February 15, 2005  VOLUME 9


To our readers,

As the debate over Iran’s policy captures the attention of Washington and the EU3, the ongoing violence against women in Iran is on the rise. For years, Iranian people, particularly women and youth, have demanded accountability for policy outcomes. While the ayatollahs have failed miserably, the advocates of democracy and human rights in the West have been slow to respond and recognize the democratic desires and preferences of Iranian youth and women. The self-determination of the Iranian people is increasingly felt at home and abroad. With the widespread rejection of this regime in its entirety, the domestic debates over religious reform and political ideology has come to halt and can no longer be resolved by one “elected” faction over another. Rather, they are dilemmas of theocracy as a whole and its relationship to society. Severe misogyny, human rights violations, terrorism, and advocacy of political turmoil and fundamentalism in the region characterize the regime in Tehran.

An effective policy on Iran is possible only if the Right could see the Iranian people for who they are, and the Left could see Tehran’s regime for what it is. With the second term, the Bush administration needs to recognize the Iranian people for who they are. The democracy movement in Iran does not wish to outsource its homegrown efforts for regime change to the US military. For those on the Right who see nothing but military option in dealing with Iran, one has to remind them that the Iranian people have substantiated a third option for a meaningful regime change with their 26 years of struggle resulting in a organized resistance movement both at home and abroad.  This legitimate option has been on the table for the world community to acknowledge and its only demand is to isolate and cut off all ties with Tehran’s regime.

For those on the Left who pride themselves with the long history of defending democracy and human rights, there are options beyond “dialogue”, “deals” and “constructive engagement” to hold the Iranian regime responsible for its continued violations of human rights. Left has to be reminded that Tehran’s regime has been condemned 51 times by various UN human rights bodies. Given the fundamentalist nature of Tehran’s regime, no deal or dialogue will improve the situation of women and human rights in Iran. If the Left truly wishes to demonstrate seriousness about a policy of promoting equality and democracy, then it must demand evidence of an internationally recognized level of human rights before any talk of diplomatic or commercial engagements with Tehran. This approach will help restore the reputation of the Left as defender of rights and justice as well as the broader interest of combating extremism.

The credibility of both Left and the Right has come under serious questions for the Iranian people. Courageous efforts must be made on both sides of the political spectrum to unite on Iran policy. This is the role more consistent with American principles than the current rifts and pointing fingers across the aisle. Both Left and Right in America must unequivocally distance themselves from appeasing the fundamentalist regime in Tehran. This is the support people of Iran, particularly women, need from the Untied States.

On a broader scale, the US and EU should also speak in one voice when it comes to defending women’s rights, human rights and democracy. For too long the incomprehensible noise in Washington and European Capitals has indulged the regime in Tehran whose primary goal is to establish a nuclear Islamic Republic in the region. West owes the Iranian people an overdue respect for their struggle for democracy. The people of Iran, particularly its women, should be in charge of changing the regime in Tehran.

E-Zan Featured Headlines


Agance France Presse - January 16, 2005

THE first Iranian news agency run by women has been launched, claiming an editorial focus on improving women's rights in the Islamic republic. Managing director Sadigheh Ghanadi today said the Iranian Women's News Agency (IWNA) intended to cover all news events, but would also "raise cases of social harm against women". She said the agency, based in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad, had employed 40 staff - the majority of whom were female - and had been set up under an initiative by women members of Iranian city councils, most of whom are conservative politicians. She said the agency was also backed by female members of Iran's hardline-controlled parliament. IWNA's Internet-based service will provide a more conservative flavour to women-oriented media, including the reformist-leaning Women In Iran website and Zanan (Women) magazine.


Feminist Daily Newswire – January 18, 2005

A group of Iranian journalists have received death threats from judicial officials after testifying before a presidential commission about being tortured while in detention. According to Human Rights Watch, a female journalist, Fereshteh Ghazi, told the commission that she endured severe beatings and a broken nose. Ghazi writes about women’s rights issues in a daily newspaper.


Associated Press – January 22, 2005

Iran's hard-line leadership ruled out allowing women to run for president in June elections, denying reports in the state-run media Saturday that it had decided to allow female candidates for the first time. It was not clear whether the denial meant the hard-line Guardian Council was reversing itself or whether the earlier announcement was a mistake. Throughout the day, state-run radio and television carried reports quoting council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying the council had changed its long-standing policy and allowed women to run. But in the evening, the media reported Elham denied the new stance. ``The Guardian Council's previous opinion has not changed,'' he was quoted as saying.


State-controlled news agency SINA – January 23, 2005

Head of Tehran’s security forces announced that 3969 women were arrested last year and 649 of them were girls below the age 14. Reza Zareie announced the results in a press conference which indicated an increase in the arrest of women in Tehran state along.


Iran Focus – January 25, 2005

More than two thousand women in the earthquake-stricken city of Bam in southern Iran live in extreme poverty, without any support. Seventy percent of these women have no surviving family members. The December 26, 2003 earthquake that struck the ancient Iranian city of Bam took more than 70,000 lives and left survivors to pick up the pieces of their wrecked lives. In the aftermath of the deadly quake one would expect immediate government aid and support to the victims of the tragic quake, however surviving Bam residents were to soon find out that help was merely a distant mirage. An Interior Ministry official announced the number of struggling women and said that the maximum assistance given to some of these women was 500,000 rials ($50) per month to recover their shattered lives. The majority of these women are dependent on earning other funds for their daily bread. With their immediate family perished and having no one else to turn to for support, many of Bam's women have been forced to marry strangers. Temporary marriages have become routine for many of the women there. Girls and single women between the ages of 15 and 25 were the biggest victims of the tremor in Bam. Foreign aid workers complained at the time that the Iranian authorities were discriminating against women and girls, giving men priority in the distribution of aid and medical supplies.


Lifesite News.com – February 1, 2005

Member of the Iranian parliament, Mehrangiz Morovati, said Monday that abortion is not prohibited by the Quran. She seeks approval of a draft law legalizing the practice. “The draft of abortion therapy was passed with the official permission from Supreme Leader of Islamic Republic and other religious authorities, so in this respect, it doesn't contradict Quranic spiritual values,” Morovati claimed. Iran’s parliament approved a draft bill in July, allowing abortion in the first four months of pregnancy if the mother's life is in danger or if the baby is malformed. The measure still needs final approval.


State-run daily newspaper Etemad - February 3, 2005

The state-run daily Etemad reported today that a Tehran court has sentenced a couple to death by stoning and hanging. Iran's Supreme Court has reportedly upheld the verdicts and has confirmed that the woman only identified by her first name Massoumeh will be stoned to death and her husband identified by his first name Ismaeil will be hanged. The couple was accused of murder. The daily also reported that another unnamed individual identified only as an Afghan, also charged with murder, and separately was handed down an execution sentence in Pakdasht (west of Tehran).


Mirror.co.uk – February 4, 2005

MOST of Iran's religious laws are directed at women and the segregation of the sexes. Every female from the age of nine upwards must cover their hair and body at all times in public. Sunbathing, water-skiing, discos, riding a bicycle, smoking in the street or any activity deemed un-Islamic is illegal. Being caught in male company is also a crime. Alcohol is banned and apart from a few cafes and cinemas showing carefully censored films there are no places of public entertainment. Adultery is punishable by death by stoning but such harsh sentences are rarely carried out. But all political activity deemed hostile to the clergy is banned. Journalists and writers are arrested and imprisoned. Thousands of political dissidents have been executed. All Western influences from satellite TV, CDs, films, or DVDs are deemed corrupting and ungodly. The internet is also censored. But behind the walls that surround every Iranian home Tehran's party scene is wild. Economic failure has fuelled a growing opium and heroin addiction problem. Street prostitution by chador-clad women has reappeared on the traffic-choked streets of Tehran. But Iranian women are among the most emancipated in the Islamic world. The majority of Iranian graduates are women. And unlike Arab countries where the daily rituals of prayer dominate every aspect of life, most Iranians work a nine-to-five existence that is virtually identical to life in the West.


State News Agency IRNA – February 6, 2005

United Nations Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Yakin Erturk here on Sunday called on Iran to approve the convention to remove discrimination against women…the UN special rapporteur arrived in Tehran on January 30 for an official mission. In a meeting with some judicial officials in the family court, she underlined the need for continuation of international talks on women given the social status of Iranian women and the key posts held by them in the country. She referred to the issue of child custody as a major topic of discussion, saying, "As a Muslim woman, I am not going to question the principles, though, as the UN rapporteur I proceed with my duties to remove violence against women." She stressed however that accepting the convention by Iran does not mean ignoring the country's culture.


Agence France Presse – February 6, 2005

Iran's judiciary has shut down a cosmetics and personal hygiene exhibition in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad after a judge apparently decided that only women should operate the stall. "This judge came to the exhibition and grabbed some posters from the stalls and said that only women could run the booths," an informed official was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency on Sunday.


E-Zan Featured Reports

Iran's women continue to defy hardliners

Financial Times

Najmeh Bozorgmehr

January 15, 2005

The six Iranian women and four men who make up the Mehr-Banoo classical music band are given a warm reception by an enthusiastic crowd in northern Tehran. But the presence of female performers, wearing yellow scarves and long black shirts and trousers, outnumbering the men in the band, poses a direct challenge to Iran's hardliners, who would like to see greater restrictions on women. Mahroo, a woman singer in the band, is not allowed to sing solo, as the regime regards it as un-Islamic for women to sing to men. Instead, she is accompanied by Hamed, a male singer…Iran's hardliners had capitalised on widespread disillusion with politics, due to the slow pace of reforms. And the balance could tilt further in their favour in presidential elections expected in June. But despite their growing political strength, the conservatives face a challenge in the social arena. Their main source of support comes from the traditional sections of Iranian society. But there is widespread dissatisfaction with the regime among Iranians under 35 years old, who make up about 70 per cent of the population of 70m…One of the most obvious manifestations of the gulf between Iran's conservative hierarchy and the country's young is in the Islamic dress code. A quarter-century after the Islamic revolution made wearing the hijab compulsory for women outside the home, the issue remains controversial. Many young women ignore the loose dresses recommended by the religious establishment and instead wear tight trousers, covered with short overcoats or flimsy cotton shirts. Their headscarves slip backwards to reveal as much hair as possible, and they wear heavy make-up. Last summer, a Tehran police chief announced during a crackdown on women for non-observance of hijab that the arrest of "100 street supermodels" would resolve the problem. But this proved not to be the case, as many women responded with defiance. Recently a member of parliament, who was also a cleric, tried to beat a woman journalist inside the parliament in protest at what he considered to be her improper dress. Social challenges are not restricted to cosmopolitan Tehran. Senior clerics have raised concerns over the spread of "corruption" in the holy city of Qom, where women are expected to wear the all-encompassing black chador. The parliamentary research centre in Tehran is working on a standard uniform for women that would fully comply with Islamic codes…


Defeating Woman-Haters

By Dr. Donna M. Hughes


January 17, 2005

Twenty-six years ago in Iran, Islamic fundamentalists captured their first state. They turned it into a theocratic dictatorship and used its resources to fund terror abroad and pursue weapons of mass destruction. Since then, violence, expansionism, and terror against civilians have become hallmarks of Islamic fundamentalism. If the Iranian regime obtains nuclear weapons, it will use them to maintain control of Iran, intimidate countries within missile range, and expand their influence abroad. To defeat the world’s leading state sponsor of terror, one must understand what keeps them it power. Insight into the role of misogyny ‑ hatred of women ‑ in the tyranny's ideology and its tactics of social control is the key to ending the reign of terror.

The Ideology and State of Islamic Fundamentalism - Islamic fundamentalism in Iran is a political movement conceptualized by Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini based on his interpretation of the Koran. Islamic fundamentalism is not just a conservative form of Islam. It is a pathological ideology and totalitarian political system. The ruling clerics energize their followers by preaching hatred of their chosen enemies: the liberal west, women, moderate and liberal Muslims, and non-Muslim religious groups, particularly Jews. Their deepest prejudice is for women. Islamic fundamentalists loath women. They hate female shapes, which must be hidden under tent like garments. They hate their female voices, so women are banned from singing in public. They hate their female minds, so women are prohibited from holding decision making jobs. And most of all, they hate their female sexuality, which they claim is a corrupting force on earth. They hate liberal culture and democracy because women are allowed to dress, travel, speak, think, and even sing, freely. They believe that women’s freedom and equality are what has corrupted western culture, and that is why they must purge it and its representatives from their land.  The Khomeini-crafted theocracy granted dictatorial rule to the supreme religious leader ‑ velayat-e-faqih – thereby creating an unreformable system because all significant powers of the state are held by the supreme religious leader and his appointees in the Council of Guardians. Khomeini crowned himself as the first supreme leader; after his death, the religious reign was passed to the present supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The clerics’ version of sharia law imposes a crushing system of gender apartheid on Iranians based on the premise that women are physically, psychologically, intellectually, and morally inferior to men. Men are legally granted all decision-making power within the family, including control of the movement and employment of women and the custody of children. A public dress code or hejab is mandatory and violations result in reprimands, arrests, whippings, imprisonment, and even summary executions have been documented. All public activities are segregated, and women are banned from attending sporting events in which men’s legs are uncovered. Women are banned from associating with men who are not their relatives. The age of marriage was lowered to nine years of age for girls. Polygamy was legalized. And stoning to death became a legal form of punishment for sexual misconduct.The clerics made laws on how to control, punish, torture, and kill women and girls. Misogyny and violence against women were institutionalized.

Ideology in Practice - In Iran, terror begins at home. The clerics put their ideology into practice in the most oppressive and barbaric ways the world has seen in recent times. The first victims were women and girls. Misogynous views and laws reinforced and empowered men’s oldest sexist prejudices and anxieties. Men’s frustrations with life, their insecurities, even their sexual feelings are projected onto women. Suppressing women became the solution to men and society’s failures. Men’s anger is aimed at wives, sisters, and daughters. Women became targets for sadists. Vigilante squads roam the streets and spy on private parties looking for women violating the dress code or talking to male friends. Blaming the victim gave men freedom to commit acts of violence against women and girls. Women and girls in Iran suffer from physical and psychological effects of the restrictions and harassment. Women and girls have numerous health problems related to their limited physical activity and inadequate, segregated health care system. The suicide rate among girls is among the highest in the world. Given that mothers and future mothers are the scapegoats of the clerics’ pathology, there are biological limits to what the clerics can do to them. They can’t exterminate them all or put them in gulags as previous dictators have done to political, ethnic, and class enemies. Instead, they perpetually torment and terrorize the female population. For the tens of thousands who have been executed, from teenagers to pregnant mothers to aged grandmothers, their murders are carried out in the most torturous manner. Virgins are raped before execution. Women are stoned to death with rocks that inflict the most pain before death: small stones are not allowed because they don’t cause enough damage; large stones are not allowed because they might kill too quickly. A particularly sadistic form of execution that was used against political resistors following the revolution was one shot through the lower abdomen – the womb. The Iranian clerics have shown that sexual exploitation is a complement to sexual repression. Widows from the Iran Iraq war who asked for assistance became victims of clerics’ sexual exploitation. Temporary marriages which allow a man to marry a woman or girl for only one hour came back into practice to legitimize prostitution. Sex trafficking, slavery, and prostitution are escalating problems in Iran. Government officials are frequently involved in running the sex slavery rings. There has been no moderation of misogyny since the fundamentalists seized power in Iran in 1979. In the past several months, teenage girls have been executed by hanging or sentenced to flogging and death by stoning for “crimes contrary to chastity” and giving birth to an “illegitimate” child. In each case, the girls were victims of multiple forms of sexual exploitation and abuse: incest, rape, prostitution, temporary marriage, sexual abuse in prison, and being sold to a pimp. Officials are frequently corrupt, even complicit in crimes, and arrests, convictions, and punishments are often arbitrary, as well as heinously unjust and cruel. Stonings and hangings are frequently carried out in public to terrorize the rest of the population. Public executions are one of the ways the clerics maintain social and political control in Iran. It is well known that many of those executed in public are democracy activists or those who have challenged the authority of an official.

Defeat Misogyny to Defeat Terror - The misogyny of Islamic fundamentalism is not ancillary to the Iranian regime’s grip on power in Iran or their global sponsorship of terror. Misogyny is at the heart of their ideology and is the framework of their state structure and authority. Undermine their misogyny by empowering women and the Iranian regime will crumble from within. The following are recommendations to the U.S. government, the United Nations, other democratic countries, particularly those in Europe that regularly talk to Iranian officials, and international non-governmental organizations on how to defeat the Islamic fundamentalism by defeating misogyny.

Place the freedom of women and girls at the top of the agenda for dealing with Iran. Give the analysis and defeat of misogyny equal weight to efforts to contain terror and weapons of mass destruction. Equate the dismantling of misogyny to destroying the structure and power of the theocratic state.

Voice support for women and their freedom and equality in every policy statement on Iran. Speak directly to Iranian women about their plight under Islamic fundamentalism and their hopes for freedom, equality, and democracy. All governmental departments that deal with human rights, women’s issues, democracy, terrorism, and foreign policy should have a plan for advancing women’s freedom and equality as a strategy to defeat Islamic fundamentalism.

Fund communications technology and broadcasts that focus on women’s freedom. Provide funding for programming on women and women’s freedom and equality for public and privately owned radio and satellite broadcasts run by pro-democracy organization and news agencies. Support programs developed by Iranian women activists, such as Radio Voice of Women produced by Women’s Forum Against Fundamentalism in Iran. Provide funding for Internet servers that can be accessed by women activists from inside Iran.

Hold hearings on Islamic fundamentalism and women in Iran. The U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives should hold hearings on the situation of women and girls under Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. They should invite testimony from survivors of the Iranian regime’s prisons and engage strategists on how to undermine misogyny and advance women’s freedom and equality. Parliaments and U.N. bodies, particularly the Commission on the Status of Women, should hold meetings that specifically address Islamic fundamentalism and lend their support to freedom and equality to women in Iran.

Grant political asylum to women fleeing misogynist tyranny. Victims of Islamic laws which institutionalize violence against women should be recognized as political refugees and granted asylum. Women have been on the forefront of fighting fundamentalism. Thousands have already died resisting the clerics’ regime. Women who have risked their lives to oppose fundamentalism should be protected when they are forced to flee. In addition, voice opposition to other country’s deportation of women back to Iran where they face political persecution and possibly execution.

Put Iran on Tier 3 of the 2005 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report. Iran has a severe and escalating problem of prostitution, slavery, and trafficking of women and girls. Government officials frequently collaborate with traffickers. Worst of all, victims are not provided with assistance; instead they are persecuted and executed.

Engage and support opposition groups committed to women’s freedom and equality. The departments of State and Defense, intelligence services, and Executive branch should meet regularly with opposition groups to share information and cooperate on strategies specifically aimed at defeating misogyny and advancing women’s freedom and equality. They should morally, politically, and financially support pro-democracy opposition groups, which include many women members, inside and outside Iran.

Visiting delegations should challenge misogyny. Delegations from the United Nations, European countries, and international non-governmental organizations that visit Iran should challenge the Iranian regime on their treatment of women and insist on visiting women’s prisons and talking to the inmates.

Support pro-democracy activists’ calls for an internationally-monitored referendum in Iran. Support the non-violent strategy of holding a nation-wide referendum in which the Iranian people can vote on the system of government they want.

Take the women led resistance groups off the terrorist list. There are two Iranian opposition groups that are led by women dedicated to women’s freedom and equality: The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, also known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq or MEK) and the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The PMOI is a political and formerly armed resistance group that is strongly opposed to Islamic fundamentalism. The Secretary General, Mojgan Parsaie, is a U.S. educated woman, the entire Leadership Council is composed of women, and many of the experienced military commanders are women. The National Council of Resistance (NCRI) is also led by a woman, Maryam Rajavi, with a long record of supporting women’s freedom and democracy. The NCRI’s parliament-in-exile is composed of more than 50 percent women. In 1996, Maryam Rajavi made this promise to the mullahs: “You have done your utmost to humiliate, torture, and slaughter Iranian women, but rest assured that you will receive the blow from the very force you discounted, the very force whom your reactionary mindset cannot allow you to take into consideration.”The PMOI and NCRI are on the U.S. terrorist list as an act of appeasement to the Iranian regime by the Clinton administration who sought to normalize relations with supposed “reformers” in Iran. Later the PMOI was also added to the European Union’s terrorist list, also as an act of appeasement to the Iranian regime. A recent 16 month review of the PMOI by the U.S. found that none of their personnel was linked to acts of terrorism. The Iranian regime holds the upper hand in the power struggle with the west as long as the U.S. and Europe constrain their opponents. Removing these pro-woman, pro-democracy resistance groups from the terrorist lists and supporting their efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime provides an alternative approach to appeasement and attempts to normalize relations with terrorists or military action.

Encourage allies to adopt the same anti-misogyny policies. Urge democratic allies to confront misogynous practices in all their dialogues with Iranian officials and businessmen.  This new policy approach offers a strategic psychological advantage: It will drive the clerics crazy! They are terrified of any interference with their “prison for women” as Iran was called by a U.N. representative in his report to the General Assembly. The clerics are so afraid of discussion of women’s issues that they have banned any publication of materials that defend women’s rights. Promoting women’s freedom and equality is the most powerful psychological weapon to use against the clerics because it goes to the root of their pathology, their ideology, and their social and political control of the population in Iran. A policy of defeating misogyny and supporting freedom and equality for women in Iran will complement other policies aimed at defeating terror and stopping the development of nuclear weapons. Supporting a policy of freedom for women in Iran will send a powerful message to pro-democracy activists in Iran. It will convey to those struggling to survive that we really understand the fundamentalists, their mindset, and tactics of control. It will empower activists in their efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime. Women in Iran have been politically active for over a century. Those with access to universities have pursed their educations as an act of political resistance to Islamic fundamentalism. Women are active in the pro-freedom, pro-democracy movement inside Iran. While everyone in Europe and the U.S. is stumped by how to contain the clerics, the solution is right there in Iran just waiting for the opportunity.

Women, Freedom, Democracy and Foreign Policy - Equality for women is on every list of changes needed to modernize and democratize countries in the Middle East. Yet, it is always assumed to be a lagging issue that can or must wait until other more significant changes are made. In fact, there is tremendous transformative power in advancing women’s freedom and equality. It challenges all the backward ideologies, practices, and state and social structures that need to evolve in the Middle East.The calls for more equality for women need to be operationalized into policies, strategies, and programs that address specific barriers to freedom and advancement in each country. Women’s freedom should be placed on the table at diplomatic meetings and linked to foreign policy. Engagement and support of advocates for equality for women should receive the highest priority. Assisting women gain freedom and equality can be the solution to major problems facing the world today.


The woman without a past, a story of a former female political prisoner

Michelle Shephard


January 30, 2005

Of the many nights she spent in her solitary-confinement cell in Evin prison, this one was perhaps the worst. Marina Nemat did not allow herself to sleep. Sleep would only bring the morning faster, so instead she sat watching the moonlight cross the floor, marking the hours. She was still awake when the azan, the early-morning call to prayer, came through the internal loudspeakers. "Did you sleep?" the guard asked when he arrived. He unlocked the barred door to her cell and stepped inside.  She said she hadn't, and he, too, confessed to a restless night. "Are you ready?" he whispered. Then he escorted her outside to his black Mercedes. Marina's wedding day had arrived.

Every weekday morning for the past eight-and-a-half  years, after dropping her children at school, Marina has driven to a strip mall in Aurora, walked through the doors of the local Swiss Chalet restaurant, donned her navy cardigan, affixed her nametag and prepared for the lunchtime rush…She began her life in Canada with her young family in August 1991. Days after they arrived, her husband, an electrical engineer by training, got a job in his field. They found an apartment in Richmond Hill and bought a bed for their toddler, a dining table, four chairs and a couch. When the first and last months' rent was paid, $200 remained in the bank account.

Now 39, Marina lives in Aurora in a spacious house with a backyard, where, in summer, she tends to the lettuce, basil and other herbs and vegetables. Her son Michael, who was diagnosed with kidney disease before they left Iran, is now well; at 16, he is a computer whiz. Her son Thomas, 11, lights up when talking about summer breaks in Canada's north. But slowly, over the years, Marina's secret chipped away at her suburban bliss. Her feelings of guilt over it were getting harder to ignore. Marina Nemat was born Marina Moradi. Her mother, a hairdresser, and her father, a dance instructor, were living in downtown Tehran with their teenage son at the time. Four months before her birth, in 1965, Iranian Premier Hassan Ali Mansur was assassinated by reputed followers of Shiite fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who was pushing for a theocracy in Iran. Already, there was general unrest over the repressive regime of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlevi. When the Shah was forced into exile in 1979, people celebrated in the streets. The gates of Evin prison, where political prisoners had been held and tortured for years by the Shah's brutal secret police, were thrown open. But, a year later, the war with Iraq began and the new Islamic Republic began enforcing strict laws. Women could not be in public without covering their heads. Dancing was forbidden; Marina's father had to find work as a translator. In a 1981 speech, Khomeini challenged fellow clerics, saying, "Why do you only read the Qur'anic verses of mercy and do not read the verses of killing?" Once again, the cells of Evin prison were filled with political prisoners.

As a young girl, Marina buried herself in books, mainly with the help of a kindly bookstore owner who secretly lent her the books her family couldn't afford to buy. One of her favourites was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. By the time she reached high school, she was already well read, and headstrong. She secretly attended human-rights rallies, including one at which a fellow protestor was shot by Islamic Republic guards; he died at her feet. She started a school newspaper and instigated what would become known as "the strike" when she challenged her calculus teacher to instruct something other than "government propaganda." The teacher told her if she didn't like it, she could leave. She did, and the rest of the class followed. Around that time, she met a tall, blond, blue-eyed man of Hungarian descent named Andre Nemat. He played the organ at her church. (Both were part of a small minority of Catholics in Iran.) Despite their seven-year age difference, they began dating. Andre urged Marina to be less outspoken in her criticism of the government. Revolutionary guards had ears everywhere, he reminded her. But Marina persisted. She couldn't help herself. Islamic Republic guards arrived at her home on Jan. 15, 1982, to take her away. She was 16. Her wrists were so small that her hands had to be secured together in one handcuff. The first person Marina met at Evin prison was a man named Ali Moosavi. He was once a prisoner at Evin himself, briefly, when the Shah was in power. Now he had returned to the detention centre, nestled in the northern hills of Tehran, as a guard and interrogator. Evin was built as a modest detention facility in 1971 but has developed over the years into a compound of cells and interrogation centres. It was here, in June 2003, that Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi was interrogated and beaten; three weeks later she died of her injuries, setting off an international incident. Over the years, few have made it out of the prison unscathed. Marina's interrogation began soon after she arrived. Ali asked her for names of classmates and other protestors, warning her not to be brave. When she refused, another guard came in and repeatedly beat the soles of her feet. Still she wouldn't talk. Then Ali returned and admonished her for her stubbornness, though not in an unkind way. Later, when she passed out from the pain in her feet, he was by her side as she awoke. He also found her a wheelchair and a cell to sleep in — small acts of kindness inside the walls of a facility that rarely showed mercy. The very next day Marina was sentenced to die in a court she never attended. When she was ordered into a field with four others, she knew her sentence was about to be carried out. So did the others, one girl panicking at the sight of the armed guards and running until a bullet halted her escape. Marina was tied to a pole, where she collapsed, her throbbing feet finally giving way. In a final act of teenage defiance, she was quiet, determined not to beg for her life; but two white lights coming straight at her forced her eyes open. Ali, the guard, jumped out of a black Mercedes, waving a piece of paper. He untied her and put her in his car and drove away. It was the first, but not the last, time he would save her life. Marina spent much of her time at Evin in a dorm known as 246, which she shared with other teenage girls. Life carried on. One of the prisoners had a baby; dozens who had their names called over the internal speaker left their dorm and never came back. Like other grieving parents, Marina's came to visit when permitted. She told them little. She didn't see Ali again until months later, when he came to her to explain that he had been fighting in the war against Iraq. He had been so taken by her after their first meeting that he'd sought the help of Khomeini himself to convert her execution order to a life sentence. He had been trying to forget her ever since, and now he wanted to marry her. If she said yes, she could leave the prison for long periods at a time to be with him. If she said no, he couldn't guarantee her safety. He had investigated her life outside of the prison and knew about Andre; he said he couldn't guarantee Andre's safety either, if she declined. She had three days to decide. Ali and Marina were married in a small Islamic ceremony at his family's home, near the prison. Before the wedding Marina had to convert from Catholicism to Islam. She was granted one visit back to her church, to see her mother and Andre. "I remember I was teaching at the school at that time," recalls Andre. "I jumped in the car and was doing 120 kilometres in 50, 60-kilometre city streets, just to manage to get there." When Marina arrived, a guard stood at the church door to make sure she wouldn't run away. It was a short visit, and Marina didn't tell anyone about what had happened behind the walls of Evin, or what was about to happen. "All of us were suspecting this was a farewell; she was coming to say goodbye to us before they were going to kill her," says Father Rodolfo Antoniazzi, who was present that day more than 20 years ago. (He now works with Iraqi refugees in Turkey.) Andre was the only one who didn't believe that. "I was praying every day that she would come back," he says. "I don't think I ever thought of the other alternative." Marina and Ali settled into a marital routine of sorts. She continued to spend most nights at Evin prison, either alone or with him, but he also bought a house for them, and they sometimes spent days at his parents' home. He would bring her food from home because, he said, there were chemicals in the prison food. One summer weekend, he spirited her away to a cottage on the Caspian Sea. In time, she grew close to his family. "I was ready to hate everybody under the circumstances," says Marina. "I couldn't bring myself to hate these people. I loved his parents. They were wonderful ... So that's the thing, it's not just black and white." When asked about Ali now, two decades later, she pauses. "Did I hate him? Well, no, not really. Did I love him? Well, no, not really." She was in the early stages of a pregnancy the night Ali was killed, just outside his parents' home. She was with him and recalls the evening vividly. "I can hear the door," she says, "because it had this lock thing, and I can hear it close behind me, that green door and the sound it made, and then silence, absolute silence. Then the sound of this motorcycle coming, and it's funny, because I heard it and I knew this is bad news." Just before the shots were fired, Ali pushed her to the ground. He collapsed on top of her when he was hit. "There was just so much blood," she says. "I didn't know a human being could bleed so much. There was blood everywhere." The next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital. She knew even before the doctors told her she had miscarried the baby. She later heard the killing was likely an inside job, planned by someone at Evin prison who disapproved of the marriage. "Somehow I'm able to look at the situation from his eyes now," she says of her interrogator/rescuer/husband. "When people die you forgive them. You don't usually forgive people when they live. "In a way he was desperate and, whatever was going on in his head, the truth is that he saved me twice. He saved my life. He directly saved my life." He was also indirectly responsible for her freedom. Ali's father, with his connections to Khomeini, had Marina's sentence reduced again. Marina walked away from Evin prison two years, two months and 12 days after she was arrested. She left alone and doesn't know who was left behind. She never heard from any of her classmates who were also sentenced to death, or else life in prison, which could amount to the same thing. Her parents met her on her release. Andre drove them all home. Sixteen months later, on July 18, 1985, Andre and Marina were married in a secret ceremony at their church. Andre was sick with a terrible cold that day. "It was a good disguise," he recalled in a recent interview, "so I could pretend that was why my eyes were red and nose flowing."  It was a forbidden union; Marina had converted to Islam and the government did not allow her to marry a non-Muslim. Marina left the church with a black overcoat and scarf covering every inch of her white wedding dress. They remained careful; if the authorities knew about their union, they didn't interfere.  There were rumours about what happened to prisoners at Evin. But neither Andre nor her family asked Marina about it, and she never told them. She couldn't bring herself to talk about the torture, the isolation, the marriage she was cornered into, and then its loss.  "There are a large number of those who were political prisoners in Iran, many of them women, many of them silent," says Saeed Rahnema, an author and a professor at York University. "The tales are so horrendous you would not believe (them)."  Only recently have stories by Iranian women come to the fore — in part because of their compelling narratives, but also because of the emerging profile of Iran and its place in U.S. President George W. Bush's "axis of evil." After the wedding, Andre took advantage of a program open to Iranians with masters degrees in order to avoid fighting in the war with Iraq. The couple moved to a small town on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he could teach in the university. Three years later Michael was born. When enough time had passed and they felt it was safe, they fled Iran. Marina's parents later followed her to Canada. In March 2000, her mother died. It was then that Marina picked up a notebook and began writing. She had never before put into words what she had endured. They were brief passages at first, and at times she had to wipe away tears to concentrate on the page. But within two months she'd filled about 80 sheets of the notebook, which she kept buried under her clothes in a drawer.  The book remained hidden there for months. Then, in January 2002, she began writing in earnest. She spent every night before her computer, recalling the details of a past she had spent a lifetime trying to forget. Andre encouraged her, never once looking over her shoulder. When the 78,000-word manuscript was complete five months later, he would be the first to see it. The stack of pages sat untouched under his side of the bed for three days. "It took me a few days to get the courage to read it," he explains. When he started, he couldn't put it down. "Some sections were painful, very painful to read," he says, and his eyes water. "There were things that I didn't expect. Some parts I knew, but others — the marriage, the reason why she came to the church that day and everything — I had absolutely no clue what was behind that."  If it has changed their relationship in any way, both say, it has perhaps brought them closer together. Now Marina is ready to tell her story in a more public forum. Friends in a book club who read the first draft encouraged her to keep going, so two years ago she enrolled in a writing course at the University of Toronto. Her story went through various drafts. She believes that it is now complete and hopes it will be published. "When you survive something like that, you can't help it. You always think, I lived for a good reason," she says. "It's a story that needs to be told. I think it's a part of Iran's history that will not be documented in any other way, and I think the young generation needs to read this, needs to know what happened with the revolution, the real story of it, not what's told in history books."


International Herald Tribune

Women’s rights: Iran’s bitter lessons for Iraq

Swanee Hunt and Isobel Coleman

February 7, 2005

Before the recent elections, leading Iraqi politicians did their best to assuage concerns of their more secular compatriots by promising moderation and inclusion. But election rhetoric is not reality. An important test will be how these leaders address women's rights in the face of pressure from religious extremists.  While political leaders may profess moderation on many issues, if they do not adhere to basic principles of human rights - including the equal rights of women - their moderation is an illusion. We need look no further than across the border to Iran to see how compromising women's rights compromises democracy and freedom.  Despite promises of equality in the run-up to the 1979 revolution, women were systematically stripped of their rights as Iran's clerics consolidated power. They lost rights to divorce and child custody. They were dismissed from official positions. Day care services were terminated, forcing women out of jobs. The hijab, or Islamic covering, was imposed, and violators punished severely.  For the past 25 years, Iranian women have been fighting to regain ground. It is not surprising that many of Iran's leading human rights activists are women who have devoted their lives to fighting for greater liberty and equality for all citizens. At a broad societal level, Iranian women's demands for freedom, education and employment are inexorably changing society; up to 70 percent of university students are now women. Female lawyers, journalists and, more recently, members of Parliament have been key proponents of political and legal reform.  Perhaps most significant, Iranian women have consistently pushed for alternative interpretations of religious texts…Unfortunately, the gains made are under threat from conservatives. In the past six months, more than half a dozen journalists and civil society activists, many of them women, have been arrested for allegedly engaging in propaganda against the regime, endangering national security, inciting public unrest and insulting sacred beliefs. The judiciary's attempts to stifle dissent include the arrests of the editors of leading women's rights journals who have been charged with "moral crimes." The Revolutionary Public Prosecutor's office in Tehran even threatened to arrest Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Freedom of the press and civil society in Iran continue to wane. If the United States is serious about promoting democracy in the Middle East, it must put women's rights at the center of any dialogue. In the case of Iran, more than ever, pressure should be on creating space for human rights and democracy activists. Concern that external criticism undermines reformers is largely misplaced since the movement is already on life support, crushed by the all-powerful Guardian Council, which disqualified 80 percent of reformists from the last parliamentary elections. Today, many Iranians believe that only international diplomatic pressure will force the regime to move on human rights and reform.  Instead of threatening military intervention, America must put the onus on Iran's leadership by making human rights a priority alongside nuclear discussions…Elevating the voices of women is a positive way to undermine those who misuse scriptures to justify the narrowest patriarchy. And civil society is a pillar of democracy that holds government accountable. Neither Iranians nor Iraqis have given up the fight for freedom. But in both countries, democracy remains fragile. In Iran, if America does not adopt a policy that pressures the government instead of its people, then hard-liners will complete their dismantling of pro-democracy forces. In Iraq, if America fails to support civil society groups, and women's groups in particular, extremism will win.  A failure by the United States in either country will leave America's children and their children with even greater difficulties to wrestle with in the future.

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Volume 9, February 15, 2005

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