August 15, 2010 VOLUME 75
E-ZAN VOICE OF WOMEN AGAINST FUNDAMENTALISM IN IRAN
To our readers,
Last month we featured an article on the case of Sakineh
Mohammadi Ashtiani, a woman facing a death by stoning
sentence. Due to successful international campaigns by
various governments and human rights groups, the
fundamentalist regime in Tehran was forced to halt the
stoning and resort to its shameful tactics such as
threats against Sakineh's lawyer coupled with tortured
and forced televised confession from Sakineh. In her own
words, the Iranian regime wants to kill her "in
secrecy." Although Sakineh's lawyer has fled since, and
is in the process of obtaining asylum in Europe, his
family continues to face pressure, even after the
unlawful arrest of his wife. Sakineh's lawyer, Mohammad
Mostafaie, continues to speak in defense of his client.
Her case has once again proven to the world that
defending women's human rights in Iran is a crime in the
eyes of the fundamentalist regime. The cruel and
inhumane treatment of women both in captivity and within
society has been a steady and disturbing track record
for the past 30 years in Iran. Worldwide women's
movements must speak louder than ever against Tehran's
misogynous regime. The systematic and systemic violence
against Iranian women is not Islamic and violates a
number of international norms including the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Iran is a signatory
of the UDHR, therefore, it is encouraging to see the
recent growing international focus on invoking these
human rights obligations, particularly when it comes to
the plight of women in Iran. Women's groups around the
world can follow suit.
The message coming from inside of Iran is to continue the pressure on the regime. The fact remains that the threat against Sakineh, and thousands of other women in prison has not diminished, yet the international campaign in their defense, has exposed the undeniable and growing vulnerability of the misogynist regime in Tehran because it can no longer hide its crimes against women. The brave men and women who continue to legally, politically, and socially challenge this regime are encouraged to see their effort results in greater awareness and effective action by other countries. Iranians are counting on the added pressure by the international community.
E-Zan Featured Headlines
Reuters News Agency – July 18, 2010
Iran's prosecutor called on Sunday for tighter checks on women who fail to observe Islamic dress code in public, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported. Under Iran's Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment. "Unfortunately the law ... which considers violation of the Islamic dress code as a punishable crime, has not been implemented in the country in the past 15 years," said general prosecutor Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei.
"Under the law, violators of public chastity should be punished by being sentenced to up to two months in jail or 74 lashes." Strict dress codes were enforced in the years after the revolution but in recent years clamp downs have tended to last just weeks or months in summer, when women wear lighter clothing such as calf-length trousers and colored scarves. Young women in urban areas often defy the limitations by wearing tight clothing and colorful headscarves that barely cover their hair. The codes are less commonly flouted in rural regions. Enforcement of codes governing women's dress have become stricter since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, promising a return to the values of the revolution. The president's hardline supporters, who say Islamic attire helps protect women against the sex symbol status they have in the West, have pressed for tighter controls on "immoral behavior." "It is up to the judge to decide whether to punish violators by only fining them," said Mohseni-Ejei.
NCRI Website-July 18, 2010
A regime-affiliated cleric confessed to the Iranian women’s resistance against the regime’s agents on Wednesday, suggesting that suppressing women under the guise of “mal-veiling” is fruitless, according to the state-run Tabnak website. Makaram Shirazi said, “Dealing with mal-veiling through harsh methods is not effective.” He added, “A cultural program and raising awareness is the most effective way in this regard.” He also pointed to the Iranian women’s resistance against the regime’s misogynist policies, saying, “Calls for free clothing come from western-influenced individuals. Officials must focus their energy on fighting mal-veiling so that they do not get blamed by people for having shortcomings or defending liberal ethics.” Shirazi also said, “Free veiling, freedom to drink alcohol, prostitution, usury and other sins would create a situation wherein an Islamic society cannot exist.”
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – July 21, 2010
Iranian Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi says the spread of HIV/AIDS is increasingly being spread in Iran through sexual contact, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports. Dastjerdi said on July 18 that HIV/AIDS in Iran used to be transmitted primarily through contaminated blood transfusions and the use of dirty needles by drug addicts. Shahla Ezazi, a Tehran-based member of the Iranian Sociological Association, told Radio Farda the same day that she agreed with Dastjerdi's statement. But she added that although there were contradictory statistics about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Iran, "what is certain is that the number of identified HIV-infected Iranians has increased." The Health and Medical Education Ministry announced in September 2009 that there were 20,130 HIV/AIDS cases in Iran. Both HIV/AIDS and prostitution are controversial subjects in the Islamic republic. Ezazi said prostitution in Iran, at least in Tehran, had increased and was not being controlled. She said that since prostitution was prohibited in Iran, either providing HIV/AIDS education to prostitutes or placing them under medical control was unlikely to occur. "If these women go to the authorities, they will be put in jail before getting educated or being examined," she said. But Ezazi said everyone, not just prostitutes, should be educated about HIV/AIDS prevention.
Eurasia News, July 24, 2010
An Iranian appellate court approved the nine and a half year prison sentence for Bahareh Hedayat, executive member of Iranian student organization, Consolidation Bureau today. In her preliminary court, Bahareh Hedayat was sentenced to five years in prison for “assembly and collusion against the regime”, two years for “insulting the leadership” and another six months for “insulting the president and advertising against the regime.” She also had a two year suspended prison term from four years ago for organizing a demonstration on June 12. Hedayat, who is also a member of the One Million Signatures Campaign to change discriminatory laws against Iranian women, was arrested last December and is currently in women’s section of Evin Prison. Furthermore, Daneshjoo news also reported today that Milad Asadi , another executive member of the Consolidation Bureau also received a final decision from the appellate court today sentencing him to seven and a half year in prison. Asadi is also accused of "assembly and propaganda against the regime as well as insulting the leadership." Daneshjoo news notes that these are the heaviest sentences given to student activists in the post-election events.
The Associated Press – July 27, 2010
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a new policy on Tuesday to encourage population growth, dismissing Iran's decades of internationally-acclaimed family planning as ungodly and a Western import. The new government initiative will pay families for every new child and deposit money into the newborn's bank account until they reach 18, effectively rolling back years of efforts to boost the economy by reducing the country's once runaway population growth. "Those who raise idea of family planning, they are thinking in the realm of the secular world," Ahmadinejad said during the inauguration ceremony. The plan is part of Ahmadinejad's stated commitment to further increase Iran's population, which is already estimated at 75 million. He has previously said the country could support up to 150 million. The program would be especially attractive to the lower income segments of the population formed the backbone of Ahmadinejad's support in the 2005 and 2009 elections.
BBC News – August 1, 2010
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered to provide refuge to a woman facing execution in Iran. President Lula asked Iran to allow Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani to accept the offer. Ms Ashtiani's case prompted international outrage when she was initially sentenced to death by stoning. Although that threat was apparently lifted last month, she may still face execution by hanging. "I call on...Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to permit Brazil to grant asylum to this woman," Mr Lula said at a campaign rally for his party's presidential candidate. "If she is causing problems there, we will welcome her here," he added.
Rueters News Agency – August 3, 2010
Iran on Tuesday rejected an offer by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to give asylum to an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The sentence imposed on Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for an extra-marital relationship, which she denies, has angered human rights groups and caused an international outcry. "From what we know about Mr. da Silva, he has a humane and sensitive character and probably he has not been provided with enough information," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told a news conference. "We can give details of this person's crimes, who has been convicted, and then I think the issue will be clarified for him," Mehmanparast said.
The Atlantic- August 3, 2010
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's declaration that music is "not compatible" with the Islamic Republic has been rightly described as an expression of Khamenei's long-held mistrust of Western cultural influence, but the ruling is about more than just his dislike of music. His statement, which will be interpreted by state institutions as law, is likely designed to distract citizens from more substantive political and economic concerns. As Iranians react to a now-inevitable slate of anti-music laws -- especially likely, given the country's disproportionately young population -- they will be less focused on the country's long-worsening economy and tightening police state. After all, Iranians have seen this strategy before. The regime has used similar tactics in tightening the country's infamous regulations on clothing requirement for women.
Eurasia Review – August 6, 2010
Iranian hardliners continue their attack on women with the recent statements of Ahmad Khatami, expressing concern over the comportment of women at the country’s beaches and their cycling in public places. The Leader of Tehran’s Friday Mass Prayers also protested the presence of women alongside men in orchestras playing at festivals and events. Fars news agency published a number of photos of a musical orchestra at an Iranian state gathering abroad with men and women playing music side by side. Ahmad Khatami maintained that his statements are not in opposition to the government’s recent stance but a reminder to the "religious public" that the government, like themselves, is concerned with the issue of “bad veiling.”
United Press International – August 7, 2010
An Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning says Tehran is trying to confuse the media so it can execute her in secret. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani said in a Guardian article published Saturday Iranian authorities are lying about charges against her and that she did not kill her husband. Ashtiani, 43, was originally sentenced to die by stoning for having an affair, but the method of execution was changed to hanging because of a large public outcry, the paper said. "They're lying. They are embarrassed by the international attention on my case and they are desperately trying to distract attention and confuse the media so that they can kill me in secret," the woman told the paper in an interview conducted through an unnamed intermediary.
Reuters News Agency – August 8, 2010
An Iranian court has sentenced seven leaders of the Bahai faith to 20 years in prison, two Bahai activists said Monday. The Iranian news media reported in January that the leaders, who were arrested in 2008, had been tried on charges of spying and collaborating with Israel. The defendants, five men and two women, deny the charges, the activists said, and are likely to appeal the decision.
NCRI Website – August 9, 2010
A spontaneous protest in Tehran on Sunday successfully prevented the arrest of a woman by the Iranian regime’s suppressive forces. According to obtained reports, during a city services exhibit in Tehran, agents of the State Security Forces (SSF) harassed a mother who was walking with her young daughter. The SSF agents then sought to arrest the woman under the pretext of “mal-veiling,” but she resisted and a verbal clash ensued. The vocal dispute attracted the attention of bystanders who quickly formed a spontaneous protest forcing the suppressive agents to release the innocent woman. Recently, other cases have been reported in Iran where people stand up to the regime’s suppressive forces who harass women for “mal-veiling” and prevent arrests.
Rahana- August 10, 2010
On August 4th, reports surfaced that Farah Vazehan was sentenced to 15 years in prison. However, a reliable source has told RAHANA that her sentence is actually death. The anonymous source told RAHANA that Vazehan’s family has not informed her that she is sentenced to death to prevent her from worrying. Salavati from branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court is the presiding judge on the case that is still open for appeal. Farah Vazehan was arrested on December 29, 2009 (two days after the Ashura protest). She is currently detained in the general women’s ward of Evin prison. Vazehan was charged with participating in street protests and Moharebeh (waging war against God) by cooperating with the PMOI. She was living abroad for many years and came back to Iran because her 19 year old daughter who is diagnosed with cancer was receiving chemotherapy treatment. Following the Ashura protests, hundreds of people were detained and many received heavy sentences. Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution declares freedom of assembly, “provided arms are not carried” and the assemblies “are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam”.
The Associated Press – August 12, 2010
Iranian state television has broadcast a purported confession by an Iranian woman who had faced death by stoning for adultery, a case that has drawn statements of concern by the U.S. administration. The stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was commuted last month after international outrage over the brutality of the punishment, but she still faces a possible death sentence by other means. A woman identified as Ashtiani said in the interview broadcast late Wednesday that she was an unwitting accomplice to her husband's murder. The woman's face was blurred and her words were voiced over in what the TV report said was a translation into Farsi from Azeri Turkish, which is spoken in parts of Iran.
Agence France Press- August 12, 2010
A lawyer for an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning in the Islamic republic told a British newspaper she was tortured before confessing on state television to involvement in her husband's murder. Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani's lawyer told The Guardian newspaper on Thursday that his client, a 43-year-old mother of two, was forced to give the interview, recorded in Tabriz prison where she has been held for the past four years. "She was severely beaten up and tortured until she accepted to appear in front of camera," lawyer Houtan Kian said on the newspaper's website. The lawyer said he feared the Iranian authorities would act quickly to carry out the death sentence, which was reportedly commuted to hanging after an international outcry against her sentencing last month. The Guardian gave no details of where the lawyer was speaking.Another of her lawyers, Mohammad Mostafaie, fled Iran this month and is now in Norway after Iranian officials issued an arrest warrant for him and detained his wife. He said Thursday that the television programme Mohammadi-Ashtiani had appeared on was designed to "justify the actions of those who abuse their power". "In my opinion this programme is produced by the security apparatus, particularly the ministry of information. They broadcast mostly lies and misinformation," Mostafaie told BBC television. "I know that she said those things under duress." The sentence against Mohammadi-Ashtiani was initially for "having an illicit relationship outside marriage," which drew condemnation from many countries.
The Independent – August 13, 2010
Alarm over the plight of an Iranian mother-of-two, who had been sentenced to death by stoning following a conviction for adultery, was reignited yesterday after she unexpectedly appeared on state television seemingly implicating herself in the murder of her husband. The Foreign Office said it was "appalled" by the broadcast, and deeply concerned by the claim of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's defence lawyer that the 43-year-old's "confession" was forced out of her after she had been tortured in prison in Tabriz where she was being held. Amnesty International was among those challenging Iran over the television appearance, during which her words spoken in Azeri were dubbed over by a Farsi-speaking interpreter, and her face was partially obscured, making it impossible to determine if it was really Ms Ashtiani. "This so-called confession forms part of a growing catalogue of other forced confessions and self-incriminating statements made by many detainees in the past year," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East deputy director.
The NCRI Website – August 15, 2010
The General Union of Palestinian Women for Social Work, which has over 30,000 members and is considered as one of the most prominent and popular women unions in the Middle East, has issued a statement condemning the clerical regime’s executions and crimes against Iranian women. The committee, which is chaired by Ms. Rabiheh Ziab, Minister of the Palestinian Authority in Women’s Affairs and a member of Parliament, said in its statement, “Women in Iran have stood up against the misogynist clerical regime and persevered by saying ‘no’ to it.” The statement also mentioned the female residents of Camp Ashraf. “The presence of 1,000 persevering women in Ashraf City, where 3,400 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) reside, shows that these women have advanced a cumbersome struggle against the ruling regime in Iran for more than two decades. This is one of the best criteria to show the competence of the Iranian women to obtain freedom and equality.” More than 400 members of the union, who signed the statement of solidarity with women of the uprising and 1,000 PMOI women in Ashraf, called on the United Nations to assume the protection of Ashraf and demanded from the Iraqi government to lift its siege on the camp and implement the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the rights of the residents. The signatories started their statement by remembering Neda Aqa Soltan, the young woman who was killed by suppressive forces in June 2009 during a peaceful rally in Tehran, and urged human rights organizations in the world to condemn the Iranian regime’s suppressive policies, especially against Iranian women. The General Union of Palestinian Women for Social Work, which is an independent organization, was founded in 1981. The Ramallah-based organization is comprised of dozens of women’s associations and institutions and has dozens of offices in various Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps, including the West Bank, al-Khalil, Tulkarm, Nablus, and Gaza.
E-Zan Featured Reports
Iran’s Medival Justice System
By Ilan Berman
July 16, 2010
The Wall Street Journal
For years now, Sakineh Ashtiani has been incarcerated in an Iranian prison, sentenced to death by stoning for the "crime" of adultery. Until earlier this month, the case of the 43-year-old mother of two was known only to the select few who have been following her sad fate at the hands of the Islamic Republic. Today, however, her name has become a rallying cry to end the mullahs' suppression of human—and particularly women's—rights.
A widow living in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz, Mrs. Ashtiani was jailed in 2005 for adultery. She was convicted the following year of having "illicit relationships" with two men following the death of her husband, and received 100 lashes, the punishment Islam stipulates for sexual relations outside of marriage. Mrs. Ashtiani's ordeal did not end there. Her case was reopened in 2007, and new, graver charges of adultery while in wedlock were added. She was convicted once again, and this time sentenced to death by public stoning.
Instituted in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, the medieval practice entails the partial burial of offenders and their subsequent death at the hands of bystanders hurling rocks. Accurate statistics are nearly impossible to come by, but human rights activists estimate that between 1979 and 1997 an average of 10 people were killed annually in this way by the regime. In 2002, the Iranian judiciary proposed a formal moratorium on the punishment, but it continues to be meted out at the discretion of individual judges. Currently, eight men and three women—including Mrs. Ashtiani—are said to be awaiting the gruesome penalty.
Only a growing outcry from international human rights groups and foreign leaders prompted the Iranian government over the weekend to stay Mrs. Ashtiani's execution, which was scheduled for later this month. At least for the moment, her case has been placed "under review" on humanitarian grounds.
Iranian officials have struck a defiant tone throughout the incident. "Whenever the judiciary chief deems it expedient, the verdict will be carried out regardless of Western media propaganda," one regional judiciary head said Sunday. The danger is that Mrs. Ashtiani's reprieve may be only temporary. Her sentence could still be carried out at a later time or in a fashion deemed less offensive to the international community.
And just yesterday, Israeli website Ynet reported that an Iranian court had sentenced two more women to death by stoning for adultery. Maryam Ghorbanzadeh, who is pregnant and Azhar Bakri, 19, who was 15 at the time of her alleged "crime."
Still, Tehran's decision to stay Mrs. Ashtiani's stoning is significant. It suggests that Iran—beset by economic sanctions over its nuclear program and desperate for international validation of its place as a global power—is susceptible to external pressure over its human rights practices.
The echoes of the Cold War are unmistakable. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. altered the way the Soviet Union treated its own population by leveraging the free market. That initiative—dubbed "Jackson-Vanik" after its two main cosponsors, Democratic Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson and Democratic Rep. Charles Vanik—linked most-favored-nation trading status for the Soviet Union to a liberalization of Moscow's emigration policies. Eager to engage in commerce with the West, the Kremlin loosened restrictions on travel, granting freedom to a generation of Soviet dissidents. In the process, it laid the groundwork for glasnost, perestroika, and the fall of the Soviet Union itself.
Can the same be accomplished with Iran? It's still too early to tell. But Mrs. Ashtiani's case suggests that the international community has more leverage over Iran's internal conduct than commonly assumed. It is up to the West to use that opening wisely, to craft a human rights policy that rolls back repression within the Islamic Republic. Sakineh Ashtiani, Maryam Ghorbanzadeh, Azhar Bakri and other victims of Iranian "justice" deserve no less.
Do Not Ignore the Policy of Hostage Taking and Revenge
Letter By Shadi Sadr
Women Living Under Muslim Law
July 28, 2010
Honourable Chair of Iran Bar Association, Honourable members of the management committee,
You are aware that on Saturday July 24, 2010, security forces invaded the offices of Mr. Mohammad Mostafaei, one of the most active human rights lawyers in Iran, but could not find him. A few hours later they arrested his wife and brother-in-law in front of his office and took them to Evin prison. The Evin investigator at the Revolutionary Court told Mostafaei’s family that they will stay in prison until Mr. Mostafaei turns himself in. Meanwhile, state TV aired a report that announced that those who brought the stoning case (of Mrs. Sakineh Mohammadi) to the attention of the world are considered terrorists and monafegh (which in the literature of IRI means membership in the People’s Mujahedin Orgainzation of Iran). Mrs. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43 year old mother of two from the city of Orumiyeh, was under the sentence of death by stoning. The stoning sentence was dropped because of widespread international pressure. Mr. Mostafaei, Sakineh’s attorney, who had tried all possible roads but to no avail, was the first person to bring this case to the world’s attention.Therefore, it appears that the legal-security system, while forced to stop carrying out the stoning sentence, is hell bent on taking revenge on Mr. Mostafaei based on some trumped up charges. Since they were unable to find him, they arrested his wife and brother-in-law. Not only is the evidence against Mr. Mostafaei questionable but there is [also] no evidence that his wife and his brother-in-law had any role in Mostafaei’s disappearance. On the contrary, details of the events on Saturday point to the opposite. This is not the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the family of a civil activist was taken hostage. The policy of oppression of activists by pressuring their family members via different forms, from threatening them to extracting ‘confessions’ through torture, has been used brutally in the past few years. In one of the recent cases, the husband of Mrs. Shirin Ebadi, a member of the Bar Association of Iran, human rights activist, and Nobel Laureate, was forced to speak against his wife on camera after several days of incarceration. It is five days now that Mr. Mostafaei’s wife, Fereshteh Halimi, and his brother-in-law, Mr. Farhad Halimi, are incarcerated. Their only crime is being related to Mr. Mostafaei. And his only crime was that he carried out his duties as a lawyer; to defend under-age [people], those sentenced to death by stoning, and political prisoners. Now, the seven year old daughter of Mohammad Mostafaei and Fereshteh Halimi is deprived of her parents. I knew Mohammad Mostafaei from the time when we collaborated on the cases of women sentenced to stoning, like Nazanin Fatehi. He was one of the active members of a network of volunteer lawyers in the ‘Campaign for Law without Stoning’. The campaign succeeded to save the lives of at least nine women and two men in less than two years and was influential in removing death by stoning from the Islamic Penal Code in Iran. In March 2007, when I and 32 other women’s rights activists were arrested, Mohammad Mostafaei took on my case. At that time, the Management Committee of the Bar Association wrote a very effective letter to the Judiciary in protest to my arrest [that occurred from] defending a client. Defending the rights of lawyers to carry out their duties is one of the most basic charges of the Bar Association and the main Reason D’etre for establishing it to be the oldest civil law entity in Iran. Therefore, as a lawyer, a member of the Central Court lawyers, also as a client and defendant, I urge you, who lead this oldest civil law society in Iran, to not remain silent on state kidnap and retaliation. At this moment a member of this Bar, whose only crime is defending his client and the rights of the vulnerable, is, together with his family, under intense pressure. Your silence on this matter not only means failure to discharge your duty of care of lawyers but also questions your independence from the judicial-security system. It is time that every one of us acts against the policy of state hostage taking and retaliation. If we do not act against this policy, whose victims today are Shirin Ebadi and Mohammad Mostafaei, it will attack every single one of us tomorrow.
Iran’s leadership guilty of crimes against humanity
July 28, 2010 [original date June 8, 2010]
Report by Geoffrey Robertson- UN jurist
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, recent presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi, and a number of sitting and retired judges and officials, including former head of the Supreme Court, Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili, are all liable to arrest under international law for complicity in the murder of thousands of political prisoners at the end of the Iran/Iraq War. This is the conclusion of a 145-page report by Geoffrey Robertson QC, who urges the Security Council to set up a special court, along the lines of the International Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to try these men “for one of the worst single human rights atrocities since the Second World War”.
The report concludes that the leaders were guilty of implementing a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in July 1988, which sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death without a trial. At Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison and twenty other prisons throughout Iran, dissidents who had previously been sentenced to various prison terms and had refused to recant their religious beliefs were blindfolded and paraded before judges who directed thousands to the gallows. “They were hung from cranes, four at a time, or in groups of six from ropes hanging from the stage of the prison assembly hall. Their bodies were doused with disinfectant, packed in refrigerated trucks, and buried by night in mass graves, the locations of which are still withheld from their families.”
Mr Robertson concludes that the leaders of Iran planned for this “final solution” when it became clear that they would have to accept a truce with Iraq. Death committees (a religious judge, a prosecutor and an intelligence official) were sent to prisons to arrange the extermination of steadfast sympathizers of Mojahedin Khalq Organization. Then came the turn of the Marxists and atheists who were born in Muslim families and were declared apostates. The men were hanged and the women were tortured until they repented.
The evidence set out in the report shows that the victims were killed because of their beliefs about religion – because they were atheists or because they were Muslims who opposed the Ayatollah’s version of Islam (the “Guardianship of the Jurist”) that had been adopted by the theocratic state. Mr Robertson points out that the crime of genocide includes the destruction of groups because of their religious beliefs or non-beliefs and that those who implemented the fatwa, which directed the extermination of prisoners because of their different religious beliefs, were committing genocide. The significance of this finding is that it would give the international community a legal basis for arresting many of the present leadership of Iran.
The report uncovers official statements justifying the slaughter and identifies those present leaders who are suspected of participating in its implementation and cover-up. The best known are the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Commander of the Armed Forces at the time, who would have dispatched the killing squads. The report uncovers hitherto unknown statements by Mir Hossein Moussavi justifying the action, the then Prime Minister and now one of the leaders of the reform movement. Mr Robertson says “he has not given any account of his role at the time, or his reaction to it today, although he is frequently asked. His statements at the time were part of the cover-up”.
Mr. Robertson names other currently powerful judges as being complicit in the killings. He says that the scale and cold-bloodedness of these killings, and the fact that they were carefully planned, makes them of greater infamy that the slaughter at Srebrenica and the allied prisoner death marches by Japan at the end of World War II.
The report accuses Tehran of continuing to deny relatives of the victims their right to know where their loved ones are buried. Some months after they were killed, the families were given plastic bags containing their belongings, but were refused all information about their burial places. The location of mass graves has been established in Tehran’s cemetery area, but attempts by families to gather there to mourn on anniversaries of the massacre have been dispersed by the authorities.
The situation in Iran today, the report argues, illustrates the consequences of impunity for crimes against humanity that have never been properly investigated or acknowledged. Some of the leaders who engaged in such a level of lawlessness and barbarity against their own people and their acolytes remain in powerful positions in the judiciary and the state, whose Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has in the past year called upon the Revolutionary Guards to use violence against peaceful protests. “Those staged television show trials of the 1980s, with televised ‘confessions’ by leftist prisoners wracked by torture and fear for their families, writes Geoffrey Robertson, re-emerged in 2009, this time featuring ‘Green Movement’ reformists confessing to participation in an international conspiracy. Once again, dissidents are being prosecuted for being moharebs (“warriors against God”) and some are being sentenced to death”.
Mr Robertson argues that the Security Council has the power and the duty to set up a special court to prosecute those responsible for the massacre “because there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity”.
The inquiry was conducted for the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, an NGO concerned with human rights and democracy in Iran.
The New York Times
Mistaken as an Iranian martyr, then hounded
By Souad Mekhennet
August 1, 2010
Zahra Soltani, whom everyone calls Neda, will never forget the day she saw her death announced on television, accompanied by the picture she had posted on her Facebook page. “They said that I was killed during the protests against the presidential elections,” she said, shaking her head.
In fact, it was another Iranian woman with a similar appearance and name, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot and killed during a demonstration in Tehran in June 2009. Her death was captured on video and posted on the Internet, becoming a symbol of the fight against the repressive government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Soon, Ms. Soltani said, she found herself swept up in the government’s efforts to counter any suggestion that its security forces had been involved in the shooting — and to deny that the woman in the video had died. Iranian intelligence officials, Ms. Soltani said, pressured her to come forward publicly to show that she was alive and denounce the shooting as faked, and threatened her when she did not comply.
Before the demonstration, Ms. Soltani, a 33-year-old English-literature teacher at a campus of Islamic Azad University who had not been active in politics, had been preparing for a presentation at a conference in Greece. Just days after the protest march, she fled Iran, ending up as a refugee in Germany, where she was granted political asylum in March after the authorities investigated her story.
“I never planned to leave my country and my family, but I was forced to,” Ms. Soltani said. She consented to an interview, her first with an English-language media organization, on the condition that some details about her new life be concealed because she fears the Iranian security services.The upheaval in Ms. Soltani’s life began on June 20, 2009, when a video appeared on YouTube showing a young dark-haired woman who was shot during the demonstration. As she lay dying, with blood running from her mouth, an older man (some reports said it was her father, other said it was her music teacher) shouted the name “Neda.”
Journalists worldwide tried to find out who the dying woman was; the video image of her was not entirely clear, and she was wearing a veil. At some point she was identified as Neda Agha-Soltan or Neda Soltan, a 26-year-old student at the Tehran campus of Islamic Azad University, the school with which Ms. Soltani was affiliated.
Someone came across Ms. Soltani’s profile on Facebook under the name Neda Soltani and copied her photo, which soon appeared all over the world in newspapers and television broadcasts and on Web sites. “I was very surprised, when I opened my e-mail account on June 21 and found over 60 people from all over the world who had added me on Facebook” as a friend, Ms. Soltani said. That number kept growing, puzzling Ms. Soltani and her mother, until they saw her picture on television, cast as a victim of Iranian security forces.
She said she and her friends started to contact media outlets to tell them that she was not the woman in the YouTube video. Even when the family of the slain woman released photos of her on June 23, Ms. Soltani’s pictures were still used in news reports and on Web sites.
By June 24, the Iranian intelligence service started looking for her, Ms. Soltani said. Panicked, she contacted Amnesty International in London. “She was very afraid and scared and did not know what to do,” said Ann Harrison, a researcher on Iran for Amnesty International. “She came across as a person who was not involved in politics, who used to have a quiet life.”
The group, which considers Ms. Soltani’s account credible, later published a report about the repression of dissent in Iran; in a section on the case of Neda Agha-Soltan, it mentioned the fact that the photo had been used in error. A report on the mix-up also appeared on a BBC blog.
Agents from the intelligence service picked her up from her home outside Tehran and took her for questioning, Ms. Soltani said.
“They asked me to say on camera that I was still alive and that the Greek Embassy in Tehran had leaked my picture to the media and that the story was wrong,” Ms. Soltani said. (Her Facebook picture was identical to the one that she had given to the embassy weeks before in seeking a visa to the academic conference.)
“They wanted to use me to denounce Neda’s death,” she said. “They wanted to draw attention to me to show the world, look this is a lie.” They also wanted her to blame conspirators from the West for the episode. Ms. Soltani said that some of the men, who were armed, threatened her. “They said it would be better for my safety if I did what they wanted me to do,” she said.
They picked her up and continued to press her in another session several days later, Ms. Soltani said. Ms. Harrison of Amnesty International said Ms. Soltani’s description of her interrogation was consistent with others they had received. “There is a long practice of the Iranian authorities coercing people to make videotaped ‘confessions’ or statements — which are sometimes shown on national TV or sometimes are held in reserve as a means of maintaining pressure on an individual,” she said.
Finally, on July 1, the intelligence service confronted Ms. Soltani about the phone calls that she had made to Western countries — to media outlets, friends she had enlisted for help, and Amnesty International — and accused her of spying, she said.
The next day, Ms. Soltani fled Iran. “All I had was my rucksack, my laptop and a small handbag,” she said. She stayed in Turkey for nine days, then traveled to Greece and on to Germany, where she arrived in mid-July 2009. A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Germany disputed Ms. Soltani’s story, but declined to comment further. Enrico Manthey, a spokesman for the federal office for migration and refugees, said the German government was persuaded by Ms. Soltani’s account. “If we wouldn’t have believed that what she has told us was true and accurate, we would not have granted her political asylum,” Mr. Manthey said. “We do have our own sources to check if a story might be true or not.”
Ms. Soltani, who is living in a town outside Frankfurt, is unemployed and looking for work. She said she missed her family and her life as a teacher. “I am very homesick,” she said. “I used to have a good life until the nightmare started.” And she is still haunted by the mistake about her identity — her photo routinely appears in news reports and on Web sites with reports about the death of Neda Agha-Soltan. “Both sides have destroyed my life, the Western media and the Iranian intelligence,” said Ms. Soltani, staring out the window of her apartment. “But I still have the hope that at least the media will realize what they have done.”
Wall Street Journal
Iran’s 7th Century Justice
By Shirin Ebadi
August 5, 2010
The harrowing case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani—a mother of two sentenced to stoning by an Iranian court for adultery—has rightfully drawn attention to Iran's draconian penal code, which reserves its cruelest punishments for women. Even Tehran's new political ally, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, has been roused into action, publicly offering Ms. Ashtiani asylum in his country.
Iran has yet to respond formally, and a foreign leader can have no direct bearing on a domestic legal proceeding. But the intervention—a direct appeal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—demonstrates that the Islamic Republic's human rights record can't be divorced from its nuclear diplomacy. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, in the years when I worked as a judge in Iran, consensual sexual relations between adults did not figure in the country's criminal code. But the revolution enacted a version of Islamic law extraordinarily harsh even by the standards of the Muslim world. Under the new regime, extramarital sex was a crime punishable by law. The punishment for a single man or woman guilty of sex outside marriage became 100 lashes; under Article 86, the punishment for a married person became death by stoning.
On the face of things, stoning is not a gender-specific punishment, for the law stipulates that adulterous men face the same brutal end. But Iranian law permits polygamy, so it offers men an escape route. Because Iranian law recognizes "marriages" of even a few hours between men and single women, men can claim that their adulterous relationships are in fact temporary marriages. By exploiting this escape clause, men are rarely sentenced to stoning. Married women accused of adultery have access to no such reprieve.
Iran's legal codes are studded with inconsistencies and vagaries that make due process virtually impossible. For example, if a man or woman commits adultery while being denied sexual access to a spouse due to travel or other prolonged separation, 100 lashes suffice as punishment. But the law does not specify the duration of acceptable separation, so judges are left with discretion over whether to lash adulterers or stone them.
Stoning can also be reduced to lashes when a married woman has sex with a minor. (Iranian law considers the age of maturation for girls nine, and for boys 15.) Thus a married woman who commits adultery with a 40-year-old man must be sentenced to stoning, but one who commits the same act with a 15-year-old—taking sexual advantage of a minor—is accorded a legal break.
Iranian judges can hand down a stoning verdict without the testimony of a personal plaintiff; if it can be proven that a man or woman has committed adultery, the transgressor can be stoned even if the betrayed spouse offers his or her forgiveness.
Article 105 of the penal code, meanwhile, enables a judge to sentence an adulterer to stoning based only on his "knowledge." As such, a judge can sentence a woman simply based on her husband's complaint. These glaring lapses are only the most obvious reasons why Iran must reconsider its practice of such an ancient punishment, which most Islamic countries long ago discarded in their quest to harmonize Islam with modern norms. Stoning has long been criticized by Islamic jurists, most notably the Iranian Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei. These jurists believe that such punishment was meted out during Islam's early history—in the 7th-century desert of Saudi Arabia—in accordance with the customs of the time. But the Koran makes no mention of stoning, jurists note, so lighter punishments such as imprisonment or fine can be considered. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been indifferent to such arguments—and to the outcry of lawyers and activists. Perhaps chastisement from a powerful ally like Brazil will force Tehran to consider whether its adherence to such practices serves its national interests.
Iran tries to limit international knowledge of its brutality by not announcing stoning verdicts publicly. Only slowly and by word of mouth do stoning cases make their way to media in Iran and sometimes elsewhere. A year and a half ago, Iranian media reported that a man was executed by stoning in the city of Qazvin. We cannot know how many Iranians have been killed by such punishment in the past three decades. Sakineh Ashtiani may become one more. Others are in her position, but how many, no one knows.
Nora Shourd and Iran Mother’s of Conscience
By Elahe Amani and Lys Anzia
Women News Network
August 10, 2010
Outside the prison walls of ward 350, in the IRI – Islamic Republic of Iran’s Evin Prison, a group of brave demonstrators hold placards and pictures of their loved ones who are part of a hunger strike. The demonstrators are mostly women – Iranian mothers, family and friends who have chosen to publicaly defend the rights and dignity of those incarcerated. As the days of the hunger strike continue, some of the prisoners have chosen to go without water. This is a dangerous proposition, but the stakes are critical. The treatment of prisoners in the IRI desperately needs greater humanity and reform.
The strongest human advocates many prisoners of conscience in the IRI have is the silent presence of the women who sit outside the solid doors of the prison for hours on their daily vigil. Many are mothers. Others are wives or sisters. Some are fathers, uncles, cousins and supportive friends. But one common goal is shared among them all. To gain the release of their loved ones. “We requested a visit with the prosecutor some time ago, but have received no response,” said, Shahrzad Kariman, in an interview with Change for Equality, about prison conditions for her daughter, legal rights defender Shiva Nazar Ahari. “We have also requested an in person visit with our daughter in prison, on three occasions, but those requests have had no response either,” continued Shiva’s mother. “Currently we are able to visit with Shiva once a week but from behind a glass cabinet. It has been a long time since we had an in person visit with Shiva. I don’t know why the prosecutor does not allow us to have an in person visit with our loved one.”
Mothers of activists who have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or have suffered enforced disappearance are often left with immense grief and an unending sense of loss and desperation. Daring to speak out against government officials and leaders in their regions, they often suffer themselves from legal backlash and arbitrary arrests as threats to their imprisoned adult children and/or their families increase. “Every minute I grieve for my daughter. I yearn to have her with me,” said Nora Shourd, mother of imprisoned U.S. hiker Sarah Shourd, in a recent one-on-one interview with U.S. based Iranian peace activist and journalist, Elahe Amani, for Women News Network (WNN). During the interview Elahe and Nora talked about both their daughters who share the same age. Both are thirty-one years old. One is of Iranian descent, the other American. Both are graduates of the University of California Berkeley. Both are defenders of human rights.
Is It Possible Not to Be Worried?“Is it possible not to be worried?,” said Shahrzad Kariman, the mother of Iranian imprisoned human rights activist advocate Ms. Shiva Nazar Ahari, in a recent interview with International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. On the night of her daughter’s arrest Ahari’s mother describes the emotional torture of a mother who was also dealing with family health issues when she was told of the arrest of her child. “Her father and I were in very bad shape that night,” says Kariman describing the arrest of her daughter. “Her father had open heart surgery and was ordered to remain in a stable mental state. I was undergoing chemotherapy. They took our child from the day of her arrest on 14 June, 2009,” she continued.“We were unable to have any news on her for 25 days,” added Shahrzad Kariman. “We went everywhere we could think of, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office. Many people had been detained and wherever I went there was a flood of people, just like myself, who didn’t know where their children were.” “I went to Evin prison every week,” continued Shiva’s mother. “But each time they told me that Shiva was not allowed to have any visitors. She called me (from Evin Prison) 25 days after her arrest saying: ‘I’m well, Mom. Don’t worry about me. I am in solitary confinement in Ward 209.’” On June 12, 2010, Shiva celebrated her birthday behind bars. “She is celebrating her 26th birthday in Evin Prison today – a name synonymous with the system of injustice that prevails in Iran. Colleagues and I will be remembering Shiva on her special day with a cake and birthday wishes,” said Ann Harrison, East Gulf researcher for Amnesty International. Shiva’s mother is still waiting for her release.
Does Truth Matter? “Families of disappeared persons (in Iran) seeking information from the authorities have been shown albums of photographs of the dead reportedly containing hundreds of photographs,” said a September 2009 Campaign Report on Human Rights by the International Campaign for Human Rights Iran. “Some have reported seeing “hundreds” of corpses in makeshift morgues,” continues the report. “Many bodies were reportedly buried in anonymous graves in Behesht Zahra cemetery overnight.” Does truth matter to the leadership in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran? Truth is something Sara Shourd’s mother, Nora, wants to share with the world. “When Sarah, Shane and Josh were arrested it was not friendly,” continued Nora in her interview with Elahe Amani. “The border guards gestured for them to come over,” she continued, “fired shots and then came across and arrested them. Not friendly at all, (those) men with guns.” Mothers and family members are often the only public voice of advocacy a political prisoner has left when legal representation is cut off and communication with prisoners is limited. The voice of a family member often takes the place of a prisoner who needs to report health conditions, or share unknown facts in their case. On a recent campaign by the Mourning Mothers of Iran, a “truth-seeking commission” was suggested to be made up of “Iranian citizens and human-rights activists” to bring public transparency to investigations in the IRI cases of torture, death and cover-up of three Iranian students who were arrested and sent to their deaths in the notorious Kahrizak Detention Center in Tehran. This is not the first time claims of crimes against humanity have surfaced connected to events at Kahrizak. Amid many rumors of torture and death at Kahrizak Detention Center, Ramin Pourandarjani, a 26 year old Iranian physician working once a week at Kahrizak Detention Center to complete his military service, was discovered dead, under “mysterious circumstances,” by his father after being called to Tehran police headquarters, November 10, 2009. “Dr. Pourandarjani had been interviewed by a special parliamentary committee charged with investigating allegations of abuses during the post-election unrest. Before his death he reportedly received threats to prevent him from revealing the abuses he had witnessed at Kahrizak,” said a joint November 25, 2009, letter to the IRI Office of the Tehran Prosecutor, by Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “He (Dr. Pourandarjani) had also reportedly been forced to certify that one detainee had died of meningitis,” continued the letter. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture & other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment mentioned the ethical responsibility of doctors and health workers in a formal statement to the United Nations in 2006. “I take this opportunity to call upon medical doctors and other health professionals to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations towards torture survivors, including the obligation to document and report instances of torture and political violence,” he said. “I have to say that I am really concerned about the situation (in Iran),” said Special Rapporteur Nowak, in a March 11, 2010 statement to Radio Free Europe. Nowak is also in favor of the closure of the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo. In July 2010, IRI Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the Kahrizak detention center to be permanently closed down.
A Mother’s Bravery on Human Rights
When the Mourning Mothers of Iran (Mothers of Laleh) went to protest the deaths of their adult children in public at Laleh Park in Tehran on a Saturday afternoon, January 10, 2010, they were arrested immediately and taken to Vozara Detention Center. In all, thirty-three mothers were placed in detention. Reports of harsh handling by the police was confirmed when nine of the Mothers were taken to two separate hospitals. Later, the Mothers were released, but the message by IRI security authorities was clear. Speaking out, marching and/or grieving in public and/or holding pictures of a loved one in public with a lit candle could create dangerous repercussions for the Mothers. “No culture permits such violence to be unleashed against mothers,” said Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. When Parvin (Ameneh Khatoon) Fahimi’s 19 year old son, Sohrab Arabi, went missing during the Iranian post-election street protests in June 2009, Parvin began an earnest search to find him. She didn’t know her search would last for 25 grueling days. The search ended, when Fahimi identified the body of her dead son in Tehran’s Prophet Hospital morgue. He had been shot dead before the many days of unanswered anguished questions. After her son’s death, Parvin Fahimi, sent her voice out into the public with cries of injustice and calls for investigations. “I won’t remain silent,” said Arabi’s mother, Parvin. “The Iranian government is determined to silence all dissenting voices,” said Claudio Cordone, Interim Secretary General for Amnesty International. Even though Parvin Fahimi was cautioned by Tehran police not to “memorialize” her son in public, she has recently released an important public statement, “I would forgive the murderers of my son on the unconditional release of political prisoners.” Nora Shourd is still waiting to find out more about the charges in her daughter’s incarceration. “Two male interrogators control every minute, everyday of Sarah’s life,” explains Nora Shourd in her interview with Elahe Amani for WNN. “Sarah is anxious about the unknowns. Even with this, she dances alone in her cell. Sometimes, other women prisoners will walk by Sarah’s cell and try to talk to her. They whisper, ‘Sarah we love you, we love your mother, stay strong.’ I am sure this puts them in danger,” Nora continued. “I lost Sohrab for the crime of freedom, love, and peace (in Iran),” said Fahimi. “Let remain and live the rest of the children of this land.”
More Depredation of Rights in Iran
Voice of America News
August 13, 2010
The Iranian government has sentenced 7 leading members of Iran's Baha'i community to 20 years in prison for purported crimes against national security. The 2 women and 5 men have been imprisoned in Iran since 2008. Amnesty International has condemned the inhumane treatment, unfair judicial proceedings, and egregious sentencing of the 7 Baha'is, whom Amnesty calls "prisoners of conscience jailed solely on account of their beliefs or peaceful activities on behalf of the persecuted Baha'i minority."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley also commented on the plight of the 7 Baha'i leaders: "We... have long-standing concerns about the persecution of minorities inside Iran. It is not a tolerant society. And we are concerned about that particular verdict, but also about other actions that Iran has taken."
On August 10th, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton again called on the Iranian government to release all political prisoners held in Iran. She said in a statement that the U.S. remains "deeply concerned that Iran continues to deny its citizens their civil rights." She cited the case of Sakineh Mohmmadi Ashtiani, the Iranian mother of 2 whose plight garnered international attention when she was sentenced to death by stoning on charges of adultery. Although the stoning sentence was suspended after an international outcry, recent reports indicate that Ms. Ashtiani was pressed to publicly confess under duress, and her fate remains unclear.
Secretary Clinton also mentioned the case of Ebrahim Hamidi, an 18 year-old man facing imminent execution on the charge of homosexuality, despite the fact that he was subject to an unfair judicial process and is currently without legal representation. His lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, who was Ms. Ashtiani lawyer as well, fled Iran after he was questioned by authorities and members of his family were arrested.
"We are also concerned about the fate of Iranians who are in danger of imminent execution for exercising their right to free expression after the June 2009 elections, including Jafar Kazemi, Mohammad Haj Aghaei, and Javad Lari," said Secretary of State Clinton. "The United States urges the Iranian Government to halt these executions in accordance with its obligations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners and imprisoned human rights defenders."
Secretary of State Clinton said that the U.S. "will continue to stand with people around the world who seek to exercise their universal rights and speak out in defense of human liberties."
Why Have Western Feminists Been so Muted in their Criticisms of Iran?
By Toby Young
The Daily Telegraph
August 13, 2010
The fate of the 43-year-old Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning took a sinister turn yesterday when she appeared on Iranian state television to confess to her “crimes”. Her lawyer fears she will now be executed imminently, probably hung by the neck until she is dead. Many human rights groups have criticised the Iranian authorities for their brutal treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, including Amnesty International and the International Committee Against Stoning. The mother of two has already received 99 lashes for committing adultery and according to her lawyer, who has fled the country after a warrant was issued for his arrest, she has been beaten and tortured in jail. Yet the response of feminists in the West has been strangely muted. Hillary Clinton lost no opportunity to brandish her feminist credentials during her campaign to become the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee in 2008 and even went so far as to blame her failure to beat Barack Obama on the “glass ceiling”. Unfortunately, the concrete ceiling of Ashtiani’s jail cell hasn’t inspired any comparable rhetoric. All she has said is that she’s “troubled” by Ashtiani’s case. At least Hillary Clinton was able to bring herself to mutter this mild rebuke. No other prominent feminist has spoken out about Ashtiani’s case, unless you include Yoko Ono who has signed the petition calling for her to be freed. We’ve heard nothing from Germaine Greer, nothing from Gloria Steinem, nothing from Jane Fonda, nothing from Naomi Wolf, nothing from Clare Short, nothing from Harriet Harmen. We know why, of course. Almost no one on the left, with the honourable exception of Christopher Hitchens, dares to breath a word against any Islamic country for fear of being branded “Islamophobic”. Thus, a brutal dictatorship is able to torture and murder thousands of innocent women, safe in the knowledge that the self-styled keepers of the West’s conscience will remain silent. The left has always had a blind spot when it comes to the abuse of human rights in the developing world and no one is more guilty of this myopia than the women’s movement. The political economist Amaryta Sen pointed out 20 years ago that in some parts of the world millions of women were unaccounted for, as David Aaronivitch reminded us in his Times column this week: In China there were 107 men to every 100 women. In India it was 108 and in Pakistan 111. For whatever reason this meant that something like 100 million women were simply missing. So what happened to these women? Aaronovitch’s column is so good it is worth quoting at length, particularly as it’s behind a paywall: Probably they’d been killed at birth, died completely avoidably in childbirth or been denied the same rights as males to medical care. In their recent book on women in the developing world, Half the Sky, the American writers Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write about how girls in India between the ages of one and five were 50 per cent more likely to die than their brothers. “More girls have been killed in the last fifty years precisely because they were girls,” they say, “than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.” In certain cultures and countries, women are more or less enslaved, traded by their fathers to their husbands and held in place through lack of education, enforced deference or threats of violence. Kristof estimates that there are annually some 6,000 “honour killings” (ie, murders of women wanting minimal rights) worldwide. As many as three million girls and women have been coerced — as opposed to recruited — into the Third World sex industry. Much of this enslaving of village and country girls has the effect of reducing social pressure in sexually conservative societies. In the worst sense of the word, it is hypocritical. Weirdly, when Sen or Kristof and WuDunn or Time magazine point this out, the reaction of some in the West is to accuse them of a colonialist mentality. One woman Cambridge academic said last week — from the very belly of female free speech and free agency — that the “affluent West” had “little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators”. A British critic of Half the Sky demanded: “Why are we so wonderful? Our society is still just as sexist, albeit in more subtle ways, than the burka-enforcing Taleban. Working on a farm and producing your own food is a far more viable and healthy option than slaving in a sweat or sex shop.” Could the West’s self-appointed defenders of women’s rights have done anything to prevent the wholesale slaughter of their sisters in the developing world if they’d taken up their cause? Could a feminist outcry today about the plight of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani do anything to prevent her death? We will never know, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their continuing silence reveals the moral bankruptcy of their movement.
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Volume 75, August 15, 2010
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