innocent people in Western countries. This enormous calamity does not leave us with many choices.
Should we surrender to it and allow the achievements of mankind, especially the accomplishments of the equality movement, to be sacrificed under its feet? Or should we rise to resist it with all our might? Here, the question in everybody's minds is that while the fundamentalists target women's freedoms and rights in countries with Islamic orientation, how could women elsewhere in the world, including in Europe and the United States, be affected by them?
In response, I offer three reasoning:
First, the fundamentalists' devastation in Islamic countries, especially regarding the rights of women, benefits the global patriarchal culture. Three decades ago, Susan Brown Miller, the distinguished American feminist, explained an important fact about violence and rape [against women]. She said that because of any violence and rape against a woman, the domination of men who have not themselves taken part in that violence, is strengthened. Similarly, even women who have not been the target of that violence will be intimidated. In my view, this is an important rule from which one can understand the retrogressive impact of fundamentalism on the equality movement the world over.
Second, fundamentalism in Muslim communities of Western countries has emerged as a challenge whose dimensions are spreading by the day.
Third is the spread of the fire of terrorism and the danger of a nuclear war around the globe?
The criminal explosions in different countries which have victimized many innocent people represent the first flames of a huge fire raging in the Middle East at present. When the mullahs, equipped with long-range missiles and nuclear weapons complete their domination of the Middle East, the fire of this ominous calamity will have engulfed European countries as well.
Let me draw two major conclusions from these arguments.
First, women's involvement in a serious political struggle to remove the obstacles to equality is an imperative that could no longer be ignored.
Second, in the present circumstances, the substance of this struggle is confronting the fundamentalist wave that has been roaming the Middle East today.
With these preliminary remarks, today we want to reply to a fundamental question. Has the equality movement done what is necessary in the struggle against fundamentalism? Has it assumed its pioneering role? We will get the answer in due course.
Here, I would like to elaborate on different aspects of the fundamentalist onslaught which at the same time forms different dimensions of today's struggle.
1. Suppression of the Iranian people, especially women;
2. Efforts to acquire nuclear weapons;
3. Dominating Iraq and Lebanon and warmongering in other Islamic countries;
4. The West's policy of appeasement acting as the de facto ally of fundamentalism.
Let us see what atrocities the fundamentalists have committed against women in Iran.
In truth, the people around the world have been informed of a very small portion of the tragedy that has affected women in my country. As you might know, misogyny is distinctive to the fundamentalist ruling Iran. No one but Iranian women have experienced body and soul this misogyny.
The mullahs' rule came down on women's rights, liberties, culture, family and private lives like a huge avalanche.
- Executing thousands of female opponents, which is unprecedented anywhere in the world;
- Torturing tens of thousands of women political prisoners;
- Executing pregnant women, the torture of mothers in front of their children;
- Degrading women's social and economic standing to second class citizens;
- Imposing gender apartheid;
- Controlling women's presence in the streets;
- Imposing compulsory veiling, controlling the color and forms of women's attire;
- Lacerating and splashing acid on women's faces because of their clothing and make up.
- Systematic assault on women in prisons;
- Denial of the right to divorce and the right to custody of children;
- Promoting polygamy and temporary marriage, justified by the mullahs' disgraceful Sharia;
- Applying medieval and painful punishments such as stoning, whose victims are primarily women;
- Injustice and discrimination in economic participation, employment and education;
- The sale of small children by impoverished families and their trafficking to other countries by the mullahs' criminal gangs in a country as rich as Iran;
- Selling innocent girls' body parts due to impoverishment, hunger and many other calamities;
Indeed, these are only parts of the tragedy women have been experiencing under the rule of the fundamentalists. I must emphasize that these come at a time when the Iranian Resistance movement has been waging a relentless struggle against this regime for 27 years. Imagine what the fundamentalist mullahs would have done to women if this resistance did not exist.
The struggle to end these appalling conditions that have prevailed for 28 years relates to the equality movement across the globe and presents us with the question that I mentioned earlier: Has the equality movement done what is necessary in the struggle against fundamentalism? And has it assumed its leading role?
Here, let me tell my sisters across Iran that although the pain of inequality, humiliation and insult is crushing your very existence, and although the mullahs have trampled upon your individual, familial, social and political rights and freedoms, and are hell-bent on denying your human identity, you, nevertheless, possess such power that has turned Iranian women into the force that will overthrow the mullahs.
When you rise up in the heart of Tehran, when in any gathering you target the mullahs' nuclear deception and shout that nuclear program serves the rule of the Velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical supremacy), when you say that liberty and minimum means of subsistence are the undeniable rights of the Iranian people, you shake the mullahs' regime to its foundations.
Your resolve will realize the demands of the Iranian people and you are Iran's future. The mullahs' enmity and crimes against you is because they are afraid of you. Iranian society is thirsty for a new way of life and for change.
The force of change in Iran is compressed in you as the pioneers of this struggle. You can definitively defeat fundamentalism. You are Iran's future. Indeed, the one thousand Mojahed women in Ashraf City, Iraq, have arisen from your ranks. They are the embodiment of your resolve for equality and freedom. They have proven that you will shape the future of Iran.
I salute you and all free-thinking men who are standing with you shoulder to shoulder in this struggle.
Let us address another important issue: the urgent danger of the regime obtaining nuclear weapons.
You already know that the clerical regime is working rapidly to obtain the atomic bomb. The mullahs' fundamentalist regime can only preserve its survival through warmongering and export of terrorism. The moment the mullahs acquire the bomb is the moment when an uncontrollable war will begin. We are living at a critical juncture. A sense of urgency surrounds us.
Let us close our eyes and go back to 1938, on eve of the Second World War. Assuming that we knew of the tragedy that was in the offing, would we have spared any sacrifice and effort to prevent such a war then? Our reply to all of this is definitely no.
It is common knowledge that the mullahs' regime, its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are the source of warmongering. Yet, simultaneous with building nuclear weapons as well as meddling and perpetrating atrocities in Iraq, the mullahs regime projects itself a an advocate of peace. This is where the importance of women's movement becomes apparent. Women are the main force of the peace movement. You have the power to engage in campaigns throughout the world to block the path of the mullahs to nuclear weapons and demand that your governments not stand with the fundamentalists ruling Iran. The mullahs' biggest deception is that they portray defending peace as defending their own regime. The mullahs and their allies are saying that you must support the Iranian regime or war would be inevitable.
In the face of this, the Iranian Resistance has put forth the Third Option. Meaning, neither appeasement, nor foreign military intervention is the answer. Change by the Iranian people and Resistance is the viable option. This is the very solution that is intrinsically compatible with the equality movement, for which reason women have a decisive role to play in realizing that option. I call on movements which advocate peace and human rights, especially the equality movement's activists to support this solution. I ask you and all my sisters in Europe and the United States who endeavor for the expansion of the peace movement to rise up and not allow the mullahs' to take advantage of your efforts to preserve their regime. With every slogan for peace, we must chant "no nuclear arms in the mullahs' hands."
I ask my dear sisters here with us today to use the peace movement to rise against the mullahs' crazy insistence to acquire nuclear weapons.
Together, we can stop the outbreak of an ominous war and stop the bloodshed in the Middle East and the barbaric theocracy ruling Iran.
Allow me here to address the situation of a wounded Iraq, where millions of human beings around the world are distressed when witnessing the occurrences in that country.
Today's world has the painful experience of Iraq before it. As part of the appeasement policy, the Coalition forces bombed the centers of the Iranian opposition at the behest of the mullahs. They paved the way for the mullahs' rapid penetration into Iraq. The horrific consequence of this policy is now seen in the bombings which are tearing apart Iraq.
The vast portion of the 650,000 Iraqis murdered in the past four years have been murdered by the mullahs' death squads. Iraqi democratic parties and even the insurgents who vehemently oppose the US presence in Iraq are saying loud and clear that the mullahs' regime is the main occupier.
I want, in particular, to draw your attention to the painful plight of Iraqi women. Thousands of female Iraqi students have quit their studies because of the attacks and threats by the Iranian regime's operatives. Girl schools are completely shut down. Many women have become impoverished and homeless. The gang rape of Iraqi women by the militias on the mullahs' payroll, one example of which was revealed on February 19, dismayed everyone.
As far as the plight of Iraqi women is concerned, we are again faced with the basic question: Has the equality movement done what is necessary in the struggle against fundamentalism? Has it assumed its pioneering role? Regrettably not!
Here, I would like to draw the attention of the equality movement the world over, and especially you free thinking women, to another issue, namely a major obstacle in the path of change in Iran: the policy of appeasement.
First, let us see how this policy has blocked the path of the movement for freedom and women's equality movement in Iran. The issue is simply this: shackling a movement that is seeking freedom and democracy by including it in terrorist lists. At the behest of the mullahs, Western governments included the Iranian opposition movement in their terrorist lists. For many years we challenged the decision of Council of Ministers of the European Union. The terrorism allegation was completely unwarranted and targeted the main opposition movement. We organized a major social, political and legal campaign in the course of this challenge.
Our several-years-long struggle finally achieved a historic victory when in its ruling last December, the European Court of Justice annulled the terrorist label against the People's Mojahedin. Surprisingly, in line with appeasing the mullahs' regime, the EU Council defied the court's ruling.
Therefore, we have before us an obstacle: the policy of appeasement. I want to elaborate on this issue as it has been the practical policy of the West in recent years. The policy of appeasement has four components:
1. Taking part in the crackdown on the opposition and preventing change in Iran;
2. Paving the way for the spread of fundamentalism and terrorism;
3. Providing political opening for the mullahs to go nuclear; and
4. Violating law, democracy and trampling upon justice in Western countries.
Having referred to these components, I want to explain why the struggle for appeasement should be placed on the agenda of the equality movement urgently. The policy of appeasement, which supports religious fascism, impedes the struggle of Iranian women for freedom and equality. If in the distant past pioneering women, who held aloft the flag of resistance for emancipation and equality, were few in numbers, today, 1,000 brave and selfless women are advancing a progressive movement which espouses noble demands and objectives and is the focal point of the face-off with religious dictatorship ruling Iran. The policy of appeasement has blocked the path of these women. By paving the way for the mullahs, their headquarters in Ashraf City is encircled and under an assortment of conspiracies. Today, they face the threat of expulsion, quid pro quo and various restrictions and shortages.
We need a movement that would rise up across the world and support the bastion, where the flames of resistance for freedom and equality are burning, and herald something new to the world.
We expect that when Iranian women confront religious fascism, you, free-thinking women in Western countries, challenge the policy of appeasement and policy makers who support the mullahs' religious fascism. This is a humanitarian and conscientious responsibility.
Institutions such as the Council of Ministers of the European Union that pursue the policy of appeasement are directly at fault in solidifying religious dictatorship in Iran and in the spread of terrorism and fundamentalism.
They say officially that the Iranian opposition was placed on the terrorist lists at the request of the clerical regime. When they ignore European justice and allow this designation to continue unlawfully, when they deny the opposition movement the right to the freedom of expression in European capitals, they are allowing the values and demands of the fundamentalists have primacy.
In the face of such blatant injustice that has made a mockery of European values, has the equality movement done what has been necessary in the fight against fundamentalism? Has it assumed its pioneering responsibility? I ask you, my dear sisters here, and all equality movement activists across the world not to allow Europe's fundamental values, which your societies cherished and upheld, to become the victim of deals which strengthen fundamentalism. Let us join hands in the face of European government's totalitarianism and institutions which crush the achievements of humanity, especially those of women. Naturally, when we compel the dictatorship in Iran to give way to the rule of freedom and democracy and when Iranian women achieve freedom and equality, we will see a giant leap for the equality movement worldwide, especially as a challenge to the fundamentalists.
Today, we and you and our sisters in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries are facing a single danger. We must form a united front in the face of fundamentalists and appeasers. The issue is not merely an expression of sisterhood with oppressed women in Iran, Iraq and other countries in the region. The matter goes far beyond that: it has to do with world peace and security. Activism on the part of women's movement is not complementary to the fight against fundamentalism only. The fact is that without the pioneering role of women, we cannot overcome this monster. Allow me, here, to thank courageous women who have in all these years have been the leading force in the anti-fundamentalist front. I mean Madam Elizabeth Sidney and my dear sisters in the Women's International Federation Against Fundamentalism and for Equality. I also thank the efforts of women parliamentarians and organizations in different countries around the world.
The reality of women's leading role in the struggle against fundamentalism has been proven manifestly in the history of the Iranian Resistance in the past quarter century. Without women's determining role, our movement lacked the capacity to survive against religious fascism.
In truth, the more the fight against religious dictatorship grew more serious and more profound, the role of women became more imperative. The need for greater perseverance and a more hardnosed and serious struggle made women's assumption of responsibility more indispensable.
This is what our era dictates. This is an era that the solutions and thinking which solidify the male-dominated regime have come to an end. This era requires a new solution based on the values of equality. With this mindset, 1,000 courageous and selfless women in Ashraf City, the headquarters for the Iranian Resistance, 50 kilometers from the Iranian frontier, have persevered against the mullahs' regime.
Ashraf City, which has withstood enormous conspiracies in the past four years has been led by brave women such as Mojgan Parsaii, Sedigheh Hosseini and hundreds of other women in positions of responsibility. This thinking in the Iranian Resistance is the source of many achievements and advances each of which require lengthy discourse. Women in the Iranian Resistance have put into practice many ideals of the equality movement. These experiences could only be defined as a "new birth", "creating a new culture" and "human epics." They have overcome women's historical lack of disbelief and fragility. In theory and in social and political praxis, they have come to believe in women's enormous capabilities.
They have shed the fear of failure and weakness in the face of difficulties. Instead of breaking apart, they learned to develop the power to overcome failure. Instead of hopelessness, they opened their eyes and discovered the opportunities and solutions for victory.
When they recognized the extent to which their independent and responsible role offers a breakthrough in the struggle against dictatorship, they stepped into the world of responsible women who assume the leadership of a struggle with all its implications from the world of irresponsibility, passivity; the world of women who have to lean on the other (gender). When they took charge and had to employ all their ability to attain their goals, they realized that they had to change, learn and teach constantly; that they must discover new solutions and new methods. They had entered into a world with new set of rules and laws that was not static. Any stoppage was tantamount to returning to the previous world.
They had stepped into a world where if they did not grapple with all its contradictions and difficulties everyday, they would have gone backwards. Thus, from fragility, they attained steadfastness. They turned the struggle against difficulties into their constant spirit.
These women have pledged that under no circumstance and in no way, would they give up the ideal of freedom, democracy and equality and that they would challenge to the very end any form of dictatorship and pay whatever price it requires, be it their flesh and blood, their emotions, family, father, mother, husband, children or even changing the culture and even the archaic system of patriarchy. This is that new phenomenon, the new creation and a generation that has a wealth of experience; a generation that has overcome many difficulties in traversing this long and historic path with astounding speed; a generation that has turned into a treasure trove of experience for the people of Iran and especially for all free-thinking women in the world. Allow me, as unusual at it may be, to laud a generation of men in the Iranian Resistance movement, who believed firmly in the ideal of equality and distanced themselves from the patriarchal culture and created unmatched values. Those, who by looking at women as equal human beings, attained their true human identity. Women possess a tremendous, yet untapped, capacity to change the world toward freedom and equality; an evolutionary capacity that steers mankind toward genuine freedom. When women rise up in this struggle, they discover their forgotten powers. We can only recognize our real power to the extent that we engage in a serious struggle.
This is the path to attaining new status and new births. In this path, women will overcome the devastating disbelief in themselves and realize that they are not only worthy in this struggle, but that it is they who could be the leaders and the guiding light for freedom.
With this vision, we can now respond to the main question: Does the world need the equality movement to enter the vast spheres of the struggle with fundamentalism? Yes, indeed, because women are the leading force in the fight against fundamentalism. Without women's participation, the world cannot overcome the danger which threatens humanity. The crux of the matter is that the defeat of fundamentalism could only be achieved with the leadership of women.
- Indeed, the equality movement is the source of our power and the basis of our unity in an active struggle.
- It is a movement which enflames the resistance and restores the dignity of human living.
- And it is a movement that constitutes the force of progress, today's victory and tomorrow's hope.
So, let us all rise up together and assume our idealistic and historic responsibility. This is our duty, it is within our capacity. Today's generations and those of the future expect us to realize those ideals.
Imprisoned Women's Activist: I am Worried about my Mother
March 14, 2007
Rooz Online Report
Ten days into the arrest of women's rights activists Mahboubeh Abassgolizadeh and Shadi Sadr, disturbing news are heard about the their fate: New charges and possible use of psychological pressures to extract fake confessions from them . On the other hand there are also reports that senior judiciary officials have been approached for the release of these two women. Rooz Online spoke with Abassgolizadeh's daughter, Maryam on the latest developments. Read the excerpts below.
Rooz Online (R): Do you have any direct news from your mother?
Maryam Abassgolizadeh (MA): 8 days have passed and I have not heard from her directly, which makes us very worried. Shadi Sadr has been in contact with her family twice during this period, which raises alarms regarding my mother. In view of my mother's earlier arrest and what happened in that incident, we are concerned that she may be under torture as a way to extract fake confessions from her, or that she is in such bad health that cannot even talk. The last time she was in prison, she spent some 20 days in solitary confinement and a few more days in the general ward. While officials said she was in the general ward, we learned later on her release that she was actually in solitary confinement under very degrading conditions. But even in that incident, she got in touch with us (over the phone) soon after her detention. But this long silence is very suspicious and disturbing.
R: Do you have any news on the charges that have been brought against her and her interrogation procedures?
MA: Initially there were three charges made against her, the same ones that were made against all thirty one arrested women. But in his meeting with the defense lawyers, Judge Haddad added two new charges, which according to the defense attorneys are illegal. One of them is that interrogations begin on the assumption of guilt. During interrogations, they try to fish for other charges to be made against my mother. So they arrested my mother on the pretext of the sit-in of these women activists, but then used their detention to find other things to charge them with. Because they threatened my mother during her previous arrest, we are now afraid they are doing the same thing again. We are afraid that some authorities may succeed in cutting of the support that my mother is currently receiving for her release and that they may trump up new charges against her. Haddad expressly made two new accusations, in the hope of retaining the initial ones.
R: Has any official contacted you? Any contacts regarding bringing a guarantee for the release of your mother?
MA: Nothing. They summoned us to the judiciary to explain some questions. We refused arguing that we would not go unless there was a formal request. They then threatened to arrest us if we did not go there.
R: Do you know whether they asked detainees questions about other people, including your mother?
MA: Yes. The interrogators have tried to divide and rule. They did ask what relationship they had with others. Or whether they or we engaged in any activity for them. They asked why did we even go to their offices.
R: Why do you think the interrogation phase is taking so long?
MA: Two years ago, after repeated acts of torture and cruelty were committed, ayatollah Shahrudi (head of Iran's Judiciary Branch) dismissed my mother's case, as he did the case belonging to the web-bloggers. But some authorities keep returning to the same methods in order to accomplish what they could not attain in the previous incident. When the head of the judiciary of a country rules people to be innocent, then officials should not be pursing revenge over the case. They should accept their mistakes. In the previous incident, it was decided that the wrong-acting interrogators would be punished. But in reality, the same people are now again in charge of interrogations. They will not succeed because the women's calls and their movement are not politically motivated, and they are not part of the opposition movement. In fact its activists all love their country, who will work with any government for justice and equal rights. I am certain that Mr. Shahrudi knows what is going on.
R: How are the other members of the family doing?
MA: My sister's morale is very low and she is depressed. She has to study for her national university entrance exam, but she can't concentrate because of my mother's situation. I am a student in the town of Zanjan but have had to return to Tehran because of all of this. My sister is sitting next to the phone, but hopes that my mother will walk in through the door. Nights are difficult and we cannot sleep. My father does not live with us, so this makes us alone and we are constantly afraid that the police will storm into our house like the Gestapo.
R: How did the meeting between your family and Mrs. Sadr go when you met Mr. Karubi?
MA: I did not go. Other family members did and they said that he welcomed them with full arms. He promised to write a letter to senior judiciary officials. But ward 209 of Evin prison is not under the jurisdiction of Mr. Shahrudi, so a telephone call is not going to change anything. But he is following up the case, as are others such as Mr. Baghi from the Association for the Defense of Prisoners, the Bar Association, etc. The Bar Association is also pursuing Shadi Sadr's case because she was arrested after performing her duties as a lawyer. We love our country. I think that under the current political circumstances that have come up because of the nuclear issue, and when various opposition groups are actively at work, instead of attacking those who are trying to improve the image of the country, officials should be thinking about the country. I cannot remain silent. The press has been silenced. The only places where my message is relayed are the foreign based radio stations. This is not something that I want, but I have no choice because they are not allowing me to make myself heard.
R: Do you think the current media silence and the absence of media coverage of the recent arrests is directed events?
MA: I am sure of this. I spoke with a few journalists who had reported the event, and they said that after their reports, they were told to completely censor the event and not cover it. It is not true that newspapers do not wish to publish. The fact is that they are not allowed to do so. News agencies too publish scattered news under fear. This is going on despite the fact this is an important event. Today, Marzie Mortezai from the Jebhe Mosharekat (Participation Front) said that while a tree is a national resource and there is so much talk about trees, they do not want to talk about these two individuals who remain behind bars. She said that when they were in prison, they learned that they were making preparations for these two activists to ensure that when they are released, they will not be able to continue their work. And this despite the fact that what they have been doing has been for the good of the Iranian woman.
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Volume 34, March 15, 2007
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