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Extensive Arrests of Women Activist in Tehran

Monday, March 05, 2007

Police forces arrested several people who had gathered to show their support for five Iranian women’s right activists, whose trial was taking place in court yesterday. This court was convening to try Sousan Tahmasbi, Parvin Ardalan, Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer, and Shahla Entesari, who had participated in a peaceful gathering on July 2nd, 2006. Fariba Davoodi Mohajer is currently on a trip to US to visit her daughter. Those arrested yesterday have been transferred to Evin Prison’s 209 Block. According to a women’s rights activist who follows these arrests in Tehran, some of the prisoners’ families have been contacted and told that they can pick up their relatives from prison tomorrow.

Hadi Ghaemi, a Researcher with Human Rights Watch in New York, told Rooz Online, “Such wide arrests are unprecedented and extremely worrying, and will create a very negative reaction to Iran worldwide.” He said the way the arrests took place sends various messages. “This is an alarm for human rights activists in Iran, an alarm for more forceful and hurried action on those activists who seek peaceful protests.” According to Ghaemi, such reactions “demonstrate an utmost lack of tolerance by the Government of defenders of women’s rights and civic organizations, because demands of Iranian women represent demands of half of Iranian nation, and the Government cannot dismiss it easily. “In no country in the world, civic elite and leaders of the society are arrested so wantonly and recklessly in one day. This action on the part of Iranian Government highlights Iran quite negatively on an international level.”

Zanestan, a well known women which several of its contributors are among the arrested, in a new entry in this relation said that “Contradictory news filter out of the Judiciary and the Police, without any clear direction, and this has worried many of those involved and families of arrested individuals. Since 9:00 a.m. on Monday, many family members, lawyers, and women’s rights activists have gathered opposite Vozara Police Station, and are awaiting release of the women.” This situation continued through midnight. Other women’s rights activists are scheduled to gather today (Monday) by Evin Prison to protest the arrests and to find out about the fate of those arrested.

While various lists of names of those arrested have been published, Zanestan names the following individuals:

Fatemeh Govaraee, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Parastoo Dokoohaki, Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, Parvin Ardalan, Nahid Keshavarz, Sousan Tahmasbi, Niloofar Golkar, Maryam Mirza, Maryam Hosseinkhah, Nahid Jafari, Minoo Mortazi, Shahla Entesari, Azadeh Forghani, Jila Baniyaghoub, Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, Nahid Entesari, Asieh Amini, Shadi Sadr, Saghi Laghaee, Saghar Laghaee, Elnaz Ansari, Sara Imanian, Jelveh Javaheri, Zara Amjadian, Zeinab Peighambarzadeh, Nasrin Afzali, Mahnaz Mohammadi, Somayeh Farid, Farideh Entesari, Rezvan Moghaddam, Sara Loghmani.

However, a journalist in Tehran who is following the arrests told Rooz Online that Evin Prison has taken custody of 33 women. According to this source, authorities have told him that research on those arrested will be conducted tomorrow, and some of them will be released. This means that some others may not be released for now.

Among those arrested people like Parvin Ardalan, Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Jila Baniyaghoub, and Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani had been previously arrested for their social and cultural activities. Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh was imprisoned by security forces for a month in 2006. Some of the people on the list, such as Sousan Tahmasbi, had their passports confiscated upon return from trips abroad. Parastoo Dokoohaki, Asieh Amini, Mahboubeh Hosseinzadeh, Nasrin Afzali, Maryam Mirza, and Maryam Hosseinkhah are bloggers, dedicated to women’s issues. Families of Dokoohaki and some of the other arrested individuals had no news about the situation of their kin.

During the protests of last July, more than 60 people were arrested. Most of those arrested were released in the following days, though Ali Akbar Moussavi Khoeiniha was imprisoned for five months. That gathering, also, was held in protest to anti women laws in Iran, and turned into violence with Police intervention.

During yesterday’s peaceful gathering, 40 to 70 women’s rights activists carried placards reminding the court authorities that they, too, were present during the July protests. Their placards read: “Article 27 of Iranian Constitution provides us with the undeniable right to a peaceful gathering.”

Objections to Arrests of the Past Year

A women’s rights activist who has requested anonymity, told Rooz that demonstrators had gathered to protest the continuous stream of arrests of the past year, which seems to be gradually turning this into a “normal routine” for the officials. Recently several women activists were arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, while attempting to board a flight to India to attend a journalism workshop. She said in this recent gathering, police officers attacked them, broke their placards, and using insulting tones threatened them to disperse or they will be “hung from trees.” Some police officers used insulting words.

Two small buses were dispatched to pick up the arrested individuals. According to various sources interviewed by Rooz, arrests were performed through physical force. When the court session ended, the four women (Sousan Tahmasbi, Shahla Entesari, Parvin Ardalan, and Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani) left the court and objected to the way the protestors were being treated; hence they, too, were arrested. Everyone was then transferred to the Vozara Complex, a police complex dedicated to “fight against social corruption.”

The most violent treatment was handed to Nahid Jafari, who as she was being forced to board the bus, her head was rammed into the side of the bus, causing several broken teeth. Wide objection of witnesses in requesting an ambulance and attendance of a physician, did not meet a favorable reaction from the police.

Women Object the Arrests

With the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8th, over the past several days, many women’s rights activists who were arrested during the event at the Court had prepared a communiqué, expressing hope for resolution of women’s issues in Iran.

“On the threshold of March 8th, International Women’s Day, we, women’s rights activists, believe that trial of several activists is a sign of continued oppressive policies against women. We condemn these policies and actions, and warn against negative consequences of a security-led thinking in the face of peaceful civic activities of women. We re-emphasize democratic and spontaneous demands of Iranian nation, specifically the women’s movement, to show solidarity with five women’s rights activists who have been called to trial a few days before International Women’s Day, for their invitation to the peaceful gathering of July 2nd in Hafte Tir Square (Shahla Entesari, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer, Parvin Ardalan, Nooshin Ahmadi Khorasani, and Sousan Tahmasbi). [We also support] all activists who have faced abuse, insults, and degradation for the past year, who were beaten up, summoned, and interrogated (such as Jila Baniyaghoub, Delaram Ali, Alieh Eghdamdoost, Azadeh Forghani, Bahareh Hedayat, Nassim Soltanbeigi, Maryam Zia, Leila Mousazadeh, Fatemeh Haj Hosseini, Massoumeh Zia, and Farideh Farrahi, who were arrested or tried or awaiting trial for their participation in the July 2nd gathering), and those women activists who were arrested and are awaiting creation of a case against them (such as Talat Taghinia, Mansoureh Shojaee, and Farnaz Seifi, who were arrested at the airport because they intended to attend an educational workshop in India). On Sunday, March 4th at 8:30 a.m., we will show up in front of Revolutionary Court (located on Shariati Avenue, Moallem Avenue) to protest all security-judicial confrontation against women’s peaceful civic activities to pursue their rights.

In another part of this communiqué, the group says, “Let’s feel the pressure of international community on our shoulders, which is adding pressure through threats, sanctions, and the nightmare of war on a daily basis. We, a group of women’s rights activists, on the threshold of International Women’s Day on March 8th, announce our protest of all patriarchal policies, whether in an inappropriate interpretation of Islam, or in the name of human rights or democracy, and believe that what international community must insist upon should be the discussion of democracy and human rights, and not nuclear power, and this must be achieved through diplomatic dialogue and not through war and destruction.”

An Eye Witness Account

In Zanane Solh (Women of Peace) website, an eyewitness who attended the protest has written her account of the events. “After picking up the placards, gradually uniformed and plain-clothes police force, one of whom was a woman, showed up. The police approached us and asked us to leave because your gathering does not have a permit. One of my friends said that according to the Constitution, peaceful gatherings don’t need permits. The police argued that your gathering disrupts traffic on Moallem Avenue. They attacked the protestors’ line. Colonel.….started tearing up our placards, and using his wireless terminal, he hit some of the men in attendance in the head and chest, and removed them from the women’s line with violence…Again, Colonel....who had gained increased self-confidence as a result of new police arriving, said: ‘Ya Ali. Get lost!’ and he attacked the group. Our friends went to the pavement and didn’t move. A colonel who was behaving more politely suggested to the group not to stop on the pavement, but to keep walking. Our friends were smarter than him.”

This eyewitness continues: “If they walked, it would have become a ‘demonstration,’ and Police could have used the legal (!!) excuse to arrest us. Then the mean colonel started threatening us, saying that if you don’t leave I will dispatch the buses to come take you slime. In the next attack of the colonel and his forces, some of our friends were separated from the rest. Their separation caused them to be pushed onto the street. Our remaining friends (about 40) decided to sit on the floor next to each other. Our separated friends went to the top of the street and several police officers were assigned to avoid their joining our group. The rest of us just sat there. Slowly there were more and more plain-clothes officers, too. Two white vans (the same as the ones used in the July 2nd arrests) arrived the Revolutionary Court building and waited there. About 11 a.m. Shadi Sadr, Nooshin Ahmadi, Parvin Ardalan, and Sousan Tahmasbi left the court building. Just as soon as they came out, and the plain-clothes man arrived, it appeared that the ‘order’ was received.”

She continued that “Police used force in picking up and shoving those sitting down into two vans, and drove them away. First they said they were taken to Vali-e-Asr Army Base, but they weren’t there. Those who had cellular phones called others. Jila said it is really hot in the van and they are suffocating. Twenty adults were fit into a van. Someone else said they are just aimlessly driving on the streets. It was almost 1 p.m. when it became clear that they had been taken to Vozara. Mahboubeh said ‘they are keeping us in the courtyard of Vozara Monkarat. Finally, half an hour later they told us in their last telephone call that they were being ‘delivered.’ ‘We are 36,’ they said. It was Sunday February 4th at 1 p.m.”

The Court Proceedings

All of this happened while the court was reviewing charges against Nooshin Ahmadi, Parvin Ardalan, Sousan Tahmasbi, and Shahla Entesari, in the Sixth Branch of Revolutionary Court. They are accused of publicity against the regime, actions against national security, and participation in an illegal gathering. Mohammad Sharif, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Mohammad Dadkhah were their attorneys.

Mohammad Sharif, Fariba Davoodi Mohajer’s lawyer, who is one of the primary individuals accused in the July 2nd case, told ILNA: “As my client had left the country for a familial visit prior to being served the court summons, I have requested a re-scheduling of her court date, and the Judge will need to make a decision about that. Nevertheless, I delivered my power of attorney to the court on March 1st and requested to review the file, but the Sixth Branch of the Revolutionary Court advised me that in addition to my power of attorney, we had to present the Court with a separate contract between myself and my client. Since such a contract does not exist between myself and Ms. Davoodi Mohajer, and the Court insisted on having this document, I could not access the case file. It is, therefore, unknown to me on what basis the charges have been made.”

Sharif further explained that as he could not review the file, he could not defend his client. He said his client is accused of “publicity against the regime,” and “congregation and collusion to commit a crime against national security.” He said he hopes the Court will grant a permission to reschedule and to waive the requirement for a separate contract between him and his client, in view of the fact that he has not been able to review the case file. He said he hopes to be able to defend his client at a later court meeting.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, attorney for Parvin Ardalan and Nooshin Ahmadi, others accused in this case, told ILNA that “the court meeting was held in absence of her clients, as they were arrested in the gathering outside the Court. She said in this meeting Ms. Ebadi’s deposition supporting the attorneys in the case was presented to the Court. I and Leila Karami, another attorney on the case, delivered our verbal defense. Defense’s final argument regarding Nooshin Ahmadi’s case was received by the Court, and because we have been unable to review the case file, we requested a re-scheduling.”

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, attorney for Sousan Tahmasbi, another individual charged in this case has said that “in this meeting the charges against my client were read, and we began defending against those charges. We also submitted our last defense.” He said that the charges lack legal foundation and said: “As according to our Constitution, gatherings are allowed, these charges lack legal legitimacy.”